Arthur, Beulah, and Bertha: The Extended Parker Family

Bertha Cody at Gypsum Cave
Source: M.R. Harrington, “Man and Beast in Gypsum Cave.” The Desert Magazine, April 1940.

Discovered another Trowelblazers post with a Lamoka connection, which led me into the interesting and complex family history of Arthur Parker.

Bertha “Birdie” Parker Pallan Thurston Cody  was the daughter of Beulah Tahamont Parker and Arthur Parker, New York State Archaeologist and Rochester Museum director. She had an interesting and complicated  life of her own, working as an archaeologist/anthropologist at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California for many years. That was only part of her life, however.

Arthur Parker, of course, was the Seneca archaeologist and museologist, whose life has been well documented. Parker was born on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in western New York, but his family moved to White Plains, near New York City, when he was still young. The first few years of the twentieth century were busy ones for Arthur: he attended Dickinson Seminary in Pennsylvania, worked on anthropological projects for the Peabody Museum of Harvard and the American Museum of Natural History, and was briefly a reporter on the New York Sun.

He also spent much time at the salon of Harriet Converse, a family friend whose home on West 46th Street in New York City was a gathering place for both Native Americans and several young anthropologists. Converse had been inspired by Ely Parker (Arthur’s great-uncle) “to devote the remainder of her life to the study and defense of the Indians of New York.” (Parker 1908:17)  Among the anthropologists who met there was Mark R. Harrington, who would become Arthur’s close friend. The proximate reason for Parker leaving the seminary in 1903 was to work as an assistant to Harrington, who planned fieldwork on the Cattaraugus Reservation for the Peabody Museum.

It’s likely that Arthur would have met Beulah Tahamont, an Abenaki, at the Converse salon, as Harriet Converse had helped Beulah and her younger sister gain admission to a public school in New York about a year or so before Beulah’s marriage (Porter 2001:54). Converse, in fact, was to have had dinner with the Tahamont family on the night she died in 1903 (Parker 1908:29). The following year Arthur and Beulah were wed.

Around the same time, declining an opportunity to study at Columbia University with Franz Boas (perhaps in part because of the need for a steady income), Arthur began working at the New York State Museum, soon becoming the State Archaeologist.

Arthur and Beulah had two children, Melvil and Bertha “Birdie” Parker. Birdie was born in 1907, reportedly in a tent during one of Arthur’s excavations. What site might this have been? In that year, Parker worked primarily at the McCullough earth inclosure in Gerry Township (southwest of Buffalo, NY), but also spent up to several days each at numerous other sites in Chautaqua and Cattaraugus counties [EDIT: Margaret Bruchac, in a forthcoming book, identifies Bertha’s birthplace as the Silverheels site].

 Arthur and Beulah were divorced in 1914. Arthur re-married the same same year. His new wife, 17-year-old Anna Theresa Cooke, was about the same age Beulah had been when she had married Parker. Anna worked at several archaeological excavations with Arthur, including Boughton Hill or Ganondagan (excavated by the Museum in 1919-1920) and Vine Valley (around 1921). She was later described as a “dynamic sportswoman” and “Whether it was assisting on a dig, helping with installation of the Iroquois dioramas at the State Museum Building, or with design of the Fashion Hall at Edgerton Park, Anne was always a cherished companion and helpmate to her husband.” (Porter 2001:222)

Beulah and her daughter Bertha, meanwhile, moved west to California. Beulah’s parents, Elijah “Dark Cloud” Tahamont and Margaret “Dove Eye” Camp had worked as actors with D.W. Griffith, whose earliest movies were made in New York and New Jersey. When Griffith moved production to California, the Tahamonts followed him. Elijah appeared in over 30 films, including The Birth of a Nation. Beulah, adopting Dark Cloud as her last name, would appear in at least two films.

Arthur Parker would remain at the New York State Museum until 1924, when he left Albany to become the director of the Rochester Municipal Museum, where he immediately began a program of archaeological excavation, including sending William Ritchie to dig at the Lamoka Lake site.

Parker’s friend, Mark Harrington, meanwhile, continued to do archaeology and ethnological collecting for several different employers while also earning degrees from Columbia University. Originally focusing on the northeast, he later worked throughout much of North America. In 1927, Harrington married Arthur Parker’s sister, Edna (and yes, Edna also worked on archaeological sites), and in 1928 he became curator of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California.

It was in Los Angeles that Bertha “Birdie” Parker, then about 20, would meet again with her Aunt Edna and her new uncle Mark. Bertha’s archaeological and ethnological work with Harrington and the Southwest Museum is summarized at the Trowelblazers site.

By the time she started working with Harrington, Bertha was already married and had a daughter, Wilma Mae “Billie” Pallan, born in 1925. Bertha’s husband, Joseph (or José) Pallan, however, would pass away in 1928.

In 1930, she worked with Mark and Edna Harrington at Gypsum Cave in Nevada, where she discovered the skull of an extinct ground sloth. That find led to funding from other institutions that allowed Harrington to hire a paleontologist, James E. Thurston. Bertha and James were married in 1931, but James Thurston died the following year.

Bertha would marry a third and final time. Iron Eyes Cody, born Espera Oscar de Corti in 1904, later changed his name to Oscar Cody and then, presumably when he began acting in the 1930s, to Iron Eyes Cody.  Although he appeared in numerous films and television shows, he is best remembered as the “crying Indian” in an anti-littering public service announcement from the 1970s. He and Bertha married in 1936 and a few years later Bertha left the Southwest Museum to work with him in the movie and television industry. They later adopted two boys, but her daughter Billie would die in 1942 of an accidental gunshot wound while at her grandmother Beulah’s farm.

Beulah, by then remarried to T.W. Filson (or Folson or Folsom) died in 1945. Arthur Parker retired from the Rochester Museum on the first day of 1946 and passed away exactly nine years later, in 1955.

Selected References:

Browman, David

2013    Cultural Negotiations: The Role of Women in the Founding of Americanist Archaeology. University of Nebraska Press.

 Browman, David, and Stephen Williams

2013    Anthropology at Harvard: A Biographical History, 1790-1940. Peabody Museum Monographs No. 11.

 Parker, Arthur C.

1908    Myths and Legends of the New York State Iroquois. By Harriet Maxwell Converse, edited and annotated by Arthur Caswell Parker. New York State Museum Bulletin 125.

 Porter, Joy

2001    To be Indian: the Life of Iroquois-Seneca Arthur Caswell Parker. University of Oklahoma Press.

 Thomas, W. Stephen

1955    Arthur Caswell Parker: 1881-1955: Anthropologist, Historian and Museum Pioneer. Rochester History 42(3):1-20.

 Margaret Bruchac of the University of Pennsylvania has also investigated the lives of Beulah and Bertha Parker. Her poem “Birdie” can be found at her page.


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