The Ponca tribe's removal from Nebraska was cruel.
First, their land was included by mistakenly included in a treaty in 1868 saying their land belonged to the Sioux tribe. There was a nasty war between the Poncas and the Sioux over the small parcel of land in question. The U.S. government stepped in and decided the way to solve the problem was to send the Poncas to Indian Territory.
Ten chiefs of the tribe inspected the new territory and decided it was not acceptable for the Poncas. The U.S. government said "tough." The U.S. Army accompanied the Poncas as they were forced to walk to the new territory.
Many deaths occurred during the relocation. Chief Standing Bear's son was one of those who died. They tried to return to Nebraska for burial in their homeland. They and the others who tried to go with them were arrested on order of the Secretary of the Interior. They were ordered to return to Indian Territory.
Meanwhile, Standing Bear petitioned the court for a writ of Habeas Corpus. In a landmark case, Judge Dundy had to decide whether Indians had the same protection under the law as whites. The government tried to argue they did not, because they weren't citizens. Worse, they said, the Indians weren't even PEOPLE so had no right to sue the government.
After an impassioned speech by Standing Bear, on April 30, 1879, Judge Dundy stated that an Indian is a person within the law and that the Ponca were being held illegally. He set free Standing Bear and the Ponca tribe.
A government commission, appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, investigated and found the Ponca situation to be unjust. They arranged for the return of the Ponca from Indian Territory and allotted land to them along the Niobrara River.