In my opinion, one of the great weaknesses of American history textbooks, at least the ones traditionally issued in Texas public schools, has been the omission of those “common” people who took an unpopular position to do the “right” thing.
One such person was Dr. Herman Bendell of Albany, New York, who served as a field surgeon on various battlefields throughout the Civil War, and was even present at Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox.
After providing four years of outstanding combat medical services as a field surgeon, Dr. Bedell, at the war’s end, left active duty with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Five years later, Dr. Bendell was called back into government service by his old commander, Ulysses S. Grant, who was now the president of the United States.
Bendell became the only Jew ever appointed into what had been an all-Christian Bureau of Indian Commissioners. His job was to manage supplies for the native population in Arizona Territory, as well as to establish and maintain positive relations with the tribal leaders.
After almost two years of his conscientious effort, helping to establish a good working relationship with the tribes, his fellow commissioners recognized and praised his accomplishments.
They felt he was deficient in one category: religion. They felt that Indians becoming Christian was an important step in their “civilizing process.”
They petitioned the president: “Dr. Herman Bendell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Arizona, is a most excellent official, a man of splendid judgment, strict integrity, who has managed the affairs of the office to entire satisfaction, but unfortunately he is not a Christian.”
Bendell was asked to step down, but in consolation for his efforts, President Grant appointed him for a short-term as consul to Denmark.
Following his stint in Denmark, Bendell returned to the States.
And so, “The Jewish Chief of the Indians of Arizona, 1871-1873” married, had four children, and finally settled down to a normal life as a physician in Albany, New York, one of the unsung (Jewish) heroes in American history.