La Flesche was fluent in English and French as well as the Omaha and Ponca languages. Though she was incredibly shy, she became translator for Standing Bear, testifying during the trial in 1879 and writing for newspapers about the plight of Nebraska’s native peoples. At last, Judge Elmer Dundy issued a narrow but consequential ruling in favor of the Ponca: “An Indian is a person within the meaning of the law, and there is no law giving the Army authority to forcibly remove Indians from their lands.” Standing Bear v. Crook marked the first time Native Americans were recognized as people, entitled to protections under U.S. law.
As a result of the trial, the Ponca were allowed to return to a portion of their land in Nebraska. La Flesche, however, was only just getting started.
Mental Floss, Dec. 4, 2015 • Mural via Nebraska Virtual Capitol