Illuminating life of a Native American leader who refused to be torn from his home and made a noncitizen.
In 1877, not long after Little Big Horn, the Ponca Indian people of northeastern Nebraska—a small, generally peaceable tribe, and long the victims of other Plains peoples—were removed to a place where, an Indian Agency inspector promised, they would be safe forevermore. That place lay 500-odd miles south in Oklahoma—not far, but getting there occasioned an arduous trek that former Miami Herald reporter Starita (Journalism/Univ. of Nebraska; The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, 1995) calls the “Ponca Trail of Tears.” The Ponca did not like their new home in the Indian Territory, and after enduring a brutal winter, one of them, Standing Bear, led a return home with a small party of Poncas. Arrested, he mounted a legal protest against the removal that eventually “had not only generated intense newspaper coverage and fostered a continuing national debate, but it had also prompted control of the Indian problem to increasingly pass from military to civilian hands.” Historians of Indian legal affairs, such as Paul Prucha, have given significant attention to the Standing Bear controversy, which pitted powerful attorneys for and against the government and involved politically prominent men such as the Civil War hero Carl Schurz, then secretary of the interior. Starita is careful to cover all the legal bases, but he is more interested in reaching general readers than legal historians. He succeeds admirably, especially on noting the outcome of the case, which both established legal personhood for American Indians and allowed Standing Bear to live once again in Nebraska.
A worthy, readable companion to Peter Nabokov’s Native American Testimony, Vine Deloria’s Custer Died for Your Sins and other modern standards of Native American history.