May/June 2009 issue

Chief Standing Bear Celebration and Displays


On May 12 the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Courthouse in Omaha hosted special events to commemorate the 130th anniversary of United States ex rel. Standing Bear v. Crook, 25 F. Cas. 695 (C.C.Neb. 1879). In this historic ruling issued on May 12, 1879 by U.S. District of Nebraska Judge Elmer S. Dundy, Standing Bear, a Ponca chief, won the right to be considered a person under the U.S. Constitution.

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, Omaha Librarian Jeri Kay Hopkins, and Director Roxanne Wach 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.

The St. Louis library prepared a three panel traveling display to commemorate this important case. Called Chief Standing Bear: A Person Under the Law, it debuted in the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis on May 11 outside the en banc courtroom during court week. The display is currently located at our Kansas City Branch Library and will travel next to our Little Rock Branch Library.