An Indian Commissioner of Indian Affairs

Ely Samuel Parker was born on the Tonawanda reservation in Indian Falls, New York in 1828.
          Parker mastered the English language in school and earned a scholarship to Yates Academy in western New York State. He became known for his exceptional speaking skill. While still in school, he represented the Senecas in treaty negotiations with the U.S. government.  
          Rejected by Harvard University, he studied law in New York City. He was not allowed to join the bar in New York because he was declared “not a citizen.” 
          Parker found work as an engineer on the Eerie Canal before taking a government assignment in Illinois and Iowa. In 1860, while working in Galena, Illinois, he became friends with Ulysses S. Grant.
          In 1861 the Civil War began. Parker volunteered for service with the Union Army but was rejected. Two years later General Grant secured Parker a military appointment. Parker served with Grant at the Union victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi. 

Ely S. Parker second from right in this Alexander Gardner photo of Grant's Command Staff meeting.

          When Grant became commander of all Union forces, he chose Parker as his Military Secretary and Assistant Adjutant General. Parker was with Grant during the 1864-65 campaign against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Parker was present when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. According to Parker, it was he who drafted the official document which both General’s signed. 
          In 1868, Grant was elected President of the United States. The following year he appointed Parker Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
          Ely S. Parker was the first American Indian to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Photo of Ely S. Parker courtesy Smithsonian Civil War Photo Collection
Photo of Grant and staff courtesy New York State Archives

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. very cool blog this is my great great uncle. Glad to see he was depicted well in the movie. I have yet to see it but look forward to it.

    Larry Parker

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