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Ioway Cultural Institute : History :

Bright Eyes (Instha Theamba), Mrs. T. H. Tibbles

Bright Eyes was an Omaha Indian girl, who became widely known through her efforts to help her people. She was born at Bellevue in 1854, the daughter of Joseph and Mary LaFlesche, and united in her person the blood of the Indian, the French and the American settlers of Nebraska. Her father was a chief of the Omaha tribe, the son of a Frenchman and a Ponca Indian woman. Her mother was daughter of Nicomi, an Indian woman of the Ioway tribe, and Dr. John Gale, a surgeon of the United States army.

When Bright Eyes was born she was named Yosette or Susette by her parents. It was not until years later she received her second name. Her father's Indian name was Esta-maza or "Iron Eyes." Some one who knew this looked at the daughter and said, "Her name should be Bright Eyes, or in Omaha language, Instha Theamba." So she came to be known by the name "Bright Eyes" and to sign it to her writings.

Bright Eyes grew up on the Omaha Indian reservation with the other Indian children. She spoke nothing but the Omaha language until she was eight years old. Then she went to the mission school on the reservation. She learned English faster than any other child in the school and was soon able to read and write. Every one loved her because she was so bright and cheerful and winning in her ways. When she was fifteen she was asked what she most wished for a Christmas present and replied, a good education. This was told to the president of a woman's seminary at Elizabeth, New Jersey. Very soon Bright Eyes was invited to attend school there, and became at once one of the best students, beloved by her teachers and by the young white women who were her schoolmates. At the end of four years she graduated and came back to the Omaha reservation.

The Omaha Indians were very poor. Grasshoppers came and ate their crops. Part of the tribe lived in the old Indian way and kept up the old Indian customs. There were no pleasant rooms and beautiful books and pictures and educated girl companions as there were at the school at Elizabeth, New Jersey. The wild game was fast going. The Indians had not yet learned how to farm as the white men did. Idleness and its bad results were seen in the tnbe. There was little to make life happy for a bright girl fresh from study in an eastern school.

One day Bright Eyes found out that there was a law which said that any Indian qualified to teach school should have the preference in schools on the reservation. She at once set out to get leave to teach school near her home. After great obstacles had been overcome, she began teaching in a little cabin at twenty dollars a month. This gave her a chance to help the people of her tribe in many ways toward a better way of living. She was very busy in this work when Standing Bear and the Ponca Indians who had escaped from Oklahoma came to the Omaha tribe for help in 1879.

Bright Eyes at once became the champion of the poor Poncas. She wrote to the newspapers the story of their wrongs. She visited Omaha in their behalf. While thus engaged she became acquainted with Mr. T. H. Tibbles, an editorial writer on the Omaha Herald, and later, in 1882, became his wife. The next year she was asked by people interested in the Indians to go east and tell the story of Nebraska Indians and their needs. For the next five years, accompanied by her husband and Chief Standing Bear, she spoke to great audiences in the eastern states and in Europe. Everywhere the people were charmed with her presence and interested in her story. The poet Longfellow asked to meet her and when he saw her said, "This is Minnehaha." Leading men took up the cause of the Indian and their rights were better protected.

At the end of her years of lecturing Bright Eyes returned to Nebraska. Her summers usually were spent on the Omaha reservation among her own people. During the remainder of the year she lived in Omaha or Lincoln, where Mr. Tibbles was engaged in editorial work. She wrote much herself and had the most constant interest in the progress of the Omahas and other tribes of Indians. During the last Sioux war in 1890 she was at Pine Ridge. She died May 26, 1903, at her own home on the Omaha reservation in sight of the beautiful Logan River and the hills where her people had hunted in the early days, leaving the memory of a good and true life spent in making all life which she touched brighter and better.

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