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Zintka Latuni

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 01, 2011

Zintka Latuni

(Little Lost Bird.)

by Augusta Joyce Crocheron

Cold fell the snow on the mountains,
Fierce fell the fire of the foe,
Yet safe in her fur cov’ring
Little Lost Bird slumbered low.
Cold were the arms of her mother
Clasping her still though in death,
Her lips answ’ring not with caresses
Little Lost Bird’s tender breath.

Then when the dead were all counted,
The wounded gathered aside,
‘Mid voices of soldiers and red men –
A baby in loneliness cried!
Lifting her out from the death clasp,
To the General’s tent she was borne,
And in pity, he claimed from the carnage
The babe that the Nation made mourn.

Far from her birthplace and people
They bore her with tenderest care,
For the heart of the man, in the Soldier
Was reached by the dead mother’s prayer.
Now in the home of the General –
They keep her sweet Indian name;
O, Lost Bird! may the soul of thy tribe
Stay with thee forever the same.

(February 1891)

Zintka Latuni, or Zinkala Nuni (“Lost Bird”) was an infant of approximately six months, found at Wounded Knee four days after the late-December 1890 massacre, sheltered by the frozen body of her dead mother. She was immediately claimed as a “relic” of the massacre by General Leonard W. Colby – a soldier who had not participated in the massacre but who had rushed his troops to the site as quickly as possible after learning of the killings there. He took the infant to be raised by his wife Clara, a prominent member of the Susan B. Anthony – Elizabeth Cady Stanton suffragist circle.

This poem by a prominent Mormon poetess was written in the first flush of misplaced romantic and patriotic fervor following news of the massacre and the baby girl’s survival. The reality of the next 30 years was grim: Zintka was not accepted by the white society she grew up in, totally separated from her Native people and culture; her adoptive father abandoned Zintka and her mother for first an affair with and later marriage to the nanny hired to care for the baby; she spent much of her childhood in and out of boarding schools; when she became pregnant at age 17, she was incarcerated for a year in an abusive reformatory for unwed mothers; she married disastrously to a man who infected her with syphilis; after years of poverty, relocations, and illness, she died of pneumonia early in 1920 during the last wave of the great flu epidemics of the post-World War I years.

In 1991 her body was moved from its original California gravesite to the burial ground at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Zintka’s name and life have come to be symbolic of the personal and cultural evils of wrenching a child from her natural heritage.



3 Comments »

  1. Straight shot, Ardis.

    Comment by Steve — September 1, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

  2. There are no words enough…

    Comment by Mina — September 1, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

  3. Beautiful haunting poetry. I am always stunned at how we sometimes treat others because they are different.

    Comment by Cliff — September 2, 2011 @ 10:33 am

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