Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma
Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma
Traditionally the Ponca share common social and cultural characteristics with the Omaha, Osage, Kaw, and Quapaw peoples. They once lived in the area of northern Kentucky and southern Indiana along the Ohio River, then migrated west into what is today known as Nebraska. The Ponca first encountered Europeans in 1789 when they lived in villages along Ponca Creek near the Niobrara River in northeastern Nebraska.
Despite several treaties with the U.S., in 1868 due to an "administrative blunder" by federal agents, the entire Ponca Reservation was given to the Sioux. When the error was discovered, the U.S. government chose to remove the less powerful Poncas south to Indian Territory rather than admit the mistake. The tribe protested for nearly a decade, but under military escort, the Ponca's forced removal to Indian Territory began in the spring of 1877. Their trek was beset by great hardship and upon their arrival to northeastern Oklahoma, they found no shelter and little food.
It was at this time one of the most famous Ponca sagas began. When his eldest son died in 1878, the Ponca Chief Standing Bear and 65 followers began a journey back to Nebraska to bury his son in traditional Ponca territory, Standing Bear was arrested in Nebraska for leaving the reservation without permission. The ensuing trial in federal court resulted in the landmark decision which declared Indians to be considered "persons" with individual rights under the law.
Allotment and the Land Rush of 1889 dramatically undermined tribal lifestyle, yet in spite of the allotments, the Ponca continued to gather together as a tribe for the winter months and take part in traditional tribal life. In 1899, Ponca City was incorporated north of the Reservation and then a large percentage of the Ponca land was leased to the Miller Brothers and became the basis for the famous 101 Ranch. As original allottees died, the Miller Brothers purchased their allotments as they became available for sale.
In 1911, oilman E.W. Marland struck oil on land leased from a Ponca tribal member named Willie Cries. It proved to be a major strike ushering in an era of unprecedented oil production in central Oklahoma. Boarding schools and missions further undermined tribal culture. Despite these difficulties, over the years the Ponca preserved and today the Ponca's resolve and sense of community sustain them as both a vibrant and vital part of Indian Country and the nation.