Standing Bear (1829-1908) Macy/Omaha, Nebraska
The Ponca, a peaceful tribe of buffalo hunters and farmers, had, since the time of first contact with white settlers, lived near the mouth of the Niobrara River in Knox County, Nebraska. An error in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie mistakenly included the Ponca land with lands assigned to the Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Capitalizing on this error, the Sioux made repeated raids upon the Ponca, wiping out nearly a fourth of the Ponca Tribe.
In 1876, the U.S. Government tried to resolve the problem by arbitrarily removing the Ponca to "Indian Territory" located in the Oklahoma Territory. Ten Ponca chiefs went with the Army to look over the land and its prospects. However, they decided that a move to Oklahoma was not favorable. The chiefs were detained in Oklahoma, while the rest of the tribe were forced at bayonet point to make the long arduous journey to the new reservation in Oklahoma. Conditions during the move and at their new home, were so terrible that within a year, nearly a third of the tribe had died, including the son of Chief Standing Bear.
Determined to bury the remains of his son in the land of his ancestors, Standing Bear escaped the reservation with a small band of relatives and friends. In January, 1879, the Army caught up with them near Macy, Nebraska, and began driving them ahead of their horses back to Oklahoma.
While en route, they camped near Omaha where residents learned of their plight. Two prominent Omaha lawyers filed writ of habeas corpus on Standing Bear's behalf. His case was heard in an Omaha Federal Court by Judge Elmer S. Dundy.
During an impassioned plea before the court, Standing Bear said, "If a white man had land and someone should swindle him, that man would try and get it back and you would not blame him. Look on me. Take pity on me and help me to save the women and children. My brothers, a power which I cannot resist, crowds me to the ground. I need help."
In a celebrated ruling, Federal Judge Dundy ruled that, "an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law" and that Standing Bear was being illegally held. Standing Bear was freed and allowed to return to Northeast Nebraska, where he lived out his life.
A senate investigation followed and the Ponca's Nebraska lands were restored.