Book Review: The First Code Talkers: Native American Communicators in World War I


by William C. Meadows

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2021. Pp. xvi, 358. . Illus., map, tables, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0806168412

Native American “Code Talkers” in the Great War

While the story of Native American “code talkers” in World War II is now fairly well known, Prof. Meadows (Missouri State), gives us a first look at the efforts to use First American personnel as communicators during the Great War.

Although Meadows a very good job of explaining how the idea of using the unique linguistic abilities of these troops arose during the World War, he oddly ignores earlier examples of the use of Native American languages in communications; during the Civil War officers such as Rufus Ingalls or George Crook would sometimes send messages in Indigenous tongues to other officers whom they knew shared their expertise in the language.

Meadows explores the training of these early “code talkers”, including the development of a useable terminology, and the men’s service, generally on a nation-by-nation basis (Eastern Cherokee, Oklahoma Choctaw, Oklahoma Cherokee, Comanche, Osage, Sioux, and Ho-Chunk). And, of course, Meadows gives us some insights into the role and influence of the work of these early “code talkers” on operations. Meadows also covers the belated post-war recognition of their service, and the influence of their experiences on the organization of Native American code talkers in the later war.

As an anthropologist, Meadows was able to supplement tradition primary and secondary sources by drawing on oral tradition, which adds much to the narrative.

The First Code Talkers is a good book on a very little known subject.



Note: The First Code Talkers is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium (

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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