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Army Indian scouts focus of NMAI presentation

WASHINGTON – A presentation on American Indian military veterans will focus on U.S. Army Indian scouts, some of whose enlistment dates have emerged from Pension Office records.

Trevor Plante of the National Archives said the pension data are a singular addition to the documented ancestry of Natives, which are otherwise concentrated in BIA and Census Bureau records.

Army personnel records for all enlisted men from 1866 to 1914 are little more than ledgers, he said – line items with beginning and ending dates of service and little else. The Army only began keeping full personnel files in 1914, he added. But when Congress granted a pension to Indian scouts in 1917, the Pension Office investigated the claimants.

Often, the oral statements of old soldiers vouch for their fellow scouts, acknowledging that they served with this one and that one. As a result, Plante said, a Pension Office file on one scout may contain the names of four or five others.

Service dates abound, he said. While the usual durations of enlistment in the Army were two years or five, many scouts enlisted for periods of three to six months, and did so repeatedly.

The Indian scouts went by a variety of names within the Army. Some were known by their tribe, such as the Pawnee Scouts. Others were known by a chief or leader, by the fort they were stationed at or by the expedition in which they took part.

The Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts appear consistently in the historical record under that name, Plante said; it was comprised of Mexican nationals who had joined forces with Seminoles and blacks of the time.

Native veterans of the War of 1812, and of the Civil War on both the Union and Confederate sides, are also on the agenda.

The lecture and discussion will take place Nov. 15 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the National Museum of the American Indian.