Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle Walks On at 97.

David Bald Eagle - Facebook.

Cheyenne River Sioux Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle, Waniyetu Opi, walked on July 22 surrounded by family. Facebook/Richard Bullock.

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 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.

The full article is at ICTMN. David Rooks also has an article up. Thank you for a life not only well-lived, but a life which was a gift to us all, Chief Beautiful Bald Eagle.


  1. rq says

    What a life!
    And I love the term ‘walked-on’. It sounds so graceful and dignified and yet has a sense of continuity.
    My many sympathies for the loss.

  2. says

    David Rooks has another article at ICTMN has been updated, with more information and photos. The family shared photos of Chief Bald Eagle’s scaffold, and the tipi where his wife stayed for the four days Chief Bald Eagle was on the scaffold. Photos of some of his kids and grandkids, too.

    In that long life, Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle’s quiver was quite full. He leaves behind his wife, Josee. Among those living and passed on, there are 25 children, five of whom are hunka (traditionally adopted), 73 grandchildren, 92 great grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren.

  3. Onamission5 says

    Was listening to him being eulogized on public radio yesterday, old interviews, people who knew him. A lovely man, a life well lived. Hearing him speak about his first wife Penny, I nearly had to pull over, you could hear the love and pain still, some many decades later.

    Bald Eagle appeared in over 40 Hollywood films. Most uncredited, the program said. A damn shame.

  4. says


    Most uncredited, the program said.

    Yeah, that was standard practice back then. I love old movies, and you almost always have to go digging to find out who a particular character actor might be, because outside of the principle actors, no one got credit.

  5. says

    rq @ 2:

    And I love the term ‘walked-on’. It sounds so graceful and dignified and yet has a sense of continuity.

    That’s because it is a continuation. Siouan beliefs are that when one walks on, they travel a certain road (in Western terms, the Milky Way), going back to the Star people. That’s why there is no prominent use of ‘died’ or ‘death’. That’s why there’s no word for goodbye either.

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