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"I Am a Man": Chief Standing Bear's Journey for Justice Hardcover – January 20, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1879, Ponca chief Standing Bear challenged decades of Indian policy when he stood in a federal courthouse in Omaha, Neb., and demanded to be recognized as a person by the U.S. government. Journalist Starita masterfully portrays the chief's story in this compelling narrative of injustices finally righted. The Ponca, relocated from their beloved Niobrara River valley to the harsh plains of Oklahoma, found unlikely allies in a Nebraska newspaper man and a lifelong Indian fighter. Thomas Henry Tibbles, an ex-preacher and editor, filed a writ of habeas corpus on Standing Bear's behalf, demanding the government show good reason why the Ponca should be deprived of their property, homeland and their very lives without due process, an unprecedented act that forced the government to grapple head-on with whether Native Americans, like the recently emancipated black slaves, were persons entitled to equal protection under the law. Gen. George Crook, an accomplished Indian fighter, supported Standing Bear and Tibbles with a harsh indictment of the very policies he had spent his career implementing. Starita transforms what could have been a dry academic survey of U.S. Indian policy into an engaging yarn, full of drama and sudden revelations. (Jan.)
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 “The painful, moving, inspiring, and important story of Chief Standing Bear has found a worthy chronicler in Joe Starita. This excellent book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the West, or of America.”--Ian Frazier, author of On the Rez and Great Plains 

“’I Am A Man,’ Joe Starita's account of Ponca Chief Standing Bear's search for justice, is a compelling story that needed to be told, and one that all Americans should read. Standing Bear's perseverance resulted in a legal shift in white America that was a far-reaching benefit for all native peoples, and Joe Starita has told the story with sensitivity and rare insight.”-- Joseph M. Marshall III, author of The Journey of Crazy Horse, The Lakota Way, and The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn

 “What makes a man a citizen of the country in which he was born? Joe Starita vividly tells the little known story of Standing Bear, whose 1879 case in Federal Court was to the status of American Indians what the Dred Scott case was to African Americans. In Starita’s book, the story of a great man from a very small tribe becomes a microcosm for the complex nineteenth century struggle that both the American Indians and the Federal government faced in trying to define the status of native people under the law. He paints an important and compelling picture of the plight of the Ponca, a tribe impaled by misguided paternalism, while hopelessly ensnarled in the bureaucratic red tape of an indecisive and out-of-touch government. It is a story that needs to be told and a book that needs to be read by anyone trying to understand the complex story of America’s relationship with its native people.”--- Bill Yenne, author of Sitting Bull and Indian Wars

"Starita paints a powerful picture of Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who, by wanting only to bury his son’s bones in the lands of his ancestors, set in motion a series of events that resulted in all Native American peoples being given the full rights of American citizenship.  It is a portrait of a man, a portrait of a time, and an evenhanded discussion of the complex legal and moral issues that lay beneath the struggle of our nation’s first inhabitants to find justice in the land of their birth."--Kent Nerburn, author of Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce and Neither Wolf nor Dog

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312533047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312533045
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By ShowMeMule on May 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book was recommended by the History Book Club. I rarely read a nonfiction from front to back, this is one of the few that I could not put down. This is an inspiring story about a Ponca chief challenging the federal government in court and the many white citizens working on his behalf. While it tells of many horrors, it is a success story for all americans regardless if aboriginal, immigrant, or native. Tells of experiences in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and travels in Chicago, New York and other cities in eastern U.S. This is history of events that took place after the american civil war.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Lori L. Fox on September 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a graduate from UC Davis with a minor in Native American Studies, and being of Cherokee descent, I thought I know a fair amount of Native American history. While I had heard of Chief Standing Bears court battle to be recognized as a man and a citizen of the United States, I knew only the surface of this intriguing and important event.

Joe Starita has done Chief Standing Bear and the Ponca a great service in his well-written account of a fascinating chapter of US history that has far-reaching implications for all of us of Native American descent.

Starita manages to present the facts and keep the reader's interest in what could have been--but is not--just another boring history book. Starita's book is a page turner, especially as the trial approaches and he reveals one fascinating fact after another.

I only wish this book were required reading for all students of American history. It is an eye-opener!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Efrem Sepulveda on November 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
On the banks of the Missouri River on the border of present-day Nebraska and South Dakota lies a tributary of the Niobrara River, a place where history took place in the form of the trials of the Ponca Tribe which drifted from the present-day Carolinas to Nebraska over the course of a several centuries. From this tribe came a leader by the name of Standing Bear who settled down with his people to engage in agricultural pursuits when a boundary snafu between the United States Government and the Lakota tribe resulted in his and his tribe's eviction from the banks of the Niobrara and being relocated to what they called the Warm Country or Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The removal to the territory down south resulted in the deaths and misery of many of their people in the spring and summer of 1877.

Upon the death of Standing Bear's son, he honored his son's request to be buried along the chalk bluffs along the Niobrara River and took a small group of Poncas from the Warm Country back to Nebraska. Braving cold and hunger, they almost made it back to their original home where they were arrested for leaving Indian Territory without permission from the federal government and were imprisoned for some time at Fort Omaha. It was here that a news reporter by the name of Thomas Tibbles heard about their plight and publicized the tribe's travails back on the east coast. Funds were raised to help defend Standing Bear and proclaim that he was a man, a person who wanted to be recognized as such in the court of law. The story is a well written summary of the incidents that occurred so long ago. Vignettes of current day Poncas are included to give a flavor of the Ponca culture today.

The book has 236 pages of text along with an extensive bibliography and an index.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marissa E. Paltz on September 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book because it was selected as the One Book, One Lincoln 2011 winner. I couldn't get into it and set it aside after a few chapters. Perhaps I'll go back and finish it one day in the future since it was the 2011 winner?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm glad to have devoted time to reading this book. I live just across the river from Niobrara, Nebraska, which is the Ponca homeland. If I were a school superintendent anywhere around here I would make it required reading for high school graduation. It is not just the story of a remarkable human being (Standing Bear), but also the story of an important part of our young nation's history. Standing Bear's story is a courageous saga. He was a person of the highest qualities a human being can have. Gentle, yet determined; simple, yet perspicacious; reflective, yet realistic. The world gets far too few Standing Bears. Thus is the world as it is. The United States, great country as it is among nations, should never be allowed to forget its shame in the unspeakable manner it abused its native peoples. It cannot be exceeded in this sin. We will never cease to pay for it. Joe Starita has written a fine book explaining all this. He's done his research both in Indian matters, and in government and legal matters. You won't have wasted your time to read his book. Those who read it fairly will be better Americans for their effort. John McNeill, Springfield, South Dakota
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderfully written book. The language flows with very interesting content. The story of the Ponca people and Cheif Standing Bear is a lesson in human relations that one should not let pass by ones personal library of cultural wealth. There is a lesson for all of us. The is something deeper that Joe Starita hits on in this book. How was it that General Crook came to saddle up his hourse, risk a military career, and ride to a contact to suggest that Chief Standing Bear should sue General Crook? How was it that Chief Standing Bear had the understanding to go along with a scheme as it unfolded to file the habeus corpus writ. Are the great men and women that sense something great and rise to the occassion, or do the stars somehow align due to randomness or providential guidance. In my opinion, the greatness of Starita's book is that he tells the story that evey American should know, but lets the reader go through evolutionary experience to discover deep questions about the essence of the human species. I highly recommend this book to those from the young adult to older ages.
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