The blossoming initiative to create a trail to highlight the story of Chief Standing Bear looks like a road worth taking.
Too many Americans don’t know his story, which began when the U.S. government decided to uproot the peaceful Ponca Tribe and forced a 500-mile march from Nebraska to Indian Territory in what’s now Oklahoma. Nine tribe members died during the journey, and 100-plus more died of hunger and disease in their new homeland. Among the victims was Standing Bear’s son.
A return trip to Nebraska to bury him led to Standing Bear’s arrest and a trial in Omaha during which the chief movingly declared: “I am a man.” The judge’s ruling, that an American Indian “is a person within the meaning of the law,” is a landmark in the history of U.S. civil rights.
As reported by The World-Herald’s David Hendee, the idea is for a nonprofit friends group to develop the Chief Standing Bear Trail across the Great Plains from Nebraska to Oklahoma. The virtual trail — no roads would be developed or private property taken — would include markers highlighting geographical landmarks, informational brochures and maps, and a website. Communities on the trail would be encouraged to create events and activities to attract visitors.
Such trails help tell other important historical stories, such as Lewis and Clark, the Pony Express and westward expansion. Chief Standing Bear’s story deserves a wider telling, too.