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Native Americans: Soldiers Unknown

 by Chag Lowry (Yurok/Maidu/Achumawi)


ChagLowryCoverSoldiers Unknown Book Cover Drawing by Rahsan Ekedal

The World War I epic, Soldiers Unknown, is an original graphic novel written by Chag Lowry and illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal. This special project reveals the untold story of the native Yurok men who fought and died for the United States of America in the Great War. Conscripted from their tribal home in Northern California by a country they barely knew - to serve in a war they could hardly call their own - these young men nevertheless demonstrated immense courage and humanity on the battlefields of France in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Chag Lowry is a historian and writer of Yurok and Maidu descent and has crafted a beautiful and poignant tale that Rahsan brings to life with images. 

LowryWhereareyou goingFrames from Soldiers Unknown. It will be published by Heyday in summer of 2018.


–Father, where did they go, and what did they see, these Yurok Native men who fought in World War One?

–The answers are there for us to find, son.  But the more important questions are how did they return home, and when did they find peace?


Crafting a World War One story with the very talented artist Rahsan Ekedal has been an emotional journey.  We’ve come a long, long way since I first discussed the concept with him back in 2016.  I was raised with many Native veterans from both sides of my family in northern California.  I always remembered the emotions of these men–many World War Two and Korean War veterans– when they told me about their fathers or uncles who had served in the Great War.   

And that’s the story Rahsan and I try to tell– a story about emotions.  As a Native American, I wanted to create a graphic novel that conveys the experiences of the Great War through the sentiments of my people.  I had two Yurok great-great uncles who served in WWI and I’ve looked at their sepia-toned photographs for years wondering what they saw and felt.   

The snippet of dialogue I shared at the beginning of this blog post encompasses the questions I’ve thought about regarding Native American veterans of WW1.  Our story begins in contemporary times with a Father and Son as they begin to talk about their ancestor’s involvement in the Great War.  Can culture help a combat veteran find peace and return to their homeland?  That is another question I’ve thought about, and it’s one I hope readers will discuss after they see our work.  We are using the lens of Yurok culture for this story to try to find an answer.  I’m very grateful to have such a respectful partner in Rahsan for this book.      

The beautiful part of being able to work with a talented artist like Rahsan is that his images allow me to feel the full range of emotions as a descendant of WW1 veterans.  To teach young people about history we must first find ways to help them feel first and after lead them to discuss their emotions about what they are learning.  The graphic novel with its sequential art and impactful dialogue can do just that.  The act of breathing life into our characters in this story is meant to honor all WW1 veterans and their families.  Rahsan will fully color his work and this means our soldiers will be as alive today as in 1917-18.  We can share some of their journeys, and it does not matter what tribe or culture they are from.  We can feel who they are.  To most people, all World War One veterans are Soldiers Unknown.  I hope this work helps changes this.   

TrainingChagFrame from Soldiers Unknown.

To hear more from Chag about Soldiers Unknown, read his interview with WWI Centennial Commission Director of Public Affairs, Chris Islieb, or listen to his talk with Theo Mayer in this recent WWICC podcast.

Author's bio

ChagLowryBioPhotoChag Lowry is of Yurok, Maidu, and Achumawi Native American ancestry from northern California. He is the author of The Original Patriots: Northern California Indian Veterans of World War Two and has directed numerous PBS documentaries on Native veterans and cultures. He can be reached on Facebook.

In this photo, Chag is standing in his hometown of Susanville, California in front of a memorial tree that was planted in the 1920s to honor the late Thomas Tucker. Tucker was a Maidu man who died on September 28, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne battle. He was in the 91st Infantry Division and was the first man from northeastern California to die in combat in WW1.







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The service of Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War is often overlooked or just mentioned in passing. There needs to be more monuments and honoring of Native American men and women who have served with...

The service of Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War is often overlooked or just mentioned in passing. There needs to be more monuments and honoring of Native American men and women who have served with honor and distinction and in this case during World War I. Chag Lowry's good efforts should be applauded and highlighted in bringing forth his publication on the Yurok men and other northern California Native American men who fought and died during this tragic war.

There were six Muwekma Ohlone Indian men who also served during WWI in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. These men were: Toney Guzman, his brother Fred Guzman, their nephew Franklin Guzman, Joseph Aleas, John Michael Nichols and his brother Henry Abraham Lincoln Nichols all from the NIles/Pleasanton region of the San Francisco Bay.

Private Antonio (Toney) Guzman also served in the 91st Infantry Division, U.S. Army, Battery F, 347th Field Artillery Regiment, 91st Division, American Expeditionary Force. Toney Guzman was born on March 27, 1890 either in Centerville or on the Niles Rancheria. He was the son of Muwekma Indians Francisca Nonessa and Jose Guzman. Toney enlisted in the U.S. Army and he fought in the Meuse-Argonne (September 26 to October 8, 1918), Ypres-Lys, and Lorraine campaigns in France. Toney served in the Army from April 29, 1918 and was honorably discharged at the San Francisco Presidio on April 26, 1919. The 91st Division was known as the "Wild West Division." The Division's shoulder patch was a green fir tree referring to its origin at Camp Lewis in the Pacific Northwest. The Division was deployed to France in August, 1918 and fought with great distinction. In the Ypres-Lys campaign, the Division served in the Flanders Army Group, under the command of the King of Belgium. The Division was headquartered adjacent to Flanders Field. Five members of the Division earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 347th Field Artillery Regiment was assigned 4.7" inch guns, and the 91st Division received the following Victory Medal Clasps: Ypres-Lys, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne and Defensive Sector. In October 1931, Toney Guzman and his brothers, enrolled with the Bureau of Indian Affairs under their mother's BIA Application #10293. On his WW II Registration Card dated April 27, 1942, Toney was identified as "Indian". Toney passed away on October 8, 1948 and was buried on October 12, 1948 at the Golden Gate National Cemetery (Section J, Grave 254).

Private Alfred (Fred) Guzman'
U.S. Army, Company C, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, American Expeditionary Force under Brigadier General T. W. Darrah. Alfred Guzman was born on the Pleasanton Rancheria on June 27, 1896 to Francisca and Jose Guzman. Prior to the declaration of War, Fred Guzman had served in the National Guard at Fort Mason in San Francisco in 1917. Afterwards he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served in the 28th Division, 55th Brigade Infantry, 110th Infantry, Company "C" and fought in the major battles at Ourcq-Vesle (July 28, 1918), Second Battle of the Marne (July 15-August 5, 1918), Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 26 to October 8, 1918), and Havrincourt (October 8 - November 11, 1918) in France. The 28th Division fought in the following campaigns: Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne (1918), Lorraine (1918). The cost in lives of these six campaigns was 4,183 casualties including 760 dead. The six fleurs-de-lis on the regimental insignia commemorated their World War I service. The 28th Infantry Division was a unit of the United States Army formed in 1917 at the outbreak of World War I. It was nicknamed the "Keystone Division", as it was formed from units of the Pennsylvania National Guard; Pennsylvania is known as the "Keystone State". It was also nicknamed the "Bloody Bucket" division by German forces in WWII, after its red insignia. Fred Guzman served from July 28, 1917 and was honorably discharged at San Francisco Presidio on May 31, 1919. On his WW II Registration Card dated April 25, 1942, Fred is identified as Indian. Fred Guzman died on November 3, 1961 and was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery (Section Y, Grave 1059).

Sergeant Joseph Aleas,
U.S. Army, Company D, 21st Machine Gun Battaion, 7th Division, American Expeditionary. Joseph Aleas was born on the Alisal (Pleasanton) Rancheria on May 11, 1893 and was the son of Margaret Armija. He enlisted in the US Army on June 30, 1916. According to Armija-Thompson family recollections, he was a good horseman and wanted to fight against Pancho Villa had led approximately 1,500 Mexican raiders in a cross-border attack against Columbus, New Mexico, in response to the U.S. government's official recognition of the Carranza regime. Villa's troops attacked a detachment of the 13th U.S. Cavalry, seized 100 horses and mules, burned the town, killed 10 soldiers and eight of its residents, and made off with ammunition and weapons. President Woodrow Wilson responded by sending 6,000 troops under General John J. Pershing to Mexico to pursue Pancho Villa and his troops. This military mobilization was called the Punitive or Pancho Villa Expedition. Later, Joseph Aleas served in France in the 21st Machine Gun Battalion, 7th Division (its Hourglass insignia dates back to 1918). Organized originally to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during World War I, the U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division was created at Camp Wheeler, Georgia on December 6, 1917 and it fought in Alsace-Lorraine, France during the war. The division also served as an occupation force in the post-war period. On October 10-11, 1918 the 7th was shelled for the first time and later it encountered gas attacks in the Saint-Mihiel woods. Defensive occupation of this sector continued from October 10th to November 9th during which the infantry regiments of the 7th Division probed up toward Prény near the Moselle River, captured Hills 323 and 310, and drove the Germans out of the Bois-du Trou-de-la-Haie salient. After 33 days in the line of fire the 7th Division had suffered 1,988 casualties, of which three were prisoners of war. Thirty Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded members of the 7th Division. Joseph Aleas was honorably discharged at Camp Funston, Riley, Kansas on July 9, 1920 and was awarded the World War I Victory Medal and the Bronze Victory Button. Joseph Aleas enrolled with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in October 1931 (BIA Application # 10299). On May 24, 1955 Joseph enrolled during the second enrollment period with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Joseph Francis Aleas passed away July 13, 1964 and was buried at the Gold Gate National Cemetery Plot Z, grave 2597.

Private John Michael Nichols,
U.S. Army, 59th Artillery Regiment, Coast ArtilleryCorps [TD (Tractor Drawn 8" Howitzers), HD (Harbor Defense)], American Expeditionary Force. John was the older brother of Henry Nichols (see below) and he served in the U.S. Army from 1914 to 1920. John enlisted on October 27, 1914 at Fort McDowell on Angel Island. He fought in France serving with the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment which was attached to the 32nd Brigade, C.A.C.. The 59th was engaged in the St. Mihiel offensive and the Meuse-Argonne offensive. John was discharged at Fort Winfield Scott at the SF Presidio on June 4, 1920. John M. Nichols was listed as an Indian on the 1930 Federal Census along with his son Alfred in Santa Cruz County. On John Nichols's Draft Registration Card dated April 27, 1942 he was identified as residing at the Veteran's Home in Napa (Yountville), California and he had resided there from 1941 to 1953. John Nichols died in April 1968 while living in Stockton, California. Citations: Victory Medal with France, Defensive Sector, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne bars.

Fireman 1st Class Henry Abraham Lincoln Nichols,
U.S. Navy, Battleships USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma. Henry Nichols was born in Niles on February 12, 1895 to Charles Nichols and Muwekma Ohlone Susanna Flores Nichols. Henry enlisted on May 23, 1917 and first served on the USS Albatross. By December 31, 1917 he was transferred to the Battleship USS Arizona, and later on March 26, 1918 he was transferred again to the Battleship USS Oklahoma. During World War I Henry Nichols served in the North Atlantic and was on escort duty in December 1918 when the Oklahoma was serving as escort during President Woodrow Wilson's arrival in France at the end of the war (November 11, 1918). The Oklahoma returned to Brest, France on June 15, 1919 to escort home President Wilson who was transported on the USS George Washington from his second visit to France. Henry Nichols was honorably discharged at Mare Island on August 14, 1919 and was issued the World War I Victory Medal. On Henry Nichols Draft Registration Card dated April 27, 1942 he is identified as Indian. Henry Nichols passed away on January 5, 1956 and was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery (Section L-5, Grave 7455).

Sergeant Franklin P. Guzman
U.S. Marine Corps, 81st Company, 6th Machine Gun Battalion, 4th Marine Brigade, 2nd Division, American Expeditionary Force. Franklin was born on the Alisal Rancheria on January 15, 1898 and was the son of Pleasanton Indians Teresa Davis and Ben Guzman (who later died in 1907). He was also the nephew of Toney and Fred Guzman. Franklin was listed on the 1910 Federal Indian Population Census for "Indian Town", Pleasanton Township. He enlisted on October 20, 1916 while working near Sacramento, reported for duty on October 25, 1916 and was assigned to Company "B" Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, Mare Island. On May 28, 1917 Franklin was promoted to the rank of Corporal. By March 31, 1918, he earned an Expert Rifleman Badge and a Marksman Badge and by April he was assigned to the 111th Company, 8th Regiment. In May, Franklin was transferred to the 15th Company 1st Machine Gun Battalion at Quantico, Virginia and he was promoted to Sergeant on May 22, 1918. The 1st Machine Gun Battalion sailed on May 26, 1918 on the USS Henderson and disembarked in France on June 8, 1918. The 1st Machine Gun Battalion was later redesignated as the 6th Machine Gun Battalion in France. From September 12 to 16, 1918 the brigade was engaged in the St. Mihiel offensive in the vicinity of Remenauville, Thiaucourt, Xammes, and Jaulny. On September 16, 1918, Franklin Guzman was wounded in the left thigh and from September through December he was placed in various Field and Base Hospitals in France, and finally transferred back to the States on December 16, 1918. Franklin remained in recovery at the US Navy Hospital at Norfolk, Virginia until he was honorably discharged from service as a Sergeant on June 27, 1919. Franklin's Battalion participated in the Chateau-Thierry sector (capture of Hill 142, Bouresches, Belleau Wood) from June to July, 1918; Aisne-Marne (Soissons) offensive from July 18 to July 19, 1918; Marbache sector, near Pont-a-Mousson on the Moselle River from August 9 to August 16, 1918; St. Mihiel from September 12 to September 16, 1918; and later the Meuse-Argonne offensive (October 1 to 10, 1918, and November 1 to 10, 1918). Franklin passed away on May 30, 1979 and was buried in the Riverside National Cemetery (Section 8, Grave 2826).

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