Basil "Chief White Eagle" Heath, a veteran of Hollywood and a Chicago television pioneer who retired to northern Indiana, died Monday.
In the 1930s, Heath — born in 1917 on the Iroquois Indian River Reservation in Ontario — walked among the clouds as a construction worker on skyscrapers being built in Chicago and other cities.
Heath, who was commonly referred to as Chief White Eagle, said a man spotted him walking along a high steel beam and invited him to come to Hollywood as a stuntman.
By 1939, Chief White Eagle appeared in his first film, "Northwest Passage," launching a career that included, according to his obituary, appearances in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "Red River," "How the West Was Won" and "Stagecoach."
White Eagle later went on to work in television, working in the late 1950s and 1960s on Chicago’s WTTW "Totem Club" show, an educational show geared to children. According to the book "Chicago Television," White Eagle hosted a segment called "Indian Stories with Chief White Eagle."
In the 1980s, White Eagle and his family retired to the Rochester area.
In 1996, according to Tribune archives, White Eagle told a gathering at the Fulton County Museum that he enjoyed his time in the film industry, but not always the roles he played.
"The Indians were always the losers," he said of Westerns. "For years, the movie industry portrayed the Indians in a derogatory manner. Happily, today, Indian films are more credible."
After retirement White Eagle remained active in the Rochester area, including as a regular participant in the Trail of Courage Living History Event, which commemorated the forced removal of Native Americans from Northern Indiana.
According to his obit, White Eagle is survived by his wife Roberta "Bobbi Bear" Heath, a daughter and an adopted tribal son.