Who Were the Original Choctaw Code Talkers?

Who Were the Original Choctaw Code Talkers?

If not for the success of the Choctaw Code Talkers, how likely is it that another Native American language, the Navajo, would be used in World War II?

Long before the days of the Second World War and America’s historic use of Navajo Code Talkers, there was a group of eight men who helped shape the end of the First World War. These original eight men were of the Choctaw nation, and their use was a spur-of-the-moment thing by a company commander, Captain Lawrence.

The Germans at the time were making a final big push in the Argonne area and things were not looking good for the Allies. It had been discovered that the Germans had not only broken the American radio codes but also tapped the telephone lines. To make matters worse, they were able to consistently capture 25% of the messengers who ran between the various companies on the battlefield.

Within the American Expeditionary Force during the Mousse-Argonne campaign, while virtually surrounded by Germans, Captain Lawrence was walking through the field in which his company was positioned and happened to overhear a strange language between two of his soldiers. The language was the native tongue of the Choctaw people, and the names of the soldiers were Corporal Solomon Lewis and Private First Class Mitchell Bobb.

After listening to the language for quite some time, inspiration struck the Captain, who asked Corporal Lewis to go with him. Legend has it that he asked, “Corporal, how many of you Choctaw boys do we have in this battalion?”

After going back to speak with Mitchell Bobb, Lewis was able to tell Captain Lawrence of eight men they knew for sure were fluent in the language. In response to the Captain’s questions, it was believed that there were two Choctaw men at the headquarters company who happened to be ones that Lewis knew were also fluent in the native language. These men were Smithville Ben Carterby and Kullitukle Pete Maytubby.

Immediately getting on the telephone to headquarters Captain Lawrence confirmed Carterby and Maytubby’s were indeed attached to the Headquarters Company.

Captain Lawrence then reportedly “told” his commanding officer to get them together and have them stand by because he had an idea that he was sure would get them some relief from the Germans.

His idea was simple. Captain Lawrence planned to dictate English messages to Lewis and Bobb, who would then relay them to Carterby and Maytubby in Choctaw. The latter two men were to then translate the message back into English for the Battalion Commander. As the Choctaw soldiers spoke twenty-six dialects of the native language, of which only three had ever been put into a written form, there was little worry that the Germans would be able to understand or break the CodeCode.

After wording his historic message, Captain Lawrence gave it to Private Bobb, who then used a field phone to relay the first Choctaw code message of the war to Ben Carterby at headquarters.

With the instant success of Captain Lawrence’s idea, the eight Choctaw men who were fluent in their native language were reassigned so each of the field company headquarters would have a code talker.

Although the Choctaw languages had no translatable words for artillery, machine guns, or battalions, substitutes were soon found. Artillery became “big gun,” machine gun was “little gun shoot fast” and the battalions were turned into one, two or three grains of corn.

The first official use of the Choctaw Code Talkers was to order the withdrawal of two companies from the second battalion back to Chardeny on the night of October 26, 1918. This withdrawal was able to be carried out without mishap and by such, supported Captain Lawrence’s idea of using the Choctaws. On October 27, the men were used extensively to plan an attack that came as a complete surprise to the Germans at Forrest Fern.

These eight men who would make such a difference in the Allies’ war effort were:

  1. Corporal Solomon Lewis
  2. Private Bennington Mitche Bobb
  3. Smithville Ben Carterby
  4. Wright City Robert Taylor
  5. Bokchito Jeff Nelson
  6. Kullitukle Pete Maytubby
  7. Broken Bow James Edwards
  8. Ida Calvin Wilson Goodwater

These historic men soon found their new duties were far from simple. They soon began handling and translating all the field telephone calls from Choctaw to English, as well as having to write and translate the written field orders that were then carried by the “runners” between the different companies.

Meanwhile back at the front the Germans were alarmed by the turn of events. From easily breaking all the American codes they were now running in circles trying to break the newest one. Their top code breakers were all stumped as to what this new “code” was and had no inkling on how to break it.

Less than 48 hours after Captain Lawrence had first approached Corporal Lewis to begin sending the messages and orders in the Choctaw language, the Germans sure fire feeling of victory had become the agony of defeat. Within 72 hours they were in full retreat of the attacking American and Allied forces.

Although the Choctaw Code Talkers were only used in the Mousse-Argonne campaign, and this was literally during the last days of the war, there are no other records of the CodeCode being used at any other time.

The shameful act on the part of the United States is that although these eight men were highly praised by their company and battalion commanders with promises of medals, no further recognition for their services were ever given.

There can be little doubt as to these men’s importance, not only in the First World War but also in the Second. If not for the success of the Choctaw Code Talkers, how likely is it that another Native American language, Navajo, would be used in World War II?

Nancy Vawter
Nancy Vawter

Nancy Vawter has been a reporter and writer since shortly after her graduation from the University of Arizona. She spent seven years with the New York Post, working as a national feature writer in New York. She later taught journalism as an assistant professor at American University in Washington.