Biographical / Historical
Thomas Henry Tibbles was born May 22, 1840, near Athens, Ohio to parents William and Martha (nee Cooley) Tibbles. In 1856, at the age of 16, Tibbles fought with anti-slavery Free-Staters in the Bleeding Kansas conflicts under James Henry Lane. Lane's troops disbanded the same year and Tibbles went on to study at Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio from 1858-1861. During the Civil War Tibbles served as a scout and newspaper correspondent in Missouri and Kansas and continued newspaper work until 1871 when he became a circuit preacher. Between 1874 and 1879, Tibbles worked on the staffs of various newspapers in Omaha, Nebraska eventually reaching the post of assistant editor of the Omaha Daily Herald. It was during his time at the Herald that Tibbles was instrumental in bringing the case of Standing Bear and the Ponca Indian people before the United States District Court at Fort Omaha. Standing Bear, along with thirty other Poncas, had returned to their home in Nebraska after being forcibly removed to Indian Territory 1878. They were being detained at the Omaha Reservation on an order from the Secretary of the Interior and Tibbles began to circulate the story of the plight of the Ponca to major newspapers gathering the support of the public. Eventually Tibbles had attorneys John L. Webster and A.J. Poppleton help Standing Bear petition the court with a writ of habeas corpus. On April 30, 1879 Judge Elmer Dundy declared that an Indian is a person within the law and that the Ponca were being held illegally, setting Standing Bear and the Ponca free. Following the trial, Tibbles continued to report on violations against Native American rights. Tibbles was a witness to the aftermath of the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1891, and reported this tragedy to the world. From 1893-1895, he worked as a newspaper correspondent in Washington D.C. On returning to Nebraska, Tibbles became editor-in-chief of The Independent, a weekly Populist Party newspaper. He was the Populist Party nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1904. Though unsuccessful in this campaign Tibbles continued to write on Populist issues as well as editing The Investigator from 1905-1910 and returning to the Omaha World Herald from 1910 to his retirement.
Tibbles had two children with his first wife, Amelia Owen whom he married in 1861. Eda, born in 1868 in Kansas City, married Herbert Bates in 1894 and May, born in 1870 in Danville Iowa, married Allen Barris in 1891. Amelia died of peritonitis in 1879. On June 29, 1882, Tibbles married Susette "Bright Eyes" LaFlesche (Omaha), daughter of Joseph "Iron Eye" LaFlesche. Susette LaFlesche worked closely alongside Tibbles during the Standing Bear's trial in her role as chief interpreter. Together, LaFlesche, Tibbles and Standing Bear carried out a successful lecture tour in England and Scotland in 1886-1887 speaking on issues of Indian rights. LaFlesche became well known as an eloquent writer and orator. Following her death in 1903 she was eulagized in the US Senate and was later inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. Tibbles remarried for a final time in 1907 to Ida Belle Riddle. She remained by Tibbles side until his own death in 1928.
During his career, Tibbles wrote three books which included Ponca Chiefs (1880), which was written under the pen name "Zylyff", Hidden Power (1881) and The American Peasant (1892). Tibbles had also composed his memoirs titled Buckskin and Blanket Days which were eventually published in 1957 through the efforts of his grandson Chester Barris.