Historic White Eagle, Oklahoma
In Kay County, Oklahoma there is a small town just south of where I grew up called White Eagle. This town is an unincorporated community and is the headquarters of the Ponca Nation, the Indian tribe for which my hometown of Ponca City was named. At times, this small town is lumped in with Ponca City proper much in the same way that McCord is. White Eagle itself was named for Chief White Eagle who was the principal chief of the Ponca Nation in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s. Like many of the communities in Oklahoma that started out in Indian Territory, there is quite a bit of history surrounding this area. Some of it is good and some of it isn’t quite a good. Most of the bad parts of White Eagle’s history surround interactions between the tribe and the “white folk” in the area and that came in from the state and national government.
As mentioned above, White Eagle is home to the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. There is another part of the Ponca Tribe that are up in Nebraska. The tribe is a part of the Sioux Nation and are related to the tribe that my father and I are a part of, the Oto. From what historians have been able to gather, the Ponca Tribe originated in the Ohio River Valley and moved westward for better hunting due to the wars involving the Iroquios peoples. The United States eventually moved the Ponca people to Indian Territory in 1876 along with several other northern tribes, mostly part of the Sioux. Many of the Ponca were against the move to what would be the new home of the tribe because it went against treaties that had been signed between the US government and the tribe earlier in the 1800’s. However, like most of the other tribes, the US government relocated the tribe anyway. The result was a great drop in their numbers from illness, food shortages, and terribly hot and dry climate they were not accustom to. It is estimated that during that time, one out of every four members of the tribe died.
In the opening paragraph, it was mentioned that White Eagle is sometimes lumped in with Ponca City in the same way that the community of McCord is. What that means is that White Eagle sort of falls under Ponca City’s jurisdiction, but still retains its autonomy in that it has its own set of “city laws”. Since White Eagle is where the Ponca Nation Agency is located it is technically the headquarters of the tribe. That being said, a good portion of the tribe actually do live in Ponca City or the surrounding area. White Eagle itself is on federal land. So, if a crime is committed at White Eagle, it becomes a federal offence.
What makes White Eagle interesting to visit is that down from the Ponca Tribal offices is White Eagle Park. This park is where the Ponca Nation encampment grounds are and is the area where the Ponca Powwow has been held since the relocation of the tribe to Oklahoma. This makes it one of the oldest encampment grounds that are still used to this day in the area, if not the oldest. If you are in the area in August, the powwow is open to the public and it is well publicized in the area. While in the past, as in when my father was younger, it was sort of hit or miss as to whether or not it was a friendly powwow to attend for those outside of the tribe, recent changes have made it very family friendly and one of the more popular powwows in the area. This is mostly because the World Fancy Dance Championship is held. The reason for that is that the Fancy Dance is actually a Ponca Dance. It’s an amazing dance and the Ponca powwow is the best place to visit if you want to see it at it’s best.
With the Indian tribes doing more to take back their autonomy and bring back their cultures and languages, the Ponca have really done quite a lot in the area. The Native American Church was co-founded by people in the Ponca Nation. You also see quite a few of their members out and about in the community in Ponca City. White Eagle may be home to the agency, but the Ponca Tribe has quite the history in the area surrounding the small community and at times it is hard to seperate the history of the tribe from the history of the area.