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The Story of Standing Bear: Part One
~ Three Feathers
The Ponca Indians were members of the large
Siouan family. They had not always been a separate
tribe. In the old days they and the Omahas, the
Kansas and the Osages had lived together as
Omahas, near the mouth of the Osage River in
eastern Nebraska. Soon they divided, and held
their clan names of Poncas, Omahas, Kansas and Osages. The Poncas and Omahas clung as allies. Finally the Poncas remained by themselves, low down on the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska. When the captains and explorers Lewis and Clark met some of them, the tribe had been reduced in numbers by small-pox, down to only some two hundred people. They never have been a big people. Their number today, about eight hundred and fifty, is as large as ever in their history. They and the Omahas warred with the Sioux, but they never warred with the white men. They have always been friendly to the white men, except once, and that once brings up the story of Standing Bear.
Back in 1817 the Poncas made a treaty of friendship with the United States; in 1825 they made another treaty, allowing white traders to live among them, and agreeing to let their own bad men (if any) be punished by the United States. In 1859 they made another treaty, selling their hunting grounds to the United States, and keeping a tract on the Niobrara River for their own homes. None of these treaties did they break. They were at peace with even the Sioux. They had good farms, and were prospering.
A beautiful woman's orders were followed, and when the Indians see silk on the cornstalk, they know that the beautiful woman has not forgotten them.
But in 1868 the United States laid out a new reservation for the Sioux. Through a mistake this took in the Ponca reservation in Nebraska, and the Poncas were not told. The way they found out was this: The Sioux began to come in and claim the land. "That is not right," said the Poncas. "You do not belong here. All this country is ours. Go back. We do not want you." So there was fighting, every little while, and the Poncas lost many warriors. This continued for nine years, until, by the raids of the Sioux, one fourth of the Poncas had been killed or captured. Still they had not been told by the United States that these lands were theirs no longer; but, suddenly, in 1877, they were told that they must get out. At this time they had three villages, on the lower Niobrara River, and eight bands, each under a chief. The chiefs were Standing Bear, White Eagle, Big Soldier, Traveling Buffalo, Black Crow, Over-the-land, Woodpecker, and Big-Hoofed Buffalo. The United States informed the eight chiefs that they must remove their people to the Indian Territory, but did not say why. Standing Bear had been born in 1829, so he was forty-eight years old. He stood high among the Poncas, because of his clan, the Wa-zha-zhe—a clan that could cure rattle-snake bites and work other wonders.
Editor's Note: Watch for the second installment in our Spring Issue!