Choctaw Stopped War Wire Tappers
Germans at St. Mihiel Finally Circumvented by Indians of the U.S. Forces
It was at St. Mihiel that German linguists who had been annoying the allied forces by tapping their wires met their first defeat. There was no tongue that had baffled them. It was said later that there were among them men who could have interpreted messages in Icelandic and because so many languages were represented in the American army, they were prepared to intercept messages even in Zulu.
At St. Mihiel the situation was one that couldn’t brook failure. So many messages had been intercepted by Germans that the allied commanders were at their wit’s ends to know how to circumvent them. It was Capt. E. W. Horner who had an idea. A company composed entirely of Indians had recently arrived from Fort Worth where they had trained in the Thirty-sixth Division under Gen. Gribbell. Capt. Horner’s idea was to pick a few of these Indians who could converse in their own language in transmitting orders.
There were eight Choctaw boys who appeared to be cut out for the job. They had been selected by Solomon Lewis who was told to chose seven trustworthy men who wouldn’t flinch. And he picked Ben Carterby, Robert Taylor (a stranger then and now to Hollywood), Calvin Nilson, Pete Maytubby, James Edwards, Jeff Wilson and Joseph Oklahombi. Lewis was stationed with the field artillery and Solomon Lewis at headquarters. The others were assigned to their stations and shortly the Germans listening in were confounded by the strange sounds that passed over the wires.
After reporting positions and other matters of a routine nature, Edwards sent over a report to Solomon at headquarters that the Germans were making extensive preparations to attack. All along the line came messages in Choctaw to the same effect. Ben Caraby had a little more to report. “Go quick and tell Col. Brewer it is hell down here where I am. The Kaiser’s crack troops are getting ready to go over the top tomorrow. They are the Prussian guards.”
Almost immediately, Col. Brewer gave orders to Lewis to be reported in Choctaw to go over the top at 6 o’clock the next morning in advance of the time set by the Germans. And at the same time, a message in Choctaw went to the artillery to send over a barrage at 5:55 A.M. The division went over the top as ordered. In a half hour the results had shown.
The Germans had lost heavily and 500 prisoners were brought in. Ben Cartaby tells the story about Joseph Oklahombi. An officer saw the Indian approaching from a distance. He had two prisoners in tow. When he reached headquarters, there was only one prisoner. The officer asked, “Where is that other prisoner you had a few minutes ago?” “I kill him,” Oklahombi replied. “Want me go back and kill him some more?” The officer did not. It was this same Oklahombi who received a citation which reads: “Private Joseph Oklahombi, Company D. 141st Infantry, under a violent barrage, dashed to the attack of an enemy position, covering two hundred yards through barbed wire entanglements. He rushed on machine gun nests, capturing 171 prisoners. He stormed a strongly held position containing more than fifty machine guns and a number of trench mortars. Turned the captured guns on the enemy and held the said position for four day sin spite of a constant barrage of large projectiles and gas shells crossed ‘no man’s land’ many times to get information concerning the energy and to assist his wounded comrades.”
Oklahombi’s record is history and known in every home. The other Choctaws who balked the German wire tappers all lived to return to their own land, Lewis owns a farm in southern Oklahoma. His wife is the girl he met at a football game while he was s student at Armstrong Academy. When war was declared he was not old enough to enlist but because he was an orphan no one raised any objection when he stretched his age. Being an orphan with no one to make the beneficiary of his insurance, he sent for the girl of his dreams to meet him at the training camp and they were married. A few days later he and his fellow Choctaws sailed for France. The others, at last reports, were all engaged in gainful occupations. Their experiences in France were just experiences in their lives. Others must make first reference to them. The records will always be there to tell their stories.