The 22-foot-tall statue gazes and gestures to the east as a symbol of peace, optimism and dignity. In many ways, it represents not just the place where it stands – Ponca City – but Oklahoma as a state.
Standing Bear, depicted in 9,100 pounds of bronze by sculptor Oreland C. Joe Sr., was the Ponca chief, warrior and civil-rights leader whose legal arguments ultimately led to the United States recognizing Natives as citizens.
Joe says his rendering of the Ponca leader, erected in 1996, won out over several other submissions because he emphasized Standing Bear’s harmonious legacy.
“That was the key,” Joe says. “What is the representation of peace? The eagle fan that he’s holding – not a shield or a weapon. He’s about peace and calm.”
The monument is part of a 63-acre park that includes a museum and Native education center, all products of area tribes – Ponca, Osage, Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria Kaw and Tonkawa.
Joe says the cooperation between tribes and Ponca City leaders in creating the Standing Bear complex serves as an example of how people with competing interests can set aside differences and find common ground.
“The city and the Indian nations were adult about everything,” he says. “Believe me – I’ve seen pettiness in a lot of other places over things like this. The Ponca City community came together for a good cause and that’s rare. We can learn something from Ponca City.”
That sense of commonwealth – that greater good – is one of the reasons that a regional company with a national reputation maintains its headquarters in Kay County’s largest city.
“We’re proud we’re in Ponca City,” say. C.R. Head, sales and marketing director of Head Country Barbecue. “And people are proud of us because they can open up a bottle of our sauce and know it’s made in their hometown.”
Head’s parents, Letitia Jackson and Danny Head, bought the sauce recipe and product line from Bud Head, Danny’s uncle, moved the business to Ponca City in 1980, and have remained there since, although the family once considered relocating to Oklahoma City.
“Dad figured in ’79 that the oil-field business was going to peter out, which it did, and he wanted to make barbecue sauce full time,” says C.R. Head, adding that the company’s 45 employees make and ship 25,000 bottles of sauce per day. “Ponca City is the perfect size for us … and the schools are amazing.”
Danny Head, who runs Danny’s Barbecue Head Quarters (formerly the Head Country Barbecue restaurant), praises Ponca City’s progressive nature when it comes to infrastructure, education and attracting businesses.
“We went through some tough times with the oil industry busts and those jobs leaving town, but we’ve bounced back,” he says. “Residents have a good quality of life. And you go down our main streets and it’s like being in Hometown, U.S.A.”