Susette La Flesche's Wedding Dress
A prominent Native American activist
When Susette La Flesche (1854–1903), a well-established crusader for Native American causes, married Thomas Tibbles in 1881, she wore this fashionable two-piece woolen wedding dress, exquisitely trimmed with silk, satin, and lace. Tibbles, a reporter for the Omaha Herald, shared her outrage at the forced removal of the Ponca from their homelands in Nebraska to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). When in 1879 the Ponca chief, Standing Bear, was imprisoned for leaving Indian Territory without the permission of the U.S. government, La Flesche joined a campaign to fight for his release, which included a petition arguing for the right of the Ponca to remain in their homeland. The trial that ensued led not only to the release of Standing Bear from prison but also to one of the country’s major civil rights decisions—that “an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law of the United States” and has the right to legal redress before the courts.