Choctaw Code Talkers World War I

During World War I, a group of Choctaw Indians from Oklahoma pioneered the use of Native American languages as secret codes. They translated messages over radio and telephone lines. This way, if the messages were intercepted, the enemy wouldn't be able to understand what was being said.

An enigma machine was a code-breaking machine that was used by the Germans to decipher the intercepted messages from the Allies.

Choctaw Indians

The Choctaw Indians were considered one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" of the southeastern United States, and traditionally farmed corn, beans, and pumpkins. They also hunted, fished, and foraged for edible vegetation.

During the War of 1812, the Choctaw Indians allied themselves with the US, but they were still forced into giving millions of acres of land to the government. Most of them were then relocated to present-day Oklahoma along the trail of tears due to the Indian Removal Act.

The Beginning of World War I

When the United States officially entered World War 1 in April of 1917, we still hadn't granted citizenship to Native Americans. Along with this, boarding-schools and government-run education agencies were working hard to stamp out their languages and cultures. Yet, still thousands of Native Americans enlisted to join the war effort, including nearly 1000 from Division 36 alone, which consisted of men from Oklahoma and Texas. Together, they represented 26 different Native American tribes.

"They saw that they needed to protect home and country," says Judy Allen, a senior executive officer of tribal relations for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, "so they went to the nearest facility where they could sign up, and were shipped out."

By the summer of 1918, the 36th Division had arrived in France to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.

Why Code?

Communication was essential to the war effort, especially for the Allies. However, their messages were often intercepted from phone and radio lines, and even when they spoke in foreign languages and mathematical codes, the Germans were able to decipher what was being said. Along with this, 1 in 4 human message runners were captured or killed, making them equally as ineffective. Some other attempts, including messenger pigeons, color-coded rockets, and electric buzzers, proved to be too slow, limiting, and unreliable.

A company commander from Division 36 reported hearing two of his soldiers speaking in the Choctaw language, a language virtually unknown to the Germans. The commander immediately recognized the potential of the use of this language as a military code. On October 26, 1918, the language was used for the first time as part of the withdraw of two companies from the front. Because this went without mishap, the Choctaw language was then used more widespread as a form of military long-distance communication.

This is an example of what the Choctaw Indian language looks like.


Created By
Julia Stephenson


Created with images by ell brown - "Bletchley Park - Block B - The Bletchley Park Story - Statue of Alan Turing - by Stephen Kettle" • Bogdan Migulski - "German / Deutsch Enigma Machine: World War II Museum, New Orleans, Lousiana, USA" • dakzxz - "sunset novovoronezh summer"

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