One Real American: The Life of Ely S Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General


Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Who do you remember from the Civil War history you learned about in school? You probably remember Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. You probably know a out Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. And of course President Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. But did you know Native Americans fought in the Civil War on both sides? Have you heard of Ely S. Parker? I know I hadn't until I read today's book which is so fascinating. The book is One Real American: The Real Life of Ely S. Parker Seneca Sachem and Civil War General by Joseph Bruchac.

If you do not know, Joseph Bruchac is Abenaki. He is known for his children's books and novels about Native American culture. His own heritage and respect for Native American heritage shines through this book and I always enjoy reading a book about Native Americans and Native American cultures written by a Native American because there is usually less of a hidden agenda or bias. 

Ely S. Parker was a Seneca and lived in western New York on the Tonawanda Reservation. His Seneca name was Ha-sa-no-an-da. The Seneca are part of the Iroquois Six Nations. The Seneca realized that they needed to be able to understand the white people both in language to communicate but also how their world worked. They picked some boys to go to white schools. Ely was one of them. Ely mastered the English language both written and spoken better than many native English speakers. He was extremely intelligent and took to learning. However he experienced much discrimination because he was an Indian. He was perhaps one of the only Native Americans of the time to be able to walk in both worlds--Native American and white. He studied law but discovered Indians couldn't become lawyers. He worked as a civil engineer. And the clan mothers made him a Seneca Grand Sachem. Starting when he was a teenager he was pulled away from his life to travel with leaders to represent his people and translate between the government and Seneca leaders. He was often on call for his people. He savored life in the white world. He became a mason and made many powerful friends along the way including Ulysses Grant. When the Civil War began he tried to enlist but was not allowed to because he was an Indian. Even after they starting letting Indians fight in the North he was not allowed until his friends requested him. His skill with the English language quickly got him on General Grant's personal team. He became the main person to write orders and do most of the writing for General Grant. Being on the General's team meant accompanying the General everywhere. He was there when General Lee surrendered and in fact wrote the terms of the surrender. He kept one of the first drafts for most of his life. Ely married a white woman and worked as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Ulysses Grant. 

The life of Ely S. Parker is very interesting. His being Native American often got in his way and he had to restart his life many times but he was persistent. He fought for his people but also understood and enjoyed living with white people. Joseph Bruchac tells his story in a intriguing manner that keeps you coming back to hear what happens next. I found the book interesting to read as well as very informative. Bruchac also shares some history of the Seneca and the Iroquois to give complete understanding of the times and a bit of insight into the life of the Native Americans of that time. He tells the whole story and sets the scene for the reader. Honestly at times you forget you are reading history and not an interesting story. It is very well written. I can see kids enjoying learning more about this time and about a very interesting man. It is recommended for ages 10 to 14. I highly recommend this one and think it should be in classrooms and libraries and used to teach about the Civil War and more!