The Usni (Cold) Ponca Tribe of Nebraska are believed to have been part of the Omaha Tribe, having separated by the time Lewis and Clark came upon them in 1804. At that time, they were situated along Ponca Creek, in Knox County, near present-day Verdel. They lived in earth lodges and were primarily horticulturists, but also made seasonal hunting trips. They were on such a trip when Lewis and Clark came upon their village. Although the tribe’s exact origin is unknown, some scholars believed the Ponca migrated from an area along the Red River near Lake Winnipeg. However, by the early 1700s, the warring Sioux had forced them to relocate to the west bank of the Missouri River.
The Ponca were never a large tribe. The tribe’s probable size in 1780 was estimated at 800. By 1804, largely because of smallpox, their numbers dwindled to around 200. By 1829, their population had increased to 600 and by 1842, to about 800. In 1906, the Ponca in Oklahoma numbered 570 and those in Nebraska, 263. The census of 1910 listed 875 Poncas, including 619 in Oklahoma and 193 in Kansas. By 1937, the Ponca population reached 1,222 with 825 in Oklahoma and 397 in Nebraska. Today, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska alone numbers close to 4,200.