Eighth Circuit Historical Society

The Historical Society of the United States Courts in the Eighth Circuit

Chief Standing Bear Case

United States ex rel. Standing Bear v. Crook, 25 F. Cas. 695 (C.C.Neb. 1879)

On May 12, 1879, U.S. District of Nebraska Judge Elmer S. Dundy made history when he ruled that Standing Bear, a Ponca chief, had the right to be considered a person under the U.S. Constitution.

The year 2009 marked the 130th anniversary of this landmark case, sparking commemorations in Nebraska and around the Eighth Circuit.

Chief Standing Bear Events in Omaha's U.S. Courthouse

The Roman L. Hruska U.S. Courthouse in Omaha hosted events in honor of the Chief Standing Bear case on May 12, 2009. A permanent wall display conveying the story of Chief Standing Bear was dedicated in a special proceeding, and actors performed a reenactment of Standing Bear’s trial. The play, Ma-Chu-Nah-Aha: I Am a Person, was written by Mary Kathryn Nagle, a law clerk of Cherokee descent.

The events involved numerous organizations including the Ponca Indian Tribe of Nebraska, Federal Practice Committee, Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, and the Nebraska Branch of the Eighth Circuit Historical Society. Mary Kathryn Nagle (Law Clerk to the Hon. Laurie Smith Camp), Jeri Kay Hopkins (Omaha Librarian, U.S. Courts Library Eighth Circuit), and Roxanne Wach (Reenactment Director) served on the Project Committee. Also working on the project were Clerk’s Office Administrative Assistant Susie Cordero, Clerk of Court Denise Lucks, and Deputy Clerk of Court Therese Bollerup.

Chief Standing Bear Display Travels Circuit

The U.S. Courts Library Eighth Circuit’s St. Louis headquarters library prepared a three panel traveling display and accompanying booklet. Chief Standing Bear: A Person Under the Law debuted in the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis on May 11, 2009 and travelled around the Circuit.

Text of the Display

Booklet (with expanded text)

For Further Information

Dando-Collins, Stephen. Standing Bear Is a Person: The True Story of a Native American’s Quest for Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2004.

Howard, James H. The Ponca Tribe. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1965.

Mathes, Valerie Sherer, and Richard Lowitt. The Standing Bear Controversy: Prelude to Indian Reform. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2003.

Starita, Joe. Chief Standing Bear's journey for justice: Joe Starita at TEDxOmaha. YouTube video, 19:12. Posted by TEDxTalks, November 25, 2013.

Starita, Joe. “I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice. New York: St. Martin’s, 2008.

Starita, Joe. Standing Bear Talk. YouTube video, 18:13. Posted by UNLCoJMC (University of Nebraska—Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications), March 1, 2013.

Tibbles, Thomas H. Buckskin and Blanket Days: Memoirs of a Friend of the Indians. New York: Doubleday, 1957.

Tibbles, Thomas H. The Ponca Chiefs: An Account of the Trial of Standing Bear. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1972.


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