Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

1/1/2005 - 12/31/2005

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

Niobrara: A Critical Reconsideration of the Ponca Removal of 1877 and Its Consequences

FAIN: FB-50469-04

Matthew J. Kelly
Unaffiliated Independent Scholar (New York, NY 10003)

In 1877 the Ponca tribe was forcibly removed from its tribal home on the Niobara River and marched 500 miles to a new reservation in Indian Territory. Over the course of the next year and a half, nearly a third of the tribe died as a result. In 1879, a Ponca named Mancu Nažin (Standing Bear) determined to return to his native home. Arrested short of his goal, he took the United States to court to challenge its peremptory authority over Indians. The court's ruling in his favor, holding that Indians, too, were "persons" under the law, brought the circumstances of the Ponca removal to public light and created a national scandal that set in motion bitter public debates over responsibility for the removal and over the conduct of Indian affairs. Largely forgotten today, the history of the Ponca removal has also suffered from stereotyped images of the "Indian" that have obscured social realities of the frontier of the Golden Age. As a result, the true nature of the circumstances of the removal, and the socio-economic context in which it occurred, remain unexplored. Relying on two years' research in public and private archives across the country, treatment of the subject, will critically re-examine the Ponca removal in an attempt to understand how it occurred and why. It will suggest that the persistence of the "Indian" stereotypes which obscure and elide individual interest and the historical forces influencing them, cannot be understood apart from the legal context which structured the asymmetries of the encounter of immigrant and indigene in the 19th century trans-Mississippi west--and which continues to do so today. Having completed my research, I now seek support to finish writing the book, which is intended for a general audience.