Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Did Native Americans Anticipate Camouflage?

Comparative camouflage photo by Abbott H. Thayer
Above American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer believed that modern military camouflage had been anticipated by the battle dress (both "war paint" and clothing) of Native American warriors, as well as other "savages." In this demonstration photograph, Thayer has positioned a model (it may be his son and co-author Gerald Handerson Thayer), dressed like a Native American in a forest setting. To the right of the model is a cut-out silhouette of a WWI-era foot soldier, in a single continuous color. It was Thayer's contention that the multi-colored disrupted attire of the Native Americans provided better camouflage than continuous khaki. This photograph was published in an article by Thayer, titled "Camouflage" in Scientific Monthly, Vol VII (1918), pp. 481-494.


Anon INDIAN SPORTS CAMOUFLAGE: Princess Astonishes Army Officers by Keen Sight and Quick Discernment, in Celina Democrat (Celina OH), February 22, 1918, p. 2—

Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg SC—Camouflage training at the military camp here was quickly detected by Princess White Deer [Esther Louise Georgette Deere], great-granddaughter of Chief Running Deer, the last of the Mohawk tribe of chieftains.

The princess was a guest at the camp during camouflage work and easily detected the men as they squirmed their way to a post held by an imaginary enemy. Army officers were greatly surprised by the girl's keen sight and quick discernment.


Associated Press INDIANS FIRST TO PRACTICE CAMOUFLAGE in Ada Weekly News (Ada OK), February 20, 1919, p. 1—

Chicago—"Camouflage is as old as the storm God of Indian folklore," said Chief Strongheart, who recently returned from France where he is credited with having done more for the fighting traditions of his race than any other American Indian.

"The Indians were the true inventors of camouflage," said the chief, who will go to his Yakima reservation in Washington State after a brief eastern visit. "They discovered its advantages in their earliest conflicts. When a battle was to take place in a forest in the summer months, the warriors would paint their bodies green, with a dash of other colors to produce the exact blend with surroundings. They even sketched birds and small animals on their bodies to make the effect more realistic. If the battle was to take place when autumn had withered the leaves and touched them into gold, splashes of brown and yellow made the warriors blend with the setting.

"The trick, when artfully turned, resulted in great victories. Many early settlers were taken into captivity by use of camouflage.

"The French were quick to visualize its enormous advantages in the war just closed and promptly carried the art to its peak."

Chief Strongheart was rejected by the army because as a leader of Indian scouts in the service of the United States in Mexico in 1910, he received a shot in the leg in a skirmish with the Mexicans. Before being wounded he killed two Mexicans and took seven prisoners.

Realizing his unfitness for military duty, the chief toured America for army recruits. After an address in the front of the New York Public Library one day 233 men enlisted. Two hundred more volunteered in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Heading due west from New York, he spoke in large cities for the Liberty Loan and War stamp drives. During his campaigns he wore his native dress, including the headfeathers.

Chief Strongheart said that 18,000 American Indians went to France with the American Expeditionary Force, most of them serving as scouts. He cited an incident where five Indians enabled the Americans to capture 13,000 prisoners.

Running Elk, Strongheart's father, was scout for General O.O. Howard in the Nez Perces war and aid to Colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War; and Strongheart, when a baby, was carried about on the former president's back. His grandfather was Chief Standing Rock, who took part in "Custer's Last Fight," and who died at the age of 109 years.