Bertice M. Parmenter (1925-1929)
Early History/Schooling: Bertice M. Parmenter was born in 1866. No other information is available about his early history.
Tenure as AAG: Parmenter was appointed to serve as AAG in July 1925 and confirmed in December of the same year. He was a protégé of Oklahoma politician and U.S. Senator William Pine. During his tenure as AAG, Parmenter oversaw a variety of litigation, including suits for ejectment from and trespass on federal lands, the transfer of Indian lands, and disputes over Indian allotments.
One notable case that Parmenter was involved in was the dispute over the lands and fortune of Jackson Barnett, known at the time as the “world’s richest Indian.” Jackson Barnett was an eccentric Oklahoma Creek Indian who was living in relative poverty on land allotted to him under the Dawes Act. Around 1912, oil was discovered on his property, suddenly giving him thousands of dollars in monthly income. Despite this newfound wealth, Barnett refused to leave his home or change his mode of living. A local probate court declared him incompetent and appointed a guardian.
After he became wealthy, the federal government put Barnett’s land and assets under the supervision of a federal Indian agent, touching off disputes with the state over guardianship. The situation was further complicated when Anna Lowe, a single mother from Kansas, reportedly drove to his home in a taxicab, found the aged millionaire, abducted him across the Kansas line, and married him. Arguing that Ms. Lowe was taking advantage of Mr. Barnett, the BIA tried to nullify her marriage to Barnett, seeing her as, in the words of one official, an “adventuress of the most dangerous type.” After his marriage, Barnett apparently created two trust funds of $550,000 each, one to go to his wife at his death and the second to go to the American Baptist Home Mission of New York for the use and benefit of Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The settlement was approved by the Department of the Interior, but subsequently attacked by Parmenter and the Department of Justice on the grounds that Barnett did not knowingly make these donations. This created significant conflict between the Departments of Justice and Interior. As a native Oklahoman, Parmenter took a deep interest in the Barnett case and hired his former law partner, Charles Selby (also of Oklahoma), as chief counsel.
A tangle of lawsuits, contradictory positions by federal agencies, Senate hearings, and a public relations fiasco followed. In 1926, Harold McGugin, Ms. Lowe’s lawyer, appealed to President Coolidge, arguing that Senator Pine had exerted his influence with Parmenter at the Department of Justice to intervene against the Interior Department’s settlement of the case. He demanded the resignation of Parmenter as Assistant Attorney General, while Senator Pine demanded the resignation of Indian Commissioner Burke, who had approved the Barnett donations.
Eventually, a federal court held that Barnett’s donations to his wife and Bacone were void, and ordered Barnett’s estate turned over to the Department of the Interior for administration on the ground that the aged Barnett was incompetent and had married an adventuress. Barnett and his wife returned to Los Angeles, still faced with government efforts to void the marriage with which Barnett was apparently content, and took up residence in a palatial home on Wilshire Boulevard. Barnett is reported to have spent his days directing traffic from the curb in front of his mansion. A federal judge later held that the marriage of Ms. Lowe and Barnett was void, but allowed Barnett to employ his wife as a housekeeper at $2500 per month.
Career: Parmenter was an attorney in Oklahoma and returned to his practice after serving as AAG.
Personal: Parmenter died on February 17, 1945.
This material is based on the review of a variety of historical sources, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you have any corrections or additional information about this individual or about the history of the Division, please contact ENRD.