Fathers’ Day conjures up memories of my father and all the fabulous others I know and have known—my children’s father, husband, son, stepson and sons-in-law. I better stop there lest I leave someone out. Fathering a child is easy, but being a dad who stays the course and provides, sacrifices, and serves as a worthy example for his children is something different.
I was fortunate, as were most of my friends. Being a loved child is a privilege denied to many.
Here’s a story, one that I learned about last week in South Dakota. When we walked up the hill to the cemetery at Wounded Knee, the first gravestone I saw said “Lost Bird.” Interesting name, I thought, glancing at the birth and death dates, May, 1890 and February, 1919. I walked around and saw other curious names and graves adorned with rocks, flowers, stuffed animals, feathers, American flags, and statuary. I felt something on that hillside, an overwhelming sense of senseless loss, cruelty, and sadness.
We walked down the hill toward the car, each of us absorbed in our thoughts, affected by all we’d learned.
“Did you see a tombstone with Lost Bird on it?” my husband asked.
“Yeah, but I didn’t linger there. Didn’t seem like there was as much memorabilia on her grave.”
“Emerald told me her story. He showed me a picture in an old newspaper of a Cavalryman holding her when she was a baby. Said when the civilians came to bury the Lakota in the mass trench they’d dug, someone found her alive and covered by her mother. There’d been a blizzard, and it was four days before they could even bury the dead.”
“Oh my gosh, was the mother alive too?”
“No, just the baby. The mother was frozen, but her body protected the baby. That’s amazing, isn’t it?”
“It is. It really is,” I said, pondering the miraculous possibility of that. Four days after a massacre and a blizzard??
“Emerald said the man took the baby home with him and apparently adopted her.”
“So at least she lived. I mean, that was kind of him, right?”
“Not so sure. Not according to what Emerald said.”
“He got someone to take care of her until he went back to California, and from what I could pick up, she had a rough life and died young, 29. The Lakota found out where she was buried and brought her body back to Wounded Knee in 1991.”
“That’s a horrible and beautiful story, both at the same time. It’s almost unbelievable.”
That night I looked up more details. Zintkala Nuni was a four-month-old Lakota Sioux infant when she was found among the victims at the Wounded Knee Massacre. The man who adopted her, General Leonard Colby of the National Guard, introduced her to the folks back home as a “most interesting Indian relic.”
By all accounts, Lost Bird was a sad and lonely child who suffered abuse and racism. Her father was a scoundrel who left his wife, a suffragette who loved and cared for Lost Bird. As she grew older, Lost Bird went to live with her father for a while, and during this time, she gave birth to a stillborn child. Some believe it was General Colby’s baby.
From what I understand, it wasn’t unusual to remove Native American children from their parents. But this story is especially sad. She was a person, a baby, a Lakota baby robbed of her family and her rich culture, and “raised” by a man who viewed her as a relic.