Susette La Flesche Tibbles

In Nebraska Notables by admin

Susette La Flesche Tibbles (1854-1903) was born in Bellevue in 1854, the year the Omaha gave up their Nebraska hunting grounds and agreed to move to a northeastern Nebraska reservation. She was the oldest daughter of Joseph La Flesche, the last recognized chief of the Omaha Tribe. Joseph was known as “Iron Eyes.”

Susette was raised on the Omaha Reservation and from 1862 to 1869 attended the Presbyterian Mission Boarding Day School on the reservation where she learned to read, write, and speak English and to cook and sew.

During the trial of Standing Bear in 1879, Susette served as the interpreter for Standing Bear, including translating his famous speech to the judge. “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. God made us both.”

After the trial, Susette La Flesche Tibbles gained an international reputation as a spokeswoman for the American Indian. Because her native name, “Inshata Theumba” was difficult for people to pronounce, its translation, “Bright Eyes”, was widely used. She and her husband Thomas H. Tibbles publicized the plight of the Indian in their writings and lectures. She and her husband also testified before three congressional committees in Washington, D.C.

In 1882, La Flesche and Thomas Tibbles were married. They continued their lecture tours in the East, and during 1886 traveled to England and Scotland for a ten-month tour. Here, she was received by nobility and by literary circles. When they returned to Omaha in 1890, Thomas Tibbles went back to work at the Omaha World-Herald.

In 1891, Tibbles traveled to Pine Ridge in southwestern South Dakota to inquire about the Battle of Wounded Knee and problems of Native Americans at the reservation there. From 1893-1895 they lived in Washington D.C. where Mr. Tibbles worked as a newspaper correspondent.

Susette La Flesche Tibbles continued to write, lecture, and to push Indian concerns before government committees. She and her husband moved to Bancroft, Nebraska in 1902 to live among the Omaha. She died there in 1903 at her home near Bancroft at the age of forty-nine. She was eulogized in the U.S. Senate and is remembered as the first woman to speak out for the cause of Native Americans.

Retrieved from:
Nebraska State Historical Society
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