“Spend no time mourning the failures of the past. Tears make a bitter throat. Look ahead, there is more work to do.” Ely Parker

Seneca Chief Cornplanter by F. Bartoli

While working as an engineer overseeing the building of a federal customs house in Galena, Illinois, 29-year-old Ely Parker dropped in to a store and met a dissatisfied ex-military officer, Ulysses S. Grant  employed as a clerk by his father and bored out of his skull. The meeting was chance and friendly, but did not promise anything more than friendship to either of them at the time. Yet as with most people who move and strive chance meetings are the reward for hard work and determination.

Let’s go back a ways, though. One day long before Ely was a successful engineer, he was a 14-year-old Seneca boy with a Baptist father who valued classical education. A group of English soldiers mocked young Ely’s stammering attempt at speaking English. Did Ely let this stop him? Of course not. He vowed to learn the language so well he’d shame the Englishmen themselves!

Lewis Henry Morgan

Tribal elders loved his drive and his growing intellect determining one day he would represent them in their relations with the “Americans.” One such American Lewis Henry Morgan romanticized the noble savages and upon meeting Ely by chance in a bookstore begged him to join his  fraternity The Grand Order of the Iroquois in which an enthusiastic and idealistic group of young white men planned to model their lives after the Indians. Ely wasn’t offended by Morgan’s silly fraternity. Maybe Ely was bemused by Morgan’s naivete but invited Morgan to the reservation anyway. They fast became friends. Morgan learned much that helped him establish his fledgling career as an  anthropological pioneer.

But Morgan wasn’t the type to take, take, take. He helped his friend Ely gain entry into the elite, white Cayuga Academy where despite some bullying he excelled and went on to study engineering at Rensselaer Institute (RPI).

220px-UlyssesSGrant_staff_ca1865_byJAWhipple_HarvardAt the start of the Civil War Ely was told as an Indian (a non-citizen) he could not organize a unit to fight for the Union and was rebuffed yet again when he asked to join the Union army as an engineer. As luck would have it U.S. Grant was short engineers and arranged for Ely to be commissioned a captain. Ely eventually worked alongside his friend as his adjutant and then as a lieutenant colonel and Grant’s military secretary writing most correspondence for Grant and taking part in drafting the final documents for Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse (in fact the documents are in Ely’s handwriting).

Ely Parker’s life was not without controversy. He married a white woman and took the job of Commissioner of Indian Affairs when Grant became president. Although Grant’s Indian Peace Policy lessened the fighting in the west some Indians unfairly accused Ely of selling out to the white man in marriage and career. This is always the way, isn’t it? Traveling once in Ireland I came across a group of young men who bitterly accused their friends successfully living in America as sell-outs. So be it, I say.

220px-Ely_S._ParkerHeroes make lemonade.

Like Grant, Ely made and lost a fortune in the stock market and died with little money, but what a life he led! Ely Parker was a man of two worlds but saw the big picture.  Robert E. Lee at Appomattox quipped upon meeting Ely, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Ely shook the defeated general’s hand and replied, “We are all Americans.” (wiki)





God forbid that I should go to any Heaven in which there are no horses. ~R.B. Cunninghame Graham, letter to Theodore Roosevelt, 1917

“In horsemanship, however, he was noted as the most proficient in the Academy. In fact, rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur...” James Longstreet
“In horsemanship, however, he was noted as the most proficient in the Academy. In fact, rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur…” James Longstreet

US Grant was the greatest equestrian president. Everyone says so!

“He was a great horseman and sat his horse as if he were part of the horse, all one figure. There was never a movement of any description that was not masterful and graceful. No one ever saw him disturbed in any way, that is, jolted or taken unaware on horseback, whether he was going fast or slow. He was a born horseman. He had a natural love for animals of all kinds and he was of kindly instincts, without being demonstrative at all, except to his family. He never abused an animal, never.” Corporal M. Harrison Strong Grant, The Equestrian

And then there’s Theodore. Whatever he didn’t possess in grace he made up for with enthusiasm!

Go, TR! Go!
Go, TR! Go!

Presidential Horses

Humbug Taft gets rid of Horses

Cincinnati the Great Horse!

When Trusting Others Goes Terribly Wrong

Tragic, flawed and beloved--US Grant
Tragic, flawed and beloved–US Grant

“Without a word, the general turned and slowly stumped his way back out of the office, past the silent reporters, into the elevator that carried him upstairs to his office at the Mexican Southern Railroad. He stayed there all alone, till five o’clock, when he called for George Spencer, Grant &Ward’s clerk.

“Spencer found him slumped behind his desk.

“‘Spencer,” he murmured, “how is it that man deceived us all in this way?”

“The clerk had no answer.

“‘I have made it the rule of my life to trust a man long after other people give him up.” the general continued. “But I don’t see how I can ever trust any human being again.”

He buried his face in his hands.

When Grant left home that morning he had believed himself a millionaire. When he got home in the evening he had $80 in his pocket. His wife had another $130. There was nothing else.”   A Disposition to be Rich by Geoffrey C. Ward

I’ll admit it. I love US Grant.



Books I’ve Known And Loved


A moving, sad and brilliant account of US Grant, this biography gave me such sympathy for Grant the man. So flawed, so misunderstood and so melancholy–I dream of writing fiction as satisfying. Don’t assume that because you’re not into politics or the military that this book would bore you. If you like exploring the complexity of the human soul you’ll love this.



iOK7Mc492Lda3 (2)