About the Program
Late in the 19th century, a Lakota child survived a massacre and was adopted by a prominent white couple, only to endure a life of racism, abuse, and poverty. Her poignant story is told in Lost Bird Of Wounded Knee. The program is based on the acclaimed book Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota by Renee Sansom Flood.
In the spring or summer of 1890, Lost Bird was born somewhere on the prairies of South Dakota. Fate took her to Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation on Dec. 29, 1890.
On that tragic day, some 300 Lakota men, women, and children died as a result of a confrontation with U.S. troops, and the woman who likely was the child’s mother was among them. But as she was dying, she and her baby found some scanty shelter from the bitter cold and wind. Four days after the massacre, a rescue party found the infant miraculously alive, protected by the woman’s frozen body.
The baby was passed from one person to another, and her sensational story attracted the attention of powerful white men. Eventually, this "living curio" of Wounded Knee ended up in the hands of an opportunistic Army general, Leonard Colby, who adopted her without the knowledge or consent of his suffragist wife, Clara Bewick Colby.
The tragic orphan had one big advantage - a mother who came to love her. Clara Colby took on the duties of motherhood in addition to her work as a suffragette activist, lecturer, publisher, and writer. However, Zintka’s childhood was marred by her exposure to racism from white society and abuse from adoptive relatives. Poverty entered into the mix when Gen. Colby abandoned his family for the child’s nursemaid/governess.
She bore a child out of wedlock and spent a year in a reformatory; married three times; and traveled to South Dakota three times to seek her roots, only to be rejected. At one point, she seemed to have found happiness in her first marriage, but the relationship disintegrated when she discovered her new husband had given her syphilis, then incurable. She struggled with the effects of that illness for the rest of her life.
She had a number a careers during her short life: work with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, various entertainment and acting jobs, and possibly prostitution. But much of her adult life was spent in poverty.
She fell ill in 1920 as an influenza epidemic swept across the nation. On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, she died.
Lost Bird finally came home in 1991, in an effort spurred in part by author Sansom Flood. Her remains were returned to South Dakota and buried at Wounded Knee.