Posts Tagged 'labor'

Cherokee Ben?

In 1920 Ben F. Parker was voted out as president of the Chicago waiters’ union.  Shortly afterward, he read that the federal government was awarding oil land in Oklahoma to “descendants of American aborigines.”  Now Parker recalled that his great-great-grandfather had been a Native American known as Squattingheffer.

Ben F. Parker

Parker went home and started rummaging through some trunks.  He found a peace pipe inscribed with great-great-grandpa’s tribal name.  Soon Parker was off to Tulsa to re-establish contact with his kinfolks.

Three weeks later, Parker returned to Chicago.  Some of the older chiefs in Oklahoma did have memories of Squattingheffer.  He was a Cherokee and had been “a great fighter.”  One of the chiefs said that Parker had Squattingheffer’s chin.  Then Parker was invited to smoke the pipe with the chiefs.

“At my first puff the world began whirling like a top,” Parker said.  “The ground leaped up and smacked me in the face.  I was flat on my face trying to swim across a vacant lot when I came to.”  Parker was so shaken by the ritual that he gave Squattingheffer’s pipe to a porter on the train ride home.

Thus was the story reported in the Chicago Tribune on January 23, 1921.  It also noted that “Mr. Parker declined to state how many oil gushers he had been awarded.”

Ben F. Parker died in 1943.  At the time of his death he was serving as president of the Chicago Waiters’ Alliance.  None of his obituaries mentioned anything about Native American ancestry.