Susette La Flesche Tibbles Nebraska Artist Born 1854 Died 27 May 1903
In 1854 "Bright Eyes" or the Omaha name "Instha Theamba" was born in Bellevue, Nebraska to Joseph La Flesche "Iron Eye" or "Instramaza" (1822-1889) and Mary Gale (1829-1909) "The One Woman" or "Hinnuagsnun" from the Omaha tribe.
La Flesche was educated in the mission school until fifteen when she attended four years of college at Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1873 she returned to teach at the reservation school. She was known for her interpretive work for the Ponca tribe in the habeas corpus case where she met her future husband, Thomas H. Tibbles. He was a reporter for a Nebraska newspaper. They married in 1882.
Susette "Bright Eyes" traveled for many years lecturing in Europe and the United States pleading the cause of the Native American. She was well received throughout the world by nobility and treasured her autograph book. One erroneously reported story was Longfellow wrote the poem originally about "Bright Eyes". The real story is upon meeting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the author turned to the others present and said "this is Minnehaha". This simple statement opened many doors for "Bright Eyes" because of the popularity of the poem. Longfellow's poem was published in 1855 and "Bright Eyes" was born in 1854.
When she retired from public speaking "Bright Eyes" moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. She studied art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and painted many pictures. "Bright Eyes" illustrated "Oo-Mah-Ha Ta-Wa-The" a book written by Fannie Reed Giffen published in 1898. The books preface reads "the illustrations are believed to be the first artistic work by an American Indian ever published".
"Bright Eyes" was the symbol of the Native American Maiden, public speaker, author, artist and defender of Native Americans. The child of "Iron Eyes" the man who said "God has given us the hands with which we can work...look back on the lives of your fathers and grandfathers; then look at yourselves and see how far you have gone ahead, and seeing this, do not stop and turn back to them, but go forward." Quote from Iron Eyes Family The Children of Joseph La Flesche by Norman Kidd Green.
Picture of Susette La Flesche Tibbles courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.
Green, Norman Kidd, Iron Eyes Family The Children of Joseph La Flesche 1969, Johnsen Publishing Company, Lincoln, NE, p.214.
Bucklin, Clarissa, Nebraska Art and Artist, School of Fine Arts, 1932 The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska p 15-16
Diffendal, Anne P, Women in Nebraska History 1984 Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska page 216
Copyright November 2004 by Janet Gwendolyn Smith
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