This Week's Story

A brilliant Seneca Indian, Ely Parker, defies the odds.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Defeat with Victory

When someone thinks you are inferior, how do you feel—numb, shut down, angry?  How do you react when your goals are blocked by unfair decisions?

When I see someone stripped of opportunities, no matter how hard he has worked or how good his work is, I am frustrated and angry.  I ask, “Why does such blind injustice exist?”

Ely Parker got many a raw deal.  He became well acquainted with unfairness. Ely was a brilliant Seneca Indian living in the 1800’s when Native Americans often were denied opportunity and respect.  Nevertheless throughout his life he was helpful to Indians and whites.

Consider some of his misery.  For three years he worked in a law practice studying to become a lawyer.  When he applied to take the examination to become a lawyer, he was informed, “No, you cannot take the law examination, because you are not an American citizen.”  At that time Indians were not recognized as citizens.

When the Civil War began, he tried to form a regiment of Indian volunteers to fight on the Union side.  The governor of New York said, “Indians are not wanted in the New York Volunteers.”

Ely was an excellent civil engineer and such skills were needed by the military. When he applied to join the military and use his skills to help the Union side, the Secretary of War told him, “The fight must be settled by the white men alone.  Go home, cultivate your farm, and we will settle our troubles without any Indian aid.”

At age 39 he married a young white woman, from what was considered “high society.”  Mixed marriage was usually not accepted socially.  He and his wife were mistreated several times.

After the Civil War he was appointed head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He worked hard to stop dishonesty, which had become common in Bureau business.  As he did so, he made many political enemies.  When there were food shortages on several reservations, he tried to stop a new Indian war by getting food quickly.  War was prevented, but  he broke minor rules in making arrangements quickly.  His enemies immediately accused him of corruption. With his reputation greatly damaged, he resigned from government service.

Next, he went to Wall Street and made a fortune in stocks, but it was lost in the stock market crash of 1873.  In and out of these difficulties, he had many accomplishments. At no time did he become a drop-out or a hater. His losses were great, but his accomplishments were many.

Ely became famous as a Seneca attorney, engineer, and tribal diplomat. As a teenager he became an excellent speaker.  By age 15 he was going to Washington D.C. to represent his tribe concerning treaty disputes.  When he was only 23, the Iroquois confederacy of six Indian tribes gave the highest award they had in recognition of his service.

Later, through his friend General Ulysses S. Grant, he did join the military as an engineer.  He became the only Native American to become a general on the Union side. He wrote the final draft of surrender terms of the Civil War.   After the war when Grant became president, he appointed Ely to be Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the entire country. Throughout his life he had many friends, who greatly respected his intelligence, charm, and integrity.  One such was the best man at his wedding, President Grant.

Ely survived major blows to his dreams and hard work.  Being smart was not the only reason he achieved.  His family encouraged him.  Pride, honesty, and friendships motivated him.  He refused to deny who he could be.

This is Barbara Steiner.  Researching the life of Ely Parker has been fascinating.

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I liked how at the beginning they did not allow Parker to be an American citizen, but he didn't give up and kept trying.  He learned new skills; overall he became a great engineer, diplomat and general for the military.  from Fatima

Dear Fatima,

The world today needs more people like Ely Parker.  Leah

This story shows that even though Ely was rejected multiple times, he persevered through his hardship.  I will remember Ely the next time I experience negativity around me.   from Caleb

Dear Caleb,

Good point!  Inspiration means nothing if you don't act upon it.   Leah

I like how he always helped out like when he helped get food quickly for Indians on Indian reservations.  Thanks again!   from Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Ely was a selfless person.  He made helping his fellow indians a life long cause.   Leah

Ely did what he wanted to do so he could help others.  from Grace

Dear Grace,

Ely exemplifies a positive heart and perseverance.   Leah

I find it amazing that he would help his tribe in such a way at only fifteen!  Incredible!   from Micah

Dear Micah,

Ely and his dedication should inspire everyone!   Leah

Barbara this is so encouraging that we as citizens are blessed by our American heritage from the very core of citizens here before we were to live a Christ like life from an example of God's creation.   From Michael E.

Dear Michael E.,

Our American heritage surely has rich contributions from Native Americans.  Leah


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