Mathers exhibit highlights Native Americans’ military contributions

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures is participating in Blue Star Museums, a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and more than 2,000 museums across America to recognize and support active-duty military personnel and their families through special programs and exhibits.

Native Americans World War I

Boney Rabbit, Cecil Gallamore, Stacy Sitting Hawk, Hezekiah Chebahtah, Owen Yackeyyonney and Anton Menteg. Camp Mills, Long Island, New York. March 31, 1919. Dixon noted Menteg, an Aleut from Alaska, was known for his bugle skills, being able to play everything from military signals to ragtime. The other men represent several different tribes: Cherokee (Rabbit), Choctaw (Gallamore), Southern Cheyenne (Sitting Hawk) and Comanche (Chebahtah and Yackeyyonney). All were U.S. citizens, not typically the case with Native American servicemen at the time.

At the museum on the Bloomington campus, Native Americans’ contributions and commitments to military service are highlighted in “They Are Not Afraid of Hell Itself: Native Americans in World War I.” The exhibit, on display in the adjoining Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, draws upon the museum’s Wanamaker collection of Native American photographs.

The collection features more than 8,000 images and thousands of pages of documentation gathered by Joseph Dixon between 1908 and 1923. In the latter part of his work, Dixon undertook a vast study of Native American participation in the war, taking hundreds of photographs of veterans in 1919 and 1920; interviewing these men and their officers; sending out thousands of survey forms about individual experiences in the war; and, in 1921, traveling to Europe to observe firsthand and photograph the sites where Native American soldiers had fought, been injured, and, in many cases, died. The exhibit displays a small sampling of the photos and data that Dixon collected.

The exhibit title comes from an interview Dixon conducted with Capt. John N. Simpson after the war. When asked by Dixon if he would be willing to return to fight Germans with Native American soldiers, Capt. Simpson replied, “I wouldn’t take anyone else. They are not afraid of hell itself.”

The exhibit is on display through July 26.

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