On this day in 1890, Benjamin Harrison issues a proclamation that extends the northern boundary of Nebraska into the Dakota territory. The decree also declares that all Indian claims to Nebraska territory have been officially “extinguished.”
Harrison was the grandson of famed Indian fighter and treaty negotiator William Henry Harrison, who served one month as president in 1841 before succumbing to illness. The proclamation brought an official end to territorial conflicts in Nebraska between Indians and white settlers that had sporadically erupted from the 1860s to the late 1880s. As white settlement increased in Nebraska after the Homestead Act of 1862 (signed by President Abraham Lincoln), tribes such as the Sioux, Fox, Omaha and Ponca were gradually forced farther north onto reservations that could not sustain a traditional tribal way of life. Many Indians died from malaria, exposure or starvation. Members of the Ponca tried to return to their ancestral homelands in Nebraska and even took their case to court in 1879. The case made national headlines and earned the tribe sympathetic supporters. Although President Chester Arthur signed a decree in 1885 that returned a tiny portion of the Ponca’s original lands, he stipulated that all other lands “unselected by” any Indian tribes would be returned to the public domain. This included portions of already established Sioux, Omaha and Ponca reservations. Harrison’s proclamation of 1890 re-confirmed the boundaries of Ponca territory within the state of Nebraska and settled the rest of the disputed northern border, speeding settlement of Nebraska by whites.
Federal recognition of the Ponca tribe was officially terminated in 1966. Without their status as a recognized tribe, they lost title to what little land had been left to them by Harrison. One hundred years after Harrison’s proclamation, on October 31, 1990, President George H.W. Bush reinstated the tribe, giving them the right to reestablish their homeland in the state of Nebraska.