Chief Standing Bear By Ryan
Who are the Ponca tribe?
The Ponca are an offshoot of the Omaha, speaking a dialect of the same Siouan-rooted language as the Omaha. The Omaha are believed to have migrated from the lower Great Lakes and Ohio Valley to the Missouri River valley of Iowa and Nebraska prior to the 1700's. At this time, they moved farther into Nebraska in response to pressure from the Lakota as they were pressured in turn by the Ojibwa who were acquiring European weapons. As they moved up the Missouri, they displaced the Arikara and learned earth-lodge building. They were a semi-nomadic tribe, living in tipis during their buffalo hunts, and in earth-lodge villages while they farmed.
The Trail of Tears
In the mid-1800s indians were not counted as people. Standing Bear and his Ponca people lived in what is now northeast Nebraska. As more settlers moved west, the tribe faced increasing pressure to give up their land. To avoid clashes with the government, the tribe agreed to move to what it believed was the nearby Omaha reservation. The agreement, which had been mistranslated, actually forced the tribe to relocate to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, far from their hallowed farming and burial grounds.
In the spring of 1877, the tribe begrudgingly left behind their homes, land and farming equipment. The 600-mile journey was challenging and fraught with risks. More than 150 Ponca died on the trail. When they finally arrived in the sweltering summer of 1878, planting season had ended. The ground was rocky and unfertile, yielding little hope for future crops. By year’s end, nearly a third of the tribe had succumbed to starvation and other diseases. Standing Bear’s teenage son, Bear Shield, was one of the fallen. His dying wish was to be buried in his homeland of Nebraska.
Back to Nebraska /Trail of Tears
Standing Bear loaded his son's body into a wagon with 29 Poncas by his side and headed back to Nebraska there homeland.
This is white buffalo girl daughter of Black Elk and Moon Hawk. She died on the trail of tears as a baby. She died when they reached the town of Neligh. Chief Black Elk asked the townspeople to her and look after her grave. Even after 132 years, the people of Neligh still decorate the grave of ''White Buffalo Girl''.
Standing Bear vs Crook
There the trail began. The court room was crowded with fashionably dressed women; and the clergy, which had been greatly stirred by the incident, were there in force. Lawyers, every one in Nebraska, and many from the big Eastern cities; business men; General Crook and his staff in their dress uniforms (this was one of the few times in his life that Crook wore full dress in public); and the Indians themselves, in their gaudy colors. The court room was a galaxy of Standing Bear arose. Half facing the audience, he held out his right hand, and stood motionless so long that the stillness of death which had settled down on the audience, became almost unbearable. At last, looking up at the judge, he said;''That hand is not the color of yours,but if I prick it , the blood will flow, and I shall fell pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man.''I never committed any crime. If I had, I would not stand here to make a defense. I would suffer the punishment and make no complaint.”Still standing half facing the audience, he looked past the judge, out of the window, as if gazing upon something far in the distance, and continued:“I seem to be standing on a high bank of a great river, with my wife and little girl at my side. I cannot cross the river, and impassable cliffs arise behind me. I hear the noise of great waters; I look, and see a flood coming. The waters rise to our feet, and then to our knees. My little girl stretches her hands toward me and says, ‘Save me.’ I stand where no member of my race ever stood before. There is no tradition to guide me. The chiefs who preceded me knew nothing of the circumstances that surround me. I hear only my little girl say, ‘Save me.’ In despair I look toward the cliffs behind me, and I seem to see a dim trail that may lead to a way of life. But no Indian ever passed over that trail. It looks to be impassable. I make the attempt.
“I take my child by the hand, and my wife follows after me. Our hands and our feet are torn by the sharp rocks, and our trail is marked by our blood. At last I see a rift in the rocks. A little way beyond there are green prairies. The swift-running water, the Niobrara, pours down between the green hills. There are the graves of my fathers. There again we will pitch our teepee and build our fires. I see the light of the world and of liberty just ahead.”The old chief became silent again, and, after an appreciable pause, he turned toward the judge with such a look of pathos and suffering on his face that none who saw it will forget it, and said:
“But in the center of the path there stands a man. Behind him I see soldiers in number like the leaves of the trees. If that man gives me the permission, I may pass on to life and liberty. If he refuses, I must go back and sink beneath the flood.”
Then, in a lower tone, “You are that man.”
There was silence in the court as the old chief sat down. Tears ran down over the judge’s face. General Crook leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. Some of the ladies sobbed.
All at once that audience, by one common impulse, rose to its feet, and such a shout went up as was never heard in a Nebraska court room. No one heard Judge Dundy say, “Court is dismissed.” There was a rush for Standing Bear. The first to reach him was General Crook. I was second. The ladies flocked around him, and for an hour Standing Bear had a reception.
A few days afterward Judge Dundy handed down his famous decision, in which he announced that an Indian was a “person,” and was entitled to the protection of the law. Standing Bear and his followers were set free; and, with his old wagon and the body of the dead child, he went back to the hunting-grounds of his fathers, and buried the body with tribal honors.Their chief standing bear had won Indian rights.