Renee Sansom Flood - 12/18/99
Q. Tell a about the atmosphere in late 1800’s
I think it was an atmosphere of fear…the Lakota were ghost dancing and there was a total misunderstanding of the ghost dance and the media was involved in that fear. They wrote things that made it seem worse than it was. The headlines were blood and guts and the Indians were going to attack, the Lakota were on their way to Rapid City to attack and that wasn’t the truth. And so the uprising was generated in the media, the headlines and it scared the people, it scared the settlers and it scared the people who had been living in the Black hills for a long time. The Indians could read, so they would get those newspapers and they saw what had been written about them and read it. It generated fear and loathing and so that’s what generated those atrocities against the Lakota in the months before the Wounded Knee massacre.
Q. Why do you think the media was presenting it that way?
Just like today, when something happens, they jump on it and it’s like a zoo. I think the media was very much involved in Wounded Knee. Each one of them tried to get a different angle, they really tried to build up the ghost shirt and the bullets and they always said the Lakota were militant while they were dancing. But the truth is the ghost dance was not a militant dance. They couldn’t have metal things in their hands like guns and stuff while they danced so it was blown out of proportion just like many things are today.
Q. Tell us about Lost Bird’s first days.
We don’t have the exact date of her birth, but in the spring or summer of 1890, and then she was in Chief Bigfoot's band. They were Cheyenne River people, Minneconju, and she was with her family, they were ghost dancers. Toward the end of December, she was with them when they went from the Cheyenne River area to Pine Ridge. It was cold, they were coming in to talk to Red Cloud and so I think her first summer was probably very wonderful with her family, then they were basically hunted after that.
There was a long line of wagons, this really long line of wagons that left Chief Bigfoot’s band, by the way his name was really Spotted Elk, and she remembers how proud they were, in their caravan, but Chief Bigfoot was dying of pneumonia, he was laying in one of the wagons. I think the lead wagon as they were going to Pine Ridge.
They’d run out of food, they’d read in the newspaper about all the attacks from the militia, they knew that that was happening and so they were on the lookout. They were afraid and so they were coming peacefully, under a flag of truce, and so they were not going to attack anyone. They had the women and children with them.
Q. What about finding Lost Bird
After the massacre, which was December 29th, a blizzard came in. it ended about one or two in the afternoon, and by three or four, the blizzard had come in real cold weather, and the blizzard was all across the west. It stopped trains in their tracks, it was a big blizzard, below 40 degrees below zero. The military could not bury the dead right after the massacre because this thing was coming in and they were afraid they couldn’t get back to Pine Ridge, so they did go back to Pine Ridge and they waited for the Blizzard to go over and that was like three days. Then the came out to look for, they really didn’t think they were going to find survivors, but they went out to bury the dead.
Unbelievably, there were some people alive. They took 10-15 people to a nearby church and made a makeshift hospital out of it and Dr. Charles Eastman was stationed at Pine Ridge, he was the doctor. And he was there attending to the wounded and he took out a burial detail and they dug the grave at the top of a hill in Wounded Knee and they basically stacked those people in there, took all their belongings, their clothing, even the little moccasins off the feet of the children and bartered for them right around the grave.
As they were doing that, a group of men heard what sounded like a deer…a little cry and so everybody stopped and listened again. Dr. Eastman was among those people and others, George Bartlett, …Gardner, other people. So the branched out toward where the sound was coming from, and they came upon basically a clump of women there were four of five women. They went to one of them and they could hear what they now realized was the sound of a baby and so they chiseled around her corpse because she was frozen to the ground in her own blood. They chiseled around and laid her over and underneath her body, very tightly wrapped was an infant, about six, seven, eight months old 15:01 she was still crying, a weak little cry, but she had on her head a beautiful beaded cap. With flags beaded on the sides over a teepee and then around it were the black hills of South Dakota and a little red bow, made with loving hands, which tells you something about the way Lost Bird’s family thought of her. She had a little bracelet on and um, she gave a little scream when they took her out of her mother’s icy grasp. Instantly that child became a patriotic symbol of Wounded Knee. Everybody wanted to hold her and see her and everything but she was taken back to Pine Ridge and given to the Yellow bird family, John Yellow Bird and his wife Annie. Because Annie was a young mother and she could nurse this child, she was a wet nurse basically. So that’s where she was for the first few days, maybe a week or so. Then the people were buried without any religious ceremony of any kind. Several people claimed to have found her and they were all right because they were with that group of men.
Q. Tell us about discover the photo of Lost Bird.
It was an instant something, because this friend of mine, Bea Kendall, she came into my office one morning and her father and mother were both dead and she had gotten into the attic to go through the trunks to distribute things to the brothers and sisters and when they got to one trunk, they upended it and on the top, which would have been the bottom of the trunk, was that picture. She brought it to me, she said I know you like historic photographs, what do you think of this one? And I looked at that …the look on her face. I guess you might say, it got me...the look he had on his face was like "I dare you to take this child from me." And the look on her face was so much like little children I had seen placed in foster care. I it was bland, a kind of blank look, and he was fierce and it got me, that’s all I can say. At that instant, I was hooked on the photograph, it said Beatrice Nebraska on it, and on the back, it said "this is the child I took from Wounded Knee" and so I turned it back over and I looked at that face and I said I’m going to Beatrice so the next day, I put my little boy in the car and went to Beatrice. I wanted to find out what happened to that little child, he adopted her and did she have a happy life or was it a disaster, or what happened.
Q. What does that photo symbolize to you now?
Now that I know who he (Colby) was, and I lived with this man basically for ten years I think of him almost as a psychopath. I look at him very differently than when I first saw him.
Q. How did he picture himself?
He (Colby) pictured himself as a daring, courageous civil war hero ya know, to the max, he took that child, he took that child as a trophy of war, he went to the Yellow Bird family and he bartered with Buffalo Bill’s publicity agent, Burke, for that child. After he got the child, he went in front of his men and held her up and said "This child belongs to the Nebraska National Guard and to me, it’s commander" and whenever they saw it they went awe. And actually, he had not been part of that massacre at all. He was on his way somewhere he went on to become judge and senator and lawyer and everything else. This was another way for him to make a name for himself.
Q. How was he a product of his times?
Well, he was a civil war veteran, he was very active in the civil war, the manly thing to be was a veteran, it still is today, and I will give him that, that he was a very active and fierce fighter in the civil war. But he was a good friend of Buffalo Bill Cody, and they were the carousing and drinking and , you know, this type of image, I don’t think it was too different from very many people at that time. Except he was unscrupulous and totally unscrupulous.
Q. Give us your perspective on Clara Bewick Colby.
She was born and raises as a young girl in England with her grandparents, and her mother and father had come to the states in 1859, it was a wild country then, you know. Very hard work for any women, and her parents had been, well, not totally wealthy, but comfortable in England, and the mother had been raised in comfort so when she was on the frontier in Wisconsin. They would have to go through the streams, and leaches on her legs, and she was frail, and there was so many children in the family, there was like twelve children or something and she was weakened by that and so Clara saw her mother literally worked to death.
Her father was very religious, he was a doctor and very religious and very strongly opinionated against women doing anything but being in the home, and she was in the first graduating class of women at the University of Wisconsin, she taught school at the same college afterwards, the University of Wisconsin, she was very intelligent, very outgoing, just a very bright woman. Humorous, loved to walk outside in the brisk air, you know, as she grew older, she did things that were way ahead of her time. Corsets, she didn’t believe in corsets that bind women. She was a writer, later on she had her own newspaper for twenty-five years. The woman’s Journal Just a very bright person and of course, Leonard Colby went to the university of Wisconsin and that’s how they met.
Q. What Clara’s view of herself
I don’t think she thought of self. Clara was always for the other person. She helped homeless people, she took care of everyone, she would give them the shirt off her back, she was a selfless person.
Q. What were Clara’s dreams for lost bird?
Leonard Colby quickly took Lost Bird to Nebraska and adopted her in a court of law without telling his wife. Clara was in Washington D.C. at that time with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. And at that time there was no telephone, so they sent a wire, two weeks later he sent a wire, saying come home, you’re the mother of a Indian baby. Wow, Clara was shocked, but Susan B. Anthony did not like it, she advised her not to go, not to do it. Clara waited five months to come home to Beatrice Nebraska, so she took her everywhere, showed her off to suffragettes, she was very proud. Her dream, I think for lost Bird was for her to have a better life than she had, she wanted her to be a suffragist and she was, she wanted her to …I think adoptive parents want their child to have their ideals, their values, so she taught her what she had been taught, hoping that she would be like her. She devoted herself to the child.
She was innovative in every way, you know, from writers to architects to doctors, her sister was a doctor, they wanted women to greet their potential, in other words…they wanted the vote for women, she was so adamant, and she was like many suffragettes who thought that if they got the vote, then life would change.
Q. How was Clara a product of her time?
She was in Beatrice Nebraska when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton came through Beatrice, that’s how she got to know them. I think she was so part of her husband, and he had his law degree, she did anything to help him gain stature in the community. So she was, you know, they didn’t have a lot of money to begin with and she cooked, she was very careful about how she took care of herself in the community. I think she was like a lot of Pioneer women in that regard, but of course she changed over the years. Her view became much wider, but at first, she just wanted to be his wife and be a happy wife.
Q. What did she think of Indians?
She had never met an Indian, she had a very romantic idealistic view of Indians she was very interested in Indian culture but she didn’t know the reality of any tribe or she didn’t know what they were going through or so forth. She thought of them as being very brave, courageous people, and of course, many of them were, but she would write poetry about how, their lives, and it was just a view that most people had.
Q. Was Clara misguided?
She tried the very best she could. She was misguided in many respects, but she was really no different than many other adoptive mothers. She wanted her child to bond with her and love her and be like her and she wanted to be proud of her, and she loved the child, but I think that she just wanted the best for everybody, that’s what Clara was.
Remember she was 44 years old when they adopted this child, so was he 44 years old, she was a middle aged person, and in those days you didn’t live as long. She was in good health, she look younger than her 44 years, but you have to remember she was not a young person. so it was quite a responsibility to take on a child.
Q. Describe Lost Bird’s Childhood
Actually she had a pretty exciting childhood. After the massacre, Clara Colby, through her contacts in Washington, she knew President Benjamin Harrison’s wife and you know there was a finagling there among the women, so the result was that General Colby became the assistant attorney general of the United States in the Benjamin Harrison administration, which was a big post. They kept their house in Nebraska, they moved to Washington D.C. and set up their home there. They were the kind of people where every Saturday night they had an open house and all kinds of writers and politicians and actors and… would visit them. They’re house was decorated with Egyptian things and it was the place to be on Saturday night, they were wined and dined, even in the white house because they were friends of the Harrison's, so I think in the Gay 90’s in Washington, it was a pretty exciting place to be with all the gala affairs. Hawaii was annexed at that time and the queen came to the Colby home and was entertained there. There was this banter, this political banter and intellectual banter going on during these receptions, and lost Bird was there. She was sick a lot of the time.
I found that in a lot of adoptions of Indian children, you know a lot of American people feed their children apple pie and milk. Milk…strong bones etc. and uh she was allergic to milk, she would have upper respiratory problems and she would have stomach pains from it and so forth. She got everything that came along, she got the flu, she got colds and pneumonia, she didn’t have immunity to them, so with all these people coming along and wanting to pinch her cheek and pat her head, and not to mention the suffragettes who always wanted to be with her and touch her and talk to her, from the people who were around, she was sick a lot. But here was this little child that would come in and be introduced to everybody there, so I think she led a very interesting life. But things changed when she was about four years old. Mrs. Colby had a governess, a little German girl that she had practically raised in Beatrice. Maud Mueller was her name. She took care of her and had her in the home. But then in 1893, Maud got pregnant and Clara was going to help her take care of her child, she was even going to adopt the child until she found out that it was her husband’s child. So she was her husband’s mistress. And the mistress had a little baby boy…Paul, looked just like General Colby. At this time, General Colby gave Clara an ultimatum…give up suffrage and I will give up my mistress and if you don’t, I’m taking her back to Beatrice with me. That was the ultimatum, and Clara thought it was a bluff. And she talked to Susan B. Anthony about this too. "Ah, it’s just a bluff." He’ll leave her, well, he didn’t, he left with the mistress and the baby and left her in Washington, and you know it was twelve years before she got a divorce.
Q. Why did she wait so long?
She was madly in love with him. She was so in love with her husband, she did everything to get him back, she wrote letters, she went to see him, and of course this left Clara a single mother to an Indian child her adopted daughter, which is very contemporary now. Clara was a suffragist and continues to work in suffrage, and a lot of times, they didn’t have very much to eat. During that time, he became a very wealthy man. In the end he was a millionaire, and he very rarely sent money to her. So they struggled together, so then it was just Zintka, Lost Bird and Clara together and it was very hard, very hard, but she never stopped loving her husband.
Q. Tell us about Zintka’s emotional problems.
At about 9 or 10 years old, she began to feel like she didn’t belong, and although Clara had bonded with her, she had really not bonded with Clara. Clara couldn’t figure this out, she knew who she was, she knew she was an Indian and she had this collection that her mother had kept for her, her little beaded bracelet, her moccasins that she had on when she was found, the cradle board that was found with her…
So Clara tried her best to give the Indian culture to lost Bird, but of course, she couldn’t do that, how could she? So Lost bird began to want during adolescence, she got this pull that she wanted to go back to the tribes and find out who she was. She became unruly, rebellious, I have an analogy… about adopted Indian children. Picture this, picture a mother swan on a little lake and she adopts an eaglet and he’s paddling behind her, you know, everywhere she goes, he paddles, and she says "eat this", you know, the little plants around the stream, and he tries to eat it and he gets sick, but he tries. So she tries to teach him to be a swan, and he started to get these wings and talons, and he looks over the edge of the lake and he sees mice on the run, which is what he should be eating, and he says, ohh, look at those mice. The mother says no, no here’s the plants, so he’s paddling behind the mother and he’s getting bigger and bigger and his wings are getting bigger and bigger and pretty soon, he rises off the water and he begins to fly above her. He’s an eagle, he’s flying above his mother and he goes, "mom…mom" "I’m going home mom" and the eagle flies off. But the eagle has no sense of eagle direction and he can’t land, he can’t be an eagle because he doesn’t know how to be an eagle, he can’t go back to the lake and starve to death, the mother’s horrified. She loses her child. He’s never going to be a swan, the most beautiful bird, but the mother swan doesn’t know how to raise that child, that eaglet, and so that’s the analogy of Indian children not knowing where to stand.
They’ve been told by their mothers that you have been raised white, so you are basically white, but it never works out that way. Someone says something to them, makes them feel bad..."you’re not white"…and so this period of time in any adoption, and any person who becomes an adolescent, there’s a time of searching for yourself. It’s not an easy time anyway, but for Indian children, it’s a time of wanting to go back to their people. So Clara began to have a hard time with her and Zintka had grown to be a very tall, very strong young woman, so Clara couldn’t keep her at home. She tried putting her in different schools, boarding schools. The girl would act out and it became just a problem. She had a nervous breakdown, the child had a nervous breakdown. Clara had different relatives take care of her, she could trust her relatives….and even that didn’t work out because they taunted her, and so she got sicker and sicker, and it was a real problem. She got trachoma in her eyes, an eye disease very common among Indian people at that time especially so she was basically going crazy and Clara didn’t know how to help her daughter.
Q. What was Lost Bird taught about Indians when she was young.
Probably what her mother believed. They were brave, noble people, that’s probably what she was taught, but Zintka had the experience of meeting people from many different countries, so she probably thought of them what her mother did. When she was about ten years, old they went to an exhibit, an exhibit where there was Lakota dancers. Zintka started watching the dancers, and listening to the drumbeat and she was so taken with this, and it was time to go and Clara could not get her away from that group. She just wanted to be there, and listen, it was just something in her, you know. They came to her and touched her, and she just wanted to be with them, and I don’t know how she got the child home.
Q. What did she realize at that point?
Clara was upset by that…almost terrified, because she thought she was going to lose her daughter, and uh, I think this happens with many Indian adoptions. So she would tell her, "don’t go over there, it’s not you, you have been raised white, that was your background, but your different now" , but that what it was.
Q. Was this a turning point?
One of the turning points, I think the first realization that this was something in her soul, this music and this dance, and these people were something in her soul, she wanted to be near them. It was something maybe genetic in her that she loved this and she wanted to know more and more about Indians and who she was, so it was one of the turning points I’m sure, and from then on it was hard for her to keep Zintka at home.
Q. Describe the contradictions of being lost Bird.
When she was, I don’t know how old, sixteen or seventeen, she would run away, and she was raised as a suffragist, remember, she would come right up and shake your hand and talk to you. An Indian women didn’t do that, they weren’t forward like that. When she was looking for her relatives, she would go up to Standing Rock and come right up to them, and she had been in wild west shows, so she was looking very flamboyant in her big sombrero hat, and they wouldn’t accept her thinking that she was ruined. She was terribly aggressive to them, so that was a contradiction, she wanted to be, but she was already ruined, she couldn’t be, and she couldn’t communicate with her own people. That was one of the things that was sad.
Q. What made her want to run away
She wanted to get back, she wanted to find her people, her parents, she wanted to find out if her relatives were dead. She did go back to the mass grave at two points and would lay on top of that mass grave and cry. She met another survivor who had been a baby at wounded knee a survivor and talked to her, so she began to meet people. But she wrote later in a letter to the government that she had never found her mother and father and never found her real relatives. So, that was when she was getting an allotment, so she never could find, she was always running to look for herself.
Q. What was her deepest desire?
I think it was to find her identity, until the day she died, she was looking for herself, for her identity.
Q. How did this affect Clara?
Clara was, like I said, upset that she might find her relatives, and want to stay on the reservation. Clara wanted to educate her, wanted her to be a suffragist, wanted her to be like her, and this was well-meaning, but against what the child wanted for herself.
Q. Describe Lost Bird’s attempts to find her relatives.
She went to the eagle Butte, Cheyenne river area and she…I think Clara arranged it, Clara wanted her to have an allotment in case she just kept struggling with herself. She met a guy named Olney Runs from Cheyenne River, a Minneconju. She was together with him, and he was fascinated by her, this was an Indian woman like he’d never met before, you know, so she said "Come on Olney, lets go to California and join the Wild West show. He didn’t know about that, he didn’t know if he wanted to leave his family and his people, and "No, come on, we’ll go and we’ll have a lot of fun" you know. He decided in the end not to, so she went and joined the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. He lived to be an old man, and a well-respected man, and he often talked about her in his old age…"I wonder what ever happened to Lost Bird?" so he never forgot her.
Q. Why was her being on display significant?
I think it hurt her, very definitely, and Clara later in life realized that it had hurt her. First, she was a trophy, well, she was always a trophy, a living trophy of war to Leonard Colby. She was a suffragist, she was on display all of her life, and at times it helped her, at times it really hurt her. She learned to communicate with white people, but she lost a lot of the things she was born with, being Indian. She lost being Indian herself, and she lost herself spiritually, and she knew there was something missing and that’s why she looked for so many years for herself. But she was always on display, and as I said, she was always getting sick because of it. But there’s a fascination with Indian children that goes back to the beginning of time when white people came to this country. Andrew Jackson attacked an entire village of Creek Indians, massacred them and took a baby named it (Boyer?) and adopted it into the home as a companion to his child. There have been different people across the centuries that have done that, even I my own family. My mother, when I was five years old, came to me and said, "we’re going to adopt an Eskimo baby" I was just thrilled, and then my mother and father decided against it because they said it was going to be wrong for the child. The child was going to be taken away from her family, so I have that even in my upbringing. People think of them as little dolls, cute little dolls, and in her case, almost a pet and a trophy, so it wasn’t really love, especially with Colby. Clara loved her as much as she possibly could, but they didn’t bond. The bond was missing, and I think being on display was definitely part of it, but when you find a white family with an Indian child, people want to know about that child, want to know the story of the child, so part of it was just part of the times.
Q. Do you think being on stage was the only thing she ever knew?
She was on stage since she was born, she learned to be on stage, and like you said, vaudeville, silent films, she was on stage, so that was the only thing she could do, and she did it well.
Q. Why was Lost Bird rejected by Indians?
She looked like a full blood Indian woman, but she was totally white in the way she came across. She was assertive, as her mother taught her to be. She wasn’t demure, she didn’t sit very quietly and be like an Indian woman, and she put off people, people didn’t like to see it. They thought it was rude so she had a tough time communicating with Indian people, she could with white people but not with Indians.
Q. Do some have the same problems even today?
Yes, this happens even today, depending on how much Indian blood, you can see how it could happen today. The parents want...well-meaning, they want to give the best to their child, so they teach them their values, they try and teach them their values, and so it’s the same today as it was, and the child never fits in, never feels comfortable. I’m not going to say it’s across the board, that’s the way it is because you can always find exceptions to that, but when I talk to many Indian, adopted Indian children they were brought up like that, they always tell me they never felt comfortable, they never belonged.
Q. How did Lost Bird attempt to live a normal life?
She had problems…and she wanted to have meaningful work, and she was always trying to find a job, and she did, she did many different jobs. She wanted to have a family, she got married a couple of times, and the last marriage did work out, she had a couple of children. She wanted what other women wanted, a happy home. But with a little glitz on the side, she wanted, like you said, to be on stage.
Q. Tell me about the boarding schools.
She went to boarding schools, she went to Chemawa boarding school, and in that school, her mother didn’t understand, those were girls from another tribe. It wasn’t her tribe, she felt terribly uncomfortable, they’d say "Oh, you’re a Sioux" you know they were from different tribes, and she didn’t feel comfortable there. So she’d run away, and then her mother tried to put her in a white boarding school, that didn’t work either. Finally, she did end up at a boarding school in Chamberlain, South Dakota and she liked it. There was Lakota children there and she liked it, she would have stayed if she hadn’t got sick and Clara came and got her.
There’s a lot to the boarding school question, of course in the old days, it was a sad thing that so many Indian children were taken from their relatives and put in boarding schools. It was not a normal atmosphere for a child to grow up in. When they grew up they could not parent very well, because they were not taught to parent. They were taken away from their families.
It was major Pratt, who was a big proponent of boarding schools, said it was to kill the Indian, but save the man, to take out the Indian. They thought that they were going to take that child and take out the part that was Indian, and make it a part of mainstream society. That didn’t happen very often if at all, they didn’t give up their Indianness. Their spiritually, there’s something in them, their soul.
Q. What was the white view of boarding schools?
I don’t think that people thought about it very much. The missionaries were always trying to save the Indian, to take him out of his…you know and make him an upstanding American citizen. I think people didn’t know or care very much about what Indians were doing, and what happened to them. And then when it became an issue, and people began to realize that these boarding schools were just terrible places. Many of them, not all of them, but many of them, but many of them, it became a scandal.
Q. Tell us about the Milford Industrial Home.
She was living with her father and her sisters, Clara went to Europe. She was a part of the English suffrage movement. And Zintka was there in Beatrice with her dad, and Zintka would write to her mother and she had told her that her father had given her gifts, presents and money. Clara wrote to her husband and said, "How is it that Zintka has so much money now?" and presents, what are you doing? What’s going on? I’m not going to say that he was definitely the father of the child…Zintka got pregnant. Colby placed her in the Milford Industrial Home which is about two hours from Beatrice and what it was … it was a lock-up facility for women who were pregnant. Young women who were pregnant, and if you had the money to take care of your child after it was born, they had to stay there one year regardless….and if they had the money to take care of the child, they could have their child. They’d keep the child for them, but most of them had no money and so they lost their children to adoption or whatever. General Colby wrote letters to the head of Milford academy and also to the head of the school and he said, no one need ever know. Well, Zintka did stay there for a year, and she had her baby and they said it was born dead. But she was a person who broke rules, and so that Milford home was a pit. It was a horror place. Girls that did something wrong were taken by force up to a room at the top of the building, a very small room. She was a very tall girl, where you had to bend over, you couldn’t stand up unless you were right in the middle of the room. They were straightjacket and they were tied up and left there and that room. In the summer it was so hot and in the winter it was so cold. The girls who were in there wrote these sad messages on the walls and that's the kind of place she lived in and it was sad. You can see the heartbreak of those women who were in that facility.
Clara was in Europe, and Clara found out something was wrong because Zintka wrote her a letter and said to her "I don’t know where I am" so she came back and found her in this place and was horrified. Her father was only two hours away and he never came to visit her. So it was a terrible experience for her.
Q. Did Clara Know what was going on?
Clara never wanted to think anything bad about her husband and she loved him very much and took her away. When the child was fourteen, they moved to Portland Oregon and so they went back to Portland. Zintka was a child of her times, she loved jazz music, she loved ragtime, she would play the piano, ragtime, and she loved it. The flapper image so she lived with her mother there, it was difficult.
Q. Describe the wild west show.
Well, she dressed as an Indian woman and was just part of the crowd, they’d gather around the warriors and it was just a big show. That was 1914, and they went through a place in California where she was living, and she joined up and of course her father knew General Colby, that’s probably the connection she had and she toured with them for one season all over the place. She was just a member of the tribe. There was a little tribe that Buffalo Bill got together, dancers, men who would chase the wagons with her Indian clothing and so forth, so she wasn’t anything spectacular, she was just a member of the group.
Q. Describe her life after that.
She got married, she met and actor that beat her and she left him, that was the kind of men that attracted to her. Then she met a man who was a calliope player in a circus, and he was a nice man. She married him and his relatives lived in Hanford California, so she went to San Francisco and she got sick. Her first husband was a Frenchman from Canada, and she didn’t have any money, they tried going from place to place on the vaudeville circuit, they became poorer, and got sick again. The first husband gave Lost Bird Syphilis, and in those days it was hard to get rid of syphilis. It went into remission but she still had it and so did she, and she left him right after she found out, she threw him out of the house as soon as she found out she had it, and so she had to live with that. All those years, and although it did go into remission, it had to be very hard for her. She started to go blind. I went to the places where she lived, seedy hotel rooms and seedy places and they couldn’t pay their rent, and she would sell her clothes. She was on the barbary coast trying to make money and her husband got very sick probably too. She gave one of her children to an Indian woman in the bay area because she knew she was very sick. She was basically dying, so she had a very rough time on the coast…very rough.
Q. What was significant about the suffragist convention? What is unique about the picture?
That was the Pan American exposition in 1915, her mother more or less put her up to that, Clara was in that, they were giving talks on suffrage, so Clara was up on a pedestal giving a talk. Lost Bird was over here on a pedestal representing Indian women, Sacajawea, Pocahontas, you know, she was representing that, she stood very regally, and that was the publicity photo for that, in fact that was the last time she saw her mother. A year later her mother died, so that was an important time in her life.
Q. Tell us about Clara’s later years.
Clara was penniless. Susan B. Anthony helped her a lot, Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped her a lot, she kept on lecturing for suffrage, that was her main thrust and always had been she wanted the vote for women, and she would nurse people back to health. The flu epidemic started coming in and that (came) in three waves, 1918-1920. But it began to come over to the states a little earlier than that and people started dying but she would help people, take care of them when they were sick. That’s the kind of person she was and she got the flu and she couldn’t get rid of it because she wasn’t eating right, she was just getting thinner and thinner and working hard and not taking care of herself. So she got sick and tried all kinds of things to cure herself, finally ended up going to California where her sister was a doctor and taking cures and things trying to get rid of this upper respiratory problem she had. She didn’t make it, she finally succumbed to that and she died in Palo Alto California in 1916.
Q. Why was bringing her home important?
In August of 1980 I was invited to go up to the Pine Ridge/Wounded Knee area to meet with the descendants of the Wounded Knee survivors association and so I had been contacted from time to time during my research about finding her remains and so someone would call and say have you found her yet? What do you know about the story, you know, and so I decided to go up and accept this invitation. So I went up to Wounded Knee and there were a lot of elders there and that’s when I met Marie Not-Help-Him and Celine Not Help-Him and I stood up and told them what I had found. I had found the remains buried in a paupers grave in Hanford California. They talked among themselves, and that was a scary thing for me to go up there I was a social worker. I was standing among people who had already had children taken away, social workers weren’t very popular and I was afraid I would say something wrong.
They said that they wanted to repatriate her remains, they didn’t use those exact words, but they wanted to bring her home and bury her at Wounded Knee. That floored me I said, "you could bury her at Pine Ridge", no, we want to bury her at Wounded Knee. And I was very skeptical, because I didn’t know how they were going to do that, because in order to do that, to repatriate something, you have to be a relative, it didn’t occur to me that they were all relatives. So Marie at that time said "we’re going to find her buried in a layer of white sand." That threw me, ya know. Ok, well You know, how are you going to do that? We’ll take care of it, we’ll take care of it. You just go on writing the book, and so I did and they planned the whole thing and they got the money together. Ann Roberts who was the daughter of Nelson Rockefeller donated the money for the return. It was very well planned out, five of us went, Arval Looking Horse who is the keeper of the sacred calf pipe of the Lakota nation led the group. There was Avis Little eagle, the managing editor of Indian Country Today, the was Carol Ann heart, who became Arval's wife, there was Marie Not-Help Him and there was me. We went and I didn’t know how it was going to work out and it was a very poignant trip, Delta airlines took care of it and we went there.
There were ten tribes of people waiting to greet Arval and to give him gifts and he was like the Dali Lama, you know. It was incredible to see, they were so kind to us they fed us, they were all there for whatever we needed, and Marie had done all of the organizing of this so it just fell into place, everything fell into place. It was an amazing trip that I’ll never forget as long as I live the newspapers hounded us, they wanted to know where Lost Bird was buried, they wanted to get there ahead of time, you know. And so we were afraid of that happening. Marie was afraid that someone would contaminate the grave, or actually desecrate it so we tried to keep it secret.
I had found this grave the year before, and they had given me the headstone with her name on it and I knew exactly where it was. It was deeper and deeper and deeper, and all of us were nervous and and it was like 90 some degrees, and it was hot and it was a humid heat that we from South Dakota weren’t used to so we were dying in this heat. I had brought an umbrella, thank goodness, and so we just watched. It seemed like hours went by it probably wasn’t that long, but then two men got in and were digging more carefully and they found it.
The coffin had been of redwood and it had caved in and there was nothing left but the bones, and pieces of redwood and the handles of the coffin so we placed her in the coffin and the next morning, we flew out for South Dakota.
There was a total eclipse of the sun in flight, which was very meaningful, because there was a total eclipse of the sun before Wounded Knee and hundred years, a hundred and one years before.
We were flying over, right before we got into Rapid City and over the loud speaker "ladies and gentlemen, below you you can see the mountain being carved in the likeness of the great chief Crazy Horse. All of us were surprised because usually they say Mt. Rushmore, and he didn’t say anything about Mt. Rushmore, he said the mountain, Crazy Horse Mountain, and that shocked us and we said wow, we were thrilled.
We got into the terminal and this big tall guy came in to, seemed tall to me, came out with his pilots uniform and introduced himself as Tall Dog Duran, he was a Lakota from Pine Ridge, had flown our plane, Delta airlines plane back. It was an amazing coincidence, we didn’t know if Delta Airlines had arranged that, it was the most incredible thing we’d ever seen. Arval thought that was pretty good too.
We had arranged for the Bigfoot memorial riders and a dry wagon, with two beautiful horses, and Arval and Marie had arranged all this and they put the remains on the dry wagon.
When we started out we had like three or four cars, and by the time we got there, there was so many cars, and as we passed along the way, people had stopped and were waiting for us The old people, young people, people on horseback came down from the hills to join the Bigfoot memorial riders , and it was very moving. It was a slow trip, we could hear the meadowlarks along the road, and to see the expectation to get to Wounded Knee and everybody felt so spiritual and wonderful.
Winding down into wounded Knee creek and there’s the hill above we here the mass grave is and the people were waiting on top of the hill for us, and it was just a beautiful and moving experience. Us and the riders went into all single file up that hill and the cars were behind and we looked up and we could see the silhouette of all those riders behind the wagon and it started to become very solemn then. It was a combination of happiness and feeling very close to god, you know, and terrible sadness all at one time because you were remembering the massacre and then you were remembering her life and how she had lived her life so far away from her people and had never come home, had never found her people in life and now in death she was finding her home. Her homeland, and so all of that started coming together and it started to hit us coming up that hill of really what was taking place. It was a huge occasion for all of us, I had been studying this for ten years, my heart was in it, this was like my own child.
There was so many Lakota people, there was white people there, there was black people there, there was Asian people there, just everybody all races, which was very meaningful too. Everybody talked, Arval had a ceremony where they sang the four directions song and people were just really moved by the experience and of course, they wanted to bury her as a symbol of the children who had been taken away from the tribes in the United States, whether it was because of injustice, or war, or ignorance, and that’s why they wanted her buried there. Arval was really in command of that.
Q. Why is the story of Lost Bird relevant today?
It’s relevant because Indian children are still being taken. The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act was a help to Indian tribes because from that point on, if there’s a child out there that is to be placed up for adoption, the different tribes are to be notified. For example, the child is a Lakota child, the tribe is notified and then the tribal court makes a decision whether or not to intercede in this adoption or not, and that was their right. That’s what that law was meant for because too many children were being taken for almost no reason. In the sixties and seventies, it became a fad to take an Indian child, to adopt an Indian child and it was happening too much and it was breaking up Indian families destroying Indian families, and so that act, we hoped would put a stop to that, and it didn’t. There are still people that feel that they can save the Indian, they try to be well-meaning and they are well-meaning, many of them, there’s a lot of missionaries with religious backgrounds, whether it’s Christians, whether it’s Mormons, whether it’s Catholics or Baptists, whatever, they still want the children, they still feel that they can raise children better than Indians can. You have stealthness being done under the rug. A couple that’s childless, they become very desperate to have children which you can understand if you want to have children, and they’ll talk to a doctor near a reservation and say "do you know any mothers who are going to give up their children?" and so the doctor will then talk to a young Indian girl and say "Why don’t you give up your child?" I found a really good family for it, Your child will never want for anything, it’ll have the education, they’ll have toys, beautiful clothes, a wonderful home, and the young Indian mother is made to feel guilty. She may decide to give up her child, wanting the best for her child and feeling that’s better and then she does, sign away the child and the doctor is involved sometimes it’s a religious minister or something or a friend of the family or something. It’s arranged and so it still goes on today, not as much, people know now about the Indian child welfare act and so they know that if they take an Indian child, they’re in for a fight but they still get away with it a lot of times.
Q. Tell me about your dream concerning Lost Bird.
I had a dream, it was a silent dream, there was no sound, I was in a park, with neatly trimmed hedges, in a park and there was no wind blowing, it was just a park and I walked down this path and at the end of the path was this old-fashioned carousel and there was no calliope, no sound, so I walked up to this carousel and I saw Lost Bird sitting on one of the horses. The carved horses and she was dressed this white, frilly white dress and she had on black opaque stockings with those high topped shoes that you lace up. She had a big bow on her head and her hair was in ringlets they used to put them in ringlets down her back and so she went around silently. She didn’t say anything, she just kept going around, these horses would go up and down, these horses were manes, and tails and jewels on these horses, and she went around, and I said Lost Bird, and I tried to get her attention, and she never saw me. She just went around side saddle on this horse so I jumped up on this carousel and I held on to this carved pole that was next to her, and she was so interested, she was looking into the mirrors in the center of the carousel as she was riding, so she was looking at herself in the mirrors, and I thought that’s what she was seeing. So I looked over at the mirrors in the center to see what she was looking at and there was Lost Bird on a real horse in this mirror in my dream she was riding, she had beaded leggings and her dress went up in the wind and her hair was blowing back and she was happy and she was different. She recognized me in the dream and I smiled and said Lost Bird, and she didn’t, the (child on the carousel) didn’t. I had that dream twice and it didn’t bother me until I went to Beatrice and met Fordice Graff, he was a guy in his 90’s in a nursing home and he had worked for General Colby . I asked him what Zintka was like as a child growing up when there was no other Indians in this town. She said she was a very lonely child, she was always alone, she never felt like she fit in, but there was one thing that she did, she went to the park and she rode the carousel for hour after hour after hour they had to drag her home at night and the hair went up on my arm. I knew that dream had meant something for me it was something for me to see.