Few American heroes lived a more adventurous and unbelievable life than Dave Bald Eagle, also known as Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle.
He was born April 8, 1919 in a tipi (sometimes spelled tepee) on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota, which is located on the west banks of Cherry Creek. He was the grandson of famous Lakota Chief White Bull and a relative of Sitting Bull. Both Native American icons fought Gen. George Armstrong Custer in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Bald Eagle served in the US Army during World War II, during which he earned a Silver Star for his role in the Battle of Anzio and was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
After his time with the 82nd Airborne Division, Bald Eagle performed as the drummer of Cliff Keyes' Big Band and a South Dakota western band and became a champion ballroom dancer with his first wife, Penny Rathburn.
Other post-war pursuits included stints as a race car driver, semi-pro baseball player and rodeo rider before Bald Eagle reached his most famous destination: Hollywood.
Per his obituary, Bald Eagle pursued dangerous careers in reaction to the death of Penny, who was pregnant at the time of her fatal car wreck. Reckless behavior earned Bald Eagle his first brush of fame as a stunt man in shoot-em-up westerns and as early action film star Errol Flynn's stunt double.
Bald Eagle taught his gun handling and horse riding skulls to many big-screen cowboys, including John Wayne himself, during a lengthy acting career that included appearances in Dances With Wolves (1990) and his final film, Neither Wolf Nor Dog (2016). During his years in Hollywood, Bald Eagle rubbed shoulders with everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Dances With Wolves actor Kevin Costner.
Despite his success on the West Coast, Bald Eagle never forgot his South Dakota roots. For over 80 years, he was a regular at the Days of '76 parade at Deadwood.
While working with Casey Tibbs as part of a rodeo display team during the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, Belgium, Bald Eagle met his second wife, Josee Kesterman.
Bald Eagle and Josee became visible and vocal champions of the Lakota people, leading to his appointment as the traditional Chief of the Minneconjou Lakota Oyate in the late '90s. In 2001, he became the first Chief of the United Native Nations.
David Bald Eagle passed away on July 22, 2016, ending a life that spanned 97 fast-shifting years amid the United States' shaky cultural and political relationship with its native people.
"It was tougher back then; I've had a rough life," says Bald Eagle, as quoted in his obituary. "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".