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Biographies of Plains Indians

Francis La Flesche — 1857-1932

Francis La Flesche, like his sister Susette, was involved during the 1870s and 1880s with the struggle for the return of the Ponca to their homeland. As a child of the Omaha principal chief Joseph La Flesche, Francis participated in buffalo hunts and religious ceremonies, but he also attended the Presbyterian mission school on the Omaha Reservation.

Francis accompanied Standing Bear during his lecture tour in 1879 and 1880 advocating a return of the Ponca homeland. Along with his sister Susette, he acted as an interpreter for Standing Bear. While on tour he met Alice Cunningham Fletcher, an ethnologist and Native American activist.

When the tour was completed La Flesche moved to Washington, D.C. and became a clerk in the Office of Indian Affairs. In his free time he began researching Omaha culture with Fletcher. He traveled to Nebraska with Fletcher and interpreted for her, which began a long professional association.

Francis returned to school and received a bachelor’s degree in law from National University in 1892 and a master’s degree in 1893. In 1910 he transferred to the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology, where he could devote all his time to ethnological research.

Francis published A Study of Omaha Music (1893) and The Omaha Tribe (1911) with Alice Fletcher. On his own he published The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School (1900), a play called Da-o-ma (1912), Who was the Medicine Man? (1904) and A Dictionary of the Osage Language.

Francis La Flesche received many honors for his scholarship. He was a member of the Washington Academy of Sciences and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Nebraska. Upon retirement he returned to the Omaha Reservation where he died in 1932.

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