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What would you do if one day, out of nowhere, armed men showed up at your doorstep, told you and your loved ones that they were taking your house, your land and your freedom, and that you were being relocated to the middle of nowhere? Sound like a nightmare? Welcome to the United States circa 1870. That is exactly what U.S. government agents did to a number of Native American tribes, including a heretofore little-known tribe-the Poncas. Little did the United States know that removing the Poncas was going to prove much more difficult than it could ever have imagined. Standing Bear is a Person, by Stephen Dando-Collins (Da Capo Press 2004), tells the story of one man’s quest to be recognized as a person in the eyes of the law. The Poncas were a peaceable tribe living in Nebraska. Everything changed in 1877. The U.S. government decided that the Poncas had to be relocated to a new reservation some 600 miles south in what would become Oklahoma. The Poncas reluctantly agreed. After sickness and death pushed the Poncas to their breaking point, one of their chiefs, Standing Bear, decided on a risky strategy. He had just lost his son to the mysterious illness that was ravaging his tribe, and he decided to lead a small band in an effort to return to their previous home to bury his son. Before making it back home, Standing Bear was arrested for leaving the reservation without a pass. Through this story, Dando-Collins introduces us to a number of colorful characters, including Brigadier General George Crook, the former Indian fighter turned Indian sympathizer who liked to wear civilian clothes on duty while riding his favorite mule. Henry Tibbles was a serial crusader, a one-time abolitionist turned gun-toting circuit preacher turned newspaper man. John Lee Webster was a former politician and constitutional lawyer who led Standing Bear’s legal team. The honorable Judge Elmer Scipio Dundy was a crusty, sympathetic judge who presided over Standing Bear’s trial. Bright Eyes was a diminutive 24-year-old Indian, who straddled the line between the white man’s world and the Indian world well enough to help express the pain suffered by so many of her kinsmen. And Standing Bear was a reluctant leader and a father, simply seeking to return home to bury his son after his forced exile. While imprisoned at Fort Omaha, Standing Bear saw his fortunes finally begin to change for the better. While there, he met Crook, Tibbles, Webster and eventually Dundy, all of whom in their own ways would attempt to change the Poncas’ future forever. A right to bring suit Together they participated in the landmark decision of Standing Bear v. Crook, a habeas corpus case in which Crook, the official in charge of Standing Bear’s custody, out of sympathy for Standing Bear’s plight, agreed to act as defendant. The court held that Standing Bear could bring suit in a court of law and that he could return home. The verdict was particularly groundbreaking because at the time the law stated that Indians were not U.S. citizens and could not bring suit in court. Relying on the 14th Amendment, then only 11 years old, to try to force the court to issue a writ of habeas corpus, Webster found his legal hook ultimately to help Standing Bear. Unfortunately, perhaps, the verdict came too quickly. The court of public opinion was not yet ready to accept and implement the decision’s full weight. For years after the trial, Tibbles, Bright Eyes and Standing Bear toured the country trying to drum up support for the Native Americans’ cause. Without first-hand interviews to verify and corroborate all of the facts, Dando-Collins’ work necessarily takes on a bit of a fabled quality. But it is exactly that quality-that richness of detail combined with the hint of embellishment-that makes his story so compelling. When an author sits down to write a book knowing that he not only has to express the horrors Indians experienced during the American expansion, but also to explain, at least minimally, the U.S. legal system and 14th Amendment jurisprudence, even an experienced constitutional attorney will say he has a hard road ahead. But Dando-Collins’ sharp wit allows modern readers to jump right into his story. When Standing Bear finally returns home and buries his son, the emotional crescendo of this tight read is fully realized. Dando-Collins’ book eloquently allows us a glimpse into that past when at least one man was able to endure and ultimately prevail. Scott J. Slavick is an associate at Chicago’s Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, where he practices trademark, copyright, trade secret and unfair competition law.

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