Lakota Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle, who was a military hero, champion dancer, professional baseball player and stunt double, walked-on at his home last Friday.
Chief Bald Eagle was born in a traditional teepee in 1919 in Cherry Creek, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota. His name in Lakota translates as Wounded in Winter Beautiful Bald Eagle. He spoke only Lakota until the age of 12.
His grandfather, Chief White Bull, a relative of Sitting Bull,was one of the leaders who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Bald Eagle underwent the traditional sundance ceremony at age 15. At 17 he enlisted in the Army’s Fourth Cavalry and eventually went from riding a horse to riding a motorcycle to deliver messages. After serving for several years, he was honorably discharged, but re-enlisted into the 82nd Airborne after hearing the news of that Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
As a sergeant, Bald Eagle parachuted into the battles fought at Anzio, Italy, for which he was awarded the Silver Star. He then parachuted into the fighting at Normandy, was injured by German soldiers and was left for dead. British commandos discovered him lying on the enemy grounds with a pulse.
After returning from the war, he met an English teacher named Penny Rathburn and married her. They became competitive ballroom dancers. She was killed in a car crash when she was pregnant with their first child.
In an interview with the Wo Lakota project, Bald Eagle says he was nearly suicidal after that double tragedy, and decided to take on daredevil pursuits. He became a stunt double, took up skydiving, started racing cars and became active in the rodeo circuit.
Bald Eagle appeared in over 40 Hollywood films. He served as a stunt double for Errol Flynn, and even met and danced with Marilyn Monroe.
In 1958, Bald Eagle traveled to Belgium with a rodeo team, where he met a Belgian girl Josee Kesterman. They were married soon afterward and returned to Bald Eagle’s home of Cherry Creek, where they lived for many years and raised a family.
He continued to work in films and learn about his traditional ways. In the 1990s he was appointed traditional Chief of the Minneconjou Lakota Oyate and in 2001 he was elected as the first Chief of the United Native Nations.
In addition to his part in Dances with Wolves, his final film role was in Neither Wolf Nor Dog, which premiered in June at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
In an memorial post on Facebook, Richard Bullock? wrote that though Chief Bald Eagle encountered many forms of prejudice and discrimination, “he never showed bitterness, and met adversity with invincible courage and humour.”
“It was tougher back then,” Bald Eagle told Bullock. “I’ve had a rough life. But I can remember everything. From horse and cart days right up until today; jet planes and computers. When I was a boy, there weren’t even any fences. No electricity lines or phone lines. No roads, nothing. You could just head out across country and you wouldn’t have to open any gates or anything like that. All just open prairie. The world has changed so quickly in just one lifetime. It’s so short a time. I’ve had a long life but it just seems like yesterday”.
David William Bald Eagle / Wounded in Winter Beautiful Bald Eagle born 8th April 1919, walked on 22nd July 2016. He is survived by his wife Josee, and his many children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.