WWII veteran and long time representative of the Lakota in South Dakota, Chief of the Minicoujou band David Beautiful Bald Eagle, has passed away. He died peacefully at home on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, aged 97 years old. His name in Lakota translates as Wounded in Winter Beautiful Bald Eagle.
The grandson of Tȟatȟáŋka Ská (White Bull), one of the victorius chiefs at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, aka The Battle of the Little Bighorn, he was born in a tepee in 1919 and will be laid to rest on Friday in the Black Hills National Cemetery. During WWII, he served with the 82nd Airborne and was severely wounded (shot by four bullets) parachuting into Normandy on D-Day and left for dead. Most of his unit were killed as they had been mistakingly dropped directly onto German lines. Fortunately, a British medic discovered him near St.Mere Eglise. Later, he earned notoriety as a champion Lakota dancer, rodeo star and actor. In the world of cinema, his work included Dances With Wolves, stunt double for Errol Flynn and he personally trained John Wayne how to handle and ride horses. Driving race cars, breeding horses and playing semi-pro baseball were also features of a life that lasted close to a century. Tragedy struck in 1946 when his English wife, a dance instructor whom he had met during the war, died in a car crash. She was pregnant. Dangerous pursuits, including race car driving, bull riding and skydiving filled his time following the loss. Later, in 1958 whilst working in Europe as part of Casey Tibbs' Wild West Show, he met Belgian actress Josee Kesteman, a woman who he later said "kept me alive". After marrying, they moved back to the reservation and set up home on a ranch, raising horses and children. After being made First Chief of the United Indigenous Nations, he spoke publicly all over the world at functions attended by indigenous people.
"I was born in a tepee at Cherry Creek, the first Indian village there ever was," Bald Eagle told the Journal in 2013. "I know we can't go back there, back to where we were. But we can tell the young ones how it was and they can remember, and they can bring it back. They can return."
Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle, 1919-2016.