Warriors at Heart: Some of the Native Women Who Served in the Military
During the American Revolution, (1775-1783) Tyonajanegen, a Native American woman married to an American Army Officer, fought alongside her husband on horseback during a battle in which she loaded her husband’s gun because he had been shot in the wrist.
Since that time, Native women warriors have continued to make contributions to the U.S. military’s fight in conflicts here and overseas. Though women servicemembers have not been as prevalent on the front lines of combat as their male counterparts, their contributions have still been significant.
In honor of their contributions, here are some Notable Native American Women Veterans that certainly deserve to be recognized. It also goes without saying, that all of our nations veterans and servicemembers are always on our list of heroes, whether or not they appear on this list.
World War II
In WWII, nearly 800 Native American women served to include Elva (Topeda) Wale, (Kiowa) who left her reservation and served in the Women’s Army Corps and Beatrice (Coffey) Taylor who served in the Army of Occupation in Germany assigned to KP with German POW’s.
Alida (Whipple) Fletcher was a medical specialist in WWII and was on duty the night two ships loaded with explosives collided, killing 400 sailors and wounded many more. Alida called the night the most tragic moment of her life.
Private Minnie Spotted Wolf of Heart Butte Montana was the first Female Native American to enlist into the Marine Corps in 1943. Having worked on her father’s ranch much of her childhood, commented Marine boot camp was “hard, but not too hard.”
Ola Mildred Rexroat from the Pine Ridge Reservation joined the Women’s Air force Service Pilots (WASP’s) after high school and towed targets for aerial gunnery students, an extremely dangerous assignment. “Rexy” as she was called was only too happy to help in the war effort and later joined the Air Force for an additional 10 years.
Pearl Ross (Arikara Fort Bethold) joined the Air Force in 1953 and trained as a medical specialist. After serving in an Air Force hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming and at the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, during Vietnam, she saw many who were wounded and brought back to the states. She volunteered to go to Vietnam, but the Air Force was hesitant to send women to serve during that time.
Alaska Territorial Guard/Eskimo Scouts
In 1976, women were finally allowed into the Eskimo Scouts, an elite group of servicemembers that patrolled the 5,000 miles of Aleutian coastline and 200,000 miles of tundra to rescue downed U.S. Airmen and defend Alaska. There have been at least 27 Alaskan women members of the ATG since 1976.
Native American Women Warriors – All Female Color Guard (Service in Iraq)
During the 2010 Denver March Powwow, three female Soldiers, who represented the nations of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Navajo and headed up by Mitchelene BigMan proudly wore jingle dresses emblazoned with large service back patches and the colors of red, white and blue. They were asked to stand at the end of the line as a special honor to represent those women that had served.
Since that time, the Native American Women Warriors have presented colors at major events to include the inaugural parade of President Barack Obama. Their mission is to bring awareness to the fact “that not all warriors are men, but today – women are also warriors.”
First Female Casualty in Iraq War
Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa (December 14, 1979 – March 23, 2003) was a U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps soldier and a member of the Hopi Tribe. Specialist Piestewa was the first Native American woman in history to die in combat as well as the first woman to die in combat during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
To commemorate her memory, Arizona’s Piestewa Peak was renamed in her honor.
A Non-Veteran Honorable Mention
Pearl Scott of the Chickasaw Nation learned to fly at age 13 to become the youngest pilot in U.S. History in 1929. After the birth of her son, Pearl Scott later became one of the tribe’s first medical employees and served three terms in the Chickasaw legislature and is a member of the Oklahoma Aviation and Space hall of fame and the Chickasaw Nation hall of fame.
Recently a portrait of Pearl Scott was unveiled at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Today her grandson Brad Scott says she inspired him, “Never give up and go after your dreams and she did that at such a young age. She’s a role model with so much drive and it’s fantastic.”