Native American chief, war hero and Dances With Wolves star dies at 97

A celebrated Native American chief who appeared in the Oscar-winning 1990 film Dances With Wolves has died aged 97. Chief David Bald Eagle, the grandson of Chief White Bull, who fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn against General Custer in 1876, died at his home on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. His death prompted a traditional four-day wake to remember an extraordinary leader who was a World War II hero, a champion dancer, rodeo rider and figurehead for the Lakota people.

We worked with Dave on numerous photo shoots … he had a classic Native American look and was a bona fide real Indian chief, so it was doubly great

South Dakota Tourism senior photographer Chad Coppess

Bald Eagle was born in a tepee in 1919. In his traditional tanned hide clothing and feathered regalia, he led the Days of ’76 parade at Deadwood for nearly five decades, having started riding in the parade since he was 10. He was in more than 40 films appearing alongside Hollywood legends such as John Wayne and Errol Flynn. He served in the U.S army during World War II and was wounded after parachuting into Normandy on D-Day. He was also among Native American code-talkers relaying important messages in their native language to foil enemy radio monitors.

I was born in a tepee at Cherry Creek, the first Indian village there ever was. 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 Bald Eagle speaking in 2003