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Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the…
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Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota (1995)

by Renee Sansom Flood

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This book is about Lost Bird (Also known as Zintkala Nuni) who was a baby girl found at Wounded Knee in 1890. She was taken in by General Leonard W. Colby (more like kidnapped) and his wife, Clara B. Colby. Mrs. Colby ended up divorcing her husband and raised the Lakota child as her white daughter. This was well-meaning by Mrs. Colby but this destroyed the poor girl and she ended up running away, joining Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and even fell into prostitution. Lost Bird died at the young age of 29 on Valentine's Day.

The General comes off in a very poor light in this book. He kidnapped the Lakota child because he wanted her as a keepsake and saw her as a trophy, something to be showed off, as opposed to a innocent child. To him, "the infant was a living symbol of white victory" (page 70). He also is a bad husband, which is why Mrs. Colby divorces him.

Clara also does not come off well in this book since she was the person who raised Lost Bird and forced her to live as a white child, even though she was Lakota Indian. She even renamed her Margaret Elizabeth.

The author does a good job in telling Lost Bird's tragic story but she focuses a great deal more on her "adoptive" parents rather than on Lost Bird herself. The reader ends up knowing everything about the Colby's and even the reason for their divorce. Lost Bird's story is basically told through their story, which isn't surprising since most of the available research was from the Colby's (letters, public records, etc).

Even though the author clearly dislikes and disagrees with the way the Colby's raised Lost Bird (ie. destroyed her heritage), the author sees this as a well-meaning mistake and that it was their "ethnocentric ignorance" that caused the unhealthy environment for Lost Bird (page 118). The author clearly is using this book to make a political point and that point is that Native American children have been forced to lose their heritage through adoption into white families.

This is a good book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it. ( )
  Angelic55blonde | Mar 14, 2008 |
This is a book I found fascinating and that kept me turning the pages with interest from start to finish but not for the reasons that I originally thought it would. I think the title indicates a narrower focus than the book actually presents. Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota is not just about the girl called Lost Bird but is actually three separate but interwoven biographies and is a very well researched and documented look at a watershed time period in the history of the United States.

It tells the story of Zintkala Nuni or Lost Bird, an infant Lakota survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890 who grew up by turns confused and neglected, pampered and spoiled among white society where she was never accepted. She lived a life of enormous torment and died miserably at the early age of 29.

It also tells the story of decorated war hero, Brigadier General, one time Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Nebraska State Senator and District Judge, Leonard W. Colby. He was an unscrupulous, often rash, politically and financially ambitious man who would prove himself to be indecent, immoral, cruel and conniving especially where his family and his legal clients were concerned. He was an incestuous father, an adulterer, an irresponsible father of numerous illegitimate children, an embezzler, a crooked politician and attorney, land swindler and most importantly in this book, the man who disguised himself and kidnapped Zintkala Nuni from her Lakota foster mother as a "living curio" in the days following the Wounded Knee Massacre in order to help create a misleading reputation among prominent Indian tribes that would further his own career. He ruined the lives of every person who ever got close to him.

Perhaps 65% of the book, despite the title, is about Lost Bird's adopted mother, the wife of General Colby, Clara Bewick Colby. She was a contemporary and close confidant of leading suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an enormously complex and talented woman who helped change history but who tried and failed as a mother to the tragic little Indian girl from Wounded Knee. The book tells each of their stories against the back drop of the late 1890s and the early 1900s and illuminates the suffragist movement and the struggle for women's rights. It exposes the political corruption and social injustices of a country fraught with racism and sexism and the early sins of the rapidly spreading industrialization of America. It reveals hypocrisy in privileged white society's morés and the inconsistent application of its Christian religious values.

The author, Renée Sansom Flood's contention as the wife of a Native American, as an experienced social worker familiar with the particular problems of First Nation orphans and foster children and as an accepted and respected member of the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation community is that First Nation children, in particular because of their race and what she sees as their unique temperament, should not be fostered or adopted by white people or any other race other than Indian and should ideally only be fostered or adopted by people of their own tribes. This aspect of the book is never developed and supported to my satisfaction. Transracial adoption and fostering is an issue that deserves much more focus than this book was able to give considering the monumental task that was simultaneously undertaken with such skill by this gifted writer in describing the multi-layered history of the Colby family and the times in which they lived.

To further complicate the scope of this book Flood also describes her personal odyssey to find the grave of Zintkala Nuni in California and to see that the remains of this lost bird of the Lakota were returned to Wounded Knee, South Dakota for reburial with traditional spiritual practices. She sees Zintkala as the so-called "Spirit of the Lakota" but I think that is a misleading title that has been romanticized by Flood.

In December 1890 the United States of America massacred an unarmed band of Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. They were starving, freezing and many of them were very ill. They were cut down like prey in the bitter snows of the Badlands. However, amidst the murder and mayhem there was a miracle at Wounded Knee. A little baby girl survived unharmed in subzero temperatures for four days on the field of carnage with no food or water, protected were she fell, by the body of her murdered mother. She was taken in by other Lakota people but Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby kidnapped and then adopted the baby as a "living curio." This inhumane and corrupt man wanted a little souvenir so he stole a human being, a helpless infant, and ripped her away from her people and her culture. He exploited her all of her life but he never treated her as a loving adopted father should. Without telling his wife in advance he legally adopted this stolen baby girl and sent her to live with the busy Clara, who was a newspaper editor, lobbyist and tireless worker on behalf of women's rights. As a woman who spent 6 months of the year working in Washington, D.C., away from the family home in Nebraska, Clara was in no position to care for a baby and immediately left her in the foster care of her sister for the first 5 months of the new mother-daughter relationship. It was an inauspicious beginning of a dysfunctional, damaging, yet often loving relationship between the two.

The stories are pieced together from various newspaper articles, government, police and court records, personal correspondence and journal entries. The characters of Leonard and Clara are more fully revealed in this book than that of Zintka because for most of the book she is a child and the perspective on her early life that has remained down through the years is colored as much by racially prejudiced misperceptions of the times in which she lived as by fact. Clara's is perhaps the most fully realized portrait of the three, partly because of the author's natural sympathy for her altruistic personality and partly because Clara was herself an excellent and prolific writer whose introspective nature and reporter's eye for detail caused her to fill her journals with vividly personal accounts of her thoughts and feelings as well as the facts of her life.

The arrival of four month old Zintka in Clara's busy life enormously complicated things and would serve to make a life already difficult and challenging into an endless battle for balance, acceptance, respect and even love to the end of her days. Even so, she tried to the best of her ability to be a good and loving mother to Zintka and to give her all the material and educational benefits of white culture that she possibly could. Clara never thought of herself as prejudiced but she, like most other women of her time, even in the radically liberal circles of the women's suffrage movement, looked down upon Indians and Negroes as inferior in nearly every way. She believed that she could raise her adopted child up out of ignorance by isolating her culturally from her genetic heritage and also by separating her physically from the black culture found in the cities where the family lived. All this managed to do was make Zintka very aware that she was somehow "other" and therefore somehow less.

Zintka was very susceptible to diseases for which white people had developed immunities and was constantly ill. Since Clara was always busy lecturing and running the newspaper and traveling across the United States and abroad Zintka was constantly shuttled back and forth between relatives and other caregivers who were often strict and uncaring and were sometimes abusive. She was often paraded around by her father for political gain as he passed himself off as a benevolent and caring family man. He showed her to prominent Indian tribes and falsely claimed to be part Seneca Indian himself in order to gain millions of dollars in legal business from the tribes who were being sued for depredations by white settlers. In most cases his legal services were not even required but Leonard Colby was one of the best con men this country has ever seen. When Clara was at home with Zintka she tended to spoil her out of a sense of guilt for the weeks and months of neglect. Zintka learned to be demanding and manipulative. A bright child, she read and wrote well and excelled at music and nursing.

She was always in the public eye and was seen as a curiosity by some, a noble savage by others, and even by Susan B. Anthony as a liability and a distraction to her important mother. To make a long story short, little Zintka grew up suffering neglect, racial bigotry, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, incest, imprisonment and torment in Indian schools and graduated to a life of prostitution, debilitating disease and poverty to ultimately die a horrible death, her eyesight and mental faculties ravaged by syphilis. Throughout her childhood she was plagued by nightmares that stemmed from Wounded Knee. She tried over and over again to reconnect with her Lakota roots but raised as a white person by an assertive mother and lacking discipline and dignity she did not fit in Lakota culture. She had learned lying and immodesty and ended up more or less as a street urchin alternating as a wild west show performer. She was never happy or comfortable anywhere on this earth thanks to the murder of her Indian people by the United States government and further due to the unscrupulous Leonard Colby.

Due to the horrors of Zintkala Nuni's troubled and tragic life, author Flood makes a case against transracial adoption. I think her problems were not so much because of the multi-racial nature of her adopted family as they were the result of deep psychological scars of being raised by parents that she knew looked down upon her racial background, her inherited cultural background and who in fact were instrumental in the destruction and murder of her original family. I think the tormenting memories of the bloody massacre at Wounded Knee were never resolved. I think she ended up standing all alone in this world, a kind of freak who belonged to no one or nothing. The sexual abuses she suffered at the hands of her father and a cousin and possibly an uncle were unspeakable.

Even though I agree with Ms. Flood that the Lakota were and are a proud and free people with spiritual, emotional and psychological bonds to the earth and each other that white people have lost through centuries of "civilization," I still think that Zintka could have grown up happily in an adopted home of a different culture if that home had been loving and affirming of not only Zintka herself but her cultural heritage as well. While transracial adoption in that day and age was disastrous in every sense of the word I disagree with Flood's contention that transracial adoption is always, even to this day, a bad idea. Many thousands of Indian children were ripped away from perfectly loving homes during the 20th century by racist and culturally ignorant social workers in order to assimilate them into the dominant white culture and long term damage was done to the children, their families and the Native cultures by doing so. However, as a mother who has successfully fostered Lakota children while living in North Dakota, I believe that by affirming children as First Nation people and instilling them with pride in themselves they can successfully find their way in life as Indians and as well adjusted and happy human beings.

The author attests that because Clara Colby tried to effectively parent Zintka that she was a loving mother. I disagree. I think Clara was consumed with her passion for the liberty of women and that all of her truly loving energies were poured into that great cause. Clara was a decent person with a strong Christian ethic and I think she tried hard to meet her responsibilities but this little lost Indian child was only one of those many responsibilities. She did not ask for the burden. It was thrust upon her when she was already intensely committed to a world-changing cause whose ultimate success was due in no small part to her efforts. I do not think Clara Colby's failure with Zintka can be held up as fitting example of the failure of transracial adoption. Zintka is, as the author says, "a symbol of all those Native American children who lost their heritage through adoption, social injustice and war" but I think she is an extreme and unusual example of the pitfalls of transracial adoption. I think every effort to place First Nation children in First Nation adoptive and foster homes should be made because theirs is a beautiful culture that must be preserved so it can continue to flourish. I think First Nation authorities should decide, when in the rare cases their community's children need intervention, where the child would best be fostered or adopted. Their culture, their temperament, their spiritual outlook and their view of personhood differs vastly from other cultures and white value judgments about what constitutes a fit or unfit home are often skewed, misinformed and blatantly incorrect. I still think using the example of Zintka's sad life to illustrate this point is misguided. The worst of her problems arose because of a dysfunctional family not simply a white family.

The manipulative criminal pursuits of Leonard Colby are astounding and really do make for interesting reading. Clara's naivete, self-inflicted blindness to his faults, and unswerving loyalty to him were made worse by the very real need to hold herself above reproach and social stigma that might in turn hurt the glorious cause she supported. Hers is an amazing life, reading about which I cannot recommend highly enough. The book is filled with fascinating trivia such as the fact that it was Clara who when her husband was a Nebraska state senator, talked him into the support and ultimate passage of legislation that raised the age of sexual consent for girls from ten years of age to fourteen. I freely admit that prior to reading this book I took much of the women's suffragist movement for granted and while I knew that women had few if any rights prior to the women's rights movement I had a real eye opener from this book. However much Clara failed Zintka woman today owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

I found this book to be very moving and very informative. It filled in the details of several areas of U.S. history in such a personal way and made them come alive for me. This book did not teach me anything new about the plight of Indians during the last two centuries but Zintka's story does capture the personal suffering and shows how it filters down through generations laying waste to life after life. I recommend this book to any student of U.S. History but especially to women. Clara's life was lived for us and so indirectly the little Lost Bird also suffered that we might benefit.

In 1991, thanks to the efforts of author Flood, the body of Zintkala Nuni was returned from her unmarked burial place in California to Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Badlands of South Dakota. She was buried with respect and ceremony among her people not far from where her mother fell that terrible day. Despite rogues and villains like Leonard Colby her memory lives on and her people still keep the old ways in strength and pride. May she rest in peace. Mitakuye oyasin. ( )
  Treeseed | Mar 4, 2008 |
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Epigraph
This is a spiritual journey, a turning point for our people. This journey, for years to come, will mean a better life for our children, so that things don't appen to t em like they did to Lost Bird.
--Arvol Looking Horse, 1991, nineteenth-generation Keeper of the Sacred Calf Pipe of the Lakota Nation
Dedication
I am proud to dedicate this book to my eldest son, Dominic Anthony Figueras, M.D.
First words
On the bitterly cold morning of December 29, 1890, Alice Ghost Horse rode her sunka wakan, the horse she had raised from a yearling, through the U.S. Army camp at Wounded Knee Creek in southwestern South Dakota.
Prologue: Arvol Looking Horse, the nineteenth-generation Keeper of the Sacred Calf Pipe of the Lakota Nation, towered six feet three inches above Lost Bird's grave under a broiling 94-degree California sun.
Preface: From January 1980 until November 1987, I was a social worker in southeastern South Dakota.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306808226, Paperback)

In December 1890 the U.S. Seventh Cavalry massacred a band of Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Miraculously, after a four-day blizzard, an infant was found alive under the frozen body of her dead mother. The dashing brigadier general (and future Assistant Attorney General of the United States) Leonard W. Colby kidnapped and then adopted the baby girl named Lost Bird (1890–1920) as a "living curio," and exploited her in order to attract prominent tribes as clients of his law practice.After the general's wife, the nationally known suffragist and newspaper editor Clara B. Colby, divorced her husband, she raised the Lakota child as a white girl in a well-meaning but disastrous attempt to provide a stable home. Lost Bird ran away to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and appeared in silent films and vaudeville. During her brief but unforgettable life she endured sexual abuse, violence, prostitution, and the rejection of her own tribe before dying at age twenty-nine on Valentine's Day. This remarkable biography examines the life of the woman who became a symbol of the warring cultures that entrapped her, and a heartbreaking microcosm of all those Native American children who lost their heritage through adoption, social injustice, and war.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:14 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In December 1890 the U.S. Seventh Cavalry massacred a band of Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Miraculously, after a four-day blizzard, an infant was found alive under the frozen body of her dead mother. The dashing brigadier general (and future Assistant Attorney General of the United States) Leonard W. Colby kidnapped and then adopted the baby girl named Lost Bird (18901920) as a "living curio," and exploited her in order to attract prominent tribes as clients of his law practice.After the general's wife, the nationally known suffragist and newspaper editor Clara B. Colby, divorced her husband, she raised the Lakota child as a white girl in a well-meaning but disastrous attempt to provide a stable home. Lost Bird ran away to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and appeared in silent films and vaudeville. During her brief but unforgettable life she endured sexual abuse, violence, prostitution, and the rejection of her own tribe before dying at age twenty-nine on Valentine's Day. This remarkable biography examines the life of the woman who became a symbol of the warring cultures that entrapped her, and a heartbreaking microcosm of all those Native American children who lost their heritage through adoption, social injustice, and war.… (more)

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