|Ulysses Grant and staff. Parker at left.|
The most amazing thing to come my direction after the Charlottesville disaster was a piece by Mark Trahant in High Country News. Trahant is enrolled Shoshone-Bannock, the author of a book on Scoop Jackson and Termination, and, currently, a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota. And, I am proud to say, someone we had at Fishtrap during my tenure there.
On reading Trahant’s “History Tells Us Donald Trump’s Presidency is Over,” I thought immediately of Alvin Josephy’s contention that Indians have been systematically omitted from the standard version of American history. They are, Josephy contended, seen as impediments to Euro-American progress across the continent, or as a side show, literally or figuratively participants in Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.
But Trahant reminds us that “Eli Parker, a Seneca Indian, drafted the documents that spelled out the surrender to be signed by General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865.”
Parker had gone to law school, but could not take the bar exam to practice law, because Indians were not citizens and one had to be a citizen to practice law. So he became an engineer, gained wealth, and in one of his engineering projects met and befriended a down and out Ulysses S. Grant. Years later, Parker was at first rebuffed in gaining an officer’s post in the Union Army, but, eventually Grant found him, he was made an officer, and at the Appomattox courthouse, Parker was an officer, Grant’s scribe, and the man who drafted the document of surrender.
That fact, and Eli Parker, have been effectively scrubbed from the standard history. Which makes the irony of Parker’s interchange with General Lee all the greater:
“I am glad to see one real American here,” Lee said while shaking his hand. Lt. Col. Parker responded: “We are all Americans.”
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