March 1992

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


The Red Jacket Medal


A. H. Guernsey

Reprinted from the February 1886 Harper's New Monthly Magazine

Mr. William L. Stone has performed an acceptable work in bringing out a new edition, with a few corrections, and many additions of the Life, written by his father, bearing the same name, of the famous orator-chief of the Senecas, whom we know as Red Jacket.

It is not our purpose here to present even a sketch of the life of Red Jacket. We merely premise that he was born about 1750, near the place where now stands the beautiful village of Geneva, in New York. His original name was O-te-ti-anni, "Always Ready." Long after, when his eloquence had made him the Chief Sachem of his tribe, he received the name, by which he should be known, of Sa-go-ye-wat-ha, "He-that-keeps-them-awake." He received the name Red Jacket from a richly-embroidered scarlet jacket presented to him by the British for the services which he rendered them during the war of the Revolution. When the first was worn out an other and another was given him, and long after, in 1794, he received still another from the United States, "in order to perpetuate the name to which he was so much attached." He died in 1830, worn out not so much by years as by intemperance. His remains after having been buried were disinterred, and the bones are now (December, 1865) kept in a wooden chest by the remnant of his tribe; but it is said, we hope truly, that "measures are on foot by the Buffalo Historical Society to give the bones an appropriate burial."

In spite of Mr. Stone's admirable work, in which "He-that-keeps-them-awake" is presented in his true character as orator and statesman, the popular idea of Red Jacket is founded upon a poem by Fitz-Greene Halleck, in which he is presented as a warrior as well as an orator. Our present purpose is, however, simply to speak of the relic of Red Jacket which has an interesting history. In 1792 he went to the Federal capital as a member of an embassy from the Six Nations. Washington, on this occasion, presented him with the silver medal, of which our engraving presents a transcript, of the exact size of the original. It is of pure silver, upon which the design is engraved. To the mind of Red Jacket there was something symbolical in this medal. Its costly material was emblematical of the great value of the friendship which was ever to subsist between the United States and the Indians; its brightness indicated the perfect purity of the peace between the two peoples. Its pure surface would show the slightest tarnish which might accidentally come upon it; and both parties, giver and receiver, could then set to work to remove the stain. Red Jacket always wore this medal on state occasions. He never sold it, though sometimes in his later years, when hard pressed for means to buy whisky, he is said to have put it in pawn. Upon his death it fell into the hands of James Johnson, his successor in the sachemship. In 1851 Johnson seems to have been prevailed upon to sell the medal to some parties who wished to secure it for the State Museum at Albany. This transfer was prevented by Mr. E. S. Parker, who paid the sum for which it was to have been sold, and has had it in his possession ever since.

The life of Mr. Parker presents some interesting features. He is apparently of pure Indian descent. In 1848-1849 he read law, but by the rules of the Supreme Court of the State none but white male citizens could practice in that Court. He was not "white," and consequently could not be admitted to the bar. He abandoned the law, and adopted the profession of Civil Engineer. He was employed in his new profession upon the State canals until 1855, having in the mean time been chosen as Chief Sachem of his people. He then became First Assistant Engineer upon the Chesapeake and Albermarle Ship Canal in North Carolina and Virginia, where he remained until an Engineer was no longer required upon that work. He was then appointed Constructing Engineer in the Light-house district of the Upper Lakes; then, in 1857, he became Superintendent of the construction of the public buildings at Galena, Illinois. These completed, he was transferred in the same capacity to Dubuque, Iowa. "During all this time," he writes, "I did not neglect the interests of my people, being frequently compelled to visit Albany and Washington on their account. In May 1863, he was, without any solicitation on his part, appointed Assistant Adjutant-General of Volunteers, with the rank of Captain, and sent to the Army of the Tennessee. He reported at Vicksburg just four days before its surrender to General Grant. With Grant he went to Chattanooga, and witnessed the battles thereabout in the autumn of 1863. Next spring, Grant having been appointed Lieutenant-General, Mr. Parker accompanied him to the East as Assistant Adjutant-General, and was with him during the entire campaigns from the Rapidan to the surrender of Lee. During this time, in August, 1864, he was appointed Military Secretary to the Lieutenant-General, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In February, 1865, at the special request of the Lieutenant-General, he was, with the rest of Grant's personal staff, promoted to the rank of Colonel by brevet. In August, 1865, he was appointed by the President one of the Commissioners to negotiate a treaty of peace with the Southwestern Indians, many of whom had been allies of the Confederacy. The efforts of the Commissioners were very successful; they succeeded in making a general treaty of peace with twelve Indian tribes.

To us this seems much. Yet the man who has since performed all these duties was only a few years ago excluded from the bar in the State of his birth simply and wholly because he was not "white." The world does move, after all and we wonder whether the man who was thought worthy to be chosen Military Secretary by our Lieutenant-General would not, should he desire admission, be excluded from the bar. If there be any existing "rule" of the Supreme Court of the State requiring this, we very respectfully suggest to their Honors the Judges to rescind it as soon as possible. We do not think that their judicial dignity would be seriously impaired would it happen that they were some day called upon to listen to a motion or plea from Mr. Parker, Successor to Red Jacket, Sachem of the Senecas, and Brevet-Colonel, U. S. V.

Red Jacket, Seneca Orator by Robert Koch
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR