National Museum of the American Indian

Thomas Henry Tibbles papers, 1850-1956 [1875-1905]


Collection ID:
Tibbles, Thomas Henry, 1840-1928
bulk 1875-1905
Physical Description:
2 Linear feet
41 Photographs

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The Thomas Henry Tibbles papers include documents that span Tibbles career as a journalist and lecturer on Indian rights from the 1870s until his death in 1928. Of particular note are the documents related to his work on the Standing Bear vs. George Crook Habeas Corpus trial. This includes articles, essays and talks written by Tibbles as well as copies of a lecture given by Susette LaFlesche Tibbles. Notable correspondents include; Robert Clarkson, Joseph Cook, General George Crook, Robert N. Price and William Jennings Bryan. Examples of materials related to the Ponca land case and Standing Bear trial include reports from the Ponca Relief commitee, a petition from the Ponca people, minutes from the Council Concerning Ponca Land Right and additional documents and writings sent out by Tibbles to gain support from both the church and politicians. Also included in these papers are several drafts of Buckskin and Blanket Days, Tibbles' autobiography that was written in 1905 and published in 1957. There is a significant amount of correspondence between Chester Barris, grandson to Tibbles, and publishing houses between 1939 and 1956 in the search for a willing publisher. There is also correspondence between Barris and his aunt Theadora "Dora" Cogswell who worked on editing the manuscript. Cogswell conducted a large amount of research on the historicity of the events described by Tibbles and her notes are included in the collection. The photographs in this collection include portraits of the Tibbles/LaFlesche family as well as portraits of freinds and aquaintances. These include photographs of Edward Everett Hale, General George Crook, Governor Benjamin Butluer, Wendall Phillips, Thomas Watson, William Jennings Bryan and Harriet Beecher Stowe.


This collection is arranged into three series. Series 1: Subject Files and Series 2: Buckskin and Blanket Days are both arranged alphabetically. Series 3: Photographs is subdivided into three subseries; Subseries 3A: T.H. Tibbles Portaits, arranged chronologically, Subseries 3B: Family and Friends and Subseries 3C: Presentation Portraits to Bright Eyes, both arranged alphabetically.

Biographical / Historical

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.


Rachel Menyuk
Processing Information
Processed by Rachel Menyuk, Archives Technician, in 2014.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Thomas Henry Tibbles papers were originally donated to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation in 1960 by Vivien Barris, wife of Tibbles's grandson Chester Barris.
Separated Materials
The photographs have been moved to cool storage.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Access
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email:
Conditions Governing Use
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish or broadbast materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to
Preferred Citation
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Thomas Henry Tibbles papers, Box and Folder Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials note
The dress of Susette "Bright Eyes" LaFlesche, wife to Tibbles, was also donated by Vivien Barris in 1984 and is a part of NMAI's Ethnology object collection. It has catalog number 25/2192.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Ponca Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Omaha Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Habeas corpus -- United States -- Cases Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ponca Indians -- Legal status, laws, etc. Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Articles Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Essays Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Book drafts Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Wounded Knee Massacre, S.D., 1890 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Autobiographies Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
La Flesche, Susette, 1854-1903 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Standing Bear, Ponca chief Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Watson, Thomas E. (Thomas Edward), 1856-1922 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Bryan, William Jennings, 1860-1925 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Crook, George, 1829-1890 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Omaha World-Herald Company Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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