In 1920, Lost Bird, aka Zintka, aka Zintkala Nuni, died in the Spanish flu pandemic in the Bay Area of California. We still don’t know her real name.
Wounded Knee, 1890
After the massacre, Hugh McGinnis, of the same 7th Cavalry that Custer led 14 years earlier, wrote: “General Nelson A. Miles, who visited the scene of carnage, following a three day blizzard, estimated that around 300 snow shrouded forms were strewn over the countryside. He also discovered to his horror that helpless children and women with babes in their arms had been chased as far as two miles from the original scene of encounter and cut down without mercy by the troopers.”
The soldiers and hired civilians gathered the frozen forms, tossed them onto wagons, all stiff arms and legs, carried them to the hill where the guns had been, and tossed them into a mass grave on the snow-swept tundra.
At this point, the men heard a muffled cry coming from down the draw- a baby. The sound was coming from under the stiff form of a dead woman. The child, about four months old, was tightly wrapped and wore a little bracelet and a beaded cap with a picture of a tipi and the Black Hills.
They took the child back to Pine Ridge and give her over to the care of Annie Yellow Bird, who was nursing one already. A few days later General Leonard Colby of the Nebraska National Guard arrived. Together with Buffalo Bill’s publicity man, he bartered for the child and came away with his trophy.
The soldiers called her “The Lost Waif of Wounded Knee”. Colby called her Marguerite. Her new mother, Colby’s wife, called her Zintka, short for Zintkala Nuni, Lost Bird.
Washington, DC, 1900
Lost Bird was raised in the swirl and hustle and bustle inside the Beltway, far from the grasslands of Pine Ridge. General Colby had become the Assistant Attorney General under President Benjamin Harrison. They entertained diplomats and other important people in their large home. Susan B. Anthony visited often, a close friend of her step-mother.
But Lost Bird, 10-years old, was restless. She knew she did not belong. She wanted to play with the black children but was told not to—it was beneath her—but that left her wondering what level she was on. Her mother, sensitive to Zintka’s past, took her to see a traveling troupe of Sioux drummers and dancers. She would have heard them before, at her mother’s breast, and it would have been the Ghost Dance. Like a bird in a cage watching a bird out the window, she was transfixed. Her mother tugged her arm to leave, but Lost Bird wanted to stay and watch.
She proved to be too rebellious, bouncing out in and out of local boarding schools. Eventually, she was sent to Nebraska to visit General Colby, her adoptive father.
Milford, Nebraska, 1908
Now 17-years old, Lost Bird wrote to her mother, “I don’t know where I am.”
She was at the Milford Industrial Home for Girls, a place for “penitent girls who have met with misfortune.” High in a tiny room tucked underneath a gable, tied up in a straight-jacket, shivering in the cold, Zintka was pregnant and imprisoned.
General Colby had left the family after impregnating and running off with the family’s young governess that had practically grown up in their house. After his stint with the Department of Justice, he returned to Nebraska and became a wealthy man. After Lost Bird became pregnant, he deposited her at Milford with a note to keep it quiet.
Zintka’s child was stillborn.
Like so many young people with similar pasts, Lost Bird ended up on the streets of Hollywood. She made money the only way she could—becoming a display item in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. She got married. Her husband gave her syphilis. This became her underlying condition.
Hanford, California, 1920
At age 29, Lost Bird died in the Spanish flu pandemic.
Wounded Knee, 1991
Lost Bird’s journey was not over. In 1991, after 101 years, she was repatriated to Wounded Knee and re-buried near her mother in a Lakota ceremony.