Susette La Flesche Tibbles
Who was "Bright Eyes?" What was her role during the Standing
Bear vs. Crook Trial?
Susette 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. 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. The Mission School had been started at Bellevue
in 1845 and was moved to the reservation in 1857. Susette learned
to read, write, and speak English and to cook and sew.
After Susette expressed her desire to further her education, arrangements
were made in 1869 for her to attend the Elizabeth Institute for
Young Ladies, a private school at Elizabeth, New Jersey. She became
known for her writing ability, and an essay written during her senior
year, was published by the New York Tribune. Following her
graduation, Susette returned to the reservation. Three years later,
Susette was accepted as a teacher at the government school on the
reservation and she taught there for several years.
In 1877, the Ponca tribe was dislocated to Indian Territory. Iron
Eye's mother was Ponca, and so he went to Indian Territory to investigate
conditions under which the Ponca were living. Susette went along.
When they returned, Susette worked with Thomas H. Tibbles of the
Omaha Herald to publicize the Ponca's plight. Susette was
Standing Bear's interpreter during the trial in May 1879.
After the trial, Susette became known as "Bright Eyes."
Tibbles organized a speaking tour of the eastern United States for
Standing Bear, Bright Eyes, and her brother, Francis La Flesche.
They were entertained by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at his home
at Cambridge, Massachusetts. When he saw Bright Eyes, Longfellow
said, "This could be Minnehaha," the Indian maiden in
his poem "The Song of Hiawatha." Along with Tibbles, Bright
Eyes appeared before a congressional committee, presenting her concerns
about Native American rights.
In 1882 Bright Eyes 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 Bright Eyes was received
by nobility and by literary circles. When they returned to Omaha
in 1890, Tibbles went back to work at the Omaha World-Herald.
In 1891 they 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 the Tibbles lived
in Washington D.C. where he worked as a newspaper correspondent.
After returning to Nebraska Tibbles edited The Independent,
a weekly Populist newspaper in Lincoln until 1915.
Bright Eyes continued to write, lecture, and to advocate Indian
concerns before government committees. Thomas Tibbles and Bright
Eyes moved to Bancroft in 1902 to live among the Omaha. She died
there on May 26, 1903 at her home near Bancroft at the age of 49.
She was eulogized in the U.S. Senate and is remembered as the first
woman to speak out for the cause of Native Americans.
Susette La Flesche Tibbles is in the Nebraska Hall of Fame
Click below to find out about all its members.