Standing Bear


Standing Bear
Standing Bear was born into the Ponca Native American tribe, which had once boasted 800 members but was reduced by smallpox to around 200 by the time of Lewis and Clark’s passage in 1804. Then in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed a huge inrush of settlers to invade their territory. Faced with white intrusion as well as raids by neighboring tribes, the Ponca were forced to cede most of their land and move to a reserved area unsuitable for growing the crops they needed to survive. The U.S. government had promised mills, schools, and protection, but they failed on every account, and the Ponca population suffered for nearly ten years until they were at last able to return to their original home. Within months of their move, however, the government had already begun to make plans to move the tribe to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. By this point, Standing Bear had married Susette Primeau, and he became a leader among the Ponca.

In 1875, Standing Bear and other leaders agreed to move to Indian Territory, though they later claimed that, because of a mistranslation, they believed that they were being sent to the Omaha Reservation near their land. Two years later, a land plot was chosen for the Indians, and in April of that year they were brought south, voluntarily or by force. By this time, it was too late to plant crops, and the government once again failed to provide the Ponca with any aid or equipment. The next winter, the Native Americans were moved west toward the Arkansas River, and by that spring, nearly a third of the tribe had died from starvation or disease. Among those dead was Standing Bear’s son, who had wished to be buried in his homeland. Obeying this wish, the chief took 65 followers north with him to Nebraska. Upon reaching the Omaha reservation, they were welcomed by the other tribes but arrested by General George Crook for leaving the Indian Territory. Once he heard of their pitiable conditions, however, the general relented, allowing them to rest while he sought legal attention. Crook told the story to the Omaha Daily Herald, and upon hearing of the injustice, two attorneys offered their support. In 1879, Standing Bear sued for a writ of habeas corpus, declaring that his people should not be treated as less than human by the United States. He won the case, and the chief and his tribe were immediately freed.

Between 1879 and 1883, Standing Bear travelled throughout the East, speaking on behalf of Native American rights, and he won the support of prominent Americans such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After the conclusion of his tour, the chief returned to his real home, where he remained until his death in 1908.

Key events during the life of Standing Bear:

Signed a document allowing the Ponca to be moved to Indian Territory..
Went to Oklahoma to choose a site for relocation but returned home without doing so.
  The Ponca were moved to Indian Territory.
Moved to the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River; nearly one-third of the tribe died.
  Traveled back to Nebraska to bury his son.
Sued the U.S. Government for failing to provide for his people.
Toured the eastern U.S. while speaking about Indian rights.
Returned to his territory in Nebraska.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Joseph's Nez Perces and the Story of the Poncas  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis S. Drake
Standing Bear Seeks a Home  in  Boy's Book of Indian Warriors  by  Edwin L. Sabin

Image Links

Standing Bear
 in Boy's Book of Indian Warriors

Short Biography
Black Kettle Cheyenne chief who tried to make peace, but was sabotaged by aggressive acts of his own Indians as well as the white settlers.
Henry Longfellow American Poet whose works were very popular. Wrote Paul Revere's Ride and other works.
Crazy Horse Dakota Indian chief who fought against the American army at Rosebud and Little Big Horn.
Cochise Apache Indian War Chief.