Tour Stop A: Parade Ground
As a result of a major confrontation from 1866–1868 between
the U.S. Army and the Lakota Sioux, the U.S. government signed the
treaty agreeing that the Army would abandon several posts along the
Bozeman Trail. By this time, the Union Pacific had also reached the
Rockies, so the Army began planning for a single post to replace
those abandoned. The new post would be a place where the troops
could be wintered and sent out by rail whenever needed.
Recognizing the potential for economic growth, Omaha competed with
other towns to win the planned post. The city cited its railroad and
river transportation systems and already established businesses as
the support the Army would need. To make the new headquarters
possible, civic leaders purchased 42 acres from Augustus Kountze, a
prominent Omaha banker, and offered to lease it to the government at
an undervalued price.
The U.S. Army accepted Omaha's offer. Construction of Omaha
Barracks began in September 1868 and was completed in three months.
The post housed a regiment of more than 650 men. Following the
custom, the main buildings were built around a large parade ground.
The first troops arrived in November—Battery C, 3rd U.S.
Artillery from Fort Kearney, Neb.
Over the years, brick buildings replaced wooden ones. The Infantry
and Cavalry were succeeded by the Army Signal Corps (1905–1913)
and the Observation Balloon Corps (1916–1919). During the 1920s
and 1930s, the fort was continuously occupied. After 1935, the fort
was used as a residence post for officers on duty at 7th Corps area
headquarters. During World War II, it served as a support
installation for the 7th Service Command.
In 1947, the Army declared the fort surplus property, and it was
taken over by the Navy as a Reserve Training Center. In 1973, the
Defense Department again declared Fort Omaha excess to its needs.
Metropolitan Community College, created in 1974, received deed to
the property in August 1975. Through extensive interior renovation
and exterior refurbishing, Fort Omaha became MCC's first permanent
campus. In keeping with tradition, several Army Reserve units
currently train here. Terms of the deed stipulate that the Parade
Ground must be maintained as an open field and that the exteriors of
brick buildings cannot be changed. The College has preserved the
historic look of Fort Omaha while creating an environment conductive
to a progressive, two-year community college.
Standing Bear Memorial
In 1877, the U.S. government uprooted the Ponca Indians, forcing
their removal from their homeland near the confluence of the Niobrara
and Missouri Rivers to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Nine people died
on the journey south, and about 160 people died within months of
their arrival in Indian Territory, including Standing Bear's only
son, Bear Shield. Bear Shield's dying wish was to be buried in his
native land, so Standing Bear and 29 others made the 500-mile journey
during the bitter months of winter back to their ancestral lands.
General George Crook was ordered to arrest the Ponca, but the
captor, an Indian sympathizer, set in motion the eventual release of
Standing Bear and his followers. While the Ponca were imprisoned at
Fort Omaha awaiting their return to Oklahoma, Crook secretly
contacted newspaperman Thomas Tibbles. An assistant editor of the
Omaha Daily Herald and a one-time minister, Tibbles rallied
support for Standing Bear's cause. Through editorials and personal
appearances at town churches, Tibbles revealed the Ponca tragedy and
gained sympathy for Standing Bear.
Tibbles also enlisted attorneys John L. Webster and A.J. Poppleton
to represent Standing Bear and his followers. A writ of habeas corpus
was requested in U.S. District Court; the first time such a motion
had been filed on behalf of a Native American.
The trial opened in Omaha on April 30, 1879, and lasted two days.
A dignified man and eloquent speaker, Standing Bear issued
impassioned testimony during the trial. Judge Elmer Dundy's ruling
surprised many observers. The judge found that "an Indian is a person
within the meaning of the law" and that Standing Bear was being held
illegally, thereby granting the writ.
Shortly after the trial, Standing Bear fulfilled his son's wish,
burying his bones near the Niobrara River. After years of
governmental acts, Standing Bear was granted a parcel of land in the
old Ponca territory.
He lived there peacefully with his family, farming and raising
livestock until his death in 1908. Honoring Standing Bear's time at
the fort and the trial, a memorial stands tribute on the Parade
Visit General Crook's