1881-1955. Arthur Caswell Parker was an archaeologist, historian, folklorist, museologist and noted authority on American Indian culture. He was director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences from 1924 to 1945, and an honorary trustee of the New York State Historical Association. Arthur C. Parker was born on the Cattaraugus Reservation in western New York, the son of Frederick Ely Parker, a Seneca Iroquois, and Geneva Griswold, a woman of Scottish and English descent, who taught school on the reservation.
Arthur's Iroquois name was Gawaso Wanneh (meaning "Big Snowsnake"). His grandfather, Nicholas H. Parker, was an influential Seneca leader, whose brother, Ely S. Parker, was a brigadier general and secretary to Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War, and later the first Indian Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Arthur lived on Nicholas Parker’s farm and was strongly influenced by him.
Arthur Caswell Parker was also influenced by both the Seneca culture and the Christian missionary culture of his mother’s family. Although his family was Christian, he was also exposed to followers of Seneca prophet Handsome Lake, who was resurrecting traditional Seneca religion.
He started his formal education on the reservation, but in 1892, his family moved to White Plains, New York, where he entered public school at around age 11 and graduated from high school in 1897. Before going on to college, he spent considerable time at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and befriended Frederick W. Putnam, its temporary curator of anthropology and a professor of anthropology at Harvard, who along with other anthropologists encouraged Arthur to study anthropology.
However, Parker followed the wishes of his grandfather, and attended Dickinson Seminary in Williamsport, Pennsylvania from 1900 to 1903. But left before graduating and became a reporter for the New York Sun. He was also an apprentice to archaeologist Mark Harrington (1882-1971), digging at sites in New York State, and volunteered at the Museum of Natural History in his spare time.
In 1904, Parker was given a two-year position as collector cultural data on the New York Iroquois. Then in 1906, he took a position as the first archaeologist at the New York State Museum.
In 1911 he, along with Charles A. Eastman and others founded the Society of American Indians to help educate the public about Native Americans. From 1915 to 1920, he was the editor of the society’s American Indian Magazine.
In 1925 he became director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences where he developed the museum holdings and its research in anthropology, natural history, geology, biology, history and industry of the Genesee Region, and the WPA funded [Indian Arts Project]. In 1935, he was elected the first President of the Society for American Archaeology.
In 1944, Parker helped found the National Congress of American Indians, and became very active in Indian affairs after his retirement from the Rochester museum in 1946.
After his retirement he moved to Nunda-wah-oh, where he felt his ancestors had lived, overlooking Canandaigua Lake in Naples, New York. He died there on New Years Day, 1955, aged 73.