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Front cover of Haskell's Indian Leader, February 1919Front cover of Haskell's Indian Leader, February 1919

For recruiting volunteers, the government had a built-in recruitment system for American Indians. Off-reservation boarding schools at Carlisle in Pennsylvania, Haskell in Kansas, Chilocco in Oklahoma, Chemawa in Oregon, Genoa in Nebraska, and about twenty others became recruiting centers as did mission schools such as the Santee Normal Training School in Nebraska and tribal schools such as Armstrong Academy for Choctaws in Oklahoma.

The military structure had been in place in the government schools since they were established. The boys had always been organized in military units and drilled military style, with uniforms and, at times, wooden rifles, the equivalent of the junior ROTC programs we know today. If boys ran away from school, and they often did, they were said to be AWOL.

School officials taunted the male students. They had been the beneficiaries of the education system provided by the U.S. They should be ashamed to be slackers at such a critical time. “Follow the flag,” they said, "—not one fixed on the front of an automobile, but one borne by a proper color bearer leading you to service."

The military structure paid off. The boys who enlisted were used to wearing uniforms. They knew how to march. They were used to taking orders. As a result, many became non-commissioned officers within weeks, sometimes within days, of enlistment. And a number qualified for officers training schools.

The boarding schools kept track of the students who joined the military and proudly updated their school's "service flag" in each publication. Many times, the publications would include letters from students telling of their experiences and giving updates as to their locations.

"As a true full fledged American Indian, I entered the service of Uncle Sam, not to obtain any medals or be decorated for my bravery. I entered the service because I saw that my services were needed, and I felt it my sacred duty to offer up myself to my good Government."

Phillip C. Cato (Tewa Pueblo)


"This world war in which I took part is something that will be in my memory forever. I know I might get killed yet I know that I ought to do something for my country as we Indians are the real Americans."

Owen Hates Him (Cheyenne River Sioux)