Ponca Tribe

Ponca Native Indian

This article contains interesting facts, pictures and information about the life of the Ponca Native American Indian Tribe of the Great Plains.

The Ponca Tribe
Summary and Definition: The Ponca people were originally a small woodlands tribe of farmers who lived in Longhouse villages inhabiting areas in present-day Ohio. They migrated to the Great Plains to hunt buffalo and inhabited lands along the Niobrara River on the boundary between South Dakota and Nebraska.

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Facts about the Ponca Native Indian Tribe
This article contains fast, fun facts and interesting information about the Ponca Native American Indian tribe. Find answers to questions like where did the Ponca tribe live, what clothes did they wear and what food did they eat? Discover what happened to the Ponca tribe with facts about their wars and history.

Picture of the Ponca Native Indian
The above picture depicts the eighteen year son of a Ponca Native Indian called Hongs-kay-dee, meaning Great Chief who was the son of Chief Smoke. It was painted in 1832 by the famous artist George Catlin (1796-1872). The brave is wearing a blanket robe trimmed with fur and bedecked with wristbands, necklaces and earrings. An arrow quiver is carried across his back. The proud young chief wore striking horizontal stripe of red face paint and wore a roach headdress decorated with eagle feathers.

What was the lifestyle and culture of the Ponca tribe?
The name, Ponka, was used by other Native Indian tribes to mean "Head Cutters" which reflected the Ponca custom, also shared by the Osage and Omaha tribes, of scalping and then decapitating their enemies. The many different tribes of the Great Plains developed sign language in order to communicate with each other and the sign to indicate a Ponca indicated this custom. Their original homelands were in Ohio where they lived in small longhouse villages and raised crops of maize, beans and squash.  The first encounters with Europeans were with fur traders. With the introduction of the horse in the 1750's they migrated to the Great Plains, in the modern states of south Dakota and Nebraska, to hunt buffalo. This complete change of habitat led their adoption of the nomadic lifestyle of the Plains Indians. The encroachment of the lands resulted in the Ponca being forcibly moved to a reservation in Oklahoma and the tragic story of Chief Standing Bear.


Where did the Ponca tribe live?
The Ponca are people of the Woodlands and later the Great Plains Native American cultural group. The location of their tribal homelands are shown on the map.  The geography of the region in which they lived dictated the lifestyle and culture of the Ponca tribe.

  • The American Great Plains region mainly extended across the present-day states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

  • The Plains Ponca tribe inhabited South Dakota and Nebraska

  • Land: Grass covered prairies with streams and rivers

  • Climate: The climate was hot summers and cold winters

  • Animals: The  animals included the Bison (Buffalo), deer, cougars, elk, bear, beaver, porcupine, antelope, prairie dogs, eagles and wolves

  • Crops: The crops grown in the area were corn, beans, sunflower seeds and squash

  • Fish: Various fish including sturgeon, crayfish and mussels

Map showing Great Plains Native American Indian Tribes

What did the Ponca tribe live in?
The Ponca tribe originally lived in small fortified villages of thatched bark Longhouses. When the tribe migrated to the Great Plains they adopted the
Tepee as a convenient, temporary shelter for summer hunting trips. They also built earth lodges, similar to those built by the Pawnee.

What language did the Ponca tribe speak?
The Ponca tribe spoke the Dhegihan dialect of the Siouan language, closely related linguistically to the Omaha tribe.

What food did the Ponca tribe eat?
The food that the Ponca tribe ate included ate included fish and meat. Buffalo, deer (venison), black bear, elk and wild turkey. Their food was supplemented with wild vegetables and roots such as spinach, prairie turnips and potatoes and flavored with wild herbs. Food in the form of dried buffalo meat called pemmican was stored for use when food was scarce.

What weapons did the Ponca use?
The weapons used included bows and arrows, lances, stone ball clubs, hatchet axes, spears, and knives. Painted war shields were used when riding on horseback as a means of defence.

What clothes did the Ponca men wear?
The men of the tribe included buckskin tunics and leggings or breechcloths in the warmer weather. Warm buffalo robes or cloaks  were also worn to protect against the rain and the cold. The men wore sandals or moccasins, a soft, light beige, slip-on shoe, consisting of a sole and sides made of one piece of leather. Roach headdresses adorned their heads.

What clothes did the Ponca women wear?
The women of the tribe wore knee-length dresses and leggings and buffalo robes during bad weather. The clothes of both men and women were adorned with ornaments, especially necklaces, wrist bands and earrings. As trade with the settlers increased and trade cloth became available both the men and women of the tribe wore bright silk kerchiefs that were either tied or fastened with a ring or braided holder.

Ponca History: What happened to the Ponca tribe?
The following Ponca history timeline details facts, dates and famous landmarks of the people. The Ponca timeline explains what happened to the people of their tribe.

Ponca History Timeline

  • 1541: The Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, was the first European to encounter the Ponca tribe

  • 1700: The first European reference to the Omaha tribe was made by Pierre-Charles Le Sueur

  • 1701: The French cartographer Pierre-Charles Le Sueur place the tribe along the northern stretch of the Missouri River

  • 1789: French fur trader Juan Baptiste Munier established a trading post and was granted an exclusive license to trade with the Ponca at the mouth of the Niobrara River.

  • 1801: A devastating smallpox epidemic decimates the Ponca people

  • 1802: They number of Ponca had declined to just 200 people due to disease and inter-tribal warfare

  • 1803: The Louisiana Purchase

  • 1804: Jean Pierre Chouteau was appointed as the US Indian agent

  • 1804: The Lewis and Clark expedition (1804 - 1806) first encountered the Ponca on 5th September 1804

  • 1829: Standing Bear was born

  • 1817: The First treaty with the U.S. government followed by further treaties in 1825, 1858, 1865

  • 1825: The Second treaty with the U.S. government

  • 1832: The artist George Catlin visits the Ponca tribe

  • 1837: Second great Smallpox epidemic kills many Native American Indians

  • 1858: The Ponca signed a third treaty with the U.S. government giving up all of their land except for the land around the Niobrara River in Nebraska

  • 1868: The Fort Laramie Treaty in which the US mistakenly gives the Ponca land to the Sioux. The Sioux began driving the Ponca off their land

  • 1875: The government admits its mistake and suggests that the Ponca move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma

  • 1875: Chief Standing Bear and some members of the tribe accompanied by Indian agents visit Oklahoma, but find the land inhabitable. The Ponca's are forced to walk 500 miles home.

  • 1876: Chief Standing Bear arrives home

  • 1877: In May 1877 Chief Standing Bear and 600 Poncas are forced at bayonet point to walk to the Indian Territory

  • 1878: In just one year at the reservation one third of the Ponca people die of starvation and disease. The son of Chief Standing Bear is one of the many who died

  • 1878: Chief Standing Bear walks from Oklahoma back to Nebraska to bury his son and takes refuge with the Omaha people

  • 1879: The U.S. army tries to force Chief Standing Bear back to the reservation but the residents of Omaha obtain a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the Ponca and take the army to federal court

  • 1879: The "Trial of Standing Bear”. The civil rights case of Standing Bear v. Crook began on May 1, 1879 before Judge Elmer S. Dundy in U.S. District Court in Omaha. The court established for the first time that native Americans are "persons within the meaning of the law" of the United States, and that they have certain rights as a result

  • 1881: The government returns 26,000 acres of Knox County, Nebraska to the Ponca

  • 1908: Standing Bear died and was buried alongside his ancestors in the Ponca tribal homeland

Today there are Ponca reservations in both Oklahoma and Nebraska. Many Ponca people returned to their native homelands on the Niobrara River.

Ponca History Timeline


  • Interesting Facts and information about the way the Ponca people lived
  • The clothes worn by Ponca men and women
  • Description of the homes and the type of food the Ponca would eat
  • Fast Facts and info about the Ponca
  • Interesting Homework resource for kids on the history of the Ponca Native American Indians

Pictures and Videos of Native American Indians and their Tribes
The Ponca Tribe was one of the most famous tribes of Native American Indians. Discover the vast selection of pictures on the subject of the tribes of Famous Native Americans such as the Ponca nation. The pictures show the clothing, war paint, weapons and decorations of various Native Indian tribes, such as the Ponca tribe, that can be used as a really useful educational resource for kids and children of all ages. We hope you enjoy watching the video - just click and play - a great social studies homework resource for kids .


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