Special Forces Special Tribal Traditions

By Roy Cook: SFA-75

As a military branch, the Indian Scouting Service stayed intact for seventy-seven years. Members of the organization fought in the Spanish American War and were utilized by General John Pershing in the campaign against Pancho Villa in 1916. Pershing brought a contingent of Apache scouts to France when the United States entered World War I. The military record of the Scouting Service is without parallel: between 1872 and 1890, sixteen Native American members of the branch were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor. The scouts were disbanded in 1943, but in the previous year the Army Special Forces, an elite branch, adopted the service's crossed-arrow insignia. Sergeant William Major, Apache, retired from the army in 1948.

Following World war one, in 1922 the American Indian scouts were moved to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. This would become their permanent home until the remaining few Apache Scouts retired in 1947. At Huachuca they patrolled the boundaries of the military reservation and took part in ceremonial functions, stirring memories of a proud past.

The Quartermaster Corps had to order twenty-five crossed arrow insignias in January 1941. These would be for the eight remaining Apache Scouts stationed at Fort Huachuca. These men were: Sergeant Sinew Riley, 49; Corporal Ivan Antonio, 52; Corporal Alejo J. Quintero, 51; Private Jess Billy, 47; Private Kessay, 43; Private Jim Lane, 51; Private William Major, 39; and Private Andrew Paxton, 53.

Apache Indian Scouts at Fort Huachuca in 1934.

On March 18, 1924, a first sergeant of scouts with the colorful name of Sergeant Chicken retired from the Army at Fort Huachuca. His Apache name, all but unpronounceable to the Americans he served with, was Eskehnadestah. He had first joined the Army in 1893 and was a trailer for General Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition after Pancho Villa. A lieutenant on the expedition had praise for the senior scout. "First Sergeant Chicken is probably, all things considered, the most valuable man in the detachment. He is finishing his seventh enlistment period. He speaks pretty fair English, is an excellent trailer and scout, and an absolutely reliable man."

Chicken retired to Whiteriver on the reservation where he lived to the age of 95, dying on February 3, 1955.

Colonel Allen C. Miller II was a former commander of Apache scouts at Fort Huachuca and he remembered well when, in 1933, the Army built new quarters for them.

The scouts remained rugged individualists to the end. Only one of the last twelve scouts spoke English. All were very large, well built men. Not only were they excellent horsemen, but foot marches of up to 85 miles in a single day are recorded. Individually and as a unit they were fine soldiers, but they never gave up many of their tribal ways. Until the mid-thirties they lived with their families in traditional dwellings that were located in an area of the garrison some distance apart from the other troops. When the WPA (Works Projects Administration) offered to improve their housing conditions, the post commander at Fort Huachuca enthusiastically set about building adobe houses for the Indians Scouts. An impressive dedication was held to celebrate the movement of the Indian families into their new quarters. Great was his consternation to find soon thereafter that all the families had moved back into tepees and that the scouts' horses were the only occupants in the new quarters.

David B. Stone was a 2d Lieut. With the 25th Infantry from 1935-7, and, like so many other veterans of Huachuca, remembered vividly the Apaches. He wrote,

“The Apache Scouts were still active, and an integral part of the Fort garrison. Their function was to patrol the Fort's extensive boundaries, about 10 to 20 miles each side of a rectangle. They lived in their broken down little hogans and kept their chickens and pigs in the quarters the Army built for them.”

Sinew Riley and wife, Peela, at Fort Huachuca in 1935.
Photo courtesy Rev. Arthur A. Guenther, Lutheran
Apache Mission, Whiteriver, Arizona.

Other duties relegated to the Apaches since their assignment to Fort Huachuca was to appear in their traditional dress in parades and reviews. If their traditional dress did not always coincide with the expectations of the press or movie directors, they would embellish their costumes a little, adding feathers and headdresses. After all they were representing not only Apaches but all Indians who had served the Army as scouts. An April 6, 1938, article in the Arizona Republic reported about an Army Day celebration at the fort:

One of the colorful events of the afternoon program was the appearance of the Apache Indian scouts in a simulated attack on a covered wagon train. The Apaches were clad in colorful ceremonial costumes and remained on the field for about a quarter of an hour to pose for literally hundreds of candid camera fans and amateur movie directors.

The eight remaining Apache Scouts stationed at Fort Huachuca were: Sergeant Sinew Riley, 49; Corporal Ivan Antonio, 52; Corporal Alejo J. Quintero, 51; Private Jess Billy, 47; Private Kessay, 43; Private Jim Lane, 51; Private William Major, 39; and Private Andrew Paxton, 53.

Wharfield reported that "Corporal Alejo Quintero retired in 1941, Private Jess Billy in 1944, and Private Jim Lane in 1945. About the same time Private Andrew Paxton was thrown from his horse and died in the Fort Huachuca hospital."

Twenty-two wickiups once dotted the area near the present post cemetery. The Indians preferred their traditional homes over the adobe huts built for them, and until the post commander suggested they make use of the new buildings, they more often than not used the huts as store rooms.

Captain John C. F. Tillson, 10th Cavalry and Sergeant Sinew Riley
on horseback on the parade field at Fort Apache, Arizona, in 1918.

Apache Scouts in costume around 1939. Photo courtesy Rev. Arthur A. Guenther, Lutheran Apache Mission, Whiteriver, Arizona.

Additionally. the World War II Alamo Scouts were a top secret reconnaissance and raider unit that operated in the southwest Pacific during World War II and performed 108 missions without losing a single man, including two POW camp raids. They are acknowledged by the U. S. Army as another forerunner of the modern Special Forces. By some accounts as many as one-quarter of the enlisted graduates of the first Alamo Scouts training class were American Indian and served on operational teams, while the others returned to their units to utilize their special training.

Forerunners of today's Special Forces, the Alamo Scouts - of which nearly one-quarter of the enlisted graduates from its first training class were American Indian - were a top secret reconnaissance and raider unit that operated in the southwest Pacific during World War II and performed 108 missions without losing a single man.

This 1944 photo shows a fully-equipped Alamo Scout team during the first training class at the Alamo Scouts Training Center on Fergusson Island, New Guinea. (Front row) Pfc. Joseph Johnson, 1st Lt. Michael Sombar and Cpl. David Milda. (Back row) Sgt. Byron Tsingine, Ssg. Alvin Vilcan, Cpl. John A. Roberts, Cpl. Walter A. McDonald, and Ssg. Caesar Ramirez. Johnson. Milda, Tsingine and Vilcan are American Indians. Little has been documented about Native servicemen other than the Navajo code talkers, despite statistics that American Indians have the highest per capita percentage of service in the U.S. military.
Photo courtesy U.S. Army

Sgt. Byron L. Tsingine, a Navajo from the Deer Water People Clan from Coppermine, Ariz., and Ssg. Alvin J. Vilcan, a Chitimacha from Louisiana, graduated from the first training class but returned to their units despite being selected to operational teams. Tsingine served another year as a scout in the 158th and was wounded on Luzon in early 1945.

While with the 158th, Tsingine spoke with Navajo scouts from other units and passed on vital combat information, just as the more renowned Navajo code talkers of Marine Corps fame had done.

"Tsingine and other Indians were invaluable," said Earl Newman, of the Service Company of the 158th. "They would speak Navajo and confuse the Japanese. A Navajo was placed in each company and Tsingine communicated using the Navajo language when he did reconnaissance work. The Japanese never knew what we were doing and we were always a step ahead of them."

"I knew Tsingine well from our time in the 158th," said Thompson. "He was an excellent fellow and a fine soldier. I voted for him to be on my team."

Other Alamo Scout graduates also served as code talkers. Sgt. Guy F. Rondell, a Lakota from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, was a graduate of the second Alamo Scouts training class and returned to the 302nd Recon Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division. He was one of only 11 Lakota Sioux B3 code talkers who served during the war. Six served in the Pacific and five in Europe.

"Pfc. Francis H. LaQuier of my team was a Chippewa from the White Earth Reservation in Early, Minnesota," added team leader Tom Rounsaville. "He could draw a map that looked like an engineer production. His maps were so detailed and exact that they were part of our mission reports. He was an integral part of the team and was one of the finest soldiers I've ever served with."

The unit assumed a central role in organizing large-scale guerrilla operations, establishing road watch stations, attempting to locate and capture or kill Japanese flag officers, and performing direct action missions, such as the Cabanatuan POW Camp liberation where they teamed with elements of the 6th Ranger Battalion and Filipino guerrilla units to liberate 513 POWs in a daring night attack. When not on missions, Alamo Scout teams provided bodyguard duty for Krueger and had specific instructions to kill the general if capture was imminent.

Near the end of the war, Alamo Scout teams were preparing for the invasion of Japan, where they were slated to conduct pre-invasion reconnaissance of Kyushu as part of Operation Downfall, but fortunately the war ended.

Sources: Huachuca Illustrated, James P Finley, volume 2, 1996.