Albert Grass: WWI Lakota Code Talker gets bridge named in his Honor

Published: 28 May 2024

By Timothy Hunts-In-Winter
Special to the Doughboy Foundation website


My name is Timothy Hunts-in-Winter, an enrolled citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who resides in Arizona. I’m just a guy who began researching my family’s WWI soldiers and my tribemates’ soldiers almost 3 years ago. However, I have always sat and listened to oral stories from my elders and tribemates. I have been an avid genealogist for over 30 years. When I was a young kid I was wiser than most kids as I sat and listened to elders and their stories.

I’ve combined this oral knowledge with written documentation to create a very detailed record of the journey and life of Albert Grass, Richard Blue Earth, my great Uncle Joe Jordan, and their friends Tom Rogers and Joe Young Hawk, a couple of Arikara soldiers who fought alongside Albert and Richard in 1st Division, 1st Brigade, 18th Infantry, 1st Battalion, Company A.

Albert Grass of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was the first known Code Talker to die in battle out of any tribe. Albert Grass and Richard Blue Earth Code Talked at the Battle of Soissons in July 1918, a battle that was a turning point in The Great War. I have spent the last three years studying Albert Grass, Richard Blue Earth, and our WWI Dakota/Lakota Code Talkers and soldiers. My great Uncle Joseph Jordan served alongside Albert Grass and Richard Blue Earth and was good friends with them both. In addition two Arikara served with Albert and Richard in 1st Division, 18th Infantry, Company A during WWI.

The State of North Dakota recently named a bridge in Albert Grass’s honor. I had the privilege of presenting what I have learned about Albert Grass at his bridge dedication ceremony. The bridge is dedicated to a hero who gave his life in honor of his family, tribe, and country. The bridge resides just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation along the Cannonball River where my mother and ancestors lived for generations.

Albert’s family flew me up to Bismarck, which is over 40 miles north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, to present his story at Prairie Knights Casino Pavilion.

(l to r) Justine Two Lodge, Timothy Hunts-in-Winter, Sharon Kary.  Justine and Sharon are two of the many wisdom keepers (elders) relatives of their ancestor Albert Grass (Hehaka Mani-Walking Elk) I had the privilege of meeting.

I must say the family was so loving and inviting. They took good care of me and I thank them with all my heart. Such kind, caring and amazingly strong family. The pride they have in their relative Albert Grass is beyond inspiring. A ceremony was first conducted on the Albert Grass Memorial Bridge. The Albert Grass American Legion Post and Veterans lined the bridge. Family, friends, tribemates, news reporters and many more lined up to see a WWI hero receive this honor. Which I must say is very well deserved, in my humble opinion.

Ceremony on the Albert Grass Memorial Bridge on October 20, 2023. (Albert Grass American Legion Post)

I’ve talked to elders, researched extensively with military experts, Grass family members, private and public collections, newspapers and many more sources. With Andrew Woods’ assistance from the 1st Division museum, the National Archives, and diaries from men who were there, I was able to piece together an incredible story of courage, bravery, self-sacrifice, and honor. Of special note is Cathy Rivers, the great niece of Major AB Welch who has graciously assisted me in sharing Welch documents with me. Major AB Welch was adopted by Albert Grass’s grandfather, John Grass after Albert’s father passed away. Throughout WWI, Welch looked out for the Standing Rock men in Europe, and proudly shared with the world the incredible story of Albert Grass and Richard Blue Earth and my tribe’s other WWI soldiers and Code Talkers.  Without Cathy Rivers and Andrew Woods, the Grass family, and so many more, I would not be able to share this incredible story.

Timothy Hunts-in-Winter seeing the Private Albert Grass World War I Bridge sign for the 1st time.

A reporter who wrote about many of our Sioux soldiers and North Dakota men was a man by the name of E.H. Tostevin. He is the first to write on “Albert Grass and Richard Blue Earth” being Code Talkers. He would later in the war become a writer for the Stars and Stripes. Through the assistance of his great niece Lee Tostevin, I was able to read his personal daily letters and articles he wrote during WWI that included many of our Standing Rock Soldiers in WWI.  The Tostevin family ran the Mandan Pioneer newspaper but he also wrote for the Grand Forks Herald. Tostevin is one of the key pieces of evidence of early Sioux Code talking, as not only a reporter, but also a soldier who came from North Dakota and served in the North Dakota National Guard with Albert Grass and Richard Blue Earth, and additional Standing Rock and Arikara soldiers from North Dakota. Thank you with all my heart Lee Tostevin, your help is greatly appreciated.

Teaser Alert:

The first evidence of Standing Rock Sioux Code Talkers

Monday May 23rd, 1921 Grand Forks Herald, E.H. Tostevin writes

“Young Chief Albert Grass in whose honor the Indians have staged the greatest ceremonial in modern times, first gained distinction as a dispatch runner and scout. When Germans cut in on the ground wireless or telephone lines from listening posts it was Grass and Richard Blue Earth, another Sioux who was killed in action who communicated in the Sioux language between the outposts and the command headquarters to the utter confusion of the Huns and the delight of the feature writers of the American papers. “

The title of Part 1 of my three upcoming articles is “A War Party.” In it you will learn about the journey of Albert Grass and Richard Blue Earth and some of our other Sioux County boys and Arikara friends to start a war party and head off to war in Europe. You will learn of the challenges, obstacles, and training they experienced along the way, and hear of some famous and amazing everyday North Dakotans and tribemates who made history.

You will learn how and why they started a war party, and find out what it was like in the training camps, their adventurous voyage overseas, what they ate, who they wrote to, and what life was like for them as Lakota/Dakota heading off to war.

In Part 2, titled “Counting Coup and Code Talking,” I will share when and where they code talked and what happened with them, their friends and the 18th Infantry throughout WWI and especially at the Battle of Soissons. You will have the opportunity to listen to an oral story passed down of an eyewitness account of Albert Grass’s death. You will discover what life was like for them in the 1st Division, learn about their duties, scouting, battlefield experiences, and so much more. I’ll also delve into the other Dakota/Lakota and Arikara soldiers who served with them, and the amazing contributions they made in the Great War.

In Part 3, “A Hero’s Return,” you’ll hear the story of Albert’s mom, Annie Alkire Grass Two Bears, how she and our tribe learned of Albert’s death, and how she and Richard Blue Earth’s mother honored these two brave men.  You’ll see how Albert’s adopted Uncle AB Welch did everything in his power to let the world know what he and Richard Blue Earth contributed in WWI. You will hear how thousands came from all over the world to honor these heroes for their Bravery and sacrifices for their family, tribe, country and the allied forces. I will discuss what evidence exists of other Sioux Code Talkers of WWI with an emphasis on Standing Rock.

In Part 3, I will reveal the names of a few previously unknown Sioux Code Talkers of WWI and how some men like AB Welch and Ben D Cloud might have had some influence on Sioux Code talking. I want to recognize all the Standing Rock Soldiers who sacrificed and their families in WWI. To all the other Lakota/Dakota Code Talkers of Standing Rock: we honor your service.

Private Albert Grass (Hehaka Mani Walking Elk) medals and ribbons

I finished this article in honor of Memorial Day with pride and reverence for these two men. I’ve gotten to know them as if they are my own family.  I’ve walked in the places Albert and Richard lived, trained and experienced life, I sat and listened to people who shared their stories, their lives. I sat at their graves weeping with pride in my heart knowing these men cared with all their heart for their family, tribe and country.

As I sit here typing, I feel Albert and Richard watching over me, encouraging me to share their story with the world. These men deserve to go down in history as the great heroes they are. The Grass family knew it, Major Welch knew it, his tribe and country knew this story over a 100 years ago.  Since then the story has faded in history. Now with new evidence and details, it’s time for the World of the 21st Century to learn their incredible story of courage and sacrifice.

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