Bertha Parker Pallan

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Bertha Parker Pallan
Bertha Parker Pallan (Cody) (1907-1978) (6891503755).jpg
Bertha Parker Pallan (Cody) at Gypsum Cave c. 1930
Born (1907-08-30)August 30, 1907
Chautauqua County, New York, United States
Died October 8, 1978(1978-10-08) (aged 71)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Fields Archaeology, ethnology
Institutions Southwest Museum

Bertha Pallan (née Parker; August 30, 1907 – October 8, 1978) was an American archaeologist.


Bertha "Birdie" Parker was the first Native American female archaeologist, of Abenaki and Seneca descent. She was born in 1907 in Chautauqua County, New York. Her mother, Beulah Tahamont (later Folsom), was an actress. Her father, Arthur C. Parker, was an archaeologist and the first president of the Society for American Archaeology.[1] Her maternal grandparents were the actors Elijah “Chief Dark Cloud” Tahamont and Margaret (Dove Eye) Camp. As a child, she assisted her father in his excavations.[citation needed]

Bertha's mother divorced her father in 1914, and the Tahamonts (Elijah, Margaret, and Beulah) relocated to Los Angeles, with Bertha in tow, to work in Hollywood films.[2] Bertha and her mother also performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as part of a “Pocahontas” show during her teenage years.[2]


Bertha married Joseph Pallan in the early 1920s and had a daughter, Wilma Mae ("Billie") Pallan in 1925. When the marriage ended, she moved to Nevada to work on an archaeological site for the Southwest Museum, directed by Mark Raymond Harrington. Harrington had recently married Bertha's aunt, Endeka Parker. In 1931, Bertha married the paleontologist James Thurston. Thurston died after a sudden illness in 1932, and she herself became ill for an extended period of time.[3]

Bertha relocated again, this time to Los Angeles. She was hired, first as a secretary, and then as an archaeologist and ethnologist, for the Southwest Museum. In 1936, she married the actor Espera Oscar de Corti, also known as Iron Eyes Cody.[4]

In 1942, her 17-year-old daughter Billie was visiting her grandmother Beulah's farm when she died of an accidental gunshot wound.[5] Bertha and Iron Eyes later adopted two Native American sons, Robert "Tree" Cody and Arthur William Cody (1952–1996). Bertha and Iron Eyes were central figures in the success of the Los Angeles Indian Center, a gathering place for urban Indians relocated to Los Angeles.[citation needed]


Bertha Parker Pallan died in 1978, aged 71. Her gravestone simply reads "Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody".[citation needed]

Archaeological career[edit]

Mark Raymond Harrington hired Bertha as a camp cook and expedition secretary. She participated in excavations at the site of Mesa House and other locales, and Harrington taught her archaeological methods in the field. In 1929, she discovered and did a solo excavation at the pueblo site of Scorpion Hill; the finds were exhibited in the Southwest Museum.[6]

Bertha worked at Gypsum Cave in 1930, a site that Harrington promoted as having the earliest evidence for human occupation of North America during the Pleistocene.[7]

As the expedition secretary, Bertha worked at cleaning, repairing, and cataloguing finds; in addition, she explored the rooms of the cave in her spare time and was able to reach into some of the most inaccessible crevices. On one of these occasions she discovered the skull of a species of extinct giant ground sloth, Nothrotherium shastense Sinclair, alongside ancient human tools.[8] Harrington noted that the find was the most important one of the expedition, because it drew the support of additional institutions, notably the California Institute of Technology and later the Carnegie Institution of Washington.[9]

While on this expedition, Bertha also discovered the site of Corn Creek after seeing fossil camel bone protruding from an eroding lake bed.[10]

From 1931 to 1941, Bertha worked as an Assistant in Archaeology and Ethnology at the Southwest Museum. She published a number of archaeological and ethnological papers in the museum journal, Masterkey, from the early 1930s through the 1960s. These included papers such as “California Indian Baby Cradles”, "Kachina Dolls" and several articles on the Yurok Tribe, including “Some Yurok Customs and Beliefs”.[citation needed]

Bertha Parker Pallan Thurston Cody is notable in the field of archaeology for her role as a ground-breaker: she was one of the first (if not the first) Native American female archaeologists.[11][12] She was certainly first in her ability to conduct this work at a high level of skill, yet without a university education, making discoveries and gaining insights that impressed the trained archaeologists around her.[9]


The following are listed as they appear in a list compiled by Marge Bruchac.[13]

Published under the name of Bertha Parker Thurston:

  • 1933. "Scorpion Hill." Masterkey. v. VII, pp. 171–177.
  • 1933. "A night in a Maidu shaman's house." Masterkey.v.VII, pp. 111–115.
  • 1934. "How he became a medicine-man." Masterkey. v. VIII, pp. 79–81.
  • 1935. "How a Maidu-medicine man lost his power; related to Bertha Parker Thurston by a Maidu Indian herbalist." Masterkey. v. IX, p. 28–29.
  • 1936. "A rare treat at a Maidu medicine-man's feast." Masterkey. v. X, pp. 16–21.

Published under the name of Bertha Parker Cody:

  • 1939. "A tale of witchcraft as told by a Tewa Indian of New Mexico." Masterkey. v. XIII, pp. 188–189.
  • 1939. "A Maidu myth of the first death; by Bertha Parker Cody, as related by Mandy Wilson of Chico, California." Masterkey. v. XIII, p. 144.
  • 1939. "A Maidu myth of the creation of Indian women; by Bertha Parker Cody, as related by Mandy Wilson, Maidu Indian of Chico, California. Masterkey. v. XIII, p. 83.
  • 1939. "Kachina dolls." Masterkey. v. XIII, pp. 25–30.
  • 1940. "Pomo bear impersonators." Masterkey. 1940. v. XIV, pp. 132–137.
  • 1940. "California Indian baby cradles." Masterkey. v. XIV, pp. 89–96.
  • 1941. "A note on basket care." Masterkey. v. XV, pp. 23–24.
  • 1941. "Gold ornaments of Ecuador." Masterkey.v. XV, pp. 87–95.
  • 1942. "Simply strung on a single strand." Masterkey. v. XVI, pp. 175–176.
  • 1942. "Some Yurok customs and beliefs." Masterkey. v. XVII, pp. 81–87.
  • 1943. "Some Yurok customs and beliefs." Masterkey. v. XVI, pp. 157–162.
  • 1955. "Enrique" crosses the divide." [Obituary]. Masterkey. vol.XXX, p. 102.
  • 1961. "Clarence Arthur Ellsworth [1885-1961]; gifted painter of Indians."Masterkey. vol. XXXV, (no. 1), pp. 75–77.

Published under the name of her Yurok interviewee, Jane Van Stralen:

  • 1941. "Yurok tales, as told by Jane Van Stralen to Bertha Parker Cody." Masterkey. v. XV, pp. 228–231.
  • 1942. "Yurok fish-dam dance; as told by Jane Van Stralen to Bertha Parker Cody." Masterkey. v. XVI, pp. 81–86.


  1. ^ "SAA Native American Scholarships". Society for American Archaeology. 
  2. ^ a b Hayden, Julian D. (2011). Field Man: Life as a Desert Archaeologist. University of Arizona Press. p. 22. 
  3. ^ Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip; Colwell-Chanthaphonh, John Stephen (2009). Inheriting the Past: The Making of Arthur C Parker and Indigenous Archaeology. University of Arizona Press. p. 172. 
  4. ^ Waldman, Amy (January 1999). "Iron Eyes Cody, 94, an Actor And Tearful Anti-Littering Icon". New York Times. 
  5. ^ "Wilma Mae Pallan". Rootsweb. 
  6. ^ 1933. Thurston, Bertha Parker. "Scorpion Hill." Masterkey. v. VII, pp. 171–177.
  7. ^ Harrington, M.R. (June 1930). "Ashes Found with Sloth Remains". The Science News-Letter. 17 (478): 365. JSTOR 3905773. doi:10.2307/3905773. 
  8. ^ Harrington, M.R. (April 1940). "Man and Beast in Gypsum Cave" (PDF). Desert Magazine: 3–5. 
  9. ^ a b Bruchac, Margaret M. April 9, 2014. “Breaking Ground in the 1930s: Bertha Parker, First Female Native American Archaeologist.” Keynote for the Sixth Annual Regina Herzfeld Flannery Lecture on the Cultural Heritage of Native Americans at Catholic University, Washington, DC.
  10. ^ Rafferty, Kevin (1984). Cultural Resources Overview of the Las Vegas Valley (PDF). p. 19. 
  11. ^ "Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978)". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  12. ^ Browman, David L. (2013). Cultural Negotiations: The Role of Women in the Founding of Americanist Archaeology. Lincoln: UNP - Nebraska. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-0-8032-4547-1. 
  13. ^ Bruchac, Marge. "First Female Native American Archaeologist". H-Net Email Listserv. 

External links[edit]

  • Bertha “Birdie” Parker: Also Known As…" on Trowelblazers,; accessed January 24, 2016.