Friday, January 4, 2019

Mary Stockwell's "Interrupted Odyssey"

Mary Stockwell is the former chair of the history department at Lourdes University in Ohio and the author of Unlikely General: "Mad" Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America, The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians and other books.

Stockwell applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Interrupted Odyssey: Ulysses S. Grant and the American Indians, and reported the following:
No one could deny that Ely Samuel Parker, President Ulysses S. Grant’s Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was a remarkable man. Born in 1828 on the Seneca’s Tonawanda Reserve, he was named his tribe’s official spokesman when he was just eighteen. Five years later, he was chosen as the Seneca’s Grand Sachem. He studied law and helped argue a case in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of his people. He negotiated a treaty with the government that allowed the Seneca to stay in Tonawanda, making them one of the few eastern tribes that avoided removal across the Mississippi. He studied engineering, and found work first on the Erie Canal and later as the superintendent of lighthouses on the Upper Great Lakes. In 1860, Parker moved to Galena, Illinois to oversee the construction of a customhouse and naval hospital. There he befriended a quiet young man who worked as a clerk in his father’s leather goods store. He was Ulysses S. Grant who would soon win fame as a Union general in the Civil War. Shortly after Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Parker became his military secretary. When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Parker wrote down the surrender terms. In 1869, when Grant was sworn in as president, Parker became his commissioner of Indian affairs.

But for all his success, Commissioner Parker, on the morning of January 17, 1871, as described on Page 99 of Interrupted Odyssey: Ulysses S. Grant and the American Indians, refused to get out of bed. He was hiding there so he would not have to testify before a special committee of the House of Representatives that was investigating him for corruption. Parker had been accused of negotiating an unnecessary million dollar contract to supply the Sioux on the Upper Missouri in June 1870 and then pocketing most of the money for himself. The charges were baseless but that did not stop his political enemies, who hated him as the “savage” whom Grant had chosen to run the Indian service, from doing everything in their power to oust him from his post. By removing Parker, they hoped to overturn the Indian policy that Grant had carefully crafted with the help of his Seneca friend. The president had planned to move the Indians to reservations where the army would protect them from the onslaught of settlers. Working at their own pace, over a generation or two, the tribes would learn modern ways to support themselves and so enter the American mainstream as citizens of the United States.

Parker finally worked up the nerve to face the House panel. While he was exonerated, his reputation was ruined and he soon resigned his position. Without an ally like Parker at his side, Grant watched as his Indian policy came undone. A succession of Commissioners of Indian Affairs took over but none of them had the vision that Parker had provided. They de-emphasized the goal of American citizenship for the Indians and instead argued that Grant was maintaining the peace like no President before him. Their optimistic claims exploded when the Far West descended into worst Indian Wars in American history, including the Modoc War in 1873, the Red River War in 1874, and the Great Sioux War in 1876. While Grant never discussed his Indian policy after leaving office, Parker could never forget its failure. Until the day he died, he would always remember that terrible January morning when the policy that he had developed with Ulysses Grant, along with their friendship, began to unravel past all repair.
Visit Mary Stockwell's website.

My Book, The Movie: Interrupted Odyssey.

--Marshal Zeringue