Men and women from across the American West played critical roles — both “over there” and on the home front — in helping the Allies win World War I. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) divisions drawn from the Western states provided crucial support at a precarious time (from September to November 1918) to turn the war’s tide. Opening November 17, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum presents the exhibition Cowboys in Khaki: Westerners in the Great War to tell the stories of those Westerners who, before the war, were cowboys and cattlemen, farmers, roughnecks, doctors, lawyers, and shopkeepers.
Cowboys in Khaki: Westerners in the Great War draws on the National Cowboy Museum’s militaria, rodeo, and history collections, as well as loans from the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas. It tells how those from the Western United States made decisive contributions to the war effort, both on the home front and abroad.
As the exhibit reveals, before the United States declared war on April 6, 1917, the U.S. provided vital supplies of beef cattle and wheat to Belgium and France from 1914 through 1920 and kept civilians and Allied troops fed.
Cowboys in Khaki: Westerners in the Great War also reveals the true diversity of those Westerners who fought for an Allied victory during World War I. For example, the story of the Navajo “code talkers” during World War II is well known; however, Choctaw “code talkers” (part of the 36th Division) during the Great War were vital to the Allied victory, earning recognition for their bravery. Hispanic soldiers, largely from New Mexico and Colorado, comprised a significant number of the AEF, while Asians from the Pacific Coast also served in Western divisions. African-American soldiers from the 92nd Division fought gallantly with the French, earning the Croix de Guerre, awarded for bravery during combat.
****Cowboys in Khaki: Westerners in the Great War remains on display through May 12, 2019.