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Ponca Tribe

By Zach Verdea

The Ponca Tribe today sits at about 4,200 members with many still settled in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Title IX officer at Ponca City High School and involved member of the Ponca Tribe Chris Littlecook believes leaving his impact on the future of the tribe is important.

“I like seeing the kids be successful, I feel like I’ve done what I wanted to do when I moved back, which is to help tribal members.”

Just before the Trail of Tears, the Ponca Tribe was primarily located in Nebraska after migrating from the Great Lakes area before that and entered the Norther plains area of the country around the 1700’s.

But it was not until the Lewis and Clark Expeditions that the Ponca’s really came in contact with the United States government around 1804 in the Nebraska area. 

After the initial contact, it was not until 1817 that the Ponca made their first treaty with the United States government.

“Which was basically let’s be friends with each other, that’s all it was, like a one page treaty,” Littlecook described.

In 1825, the next treaty took away some of the Ponca’s land in exchange for protection and gave more power to the U.S. government over the tribe. But then again in 1858 where the Ponca’s lost more land and the gave the government rights to build roads and ports on Ponca land to increase protection.

Then in 1865, one of the final treaties was met.

“By that time the Ponca’s just and one little chunk of land that had their burial grounds on it and also had their fields… which the government consider a reward, which is kind of ironic,” Littlecook said.

The United State government then granted the Sioux tribe land that was the same land the Ponca’s already occupied. By 1868 the the Ponca’s were being outnumbered by the Sioux because of the advantages the Sioux’s had with weapons from the government.

For the next 10 years, the Ponca’s sent several delegations to Washington D.C. to try and rectify the problems with their land.

The solution presented by U.S. government was to offer the Ponca tribe land in the Oklahoma Territory. But when Ponca chiefs came to scout out the land in 1877, they found no acceptable land. The government scout sent with the chiefs was upset at the fact they did not want the land, resulting in the chiefs being stranded in Oklahoma having to find their own way back to Nebraska in February.

By the time they got back to Ponca land in April, the government was already rounding up groups of Ponca’s to send them to the Oklahoma Territory. Sending them in two main groups. “The first group was more willing because they just kind of knew it was inevitable,” Littlecook said.

But the second, and larger, group did not arrive in the Oklahoma Territory until July at the Quapaw reservation. They would stay there for about a year before relocating to the new location that is now a part of Ponca City.

“Within three years of coming here, based on the diseases they caught just by not being acclimated to this area, they lost probably about a third of the tribe,” said Littlecook.

The Ponca’s encountered thunderstorms, tornadoes and intense heat they were not accustomed to which led to many diseases that resulted in death along the way and once settled.

On top of that, a lot of what the tribe was promised was not there once settled.

“There weren’t any homes, a lot of them lived in tents which they weren’t used to,” Littlecook believed.

But that has not stopped the future growth from the Ponca Tribe.

“We like to look at it like, ‘we’re still here’, after everything that happened, we could have very easily not been here,” Littlecook described.

Zach Verdea is a reporter with Gaylord News, a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.