Ely Samuel Parker

Ely Samuel Parker
  • Born in 1828 into the Seneca Indian nation on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation in western New York (his grandmother was white)
  • Like most of his tribe, he had two names; he became Do-ne-ho-ga-wa, or “Open Door”, as an adult, but his white name was Ely (rhymes with freely) Parker, a name he readily adopted
  • As a teenager, was one of three chosen to meet President James Polk to discuss grievances over the sale of reservation lands to a land developer.
  • Trained to become a lawyer, but New York State law prohibited aliens from being admitted to the bar (Indians were not considered citizens)
  • Ely next turned his attention to engineering, dealing mainly with the construction and maintenance of canals
  • In 1857 received an appointment from the Treasury Department to superintend the construction of a custom house and marine hospital in Galena; it was during his time in Galena that he became acquainted with U.S. Grant.
  • By 1863, two years into the Civil War, Parker found himself on Grant’s personal staff. A year later he became Grant’s military secretary and served at the General’s side until Appomattox, where he penned the terms of surrender given to Robert E. Lee
  • Grant appointed Parker Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Indian ever to hold the office. It was a short-lived career; after two years he was charged with the misuse of federal funds. Although largely vindicated, he resigned and turned his attention away from government
  • He married a white woman young enough to be his daughter, Minnie Sackett; they would eventually have one daughter
  • He made a small fortune on Wall Street, only to lose it a few years later; slid into an engineering post with the New York City Police Dept., a position he held until his death in 1895; buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY