Ralph H. Case, Esq., was born at Fort Bennet on the Cheyenne River Reservation on November 27, 1879. After graduating from Yankton College in Yankton, South Dakota, he joined the army and gained the rank of major. After serving several years in public office, Case studied law in Washington, D.C. In 1922, he was admitted to both Maryland and South Dakota Bar Associations.
In 1911, Case returned to South Dakota and met with the Black Hills Council. The tribal elders asked him to assist in prosecuting for reimbursement for the illegal taking of the Black Hills, which are sacred to the tribes of the Sioux Nation. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation that encompassed the Black Hills. In 1874, General George Armstrong Custer led an expedition that discovered gold in the Black Hills. The public encouraged opening the area for settlement in violation of the 1868 treaty. Congress expropriated the Black Hills and surrounding plains by an agreement approved on February 18, 1877. This provides the basis for the Black Hills Claim.
Case eagerly accepted the assignment. However, Congress assigned attorneys to represent Indian tribes and named Charles Evans Hughes as Sioux tribal attorney. Hughes resigned after President Harding named him Secretary of State. Case remained in contact with the Sioux tribes and traveled to the Rosebud Reservation in September 1921. After the Commissioner of Indian Affairs allowed Indian tribes to elect attorneys, all eight Sioux reservations elected Case, along with attorney C.C. Calhoun. These two attorneys signed a contract with the Sioux Nation on December 22, 1922.
In 1923, Case began litigation by filing the first Sioux petition under the U.S. Court of Claims, which had been established in 1855. In 1943, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the Black Hills Claim thus upholding the decision of the Court of Claims that it did not have jurisdiction. The claim was at a standstill. In 1946, Congress established the Indian Claims Commission under which the Black Hills Claim could be re-filed. Case remained under the employment of the eight Sioux tribes and he re-filed the claim in August 1950.
Case expressed an intense personal interest in his work with the Sioux and garnered sharp criticism for allowing personal correspondence to monopolize his time. The Black Hills Claim, a lifelong obsession, drained the family finances. Because of this Case attempted to ensure that his son succeed him in his work. Despite his efforts, Case's work for the Sioux seemed to be a series of failures. Tribal members on the Standing Rock reservation voted to remove him as attorney in 1955. Despite the decision, Case continued to litigate the Black Hills Claim for the other tribes involved.
Throughout his 35 years of work on the Black Hills Claim, Case did not secure a victory. During this time, he dealt with the prosecution of numerous other claims including the Sioux pony claims, Wounded Knee claims, Cheyenne River coal claim, Lower Brule land claim, and the Fort Randall Dam claim. Case succeeded in securing victories for Sioux tribes on other, smaller claims such as the Oahe Dam Claim. His efforts to assist the tribes continued until his death in 1957. Following Case's death, attorneys Marvin Sonosky and Edward Lazarus succeeded in winning the Black Hills Claim for a total of $108,000,000, an amount which the tribes chose not to accept.