When Cheyenne River Sioux Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle walked on, his family asked the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Cultural Preservation Office to help with tipis, and they asked me to film the traditional services at their ranch on July 25 and the final burial services on July 29 at the Black Hills National Cemetery. He was placed on a burial scaffold at the ranch for four days and then taken to the Black Hills for burial.
I visited David and conducted an interview with him about three months before his death at the ranch on April 13, 2016. I provided information and documents to him about early Lakota leaders in our families.
Chief David Beautiful Bald Eagle, who passed away at age 97, was a grandson of White Bull. Both David and his grandfather White Bull were illustrious characters. They enjoyed their traditional culture and the modern world of traveling. Both were involved in many activities outside the reservation, but the Cheyenne River Reservation was their homeland. David was born in a tipi near Cherry Creek, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River on April 8, 1919. His parents were Taylor Bald Eagle and Zola White Feather, and as a young boy he lived with his grandfather White Feather. He first married Penny Rathburn, but sadly she walked on. In 1958, he married Josie Kesteman, a young Belgian actress he met while being a bronc rider and riding bulls in Casey Tibbs’ Wild West Show at the World’s Fair in Belgium.
White Bull fought at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn and David was a colorful participant in Lakota regalia during the Days of ’76 parade held in Deadwood, South Dakota, which he attended for nearly 80 years. David remembered his family camp at the creek while attending the first Days of ’76 event.
White Bull and One Bull were nephews of the Hunkpapa medicine man, Sitting Bull. A daughter of Sitting Bull, Good Feather married Makes Room For Him/Makes Room and he was a Minnicoujou. White Bull and One Bull, along with Jake White Bull, were sons of Makes Room and Good Feather. White Bull was born in 1843 and died in 1947. Their mother was a Hunkpapa Lakota so the sons are sometimes listed as Hunkpapa.
Following the death of Sitting Bull, many of his family moved away from Standing Rock Reservation. White Bull and One Bull moved to Cherry Creek on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation just south of Standing Rock Reservation. White Bull was later known as Joseph White Bull and Joseph Lazy White Bull. He had at least 15 wives throughout his lifetime. His brothers returned to the Hunkpapa with their mother.
Fort Meade was established as a military base and is located near Sturgis, South Dakota, and not far from Deadwood and the sacred Mato Paha or Bear Butte, near the location of White Bull’s birth. Fort Meade became home to Comanche, Captain Keogh’s horse at the Little Bighorn and the only survivor from the battle with Custer in 1876. Remnants of Custer’s 7th cavalry were also assigned to Fort Meade. David recalled riding as part of the Fort Meade horse cavalry in 1939. In 1906 Utes left their reservation in Utah and troops from Fort Meade intercepted them in Wyoming and peacefully brought them to Fort Meade. White Bull traveled with the soldiers to assist in the negotiations. The Utes would soon be transferred to the Cheyenne River Reservation and White Bull took one of the Ute women as a wife.
Chief David Bald Eagle, as he became known, was proud of his military service. White Bull was also a celebrated veteran of the Indian wars. In World War II, David was at Angio Beach, Italy and at Normandy on D-Day. White Bull fought bravely at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.
David Bald Eagle appeared in movies with Errol Flynn and John Wayne and even danced with Marilyn Monroe. He also appeared in “Dances with Wolves,” “Lakota Woman,” “Skins,” “Imprint,” and the newly-released “Neither Wolf nor Dog.” White Bull was often interviewed and photographed.
White Bull recorded a manuscript and winter count history of events in his life and related this to author Stanley Vestal in the book “Warpath” published in 1932. In his book White Bull stated his first war party raid as a youngster was under the leadership of Hump, my great, great grandfather. White Bull and Hump were interviewed about their participation at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. White Bull also preserved Lakota language.
Some of our family later married into the White Bull family and David Beautiful Bald Eagle was connected to the Little Crow family. Little Crow and Hump were brothers, and Little Crow also participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. All surrendered and came to Cherry Creek.
Through their travels White Bull and grandson David Bald Eagle met many people from all walks of life and enhanced American Indian/non-Indian relations. Both had long lives, White Bull lived to the age 104 and Dave to the age of 97. White Bull is buried in Cherry Creek and David is buried in the Black Hills.
Donovin Sprague is a tribal archivist, university instructor, author, and historian. He is Minnicoujou Lakota from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation where he was born and raised, at Dupree, South Dakota. Author of 10 books and several published articles worldwide, he has done contract work for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. for tribal historical research and a Smithsonian book publication. He has worked full-time at Black Hills State University, but now he is an adjunct instructor in the American Indian Studies Department. He is a family descendant of the leaders Hump and Crazy Horse.