A Tribute to Chief White Eagle
By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian

Chief White Eagle Memorial Dedication

A black iron teepee and a black metal plaque with lettering cut by laser form an unusual memorial in front of the Fulton County Museum, Rochester. The Chief White Eagle memorial was dedicated Sept. 15, Saturday night of Trail of Courage at 6:30 p.m. The 42nd Royal Highlanders played in memory of Tom Griffin, who is also memorialized. The families of William Wamego and Tom Hamilton, members of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Oklahoma, attended.

Chief White Eagle, aka Basil Heath, 1917-2011, was beloved by many who attended the Trail of Courage from 1985 to 2009. A former movie actor and TV personality, he was the most famous person to participate in the Trail of Courage. He was in “Northwest Passage,” “Red River,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and other films. He traveled all over the U.S. giving programs on American Indians. He played the part of Grandpa in “The Best Man in Grass Creek” in 1996. He was declared a Living Legend of Fulton County in 2005. Born on the Iroquois Reservation in Canada in 1917, he served in World War II for both England and the United States. He and wife Bobbie Bear moved to Fulton County in 1987. He did a dedication ceremony for the new Trail of Courage site in 1985. He planted the Great Peace Tree in 1988. He continued to give speeches about Indian lore at the Trail of Courage, at the museum, and for Boy Scouts and other groups in Indiana and neighboring states.

Tom Griffin, 1928-1993, Lafayette, founded the 42nd Royal Highlanders Band of Pipes, Fifes and Drums in 1975. They have provided music at the Trail of Courage since 1983. Griffin attended grade school in Kewanna and he is buried there beside his parents. The band continues to perform at many historic festivals in the Midwest, most notably the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon at Lafayette.

William “Bill” Wamego, 1919-1993, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was descended from Chief Wamego who was on the Potawatomi Trail of Death from Indiana to Kansas in 1838. He helped with the Trail of Courage 1982-1993. He traveled on the Trail of Death commemorative caravans 1988 and 1993.

Tom Hamilton, 1929-2010, Checotah, Oklahoma, was descended from Abram Burnett, a young Potawatomi man who went west on the Trail of Death in 1838. Burnett traveled with Father Petit to St. Louis, sometimes holding the sick priest on his horse, where Petit died in 1839. Burnett later became a chief in Kansas and was the biggest strongest man in Kansas, weighing over 400 pounds. Hamilton began attending the Trail of Courage in 1982. He helped organize the Trail of Death caravans 1988-2008. He designed the Trail of Death map used on 12 historical markers and the Potawatomi Trail of Death Assn. website www.potawatomi-tda.org. He and his family sponsored five Trail of Death historical markers. He made adoption papers on his computer and had the other Potawatomi on the 2003 caravan sign it to adopt Shirley and Bill Willard as honorary Potawatomi. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Indiana in 1978 to work as vice president of advertising at Chore Time Brock, Milford. After retirement he and wife Pat spent winters in Oklahoma and summers in Warsaw, Indiana. He searched for many years to find the birthplace of Abram Burnett and finally found it to be on Ernie Hiatt’s farm north of the Tippecanoe River and west of Rochester.

Leon Stewart, 1925-2010, Rochester, was a volunteer at FCHS, and was named RSVP Volunteer of the Year in 1995. He donated thousands of hours, working as a carpenter for FCHS, Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits. He helped remodel and repair several buildings at FCHS, including the Polke house. Leon’s son Kevin Stewart did the landscaping for the memorial.

Craig Welding of Mentone donated the metal plaque with the names and dates.

Thoughts about Trail of Courage

Bill Moor of the South Bend Tribune sometimes writes a column of his thoughts while. So these are my thoughts while running the washing machine to clean the blankets and clothes from the Trail of Courage last weekend.

Edna Carpenter, soon to be 100 years old, was the honored Potawatomi at the Trail of Courage. She still weeds her garden on her knees. It was thrilling to see Jichaela Flook crowned Cherokee princess by her grandmother Joan McClellan and great-grandmother Edna Carpenter. Jichaela is a pretty girl but this was not a beauty contest. She was chosen for her caring and helpful ways. Even when she was a totler, she tried to look after her great-grandmother. Her mother Kathy McClellan (now Flook) was crowned a Cherokee princess in 1985 by Chief White Eagle.

The Indian dancers saw a bald eagle fly over on Sunday. That is a good sign.

Thanks to Carol Miiller (yes, it is spelled with two i’s) and Jeremy Flook, the head dancers. Jeremy is the great-grandson of Edna Carpenter.

Those Aztec dancers are so lively and in great form! The ladies love to look at them.

The Wamego family came from Oklahoma for the dedication of the memorial in front of the museum Saturday evening: Bill Jr. and son Bill III (they call him Tre), Carmelita and grandson Chris, Jeannie, and Cathy, Also Danny Ferris and his wife from Michigan. We had a great time at supper with them at Alejandra’s Restaurant. When Bill Jr. laughs, it sounds just like his father. Much laughing and then hugging when time to leave.

The 42nd Royal Highlanders played “Amazing Grace” to honor Tom Griffin, who founded their band in 1975.

The Hamilton family was represented by son Joe, granddaughter Sarah, and grandsons Ryan and Sean. They recalled happy times with Tom Hamilton at the Trail of Courage.

Leon Stewart’s family, wife Carol, son and daughter, sister and brother. They shared some memories of how Leon loved to work at the museum and complete the buildings. His daughter said he went from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

George Godfrey did a dramatic blessing of the memorial, offering tobacco to the four sacred directions. Then Kenny Lone Eagle offered a prayer explaining the four directions and thanked the Creator - God.

It was a beautiful ceremony.

Chief White Eagle Makes Mark on Screen

Chief White Eagle
Basil Heath / Chief White Eagle was born March 18, 1917, on the Iroquois Reservation in Ontario, Canada, lived many years in Chicago, and spent the last 23 years of his life in Fulton County, Indiana. He had been a patient at Hickory Creek Nursing Home for the past six weeks, and died on a snowy night in the ambulance on its way to Woodlawn Hospital January 24, 2011.

He entered our lives in 1984 when he and his wife, Bobbie Bear, came to the Trail of Courage for the first time. They came as speakers and traders (Bobbie makes Indian dolls and jewelry to sell) at every Trail since, except for 2010 when illness prevented them.

In 1985 The Trail of Courage was moved across the highway to 35 acres purchased by the Fulton County Historical Society. Chief White Eagle dedicated the land with a pipe ceremony, pictured on the front cover of the FCHS Quarterly no. 60. He also crowned two Cherokee princesses, Kathleen McClellan and Dawn Hall, for the local Cherokee band. State Representative Raymond Musselman, Peru, presented Chief White Eagle with a key to District 23, which includes Fulton County. Chief gave talks about Indian history and inside information on Indian courtship and how they went to war. He gave credit for his tribal knowledge to his grandfather, who lived to be 103, on the Grand River Reservation in Ontario. His grandfather taught him how to shoot with bow and arrow, how to track animals, how to recognize different tribes from their footprints, etc.

He also told how he made movies and how they make it look as if bullets are barely missing you, and how they make it look like a building is burning down. He was “killed” in many movies; sometimes he was killed twice or more in one movie. In his programs he told Indian legends, taught sign language, related customs and legends of the Indian people. He had an excellent voice, a deep “radio voice.” He was able to imitate a bullet, a bow snapping and an arrow hitting. He gave excellent imitations of actors Gabby Hayes, Tonto, Walter Brennan and others.

Chief “Baz” White Eagle appeared in many movies over the years. His first movie was in 1939, “Northwest Passage,” with Spencer Tracy. He worked with John Wayne in “Stage Coach,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and “Red River.” In “Red River” Baz is the Indian who was killed by John Wayne in a fight in the river - this occurs about 10 minutes into the movie. He was in “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe. He recalled sitting with Marilyn and sharing a basket of strawberries while waiting between shots. Other movies were “How the West was Won” in 1962.

Baz would never do anything that was derogatory to his people. In one scene he was to have his face pushed in the mud wearing the sacred eagle plumes. He said to the company, “I’ll never do this to degrade my people.” He was blacklisted in Hollywood for over a year until other companies took him up and he was back in movies again.

“For three months or six months, while I was making a film, I made a financial killing. Then while the rest of the actors were sitting around on their duffs waiting for another picture, I went back to iron work. My agent would keep in touch. A lot of kids ask me about getting into films. I tell them first take dramatic lessons, then get a good trade, so they have a second job to fall back into. Too many people fail and have to wash dishes for the rest of their lives.”

“Long after I am dust, I’ll be preserved on celluloid, and I’m proud of that.”

His television credits included appearing in “The Lone Ranger,” “Wagon Train” and “The Rifleman.” He appeared once in “Bonanza” as both a cavalry officer and as an Indian. He worked with many of the top motion picture and TV stars, among them: Robert Young, Lorne Green, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Mike Ansara, etc. He met and/or appeared with Lash Larue, Buck Owens, Tim McCoy, Arkie the Arkansas Woodchopper, and many other musicians and radio personalities.

Baz was a friend of Jay Silverheels, better known as Tonto with the Lone Ranger. Jay came from the same reservation, the Grand River near Brantford, Canada. Jay’s English name was Harold Smith. After Jay died in March 1980, Baz finished out the season with Clayton Moore in personal appearances of the Lone Ranger.

When television became widespread, he wrote and acted on the longest- running (1956-1963) popular children’s show in Chicago, on WTTW called “Totem Club.” He was nominated for an Emmy award for three years in the 1960s and won in 1964. He starred as an Indian Chief in the ABC series, “The Americans.”

He also hosted an ethnic radio show on WXFM, Chicago, for several years. In1982 he and Bobbie Bear were in “Camp Fort Defiance” on Chicago TV.

His last movie was “The Best Man in Grass Creek” in 1996 in which he played Grandpa. This was the first time he allowed himself to be pictured bald without his wig of long black braids. This film was made in Fulton County and had its world premiere in 2001 at Times Theater in Rochester.

Part 2 - Chief White Eagle is spokesperson, shares history

Chief White Eagle, whose English name was Basil “Baz” Heath, was born in 1917 on the Iroquois Grand River Reservation near Brantford, Ontario. He became a U.S. citizen in 1986.

He learned the skill of welding when a teenager. His professional career started out as an iron worker and welder, building bridges and skyscrapers across Canada and the United States including the Sears Tower in Chicago. His ability to walk on beams hundreds of feet up led him to work as a stunt man and action parts for film makers. He was given the title of chief because he was elected head of his Indian welding union. He took Chief White Eagle as his stage name, as White Eagle was his grandfather’s tribal name.

Asked why so many Indians were attracted to dangerous high-rise construction, he replied, “In the old days an Indian rode out on a horse, thrust his spear into the ground, and said, “I am a man,” Iron work is another way for him to asset his courage. He is saying, ‘Look at me: I am conquering the world.’”

Chief White Eagle appeared in numerous commercials, both regionally and nationwide. He was in demand to appear at county fairs, rodeos, sports shows and other events as a host and master of ceremonies. In 1946 he performed in a traveling tepee show with Chief Thunder Cloud for the Mohawk Carpet Company.

He was hired by Brunswick Corporation to travel and give bowling demonstration and teach many children how to bowl. He was the emblem for Devoe Paint, “the first American paint company,” and his picture appeared on billboards all across the U.S.

He attended McGill University, Montreal, Canada, and Oxford University in England. During World War II he served with the OWIUSA (Office of War Information USA) in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) as a Liaison Officer. He served in the British Army and later joined the American forces, 101st Airborne. While in England he married an English girl and had two daughters. After the war, they came to America to live in Chicago but she did not like it and went back to England and got a divorce.

Baz and Bobbie were married in 1977. They lived in Tinley Park, Illinois, and were active with that historical society. They took an exchange visit to Tinley Park’s sister cities in Europe where they met the royal family of Germany and became life-long friends.

His tribe was Cayuga, one of the Iroquois Six Nations, formed of Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Cayuga, and Oneida. Since few people recognized Cayuga, he just said he was Mohawk or Iroquois. He told their history at the Trail of Courage. He told about Handsome Lake, a Mohawk who introduced the Great Peace Tree to get them to lay down their tomahawks and bring peace. Their symbol today is a pine tree and underneath the roots are buried two tomahawks. They created the first League of Nations. His people were called the Romans of the New World because they have a long history of law making. Benjamin Franklin borrowed their ideas when helping write the U.S. constitution in 1787.

In 1988 Chief White Eagle planted a Great Peace Tree, a white pine donated by Bob Kern of Rochester, placed on top of two crossed tomahawks. This was done at the Trail of Courage to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Potawatomi Trail of Death. Bill Wamego, who had ancestors on the Trail of Death, rode a horse-drawn jail wagon through Rochester and out to the Trail of Courage.

Chief White Eagle (left) and Ron Hall of Cherokee descent pose by the newly-planted Great Peace Tree at the Trail of Courage Sept. 17, 1988. (Photo by John Savage for The Rochester Sentinel, 1988)

Baz’s wife Bobbie Bear was president of Indian Awareness Center, a branch of Fulton County Historical Society, from 1994-2003 when Baz joined her as co-president 2004-2005. They both helped with presenting programs and classes at the Fulton County Museum such as beadwork and Indian crafts and culture.

Part 3 - Chief White Eagle finds love

For Chief White Eagle’s 90th birthday a party was held March 18, 2007 at the Fulton County Museum with 90 people attending. He told stories of being in World War II during the bombing of London. He was in the 101st Airborne. He told of meeting Jack and Bobbie Kennedy when they were all young in the late 1930s, also in England.

He met three U.S. Presidents: Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. He was also privileged to dine with numerous foreign dignitaries including the Royal Family of Germany. When hospitalized in Holy Cross - Parkview Hospital, Plymouth, Indiana, in 1989, his spirits were lifted by a visit from the German Princess Elizabeth.

Chief White Eagle was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Shriners, Kiwanis, Boy Scouts of America, and Fulton County Historical Society at Rochester, Indiana. His was honored with many recognitions, including receiving the keys to many cities across the United States, bestowed upon the title of Honorary Commissioner of Illinois, induction into the Living History Hall of Fame at Galveston, Indiana, in 1992; chosen one of Indiana’s 20th century “Famous Icons” by the South Bend Tribune in September 1999, and was honored in 2005 as “Living Legend of Fulton County” at the Fulton County Historical Society annual banquet.

In his spare time he enjoyed making walking canes and badges and collecting baseball caps and Indian arts and artifacts.

Bobbie Bear & Chief White Eagle
On June 29, 1977, in the Grand River Reservation, Canada, he married Roberta Bear, who is of Ottawa descent, and they spent their wedding night in a teepee. In 2004 they received word from Canada that a tribal marriage was not acceptable for Social Security and they should have a “legal” marriage. So they got married on June 13, 2004, at Winamac in the home of attorney Dale Starke. Bobbie made her own white wedding gown, saying she wore a buckskin dress for an Indian wedding the first time but this time it was going to be a modern American wedding. They renewed their vows during the Trail of Courage that fall at the feast for Don Perrot’s bestowing Potawatomi names on Shirley and Bill Willard. The feast and program were in the museum in the evening, with about 120 people attending. Their pledge of eternal love was so touching and sweet that it brought tears to the eyes of all attending.

Baz and Bobbie moved to Fulton County, Indiana, in 1987, where they lived in a farmhouse near Leiters Ford. On July 1, 1989, they moved to a different farmhouse a couple of miles west on the same road. They moved to a cottage on the Tippecanoe River in Riverwood Acres west of Rochester in 2005.

Chief White Eagle touched many lives during his many years as an actor and speaker all over the U.S. He died January 24, 2011, at age 93. It was his request that he be cremated and his ashes scattered under the Great Peace Tree. This was done June 25, 2011, in a private funeral, conducted by Joan McClellan. Taps were played. About a dozen friends attended.

A memorial service for Chief White Eagle was held Sept. 17 at the Trail of Courage. Kenny Lone Eagle and Shirley Willard spoke. George Godfrey did the traditional tobacco blessing to the four sacred directions. Marsha Glassburn read a tribute she wrote. Bobbie Bear was ill and unable to attend.

Obituary - Chief White Eagle Walks On

Basil F. “Chief White Eagle” Heath, 93, 3161 N. Evergreen St., passed away at 2:35 a.m. Jan. 24, 2011, at Woodlawn Hospital, Rochester.

He was born on March 18, 1917, at the Iroquois Indian Grand River Reservation in Ontario, Canada, the son of Andrew Cleve and Amelina (Da Amorin) Heath. Survivors include his wife, Roberta “Bobbie Bear” Heath, Rochester; daughter Eunice Madeline Heath Collard, North Chichester; granddaughter Laura Marie West, Dagenham; great-grandchildren, Connor Ben West and Kai Porter West, Dagenham, all of Essex, England; sister Mildred Burgemeyer, Converse, Texas; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Lauraine Heath; and sisters, Sylvia Schroeder and Valerie Peterson, and several tribally adopted brothers and sisters.

Chief White Eagle Memorial

Potawatomi Trail of Death Association
Chief White Eagle Memorial
Fulton County Historical Society, Inc.
37 E. 375 N., Rochester, IN 46975
Telephone 574-223-4436

Museum open Monday - Saturday from 9 to 5, closed holidays
PTDA website: www.potawatomi-tda.org
FCHS website: www.fultoncountyhistory.org
Editor’s email: Museum email:

Sept. 17, 2011

This is a picture of the memorial for Chief Pretty Eagle in Montana. The memorial for Chief White Eagle is similar to this and is in front of the Fulton County Museum, Rochester, Indiana. (Photo: St. Labre Indian School, Ashland, MT.)

Thanks to the many donors who made it possible to erect the iron teepee, made by blacksmith Fred Oden, and to Craig Welding for the black metal sign with the names. See Memorial Dedication for video of the dedication. Very interesting because it shows Bobbie Bear, Kenny Lone Eagle, 42nd Royal Highlanders playing bagpipes, Bill Wamego family, Tom Hamilton family, and Leon Stewart family.
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This page updated Jan 16, 2017.