Born in 1828, this Seneca studied law but was unable to gain admission to the Bar because at that time Native Americans were not US citizens. He was befriended by writer Lewis Henry Morgan whom he met in a bookshop; they collaborated on Morgan's book about the Iroquois and Morgan was able to assist him to attend engineering college.
In 1852 he was made Sachem of the Seneca and given the name Donehogawa - Keeper of the Western Door of the Long House of the Iroquois.
Ely was unable to enlist in the Union army at the start of the Civil War due to his Native status but had gained an influential acquaintance in the course of his involvement with government engineering projects: Ulysses S Grant, whose unit was short of engineers.
Parker was commissioned as Lieutenant Colonel and eventually reached the rank of Brigadier General. He served as adjutant to Grant, writing much of his correspondence. He also wrote the final draft of the terms of Confedererate surrender at Appomattox, where he shook hands with Robert E Lee. He recorded that Lee stared at him for a moment then said "I'm glad to see there's one real American here."
After the war Grant appointed Ely as Commissioner for Indian Affairs. In 1895 he died in relative poverty in Fairfield, Connecticut, having suffered stock market losses. His body was later removed to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York, where he lies next to Red Jacket.
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