When Ryan Booth began his research into Indian scouts who were recruited by the U.S. Army, he discovered only two military forts had complete records of the scouts: Fort Apache in Arizona and Fort Keogh at Miles City.
“Other places had scouts, but their records were lost or burned,” said Booth, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Washington State University in Pullman.
Many of the Indian scouts attached to Fort Keogh were members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. So in December, Booth traveled to Lame Deer to talk with the tribe’s Cultural Committee to present his dissertation topic.
“They liked it,” Booth said. “They gave me some contacts, and said I need to make a formal presentation to the tribal council, since I want to do oral histories.”
Booth is hoping to connect with the descendants of those scouts, to discover what motivated their family members to serve as scouts. He’s hoping he might even stumble across artifacts linked to those days.
“Historians live in hope of the possibility of somebody coming and saying, ‘Here’s this shoe box with a diary or letters we’ve had all these years,’” Booth said. “I think there’s a good possibility that might exist for scouts but nobody has ever asked.”
Booth has always been interested in the American West and more specifically, the history of Native Americans, as well as military history and some religious history. U.S. Indian scouts fit into that interest, blending two of his highest interests that historians rarely combine.
“It sort of fits within a broader network of world history and how various empires have used indigenous soldiers,” he said.
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Booth compared the U.S. Army employing Indian scouts with the British using Gurkhas and Sikhs in India. Each army had to rely on local people to succeed.
“You needed local people to help guide armies, explain the terrain, explain the hostile forces, how they might fight, so you could anticipate where they might be or what they might do,” he said. “In the 1800s they didn’t teach that stuff at West Point. They needed scouts.”
While scouts could be found all over the American West, Fort Keogh and Fort Apache were the two that have complete records, including enlistment and discharge papers. Each year, from 1877 to 1900, there would be about 50 Indian scouts at Fort Keogh, Booth said.
At Fort Keogh, most were Northern Cheyenne, Booth said. But members of the Gros Ventre and Lakota tribes also served there.
“The U.S. Army gave them uniforms, insignias and flags, all of these symbols,” he said. “They were regular soldiers incorporated into the Army.”
When he first began his research, he was surprised to find out that Indian scouts continued their work with the U.S. Army until 1942. At that point, the unit was disbanded, Booth said, and the insignia of two crossed arrows was was given to the newly created special forces unit.
Anyone with information about Northern Cheyenne scouts can contact Booth by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 509-594-0822.