William Meadows teaches a number of anthropology courses at Missouri State University; however, one class he teaches that stands out is ANT 390 Native American Code Talkers.
During World War I, the Germans monitored the U.S. open-air communications. Despite the U.S. having codes made up already, they needed to find a new way to communicate quickly but efficiently, which eventually led them to look to Native American culture. The Native Americans’ spoken language would soon be used as the new code. The American Indians would become “code talkers,” according to Meadows’ book “The First Code Talkers.”
These were mostly unknown languages to the rest of the world, according to Meadows.
In the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, Meadows was working on his dissertation for a different topic when he heard about the Native American Code Talkers and what they contributed to World War II.
“I started looking around and I found out there was nothing written on the Comanche. Everything was about the Navajo,” Meadows said. “I got in touch with the other guys (Comanche code talkers). There were still about four or five of them alive at that time, and their training officer was alive. I just started interviewing them all, and I realized they were all mid 70s at that time, so I knew they wouldn’t be here forever. So, I just went ahead and did it while I was doing my dissertation.”
Since then, Meadows' work has continued to grow within the topic of Native American Code Talkers.
Within his first year of working at MSU, Meadows received a call from Senator Tom Dachle, who asked him to come and present any information he knew about the code talking group to a Senate Committee.
“Somebody wrote up legislation, proposed it and four years later we got the Code Talkers Recognition Act passed in 2008,” Meadows said. “What that did was — the Navajo had already been awarded in 2000 and 2001 — gave equal recognition to all the other groups that had code talkers.”
According to Elizabeth Sobel, associate professor in the department of sociology and anthropology, without Meadows information and help, the Code Talkers Recognition Act might not have happened or if it had it might not have been as comprehensive.
While Meadows said he had no real plans to continue working with the code talkers, he continued to receive phone calls from people who wanted more material and information on the subject. Eventually, this led Meadows to make a one credit, five week class about the topic for MSU students.
Meadows said he speaks at conferences, military bases, museums and a few tribes have had him come and present his information on the subject.
“It’s kind of like a full-time second job, but I enjoy it,” Meadows said.
Meadows said while the few four or five code talkers are in their 90s, he is still in regular contact with some of the families.
Currently, Meadows has six books written with a seventh on the way, all centered around code talkers, Native American veterans and Native geography of the Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche tribes. He also has written a few articles as well as book chapters in “North American Indian Code Talkers: Current Events and Research,” and “We want our land as it is’: Black Goose’s Map as an Example of Kiowa Political Cartography.
Meadows also previously supervised the American Indians Association that was run on campus. As well as the study away- Field Experience in Anthropology, Native Americans.
The study away program includes students going for six weeks and living with Native families, doing field work, interviewing and attending ceremonial events such as church.
“Bill has always made sure that included among events on campus that there are individuals through federally recognized tribes,” Sobel said.
Meadows has received the Excellence in Research Award, Missouri State University Foundation in 2010 as well as the Excellence in Service Award, College of Humanities and Public Affairs, Missouri State University in 2006.
“He makes important contributions to campus as a teacher, he’s done a really good job mentoring students,” Sobel said. “I really want to emphasize that his work, not just with the code talkers, but definitely in particular with the code talkers is a good example of applied anthropology where it has and continues to make a difference in the everyday lives of Native people and Native Communities.”
Follow Caroline Mund on Twitter, @cemund32.
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