Zintkala Nuni

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Zintkala Nuni
Photo of Zitkála Nuni at 4 months old, held by her adoptive father, General Leonard Colby.
Zitkála Nuni at 4 months old, held by her adoptive father, General Leonard Colby
Native name
Zintkala Nuni, "Lost Bird"

DiedFebruary 14, 1920(1920-02-14) (aged 29–30)
Resting placeWounded Knee
Other namesMargaret Elizabeth "Zintka" Colby
Zintka L. Colby
EmployerBuffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show

Zintkála Nuni (1890–1920) (Lakota: Lost Bird) was a Lakota Sioux woman who was a 4-month-old infant when she was found alive among the victims at the Wounded Knee Massacre.[1][2]

On the fourth day after the massacre, when a US Army detail went out to bury the dead, Zintkala was found on the battlefield under a covering of snow, still tied and protected on her frozen mother's back. The baby was first cared for by members of the Lakota and she fully recovered from four days exposure to freezing temperatures without food. Without knowledge of her identity or Lakota birth name, she was called Zintkala Nuni ("Lost Bird"). Zintkala was removed by General Leonard Wright Colby who took her by train to his home in Beatrice, Nebraska.[1] as a relic or "curio" of the massacre. He legally adopted her on January 19, 1891, naming her Margaret Elizabeth Colby.[1] Colby said about his new daughter, "She is my relic of the Sioux War of 1891 and the Massacre of Wounded Knee."[1] Zintkala was raised by Colby's wife, Clara Bewick Colby, who was a suffragette activist and publisher of the Women's Tribune newspaper.[2] Learning that a Lakota woman had said "Zintkala nuni" [lost bird] when Colby took her away, Clara Colby called her "Zintka."

When Zintka was 5-years-old, General Colby abandoned the family, married Zintka's nanny and moved to Beatrice, Nebraska.[3] According to her biographer, Zintkala suffered through a childhood of prejudice and rejection by relatives and classmates.[1] Due to Clara Colby's busy work life, Zintkala spent her school years at various American Indian boarding schools including Haskell in Kansas and Chamberlain in South Dakota. When Zintkala was 17 years old, Clare Colby decided Zintkala was too rebellious and sent her to live with her adoptive father. Soon after, Zintkala became pregnant. Although the father of her child is unknown, historians suspect Zintkala was sexually abused by Colby.[1][4] General Colby committed Zintkala to the Nebraska Industrial Home in Milford, Nebraska, a reformatory for unwed mothers, where her child was stillborn.[3] Her father left her in the reformatory for a year.

Zintkala returned to her mother who now lived in Portland, Oregon. Zintka soon married but contracted syphilis from her husband and left him after only a few weeks of marriage.[3][4] Zintkala worked as a performer for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show and as an extra in silent films. She portrayed Pocahontas at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.[5] In 1918, suffering poverty, she and her third husband moved in with his parents in Hanford, California.[3] On February 14 1920, Zintkala died of Spanish influenza complicated by syphilis.[3] She was buried in a pauper's grave in Hanford.

On July 11 1991, a ceremony led by Arvol Looking Horse was held at Wounded Knee, South Dakota to inter the transferred remains of Zintkala Nuni near the mass grave of her Lakota family.[6] In her honor, the Lost Bird Society was created to help those Native Americans who were adopted outside their culture to recover their heritage.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Flood, Renee Sansom (June 14, 1995). Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota. Scribner. ISBN 9780684195124.
  2. ^ a b Harrison, Eric (July 13, 1991). "A Girl Called 'Lost Bird' Is Finally at Rest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Lost Bird of Wounded Knee". South Dakota Public Television. sd.gov. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b Agonito, Joseph (2017). Brave Hearts: Indian Women of the Plains. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 247. ISBN 9781493019052.
  5. ^ Lawrence, Melanie (July 23, 1995). "Chronicle of a Lakota Girl Raised White". San Francisco Chronicle. sfgate.com. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  6. ^ Stier, Oren Baruch; Landres, J. Shawn (2006). Religion, Violence, Memory, and Place. Indiana University Press. pp. 80–81. ISBN 9780253347992.

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