Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mary Stockwell's "Interrupted Odyssey"

Mary Stockwell is the former chair of the history department at Lourdes University in Ohio and the author of Unlikely General: "Mad" Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America, The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians and other books.

Here Stockwell dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Interrupted Odyssey: Ulysses S. Grant and the American Indians:
His picture is everywhere this holiday season: in stores, especially near toy departments, in online ads that pop up while browsing the web, and most of all, in posters mounted in front of local movie theaters. He is Aquaman, the latest DC comic book hero to come to life in cinemas around the world. Fierce and muscular, his arms and chest are wrapped in the golden scales of a magical sea creature. He wears shining blue-green pants and boots that clearly show he belongs in the depths of the ocean. His gloves are the same color and made of the same glistening material. In his right hand, he grasps a golden trident that brings to mind the ancient legends of Neptune, the ruler of all the waters of the world. Standing high on a ledge with a stream flowing under his boots and still more showers cascading behind him, he scowls at the viewer. He frightens us until we remember that he is a hero who has come to save us from the dangers that swirl about us on the land as well as the sea.

Every time I have looked back at Aquaman staring at me from a poster or a computer screen, I have thought of only one thing. Jason Momoa, the actor who plays Aquaman, would be the perfect Ely Parker if my latest book, Interrupted Odyssey: Ulysses S. Grant and the American Indians, was ever made into a movie. Parker was a Seneca Indian, born on his people’s Tonawanda Reserve near Buffalo, who became Ulysses S. Grant’s military secretary and later, after Grant was elected President of the United States, his first Commissioner of Indian Affairs. When just eighteen, he had been named the Seneca’s official spokesman as they fought against their removal from New York. Sent to Washington to speak to Senators like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster and even to President James K. Polk, he had a hard time finding suits that could fit his tall and muscular frame. In my mind’s eye, I can see Momoa in a tightfitting 19th century suit, a head taller than everyone around him, strolling into the Capitol and the White House. In another scene, First Lady Sarah Polk stops her carriage on a crowded Washington street so she can give the handsome young Seneca a lift to his next destination. Still later, he wears the dark blue uniform of a Union soldier. He is at Grant’s side, carrying a stack of papers in his arms and with an ink bottle tied by a string to a button on his coat. At Appomattox, I hear Momoa’s deep voice reminding a startled General Robert E. Lee, who has recognized Parker at last as a “real American,” meaning an Indian rather than a black man, that “we are all Americans.”

But Jason Momoa is more than an actor who matches Ely Parker’s physical appearance. He is a master of silent acting, where a performer conveys deep emotions with few words, as he proved in his role as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. He would bring his acting skills to bear in the tragic tale of Parker’s attempt to craft a policy, with the help of his friend Ulysses Grant, that would save the Indians from certain destruction by making them American citizens. Parker did everything in his power to protect the tribes but ultimately failed. The ending of Interrupted Odyssey will therefore not be the same as the ending of Aquaman. Parker will fail in his efforts to defend the Indians even as Aquaman will surely save the world.
Visit Mary Stockwell's website.

My Book, The Movie: Unlikely General.

--Marshal Zeringue