American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 45, Issue 1-2, 4-11


Copyright © 2009 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


At ten o’clock on the morning of May 1, 1879, in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. District Court Judge Elmer Dundy’s gavel smacked against a wooden bench and the trial of Ma-chu-nah-zha v. George Crook was officially underway. Delayed by heavy spring rains and widespread flooding, the judge had just arrived from Lincoln the night before, but now he was settled at the bench and he asked the attorneys representing Standing Bear to call their first witness.

Willie W. Hamilton, the son of the missionary on the Omaha Reservation, approached the stand. Hamilton, 22, had lived on the reservation for 12 years, working at the agency store for the past six. He spoke both Omaha and Ponca fluently and had first met the prisoners when they arrived on Omaha Reservation land two months earlier. The younger of Standing Bear’s two attorneys, John Lee Webster, began the questioning, asking the witness to describe the condition of the prisoners.