I Am a Man: Chief Standing Bear's Journey for Justice

Overview

In 1877, Chief Standing Bear’s Ponca Indian tribe was forcibly removed from their Nebraska homeland and marched to what was then known as Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), in what became the tribe’s own Trail of Tears. “I Am a Man” chronicles what happened when Standing Bear set off on a six-hundred-mile walk to return the body of his only son to their traditional burial ground. Along the way, it examines the complex relationship between the United States government and the small, peaceful tribe and the legal ...

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Overview

In 1877, Chief Standing Bear’s Ponca Indian tribe was forcibly removed from their Nebraska homeland and marched to what was then known as Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), in what became the tribe’s own Trail of Tears. “I Am a Man” chronicles what happened when Standing Bear set off on a six-hundred-mile walk to return the body of his only son to their traditional burial ground. Along the way, it examines the complex relationship between the United States government and the small, peaceful tribe and the legal consequences of land swaps and broken treaties, while never losing sight of the heartbreaking journey the Ponca endured. It is a story of survival—-of a people left for dead who arose from the ashes of injustice, disease, neglect, starvation, humiliation, and termination. On another level, it is a story of life and death, despair and fortitude, freedom and patriotism. A story of Christian kindness and bureaucratic evil. And it is a story of hope—-of a people still among us today, painstakingly preserving a cultural identity that had sustained them for centuries before their encounter with Lewis and Clark in the fall of 1804.

Before it ends, Standing Bear’s long journey home also explores fundamental issues of citizenship, constitutional protection, cultural identity, and the nature of democracy—-issues that continue to resonate loudly in twenty-first-century America. It is a story that questions whether native sovereignty, tribal-based societies, and cultural survival are compatible with American democracy. Standing Bear successfully used habeas corpus, the only liberty included in the original text of the Constitution, to gain access to a federal court and ultimately his freedom. This account aptly illuminates how the nation’s delicate system of checks and balances worked almost exactly as the Founding Fathers envisioned, a system arguably out of whack and under siege today.

Joe Starita’s well-researched and insightful account reads like historical fiction as his careful characterizations and vivid descriptions bring this piece of American history brilliantly to life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 “The painful, moving, inspiring, and important story of Chief Standing Bear has found a worthy chronicler in Joe Starita. This excellent book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the West, or of America.”—Ian Frazier, author of On the Rez and Great Plains

 

“’I Am A Man,’ Joe Starita's account of Ponca Chief Standing Bear's search for justice, is a compelling story that needed to be told, and one that all Americans should read. Standing Bear's perseverance resulted in a legal shift in white America that was a far-reaching benefit for all native peoples, and Joe Starita has told the story with sensitivity and rare insight.”— Joseph M. Marshall III, author of The Journey of Crazy Horse, The Lakota Way, and The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn

“What makes a man a citizen of the country in which he was born? Joe Starita vividly tells the little known story of Standing Bear, whose 1879 case in Federal Court was to the status of American Indians what the Dred Scott case was to African Americans. In Starita’s book, the story of a great man from a very small tribe becomes a microcosm for the complex nineteenth century struggle that both the American Indians and the Federal government faced in trying to define the status of native people under the law. He paints an important and compelling picture of the plight of the Ponca, a tribe impaled by misguided paternalism, while hopelessly ensnarled in the bureaucratic red tape of an indecisive and out-of-touch government. It is a story that needs to be told and a book that needs to be read by anyone trying to understand the complex story of America’s relationship with its native people.”—- Bill Yenne, author of Sitting Bull and Indian Wars

"Starita paints a powerful picture of Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who, by wanting only to bury his son’s bones in the lands of his ancestors, set in motion a series of events that resulted in all Native American peoples being given the full rights of American citizenship.  It is a portrait of a man, a portrait of a time, and an evenhanded discussion of the complex legal and moral issues that lay beneath the struggle of our nation’s first inhabitants to find justice in the land of their birth."—Kent Nerburn, author of Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce and Neither Wolf nor Dog

 

"Starita is careful to cover all the legal bases, but he is more interested in reaching general readers than legal historians. He succeeds admirably, especially on noting the outcome of the case, which both established legal personhood for American Indians and allowed Standing Bear to live once again in Nebraska. A worthy, readable companion to Peter Nabokov's Native American Testimony, Vine Deloria's Custer Died for Your Sins and other modern standards of Native American history."—Kirkus Reviews

"Starita sympathetically documents the many injustices done to the Ponca people by the U.S. government during the latter portion of the 19th century through the experiences of Chief Standing Bear” — Library Journal

"Starita masterfully portrays the chief's story in this compelling narrative of injustices finally righted. Starita transforms what could have been a dry academic survey of U.S. Indian policy into an engaging yarn, full of drama and sudden revelations."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

In 1879, Ponca chief Standing Bear challenged decades of Indian policy when he stood in a federal courthouse in Omaha, Neb., and demanded to be recognized as a person by the U.S. government. Journalist Starita masterfully portrays the chief's story in this compelling narrative of injustices finally righted. The Ponca, relocated from their beloved Niobrara River valley to the harsh plains of Oklahoma, found unlikely allies in a Nebraska newspaper man and a lifelong Indian fighter. Thomas Henry Tibbles, an ex-preacher and editor, filed a writ of habeas corpus on Standing Bear's behalf, demanding the government show good reason why the Ponca should be deprived of their property, homeland and their very lives without due process, an unprecedented act that forced the government to grapple head-on with whether Native Americans, like the recently emancipated black slaves, were persons entitled to equal protection under the law. Gen. George Crook, an accomplished Indian fighter, supported Standing Bear and Tibbles with a harsh indictment of the very policies he had spent his career implementing. Starita transforms what could have been a dry academic survey of U.S. Indian policy into an engaging yarn, full of drama and sudden revelations. (Jan.)

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Library Journal

Starita (journalism, Univ. of Nebraska; The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge: A Lakota Odyssey) sympathetically documents the many injustices done to the Ponca people by the U.S. government during the latter portion of the 19th century through the experiences of Chief Standing Bear. In 1877, Chief Standing Bear's people were uprooted from their homes in Nebraska and forced to migrate to Oklahoma because the federal government had mistakenly given away their tribal homelands to the Lakota Sioux in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. A year later, Standing Bear was arrested as he attempted to return to the tribe's traditional homelands to bury his son. The ensuing legal proceedings culminated in the landmark legal ruling in Standing Bear v. Crook that guaranteed Native Americans 14th Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution. While Starita's monograph is recommended for public libraries, academic libraries should consider Valerie Sherer Mathes and Richard Lowitt's The Standing Bear Controversy: Prelude to Indian Reform, which not only documents the legal morass involving Standing Bear but also shows how reformers aiding his cause ultimately created far greater problems for Native peoples through the creation of the Dawes Act.
—John Burch

Kirkus Reviews
Illuminating life of a Native American leader who refused to be torn from his home and made a noncitizen. In 1877, not long after Little Big Horn, the Ponca Indian people of northeastern Nebraska-a small, generally peaceable tribe, and long the victims of other Plains peoples-were removed to a place where, an Indian Agency inspector promised, they would be safe forevermore. That place lay 500-odd miles south in Oklahoma-not far, but getting there occasioned an arduous trek that former Miami Herald reporter Starita (Journalism/Univ. of Nebraska; The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, 1995) calls the "Ponca Trail of Tears." The Ponca did not like their new home in the Indian Territory, and after enduring a brutal winter, one of them, Standing Bear, led a return home with a small party of Poncas. Arrested, he mounted a legal protest against the removal that eventually "had not only generated intense newspaper coverage and fostered a continuing national debate, but it had also prompted control of the Indian problem to increasingly pass from military to civilian hands." Historians of Indian legal affairs, such as Paul Prucha, have given significant attention to the Standing Bear controversy, which pitted powerful attorneys for and against the government and involved politically prominent men such as the Civil War hero Carl Schurz, then secretary of the interior. Starita is careful to cover all the legal bases, but he is more interested in reaching general readers than legal historians. He succeeds admirably, especially on noting the outcome of the case, which both established legal personhood for American Indians and allowed Standing Bear to live once again in Nebraska. A worthy, readable companion toPeter Nabokov's Native American Testimony, Vine Deloria's Custer Died for Your Sins and other modern standards of Native American history. Agent: Jonathan Lyons/Lyons Literary
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312606381
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/5/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 342,311
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Starita was an investigative reporter and New York bureau chief for The Miami Herald, where one of his stories was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is now a professor at the University of Nebraska’s College of Journalism and the author of The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, an account of four generations of a Lakota Sioux family, that garnered a second Pulitzer Prize nomination, won the Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association Award, and has been published in six foreign languages.

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Table of Contents

1 On the Banks of the Running Water 1

2 A Homeland Under Siege 23

3 The People Turn Their Faces South 51

4 Life and Death in the Warm Country 81

5 Going Home 105

6 The Color of Blood 131

7 A Ponca in Times Square 165

8 Righting a Wrong 197

9 On the Land of the Fathers 223

Bibliography 237

Index 251

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 9, 2010

    One Not to Miss

    This is a wonderfully written book. The language flows with very interesting content. The story of the Ponca people and Cheif Standing Bear is a lesson in human relations that one should not let pass by ones personal library of cultural wealth. There is a lesson for all of us.

    There is something deeper that Joe Starita hits on in this book. How was it that General Crook came to saddle up his hourse, risk a military career, and ride to a contact to suggest that Chief Standing Bear should sue General Crook? How was it that Judge Dundy sensed that there was something historically powerful relating to the Fourteenth Amendment in the writ. Congress had, after, voted that that Indians did not have a right to citizenship. It aws clear to the American public that the Cival War was not fought for recognizing
    American Indians as human beings with rights. How was it that Chief Standing Bear had the understanding to go along with a scheme as it unfolded to file the habeus corpus writ. Why would a newspaper man and former itinerate preacher hook up with a corporate lawyer to take up General Crook's suggestion and file a lawsuit agsinst the General? Are there great men and women that sense something great and rise to the occassion, or do the stars somehow align due to randomness or providential guidance. In my opinion, the greatness of Starita's book is that he tells the story that evey American should know, but lets the reader go through evolutionary experience to discover deep questions about the essence of the human species. I highly recommend this book to those from the young adult to older ages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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