The Ponca Tribe

The Ponca Tribe

The Ponca Tribe

The Ponca Tribe


The culture of the Ponca Indians is less well known than their misfortunes. A model of research and clarity, The Ponca Tribe is still the most complete account of these Indians who inhabited the upper central plains. Peaceably inclined and never numerous, they built earth-lodge villages, cultivated gardens, and hunted buffalo. James H. Howard considers their historic situation in present-day South Dakota and Nebraska, their trade with Europeans and relations with the U.S. government and, finally, their loss of land along the Niobrara River and forced removal to Indian Territory. The tragic events surrounding the 1877 removal, culminating in the arrest and trial of Chief Standing Bear, are only part of the Ponca story. Howard, a respected ethnologist, traces the tribe's origins and early history. Aided by Ponca informants, he presents their way of life in his descriptions of Ponca lodgings, arts and crafts (pottery was made from blue clay found on the Missouri River), clothing and ornaments, food,tools and weapons, dogs and horses, kinship system, governance, sexual practices, and religious ceremonies and dances. He tells what is known about a proud (and ultimately divided) tribe that was led down a "trail of tears".


In the thirty years since original publication, The Ponca Tribe has become a "classic" in the literature of the Plains Indians of North America. Its stature is due largely to the research interests and writing style of James H. Howard. He was dedicated to describing the traditional culture of Native Americans. As a cultural anthropologist, he knew the importance of field observation and participation in the local community for collecting information. He also was keenly aware of his dependence on interviews with tribal elders. He not only included their statements in his books and articles, but gave them full credit for their contributions.

Howard, born in eastern South Dakota in 1925, developed an early interest in the material culture and dance of the many Native American tribes that were located in the region. By his teenage years, he had begun constructing Plains Indian dance outfits and participating in the dances. This early interest became a professional passion.

After service in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II, his interest in Native American traditions led him to the study of anthropology at the University of Nebraska, where he received both the bachelor (1949) and master (1950) degrees. In 1957 he was awarded the doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of Michigan. The research for his Ph.D. dissertation was the foundation for The Ponca Tribe.

Howard's professional career as an anthropologist included museum work, field archaeology, and teaching. He was on the staff of the North Dakota State Historical Museum (1950-53) and the Kansas City Museum (1955-57). After completion of the doctoral degree, he began his teaching career, first at the University of North Dakota (1957-63), then at the University of South Dakota (1963-68), and in 1968 at Oklahoma State University. He developed a variety of courses on Native American culture, including material culture and music. The locations of these professional positions were important to Howard, for they allowed easy access to the communities that he wanted to visit and study. In a sense, his fieldwork was in his backyard.

Howard was widely recognized as one of the most prolific authors in anthropology. He wrote over a hundred articles based on original research as well as many book reviews. He was equally comfortable publishing in professional journals for his colleagues and the jour-

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