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Goshute Women: Protesting the Draft

by Lauren Webb


Goshute men and women

Goshute women and men, including Annie’s Tommy, one of the men arrested for draft resistance. LDS Church History Library.

In 1918, a group of women living on the Goshute Reservation in Western Utah took action to protest the arrest of a group of their men. The men had been arrested for resisting the draft during World War I.

By the beginning of the First World War, most Native and Indigenous peoples in what is now called the United States had been forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to reservations. They were not considered legal citizens. They could not vote.

Goshute draft dissenters Will Ottegary and Annies Tommy, ca. 1917. LDS Church History Library.

So when the United States passed a law requiring all men, including those living on reservations, to register for the draft, it sparked complicated reactions among Native Americans. Over 10,000 Native Americans answered the call of the Selective Service Act and served in the U.S. military during the war, and many other Native men and women volunteered on the home front to support the war effort. Their service was hailed at the time as evidence of their patriotism and successful assimilation. But given the complex relationship between Native communities and the federal government, many other Native people felt that compulsory military service was unfair and violated their sovereignty and treaty rights. They resisted sacrificing their own or their sons’ lives for a government that had isolated, excluded, and oppressed their communities.

Despite this resistance, involuntary conscription under the Selective Service Act was generally enforced. Draft registry offices were set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on every reservation. On the Goshute Reservation in Western Utah, many men refused to register and tried to convince other Native men in the region to do the same. The leaders told the agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs that they “would die fighting on the reservation before they would comply with the law,” and that they would “obey only the laws they would formulate in their own councils.” They threatened to forcibly remove the agent and his family by the end of February, 1918, if he continued to enforce the Draft. After about a year of rising tensions, eight of these men were charged with “entering into a conspiracy to hinder the Selective Service Law.”

Group of many men in suits and hats. one white man (the marshal) in the middle of the Native American men.

Goshute men arrested for draft-resistance, 1918. From left to right: Jim Straight, Alex Steele, Lou Murphy, Marshal Aquila Nebeker, Tweedy Baker, Jack Tomoke, and Annies Tommy. Not pictured: John Syme and Willie Ottogary. Salt Lake Tribune.

A detachment of fifty-four soldiers from Fort Douglas was sent to the reservation early the morning of February 20th, 1918. At dawn, with snow on the ground, the soldiers started the “raid,” which consisted of gathering, disarming, and questioning over 100 men. Ultimately, they arrested three young draft resisters and four resistance leaders. Two others had managed to escape. The men were put on a train for the day’s journey to Salt Lake City. The prisoners watched as the soldiers got drunk and celebrated a successful arrest.

Once in Salt Lake, the men, eventually joined by resistance leader from Northern Utah, Willie Ottogary, were imprisoned in the county jail and interrogated. One of them, Al Steele, “defiantly” told the interrogator:

“I am not sorry for my part in the disturbance.”

“But are you not sorry to be in jail on account of your wife and baby?”

“That I can not help. We had just as well die fighting as submit.”[1]

Willy Ottogary, his wife Nancy, and their sons Custer and Chester. 1912. “Life History of Willie Ottogary, Written by Himself,” Logan Journal May 23, 1912.

Meanwhile, many Goshute women still on the Reservation organized a protest. They go unnamed in the newspaper reports of the event, but the group of women likely included wives such as Topsy Tommy, Sally Syme, Alice Straight, Nancy Ottogary, Katie Baker, and Serene Swallow Murphy. Newspapers reported that they went to the office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to remove the white government officials who had been sent to enforce the law. They allegedly turned over furniture, took food, and threatened to burn down the building. They were accused of inciting the men who were not arrested to further violent action.

The three young men agreed to register for the draft and returned home. The resistance leaders stayed in jail, their bail posted at $500 (that would be over $10,000 today!). Some of their white neighbors traveled to Salt Lake to argue to have it lowered, but to no avail. After three weeks, the prisoners agreed to grow wheat for the Army if they were released.

One of the arrested men, Goshute tribal leader Annies Tommy, moved to Northern Utah with his family, where he continued to successfully convince other Native men to refuse to enroll for the Draft.

Different forms of Native resistance have continued, often led by women. Native women have protested the removal of their children from their homes and into white schools. They have marched against industrial waste being located to Native lands. Their efforts throughout history have created a more fair and equal community for everybody.

[1] “Captured Ringleaders Are Safely behind Prison Bars,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 22, 1918, p. 1; “Squaws on Rampage in Goshute Reservation Resent the Arrest of Indian Draft Dissenters,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 22, 1918,  p. 1. Note that “Squaw” is a term for Native American women that is considered derogatory and offensive.

Sources

Erik M. Zissu, “Conscription, Sovereignty, and Land: American Indian Resistance During World War 1,” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 64, no. 4 (Nov. 1995), pp. 539-40.

David L. Wood, “Gosiute-Shoshone Draft Resistance, 1917-18,” Utah Historical Quarterly 49, no. 2 (1981), pp. 173–89.

“Captured Ringleaders Are Safely behind Prison Bars,” Salt Lake Tribune February 22, 1918, p. 1.

“Squaws on Rampage in Goshute Reservation Resent the Arrest of Indian Draft Dissenters.” Salt Lake Tribune, February 22, 1918,  p. 1. *Note that “Squaw” is a term for Native women that is considered derogatory and offensive.