The Trial of Standing Bear
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The Ponca Trail of Tears:
Standing Bear Returns and is Arrested

The Ponca were very unhappy with the land and living conditions on the Quapaw Reservation. Much of the land was not suitable for cultivation; sanitation conditions were deplorable. Government agents refused to provide adequate farming equipment, and many of the people died from malaria. Since leaving Nebraska, nearly one-third of the tribe had died. In January 1879, Standing Bear’s son, Bear Shield, died. The distraught chief decided to return to his tribal lands in Nebraska to bury his son. It was another terrible trip, but on March 4, 1879, Standing Bear and his followers arrived at the Omaha Reservation.

Standing Bear and his family, 1903
Standing Bear and his family, 1903, several years after the trial.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2066-5-2

Standing Bear and his followers left the Indian Territory without permission from the national government, and they were to be arrested and returned to Indian Territory. The arrest order trickled down the line of communications from General Sherman in Washington, to General Sheridan in Chicago, to General Crook in Omaha.

Under Crook’s orders, Lieutenant Carpenter and four of his men arrested Standing Bear and his followers and escorted them to Fort Omaha, where they were to be held prior to returning to Indian Territory.

Standing Bear and other members of the tribe were placed in detainment at Fort Omaha on March 27, 1879. Post Commander, Colonel John H. King, reported the serious illness among the Ponca and the weak condition of their horses made it impossible for the Indians to return to Indian Territory at this time.

The delay worked in favor of the Ponca as the Standing Bear situation came to the attention of Thomas Henry Tibbles, the assistant editor of the Omaha Daily Herald. He was an ardent crusader who sympathized with the Indians.

Gen. Crook
General George Crook, 1889.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2411-1164

There is some question concerning how Tibbles found out about the case. In 1880,Tibbles said he was informed about the case by the city editor of his newspaper, the Omaha Daily Herald.

But, years later — after Crook’s death — Tibbles indicated that the true account of how he became involved in the Standing Bear affair was through General Crook’s intervention. He reported a conversation with Crook.

Crook is supposed to have said,

"I’ve been forced many times by orders from Washington to do most inhuman things in dealing with the Indians, but now I’m ordered to do a more cruel thing than ever before."
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