Susette La Flesche Biography


(Critical Survey of Native American Literature)

Susette La Flesche became a major nineteenth century native-rights advocate through the case of Standing Bear, another Ponca. Like her sister Susan, Susette La Flesche attended the Presbyterian mission school on the Omaha reservation. She also studied art at the University of Nebraska. In the late 1870’s, she traveled with her father, Joseph La Flesche, to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma) to render rudimentary medical attention to the Poncas. Standing Bear’s people had been forced to move there from their former homeland along the Niobrara in northern Nebraska. When the Poncas attempted to end this forced exile and return to their homeland, they marched for several weeks in midwinter, finally eating their moccasins to survive and arriving at the Omaha reservation with bleeding feet. The Omahas, particularly the La Flesche family, granted them sanctuary and sustenance.

Susette accompanied her brother Francis La Flesche and Luther Standing Bear on a lecture tour of Eastern cities during 1879 and 1880 to support the Poncas’ case for a return of their homeland. Newspaper articles by Omaha journalist Thomas H. Tibbles about the Poncas’ forced exile helped ignite a furor in Congress and among the public. In 1882, Susette—who often used the name “Bright Eyes” in public—married Tibbles. She also coauthored a memoir with Standing Bear, Ploughed Under: The Story of an Indian Chief (1832). During ensuing years, La Flesche and Tibbles also toured the British Isles. Later the couple lived in Washington, D.C., but eventually Susette returned to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she died in 1903.