December 29, 1890, beneath a white flag of truce, a band of Lakota Indians was massacred by the United States Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Four days later, after a blizzard had swept over the area, a burial detail heard the cries of an infant. Beneath the slain body of a woman who had frozen to the ground in her own blood, they found a baby girl, frostbitten yet miraculously alive, tightly wrapped, and wearing a small buckskin cap, beaded on both sides with American flags. Disobeying military orders, Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby adopted the small living "curio" of the massacre. He later became assistant attorney general of the United States and used his adopted daughter to convince prominent Native American tribes to hire him as their lawyer. As an adolescent, Lost Bird was sexually abused by the general, and her adopted mother, Clara Colby, divorced him. A suffragist and newspaper editor, Clara Colby spoke up against the exploitation of Indian culture and defied her close associates Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to raise the girl alone. After an unceasing but futile search for her roots and employment in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and in silent films, Lost Bird resorted to the streets of the Barbary Coast to survive. Her tragic life ended on Valentine's Day, 1920, at the age of twenty-nine, and she was buried in a remote cemetery far from her native land. In 1991, more than one hundred years after the Wounded Knee tragedy, descendants of victims of the massacre searched for Lost Bird's grave, repatriated her remains, and reburied her at the Wounded Knee Memorial alongside the mass grave of her relatives.
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Published June 14, 1995
Biographies & Memoirs, History.