"Trial of Standing Bear"
The Trial of Standing Bear took place at Fort Omaha but was then known as Fort Barracks.
Someone once claimed that General George Crook was the greatest Indian fighter ever, but in spite of the claim, General Crook became more known for his respect of the Native Americans he fought in battle, and his greatest claim to fame was at Fort Omaha, where he helped establish Native Americans as human beings in the light of the law (United States Law). It is a fascinating and important story. Here is a shortened version. At your earliest convenience, you should visit the General Crook home, and surrounding grounds to learn this important history from where it took place.
In the second half of the 19th century, as new lands were acquired by treaty, the U.S. Government started moving Native Americans to other Indian Territories. The Ponca tribe were told they would need to leave the Nebraska lands (they had been living on) to live on what was becoming the last of Indian Territory, an area in what is now Oklahoma. To make the transition easy, 10 chiefs were allowed to preview the new location. When they did not approve of the location, the government decided to send the Ponca there anyway, among them Standing Bear. The U.S. was harsh with Native Americans that didn't want to remain where sent.
In the new location, the supplies were not sufficient and many died the first winter. Standing Bear's own son became very sick and it didn't look like he would make it. His son's last surviving wish was to be buried back in the old stomping grounds, near the Niobrara River in upper Nebraska. Upon his son's death, Standing Bear, along with a small party started the journey north to bury his son as he had wished. On their way north, the party stopped by the Omaha Reservation to visit old friends. Upon learning of Standing Bear leaving the reservation and heading north, the Secretary of Interior in Washington, D.C ordered General Crook to intercept Standing Bear and his party and return him to the reservation.
It didn't take too much to see that this was not only morally wrong. but it also showed that the Native Americans had no legal rights to defend against any U.S. Government actions. General Crook solicited the help of two area Omaha men to help correct the problem. He contacted attorneys John L. Webster and A.J. Poppelton, and also Omaha Herald newspaper writer Thomas Henry Tibbles to help raise public support for the native cause while he went out to intercept Standing Bear. Instead of returning Standing Bear to the reservation, he was brought back to Fort Omaha, where he was on essentially, "house arrest", while attorneys Webster and Poppelton prepared a case against the U.S. Government.
U.S. attorney G.M. Lambertson argued that an Indian was neither a person nor a citizen and therefore, they could not bring a lawsuit against the government.
The case could have been a tough one but turned out to be an easy win, partially due to Standing Bear's own speech. The presentation was so emotional, that many wept or had wet eyes, supposedly including the judge himself. The case is monumental in U.S. history in that it made Native Americans human beings in the eyes of the law.
Mr. Tibbles' contribution was immense in helping to sway the public. He even made a historic "run" from Fort Omaha to carry the news.
Following the decision, a government investigation found that the living conditions for the Ponca were unfit. As a result, the Ponca were allowed to return to a plot of land along the Niobrara. Standing Bear traveled back east, raising awareness for his people. Upon his return to his homeland, he lived out his life with his people and farmed his land. In 1908, Standing Bear went to the great pow-wow in the sky.
There is a monument near the flag pole at Fort Omaha as a tribute to Standing Bear that you should visit while visiting the General Crook home and area.
General Crook died on March 2nd, 1890. His reputation has stood the test of time, even with his past enemies. It was the Lakota chief Red Cloud that said, "He never lied to us. His words gave the people hope."