Cover for MATHES: The Standing Bear Controversy: Prelude to Indian Reform. Click for larger image

The Standing Bear Controversy

Prelude to Indian Reform

The first full length study of the Standing Bear trial and its concequences on the larger American and Native American societies: the rise of the organized humanitarian reform movement, changes in the administration of Indian affairs, and the passage of the General Allotment Act of 1887.

In the spring of 1877 government officials forcibly removed members of the Ponca tribe from their homelands in the southeastern corner of Dakota territory, relocating them in the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. When Ponca Chief Standing Bear attempted to lead a group of his people home he was arrested, detained, and put on trial.

In this book Valerie Sherer Mathes and Richard Lowitt examine how the national publicity surrounding the trial of Chief Standing Bear, as well as a speaking tour by the chief and others, brought the plight of his tribe, and of tribespeople across America, to the attention of the general public, serving as a catalyst for the nineteenth-century Indian reform movement.

As the authors show, the eventual ramifications of the removal, flight, and trial of Standing Bear were extensive, and included the rise of an organized humanitarian reform movement, significant changes in the administration of Indian affairs, and the passage of the General Allotment Act in 1887.

This is the first full-length study of the Standing Bear trial and its consequences, and Mathes and Lowitt draw on a vast array of manuscript, diary, and journalistic sources in order to chronicle the events of 1877, as well as the effect the trial had on broader American popular opinion, on the federal government, and finally on the Native American population as a whole.


"...a definitive source on Standing Bear." -The Reader

"A stimulating and well-written work. As the only book to deal comprehensively with the developments that flowed from the Standing Bear controversy, it stands to make a significant contribution to American Indian history." ––Albert Hurtado, author of Indian Survival on the California Frontier and coeditor of Major Problems in American Indian History

"This unique, insightful book draws on a vast array of manuscript, diary, and printed sources, and is the most complete compilation of Standing Bear material under one cover." –- C. Blue Clark, author of Lone Wolf v Hitchcock: Indian Rights at the End of the Nineteenth Century

"…The Standing Bear Controversy: Prelude To Indian Reform is a close, meticulous, scholarly study…an impressively informed and informative work." --Wisconsin Bookwatch

"Mathes and Lowitt have produced a brilliant history that is well documented and so well written that it has potential for readership beyond the academic community." --Journal of the West

"The Standing Bear Controversy is a fine and needed addition to the literature on federal Indian policy." --Nebraska History

"...an ambitious work, exploring one of the most momentous judicial opinions in the history of federal Indian relations." --Montana Magazine of Western History

"Mathes and Lowitt make a strong case for the importance of the Ponca saga, a story that offers important lessons about bureaucratic mismanagement and political infighting in the government's handling of Indian affairs. The story also demonstrates the failure of good intentions, a lesson that students of Indian-white relations ought not forget." --The Journal of American History

"Valerie Mathes's and Richard Lowitt's account of the Standing Bear case is clear, concise, and solidly researched." --Western Historical Quarterly

"Mathes and Lowitt have added new insights into the history of this famous case and how influential reformers became involved. The contradictions they unearth suggest how confusing these events would have been to the people at time." --American Historical Review "...this book clearly details the genuine commitment of reformers to the welfare of native people. The authors present an unvarnished, ironic portrayal of Carl Schurz as an inflexitble, disingenuous, hypocritical bureaucrat." --Bill Corbett, Northeastern State University

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