French artist picked outstanding Oklahoman as subject of war painting
Condensed by Native Village
(Special thanks to Tewanna Edwards)

 Oklahoman Otis W. Leader was the "Ideal American Soldier" in World War I. Here's his story.

Otis, 1918

Otis, 1940
Otis W. Leader was born in 1882. He was of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Scotch and Irish descent.


Raymond Devvereaux with portrait of Otis Leader

On April 5, 1917, Texas newspapers carried a story about the secret service trailing suspects through Fort Worth stockyards. One was Otis Leader.

Leader's companions, Arnold Arn and Karl Marty, had come from Switzerland and owned the ranch on which Leader was employed. When three men took a shipment of cattle to Texas, Ams and Marty's Swiss accents raised suspicion.

The next day, the U.S. declared war on the central powers. On April 12, at age 34, Leader enlisted in the army. By June, he was in France.

Leader and his unit, the First Division, were the first American combat troops. On July 4th, they attended a parade in Paris where French artist, Raymond DeWarreux, saw Leader. He decided to

Tewanna and Dr. John Edwards in front of 'Otis W. Leader's painting at the Sale des Invalidee's  Museum in Paris, France.  Tewanna is Otis Leader's great niece.)

make an American Indian the subject for a painting. 

"[He was a] half-blood Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma, straight as an arrow and standing over six feet tall..." the artist said, "... keen, alert, yet with calmness that betokens strength and his naturally bronzed face reflecting the spirit that they took across with them, the spirit that eventually turned the tide."

DeWarreux received permission to paint Leader from Gen. John J. Pershing.

Leader was one of the 18 Choctaw code talkers. The men used their language to pass on military communications. The Germans could never decipher their messages. 

He was also a brave warrior. In heavy fighting at Chateau-Thierry, three of the four men in his machine gun crew were killed, Leader then took a rifle, went through enemy lines, and captured 18 Germans.

During the war, Leader was wounded twice and gassed three times  He was recovering from wounds suffered in the Argonne when the war ended.

For his valor, Leader received:

Purple Heart
Two Silver Stars,
The Distinguished Service Cross  
Nine battle medals
Two individual awards of the
Croix de Guerre,
France's highest military honor.

A later news article described Leader: 

"The Doughboy proved his bravery and won a hero's status in the fighting that followed. His machine gun company took some of the very first German fire to hit American soldiers, and three of his closest buddies were the first Americans to die in the war."

Leader suffered many health complications from his military service. He died in 1961 at age 79.


 Inspiration Native Village Home Page