Mary Collins was born in Upper Alton,IL on April 18, 1846. Her family later moved to Keokuk, IA; there Mary became a member of Keokuk’s First Congregational Church. She received a Masters Degree from Ripon College and taught school in Keokuk for three years. In 1875, Mary began her mission work in Dakota Territory with Reverend and Mrs. Thomas L. Riggs at the Oahe Mission near Ft. Sully. She was both teacher and social worker and quickly learned the Lakota dialect of the Sioux language.
In December 1885, Mary began her own mission work at Little Eagle on the Standing Rock Reservation. Mary was quickly admired by the population of Little Eagle, earning the Sioux name “Winona” which means princess. Her gifts as preacher, teacher, and doctor were invaluable on the reservation. Mary was known as a friend of the Indians. She later became ac-quainted with Sitting Bull, who adopted her into his tribe. Mary was ordained as a minister of the Congregational Church in October of 1899, allowing her to conduct religious ceremonies such as marriages, baptisms, and funerals. Mary returned to Keokuk, IA in 1910 to live with her sister. She lived in Iowa until her death on May 25, 1920.
A transcript of the autobiography was published in the South Dakota Historical Collections, Volume 41, 1982. The 116-page manuscript was written sometime after she left the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 1910 and before her death in 1920. The manuscript was donated to the South Dakota State Historical Society which has received other materials from the Collins family since the early 1900s.