Leonard Colby was born Aug. 5, 1848. He came from a family with a history of military service and went on to a distinguished career, enlisting at 15 and fighting heroically in the Civil War. He also spent time as a mercenary during the Mexican Revolution. In the late 1860s, he met Clara Bewick when he moved into her grandparents’ boarding house in Madison, Wis. They married on June 23, 1871.
He set up a law practice in Beatrice, Neb., where he became known for his outrageous behavior. Once, he drank the evidence during a trial - a bottle of poison - though unbeknown to the jury he had a doctor standing by with a stomach pump. On another occasion, he tricked a number of businessmen into signing their properties over to him. The noose was around his neck by the time he talked the angry citizens out of hanging him. Yet, the people of Beatrice forgave him, apparently finding him a charming, though outrageous, neighbor.
By 1890, he was a brigadier general in the Nebraska National Guard, and after reports of the Wounded Knee massacre, he summoned his troops and headed for the area. There, he first heard Lost Bird’s dramatic story, and, posing as a Seneca Indian, gained possession of his living curio of Wounded Knee.
His wife’s connections helped him gain a post in Washington, D.C., as assistant attorney general. While there, he was not hesitant to use his alleged Seneca background and his "curio," Lost Bird, to gain the trust and lucrative contracts of several tribes in Oklahoma.
Lost Bird’s one-time nursemaid Maud Miller became his mistress. For years, he promised Clara he would reform, but Clara and Leonard finally divorced in 1906 and he and Miller married shortly thereafter. Though various schemes left Leonard and his new wife wealthy, he apparently never came through with the funds he owed Clara.
When a then-teen-aged Lost Bird became pregnant while in his care, he let her languish in a severe and repressive reformatory for a year. During Lost Bird’s life, he occasionally paid her medical or travel bills, but most of the burden was left with Clara. When he died in late 1924, he didn’t even know that his daughter had been dead for almost five years.
Sources: "Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota" by Renee Sansom Flood, Gage County Historical Society.