No, not that guy selling beer. That guy was a made up role.
He was Chief David Bald Eagle. You may have seen a blurb about his death because he was in a few movies.
Being in movies wasn’t enough reason to make Bald Eagle interesting. His entire life was an incredible adventure I can only fantasize about.
He was born into the South Dakota Lakota tribe in 1919. Their tribal history was recorded in pictorial calendars painted on hides that date back to the ninth century CE. That’s about eight hundred years before the USA was even an idea. But Bald Eagle was five years old before our country recognized him as a US citizen. We didn’t like them pesky redskins living on our land after all.
Chief Bald Eagle lived with his grandfather, White Feather. His other grandfather was Chief White Bull, a relative of Sitting Bull, and one of the leaders in the Battle of Little Big Horn. How about those stories on grandfather’s knee?
Bald Eagle only spoke Lakota until he was twelve years old and allowed to attend school. That’s when he started to excel at sports. He loved baseball and was excellent at pole vaulting. He found he was a natural at rodeo competition. Being an excellent horseman he enrolled in the horse cavalry. When it became mechanized he became a messenger on a motorcycle.
On December 7, 1941 he signed his discharge papers from the military. The news of that day’s Pearl Harbor attack came to Bald Eagle later in the day and he immediately re-enlisted. This time he joined the 82nd Airborne as a Paratrooper. His first combat jump was during the invasion of Anzio, Italy. Then he took part in the Normandy invasion and he was accidently dropped over German lines. His entire outfit were like clay pigeons floating down from the sky. Almost all of his outfit was killed and Bald Eagle was shot over and over again. When the medics found him they left him for dead. Luckily some British commandos came storming through and one of the soldiers checked David Bald Eagle and found a pulse.
He recuperated in England and learned to play the drums. He got good enough to join the big band of Cliff Keys. He also fell in love with a British dance instructor and after the war they were married. She taught the chief how to dance and they were great. They became Champion Ball Room Dancers in competitions all over the USA. When Penny, his wife, was pregnant with their first child she was killed in an auto accident. Chief Bald Eagle was devastated and went into a prolonged depression.
He became suicidal and constantly asked, “Why her and not me?”
So he started driving race cars…fast. He was a great driver. Then he took up skydiving. Then back to the rodeo only this time he became a champion bull rider. He states he was chasing death.
His next claim to fame was being a stunt double in the movies and he was in demand. Being an expert horseman he was used in dozens of westerns. If you remember all those Indians falling off their horses after being shot, he was probably most of them…over and over again. While on one movie set he showed Marilyn Monroe his dance skills and she insisted on going dancing with him. Now life is getting more interesting.
He also became a skilled Lakota tribe dancer. And before he got too old he played semi-pro baseball in Minnesota as a catcher.
He had the opportunity to stunt ride at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958. A bad spill severely injured him and put him in the hospital. While he was in the hospital a fellow named Casey Tibbs told the staff he wanted to meet an American Indian. Tibbs was one of the greatest all-time rodeo riders.
An instant friendship was formed. Tibbs had a Wild West show and he was recruiting stunt riders. Tibbs invited Bald Eagle to come to is home in Belgium to recuperate. That is where he met the second love of his life, Josee. They fell in love.
It was time for David Bald Eagle to leave Belgium and join the Tibbs Wild West Show in America and he told Josee good bye. He told her he lived in a cave in South Dakota and when she was ready to come join him in his cave. He was sort of joking. He didn’t have a cave. BUT…Josee could think of nothing else for the next decade. She came to South Dakota and married him in 1972. They had a son one year later.
Tensions were bad on and off the reservation. The son was bullied on the reservation for being part Belgian and discriminated against off the reservation for being part Indian. Chief Bald Eagle moved his family to a far corner of the reservation and built a house from telephone poles and wood from the forest. They had no running water for ten years.
The family grew with many children, two sons served in the 82nd Airborne like their Dad, and at times their children and adopted kids grew to more than 25 people living on the ranch. They grew their own food and set up teepees for the extended family. Bald Eagle became Chief of the local Lakota tribe and then became Chief of the United Native Nations. He advocated for indigenous people and worked to preserve Lakota stories.
And the movies kept calling. He appeared in Dances with Wolves, along with two sons, in 1992. He rode his last bucking horse at age 72. His face was on every tourism ad for the Lakota Tribe of South Dakota.
At age 95 he had his first starring role in “Neither Wolf nor Man.” It was just released this year.
If this guy wasn’t one of the most interesting men in the world, he was high on the list.