After a short trial, Judge Elmer Dundy issued a ruling that surprised
many observers and caused comment across the country. The judge
found that "an Indian is a person within the meaning of the
law" and that Standing Bear was being held illegally. He issued
a "writ of habeas corpus" — which is an "order to
produce a body" or release someone held illegally.
Here are the five key points of the ruling:
"First. That an Indian is a person with the meaning
of the laws of the United States, and has therefore the right
to sue out a writ of habeas corpus in a federal court and before
a federal judge, in all cases where he may be confined, or in
custody under color of authority of the United States, or where
he is restrained of liberty in violation of the constitution or
laws of the United States.
Second. That General George Cook, the respondent, being the commander of the military department of the Platte, has the custody of the relators [the Poncas] under color of authority of the United States, and in violation of the laws thereof.
Third. That no rightful authority
exists for removing by force any of the relators to the Indian
Territory, as the respondent has been directed to do.
Fourth. That the Indians possess
the inherent right of expatriation as well as the more fortunate
white race, and have the inalienable right to ‘life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness,’ so long as they obey the laws and do
not trespass on forbidden ground. And
Fifth. Being restrained of liberty
under color of authority of the United States, and in violation
of the laws thereof, the relators must be discharged from custody,
and it is so ordered."