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First Lieutenant John Powless of Oneida, NY, World War I, c. 1917

Madison County's Commissioned Officers

New York State Archives, NYSA_A0412-78_B11_F44_Powless_John_Photograph
Document Description
Madison County's Commissioned Officers, including "number 4" First Lieutenant John Powless of the Oneida Nation, Oneida, NY, c. 1917.
What titles did John Powless use to identify himself?
Where is the Oneida Nation located?
Why do you think First Lt. Powless decided to re-enlist in the army?
Do you think First Lt. Powless thought of himself as a member of the Oneida nation, the United States, or both? Explain your answer.
Historical Challenges
The Oneida Nation supported the United States in other wars, as well. Find information about another war in which the Oneida Nation provided support to the United States. In what ways did the Oneidas support the war effort? How did the United States recognize their support?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Using your knowledge of World War I and John Powless’ life, write a page from First Lieutenant John Powless’ journal.
Canastota Courant, 19 Oct. 1917 Oneida Democratic Union, April 10, 1919


Historical Context
First Lieutenant John Powless was a member of the Turtle Clan and a full-blood member of the Oneida Nation. He served in World War I as a commissioned officer. After returning home from the war, he decided to re-enlist and served as machine-gun instructor at Fort Hancock in Georgia and later transferred to Fort Slocum in New York. 

Less than forty years after the end of the Indian wars in the West, thousands of American Indians served in World War I as members of the United States military. First Lieutenant Powless was just one of many American Indians who pledged their loyalty to the United States government and risked their lives to protect U.S. interests. Members of American Indian tribes were considered citizens of a separate nation. In order to become U.S. citizens, American Indians needed to marry a U.S. citizen or voluntarily join the military. The naturalization process used by foreign immigrants was not open to American Indians.

In 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act was passed which made all non-citizen American Indians born within the United States full citizens. The service of American Indian soldiers in World War I served as a major contributing factor to the passage of this act. Tribal leaders argued that if their people were willing to die for U.S. causes then they should be permitted to become full citizens.
Essential Question
How do individuals contribute to a nation's war effort?
Check for Understanding
Using the photograph and historical background, explain how John Powless contributed to the war effort.