Tag Archives: Ponca tribe

Ponca Hills

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s a rural neighborhood with a small-town feel, full of rolling hills, large trees, wildlife, and huge plots of land.

This same area is just minutes from downtown Omaha, which gives residents a short drive to performances, restaurants, and everything else the city has to offer. Residents of the old neighborhood would call Ponca Hills the best of all possible worlds for its convenience.

“It’s just beautiful,” says Sara McClure, who moved to the area from Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband, Dave, 11 years ago. “The drive home, no matter what time of year, is spectacular. And the wildlife and the proximity to the rest of Omaha is amazing.”


Parameters of Ponca Hills are flexible depending on whom you talk to. McClure says the neighborhood extends west to 72nd Street, east to the Missouri River, north to Fort Calhoun, and south to Interstate 680; however, the heart of the Ponca Hills seems to be east of Highway 75 to the river, and just north of the Douglas County line.

The history of how the area got its name is equally ambiguous. The name “Ponca Hills” sounds like it was named after something, says Clare Duda, a Douglas County Commissioner and third-generation Ponca Hills resident. But that’s not the case, he says.

“Somebody just picked the name. I don’t know who, when, or why, but it wasn’t because the Ponca Indians were here,” Duda says. “It would be more correct to call it the Otoe Hills because the Otoe Indians were here as well as the Omaha Indians.”

ponca-hills4While the area’s historical connection to the Ponca tribe is uncertain, the hills remain packed with history from local families. Duda says at least some Ponca Hills residents are descendants of the area’s original homesteaders. The Dudas have kept farms or land in the area for several generations. Other families have no specific tie to the land other than they could not imagine living anywhere else.

Ages and demographics of the Ponca Hills’ approximately 1,000 residents are all over the map. Duda, who has served as an active member of the area’s volunteer fire department for the past 40 years, says he still sees a great number of young families, many who move to the area to be closer to older generations. Meanwhile, a fair number of residents are older or retired folks who have lived in Ponca Hills their entire lives—and have no intention of moving. 

Why is Ponca Hills such a draw? Why do families not only decide to move there, but end up staying for the rest of their lives? And what motivates their children to follow in their footsteps, deciding to build their lives in the same area as their parents and grandparents?

The main attractions are the sense of community among residents, the beauty of the land, and the wildlife.

Neighbors get together for several community gatherings throughout the year, including the Ponca Hills Volunteer Fire Department’s annual barbecue, which draws approximately 2,000 people, including residents and their friends.

“It does raise money for the fire department, but really in my mind, the better reason for having it is that it is a community celebration,” Duda says. “The whole community is together.”

Other events throughout the year include the Ponca Hills Preservation Association’s annual chili feed, a steak cookout at Ponca Hills Farm stables, and smaller events like dinners and potlucks.


While events bring everyone together, what really keeps people in Ponca Hills is the relationships developed through shared commitment to helping one another. When a neighbor is sick, you bring him a meal. When a neighbor gets stuck in the snow, you help pull him out. It’s just what you do.

“We’re a very caring community,” Duda says. “The people are the best asset we’ve got, but the natural environment we’ve been blessed with is right up there, too.”

Deer, foxes, raccoons, possums, skunks, groundhogs, and coyotes, along with turkeys, geese, and many other birds inhabit the area. This is in addition to other animals that neighbors keep on their land, including dogs, cats, chickens, horses, and goats.

“My wife and I travel a lot on the motorcycle,” Duda says. “We can go across the country and will see more wildlife on the three miles near our home than we will on our entire trip.”

For an animal and nature lover like McClure, living in the midst of it all, while still being able to drive to her job in downtown Omaha in less than 20 minutes, is a dream come true.

The extra land is more work. And the older homes mean more to repair and more to update, McClure says. “But the benefit of being so close to Omaha, yet so far from the city, is really worth it.”

Visit poncahills.org for more information. OmahaHome


The Story of Standing Bear

October 25, 2014 by
Photography by Sara Lemke

When 12-year-old Claudia Archer received a cell phone call from her mother informing her that she had won an essay contest, her reaction was more bewilderment than triumph.

“I’m like, ‘What essay is this?’” she says. School was already out for the year and the Brownell-Talbot middle-schooler had written a lot of essays in her sixth-grade writer’s workshop class.

“My writing teacher, Mr. G.—Mr. Goetschkes—had us write an essay each week. And every now and again he threw in an essay contest, and one of them was the Standing Bear essay.”

Months had passed since the assignment, but Archer finally recognized her work: “I realized I wrote it and that I won! I was really excited, but it was a shocker.”

The contest was sponsored by the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and McDonald’s with the objective of generating awareness, especially among youth, of the many accomplishments of Ponca Chief Standing Bear. By contest guidelines for the middle school category, Archer was limited to 200 words and her essay had to demonstrate original thinking and her own opinion. Her final entry was, as she puts it, “short and sweet,” and Robert Goetschkes, her writer’s workshop teacher, agrees.

“The Standing Bear essay was one of those in-class, full-on writing process activities, so she had a lot of time to work on it and revise it, get feedback from some of her classmates, that sort of thing,”
he explains.

Goetschkes, who is with Brownell-Talbot’s English department, says he actively seeks multiple writing competition opportunities for his students every year, and hopes that someday a master database will exist to increase participation.

“I have found that in all of these writing contests I’ve done that I get the same response: ‘I wish more teachers did this’. What I say is, ‘I wish more teachers knew about it’,” he says. “I think if even one student wins every year, it has an impact. I tell the kids that even if you don’t win you are operating at your best when you are competing.”

The four Chief Standing Bear essay contest winners (one in each age category: elementary school, middle school, high school, and college) received a $25 McDonald’s Arch Card and Kindle e-Reader, plus saw their essays appear on tray liners in McDonald’s restaurants throughout the state this summer. Archer and her fellow honorees attended a May reception at the Governor’s Mansion hosted by first lady Sally Ganem and were allowed to bring two guests; Archer chose her parents, Ed and Nuria.

“They’re proud of me and they were really excited for me,” she says.

“She’s a very hard worker, she dedicates a lot of time and is very patient,” Nuria Archer says. “And she has the biggest heart you’ve ever seen. Everybody tells me she’s way beyond her years.”

Claudia’s Essay:

“There is a road in the hearts of all of us, hidden and seldom traveled.” — Chief Standing Bear

Chief Standing Bear was a great individual. He was born in 1829 and died in 1908. He became a great leader for the Ponca tribe. Sadly he went through the terrible death of his son, due to harsh weather and his burial became an adventure.

Ensuring his burial was in his homeland was important to him. In January 1879, Standing Bear and his followers abandoned the Indian Territory to accomplish it. On the way to their ancestral homeland, Standing Bear and his followers got captured and taken to Fort Omaha, Nebraska.

In the spring of 1879, a journalist interviewed him and published a story that grasped many of the public’s attention. Because of this, many lawyers tried to prevent Standing Bear from going back to Indian Territory.

It is said the story explained why the tribe was divided. The majority of the Southern Ponca went to the Indian Territory, but Chief Standing Bear and his followers returned to Nebraska and became the Northern Ponca. 88 years after his death, a tall bronze statute reminds us of this leader today.