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History Stories

A Hundred Years of Native American Veteran Care

Native Americans have served the United States with honor, loyalty, and bravery since the Revolutionary War (1775-1782). Despite facing discrimination, many Native American Veterans volunteered for service throughout the centuries, making significant contributions on the battlefield. Some saw it as fighting not only to protect the United States, but also their ancestral land. For their sacrifice, the VA hospital in Muskogee has led the charge in providing exceptional care for Native American Veterans for 100 years.

Muskogee Campus c. 1924

Upon returning home, these Veterans encountered various difficulties due to their non-citizen status, including denial of Veterans benefits, limited access to healthcare, and inadequate support systems outside of their Tribal communities. Addressing these challenges, the Veterans hospital in Muskogee emerged as a beacon of hope. The hospital, now known as Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (VAMC) played a pivotal role in providing essential healthcare and support for Native American veterans after World War 1 (1914-1918), offering a space where they could heal, both physically and emotionally.

Native American Patients at Soldier’s Memorial hospital at Muskogee, August 23, 1925. Muskogee Daily Phoenix.

The population of Native American WW1 Veterans at the small hospital reported exemplary treatment that aligned with their customs and traditions. At the Muskogee campus, these Veterans found solace, treatment, and camaraderie, a rarity for Native Americans in Veteran hospitals of the day. When other facilities saw high rates of runaway patients, the hospital on the hill at Muskogee bucked the trend. One reported anecdote was of a soldier, Black Fox, who was so displeased with the Veterans hospital where he was being treated in Texas that he ran away and made a month’s long journey on foot to the Muskogee hospital. Some attribute the Veteran’s contentment here with how hospital leadership took steps to understand their customs while others believe it was the land itself that resonated with these soldiers.

“The Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue and WW1 Veteran Joseph Oklahombi. The statue is dedicated to the Five Civilized Tribes, all Native American WW1 Veterans, and Oklahombi, Choctaw Code Talker during WW1 and recipient of France’s Croix de Guerre (one of four Native American Veterans with that distinction) and Silver Star with Victory Ribbon. He is the most decorated Oklahoma WW1 Veteran.

Native Americans were not extended citizenship rights until 1924 but Muskogee’s commitment to its Native American Veterans is in its DNA. The land, purchased from the Muscogee Creek Nation in 1909, was selected by the state as the site for the Veterans hospital. Our relationship with the Five Civilized Tribes Museum (old Indian Agency Building) next door has lasted decades. “The Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue dedicated to the Five Civilized Tribes and Oklahoma’s most decorated WW1 Veteran Code Talker, Joseph Oklahombi (Choctaw), has stood guard since 1925. And, we are proud to be the first VA hospital in the Nation named after a Native American, Jack C. Montgomery, member of the Cherokee Nation.

Jack C. Montgomery is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his heroism in Italy during WW2. In addition to his Medal of Honor, 1st Lt Montgomery was also awarded the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. In 2006, Muskogee renamed their VAMC in honor of this Cherokee Veteran, making them the first in the Nation to be named after a Native American.

Today, the Jack C. Montgomery VAMC continues its outstanding service to Native American Veterans and their communities. Considered a rural hospital, it serves 25 counties in Eastern Oklahoma and is proud to welcome the highest number of Native American Veterans in the country.

Jack C Montgomery VA Medical Center 100 Years of Service

Muskogee Autio Story

Nestled atop the highest point in Muskogee sits the original hospital for Oklahoma’s Veterans, Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center, the first VA Medical Center to be named in honor of a Native American. This century old site of care and convalescence has been in continuous operation since 1923. 

With the conclusion of WWI in 1918, troops headed home, forever changed. Oklahoma, like many other states at the time, had limited resources to care for the thousands of Veterans in need of assistance. The American Legion in Oklahoma called on the state and the Federal Government to provide health care for those who endured the effects of the world’s first mechanized war. In 1921, Representative Alice Robertson, the first female from Oklahoma elected to the United States Congress, and an avid supporter of Veterans, prioritized an initiative to build a hospital in her home state.

Robertson hailed from Muskogee and knew it would be an ideal location for a Veterans hospital.  When a site couldn’t be determined, she even offered up her nearby farm. However, bureaucrats finally agreed the city of Muskogee would provide fifteen acres of Agency Hill (now Honor Heights) as the site of two hospitals: one for Veterans and the other to serve the citizens of the city. The land exchanged hands between the tribal leaders of Creek Nation and the city of Muskogee several times from the Reconstruction era until 1909 when 40 acres were sold back to the city to create a botanical park. The city recognized the hill as a serene location for a hospital despite being located three miles from downtown, a far distance during a time of limited access to motorized transportation. In 1922, construction began.

On June 14, 1923, the Oklahoma Veterans Memorial Hospital opened to receive its first patients. The newly created Veterans Bureau leased the hospital and its equipment from Muskogee for two years until it purchased the building and neighboring municipal hospital in 1926. The two buildings were joined by a corridor of clinical spaces in 1937 and, over the decades, as the Veteran population in Oklahoma grew, so did the hospital. Clinical additions, advancements in technology, and other modernization efforts were ongoing throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The last major expansion occurred in 1998, replacing the original municipal hospital with a bed tower and main entrance. In 2006, the facility’s name changed to commemorate WWII U.S. Army Veteran, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and Oklahoma Cherokee, 1st Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery.

Today, Jack C. Montgomery Medical Center is a critical health care facility within the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, serving Veterans in The Sooner State.

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