Ponca Chief Standing Bear merely wanted to fulfill a promise; instead, he became part of one of the West's most famous trials. The Chief's son, like many of his tribe, had taken ill after being forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma. On his deathbed, the son uttered a final wish: to return to the traditional land of the Ponca, 500 miles away in northern Nebraska. 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. Three months later, they were captured by a reluctant, sympathetic Brigadier General George Crook and detained at Fort Omaha. Standing Bear's plight caught the attention of Thomas Tibbles, the assistant editor of the Omaha Daily Herald. Tibbles enlisted the help of two prominent Omaha lawyers who filed suit, claiming that the defendants had been illegally deprived of their liberty. During the trial, General Crook testified on behalf of the Ponca. Standing Bear was vindicated.
For the first time in American history, Native Americans were recognized as having protection under the U.S. Constitution. Judge Elmer S. Dundy ruled that "an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law."
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