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Join the discussion: A Ponca girl died on the Trail of Tears. A Nebraska town has cared for her grave ever since.

Dreamcatchers are tied to a tree branch behind the grave of White Buffalo Girl, a toddler who died on the Trail of Tears in 1877. Locals still honor her father's request to tend her grave.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

NELIGH, Neb. — The father’s plea could so easily have been forgotten: a handful of phrases in an unfamiliar language, lost to the rain and the rush of the wind in the pines on that spring day in 1877.

His daughter, 18 months old, had died the day before. The next morning his family would leave her grave behind, probably forever, just as they had left their beloved ancestral homeland days before, forced off by the US government.

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Jenna Russell can be reached at jenna.russell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jrussglobe.