After decades of broken treaties, the Ponca continued to suffer from attacks by the Sioux,
terrible weather conditions, and lack of financial support from
the U.S. Government. In 1875, A.J. Carrier, the Ponca agent, visited President
Grant in Washington about moving the Ponca to the Indian
Territory. Grant agreed to the move if the Ponca were willing to
move. Carrier stated that the Ponca would be better off moving and
he returned to the Ponca reservation to confer with the tribe members.
As a result of these discussions, Standing Bear and other tribal
members signed a paper in which they agreed to move to the Indian
On September 11 and 23, 1875, Ponca Indian agent A.J. Carrier held meetings with the Poncas. A paper was signed after the last meeting, and Standing Bear and some members of the Ponca Tribe agreed to move to Indian Territory. A request was also included that a delegation of Ponca chiefs should be allowed to visit the Indian Territory to select a new reservation. Carrier later claimed that the agreement represented the unanimous opinion of the Indians present at the meetings. Standing Bear, however, later claimed that there was a misunderstanding, as the Ponca language had no separate word for land in the Indian Territory. He further stated he reasonably thought he was agreeing to move to the Omaha Reservation.
Nevertheless, in 1877 Indian Inspector E.C. Kemble was told by Washington to
meet with the Ponca leaders and make arrangement for them to visit
the Indian Territory and select a site for a new reservation.
The Trail of Tears began with a scouting mission. On February 2,
1877, Inspector E.C. Kemble, Ponca agent J. Lawrence, Standing Bear,
and nine other Ponca leaders left for the Osage Reservation in Indian
Territory to select a site for the new Ponca Reservation. Adequate
preparations had not been made for the visit to the Osages and many
of the Osage chiefs were absent when the Ponca arrived. Consequently,
no serious business could be conducted and the land shown to the
Ponca as possible sites for their reservation were not satisfactory.
Standing Bear and the other tribal leaders informed Kemble they
wanted to return home. Kemble was furious with their refusal to
survey any other lands. He called their actions "insubordination."
He refused to honor their request to return home. On February 21,
1877, Standing Bear and seven of his fellow chiefs decided to return
on their own. It was midwinter, they had to sleep much on the time
on the open prairie, and they went for days without rations. An
agent for the Otoe Reservation in Gage County remarked that the
Ponca leaders left bloody footprints in the snow. After a strenuous
journey, the Ponca leaders arrived at the Ponca Reservation on April
for Standing Bear and the Ponca, Kemble was already back, and he
had new orders from Washington — the Ponca were to be moved, using
force if necessary, to Indian Territory.
The Ponca were divided in their willingness to leave. Those willing
to journey south left with Kemble on April 16. In May, Standing
Bear and the remainder of the Ponca Tribe started the long journey
to Indian Territory, prodded along by the U.S. military. They encountered
bad weather almost from the beginning of the trip, and by the time
the tribe reached their destination, the summer heat had become
oppressive and they were constantly plagued with insects and extreme
weather conditions. Nine people died on the journey, including Stand
Bear's daughter, Prairie Flower, who died of consumption and was
buried at Milford, Nebraska. White Buffalo Girl, daughter of Black
Elk and Moon Hawk, also died and was buried near Neligh, Nebraska.
The people of Neiligh provided a Christian burial for the girl with
an oak cross over the gravesite. Black Elk asked that the grave
of his daughter be honored, and in 1913 Neligh erected a marble
monument. It is still there.
Click here to watch the story of White Buffalo Girl
a Ponca baby who did not survive the Trail of Tears.