Bertha Cody – Archaeologist

Bertha Cody


Image of Bertha Cody. Source: [8]

Name: Bertha “Birdie” Cody (née Parker)

Other Names:     Bertha Parker (Birth name), Bertha Pallan (1st Marriage), Bertha Thurston (2nd Marriage), Bertha Cody (3rd Marriage)

Life: 30/08/1907 – 08/10/1978 (71 years)

Occupation: Archaeologist, Ethnologist [1][2][3][4][8][9] Who was Bertha Cody?

Bertha Cody is widely considered to be the first female Native American archaeologist. Despite not having formal training or a university education she provided stunning insights, made numerous high profile discoveries and published multiple articles within the archaeological field. [1][2][3][4][7][9]


Born in 1907 to Arthur Parker, a folklorist, musicologist, historian and archaeologist, from the Seneca tribe, and actress Beulah Tahamont from the Abenaki tribe. Bertha spent much of her childhood assisting both her father in his excavations and her mother in her performances. [1][4]

Whilst not much is known about her early years her family is one of note. Her maternal grandparents were famous actors Elijah “Chief Dark Cloud” Tahamont and Margaret (Dove Eye) Camp, with Dark Cloud being a Carlisle University graduate and the Chief of the Abenaki tribe in addition to his acting talents. As chief he was in charge of the Indian Act for his tribe (the Indian Act being the primary document which defines how the Government of Canada interacts with the 614 First Nation bands and their members). Even before him Chief Dark Clouds father (Bertha’s great-grandfather) attended both Moor’s Charity School and Dartmouth College in 19th century. Whilst this did give the maternal side of Bertha’s family some advantages it did not come without issues. Her great-grandfather’s education was funded on a £12,000 grant (approximately £1,400,000.00 today) from Rev. Samson Occom – the first Native American to publish writings in English – and this was on the racist and colonialist basis of “civilizing the wild, wandering Tribes of Indians in North America, and … for promoting religion, virtue, and literature among people of all denominations”.[1]

Chief Dark Cloud, Bertha Cody’s Maternal Grandfather. Source [1], [IMDB1]

Furthermore, her father was a distinguished historian and the first president of the Society for American Archaeology. It is from him that Bertha would be first exposed to the field, with it being rumoured that she was born in a tent on one of his archaeological excavations.[4][7][9]

Bertha’s father – Arthur C. Parker – in 1918. Source: [7]

However, in 1914 Bertha’s parents divorced, and Bertha, along with her mother and maternal grandparents moved from her place of birth, Chautauqua County, New York, to Los Angeles such that they could continue acting and working on Hollywood films. This proved successful with both her mother and grandfather having extensive IMDB pages: [IMDB1], [IMDB2] and with Bertha and her mother also performing with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as part of a “Pocahontas” show during her teenage years. [1][2][3][4]

In the early 1920’s Bertha married Joseph Pallan and had a daughter with him in 1925 (Wilma Mae (“Billie”) Pallan). However, this marriage was not to last and by 1927 they had divorced. It was also at this time that Bertha would give up her career as a performer and begin her archaelogial career. [1][2][3][4]

Archaeological Career

Bertha was invited on her first archaeological dig by Joseph Pallan’s uncle (M.R. Harrington) when she was hired to be a cook and expedition secretary. She had not received any formal education in the field of archaeology, however due to her on site experience with her father Bertha had a unique skill set and was made a part of Harringtons team. [1][2][3][4]

She would continue to work with him for several years and prove to be an invaluable member of the team, with her work being famous to this day. She did several solo excavations on ancestral Pueblo sites, including Scorpion Hill (which she named) and worked at Gypsum Cave in Nevada in 1930, where she found the skull of an extinct giant ground sloth next to ancient human tools, which would go on to provide the earliest evidence for human occupation of the North American continent during the Pleistocene. Furthermore, she discovered what is now known as the Corn Creek Campsite when she spotted a fossilised camel bone in the lake bed. [1][2][3][4][5]

In addition to her field work, she took excellent notes of all of the work completed during her archaeological expeditions and published her findings based on careful documentation and photography. [1][2][3][4]

By 1930 she met her soon to be second husband, paleontologist James Thurston. They married in 1931, and by this time Bertha was an archaeologist in her own right as well as an ethnologist for the Southwest Museum. Harrington had become the director of the museum and as such, much of her work was on display. Her studies ranged from Yurok lore to Southwestern and it has been noted that Cody was conscientious about recording the names of the Native people she interviewed, going so far as to give them credit as authors and co-authors – a practice was unusual among investigators of the time.[1][2][3][4]

Further marriages and careers

Unfortunately Bertha’s marriage to James Thurston would last less than a year. Reports say the Gypsum site was full of dung, which made both her and Thurston extremely ill for several months – to the point where Bertha moved back in with her parents in LA. After this Thurston suffered a heart attack whilst lifting a rock at a research site, and died immediately on the spot. [1]

Following this, she continued her archaeological work up until 1941, during which she would meet her third and final husband, actor Espera Oscar de Corti, more commonly known as his stage name Iron Eyes Cody.  They married in 1936, however, the following year (1937) her now 17 year old daughter would die of an accidental gunshot wound. As part of their marriage Bertha and Iron Eyes would adopt two sons (both of Native American descent) Robert “Tree” Cody and Arthur William Cody (1952–1996). Then in 1942 she left archaeology and returned to show business. [1][2][3][4]


Her primary role in the entertainment industry was working as a technical advisor on projects depicting Native Americans. In the 1950s, Bertha and her third husband also hosted a successful television program about Native history and folklore and they even opened a Native American museum in the basement of their bungalow located in Silverlake, Griffith Park, California. [1][2][3][4][9]

Reports say the marriage was not good, possibly due to the fact that Iron Eyes was of Italian-American descent and was in no way a Native American, however they remained together till Bertha’s death in 1978 at the age of 71. She rests above her husband, with her gravestone simply reading Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody. [1][3][8]

Grave of Bertha Cody. Source:[8]

A list of Publications by Bertha Cody

NOTE: Masterkey is Southwest Museum’s journal. 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. (Southwest Museum Leaflets, No. 12)
  • 1940. Photograph: “Amanda Wilson and granddaughter” (Southwest Museum MSS 160:143:58)
  • 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.


References are categorised by the following types:

🗒️ = Written 

🎧 = Audio

💻 = Video

[1]🗒️ – Wikipedia –

[2]🗒️ – Winds of Change –

[3]🗒️ – The heroine collective –

[4]🗒️ – Trowel Blazers –

[5]🗒️ – The Las Vegas Sun –

[6]🗒️ – H-net –

[7]🗒️ – Society of American Archaeology –

[8]🗒️ – Find a Grave –

[9]🗒️ – Smithsonians Flickr –

Authors Note: Bertha Cody was an amazing and accomplished scientist with a hugely successful career, however, despite this much of her work remains hidden. Almost all online resources refer to her in her relationships to men, with much of her family having extensive Wikipedia pages in their own rights and this culminates in her own grave not even having her actual name on it nor is the name featured coloured in like her husbands is. Bertha Cody was an outstanding example of a self-taught talent, showing how “formal” education is not the way everybody learns and that practical experience can lead to excellent work. Much of the education available to Bertha during her life stemmed directly from racism and colonialism and was a form of cultural genocide. The achievements of Native Americans are severely overlooked and her dedication to both the sciences and the arts aided in depicting them in a respectful and authentic manner during an extremely turbulent time in history.

For more information on POC scientists please visit our resources page or read through the rest of our blog. We are constantly updating both.

Written by Karel Green. For more information see the about page or follow her on twitter @thisismeonline.

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