BiographyDavid Humphreys Miller was born in 1918 in Van Wert, Ohio. Coming from a family of artists, he learned how to paint at a young age. He studied with his father, Lew Miller, his mother, Edna Humphreys Miller, and with his great uncle, Karl Schmalhaus, and then later at the University of Michigan (1936-1939), New York University (1940-1941) and the Grand Central School of Art in New York under Harvey Dunn, and privately with Winold Reiss. At the age of 16, he began searching for Indians who had fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Aided by a translator, Miller began to paint these individuals most of whom were in their 70s or older. After World War II, where he served in the 14th Air Corps in China, he returned to his painting. At this time, there were fewer than 20 survivors remaining. Miller eventually painted 72 survivors. He learned a number of Indian languages and said he was adopted by 16 Indian families. He was given the Indian name, Chief Iron White Man, by Black Elk, the legendary medicine man of the Oglala Sioux who was a veteran of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Ghost Dance uprising. Miller arranged the last reunion of the Custer survivors (only 8 were alive) at the dedication of the Crazy Horse Memorial, June 3, 1948.
Miller also began a career serving as a technical adviser about Indians for 25 films in the "western" genre. These films included "Cheyenne Autumn," and "How the West was Won." In 1957, he wrote Custer's Fall, a book built around his interviews, which was selected as a Book of the Month Club selection. He also wrote Ghost Dance in 1959 and co-authored and illustrated several other books. An extensive article by Miller appeared in American Heritage Magazine in 1971, focusing on the recollections of the Indians who participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Miller's portraits have been shown at many museums and galleries including the Whitney Western Museum and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center both in Cody, Wyoming, as well as the High Plains Heritage Center in Spearfish, SD. He also was commissioned to paint murals at Mount Rushmore, the Citadel and Busch Gardens in Los Angeles. He helped design the Northern Plains Indian Museum and Fur Trade and Wildlife Museum at Medora, North Dakota.
Toward the end of his life, Miller and his wife lived in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Miller died August 21, 1992, in California.
The portrait in the Fine Arts Collection, Chief Henry Oscar One Bull, was painted in Miller's characteristic style. Miller noted that One Bull was his first, "survivor," or the first Indian who fought at the Little Bighorn to pose for him. He posed again often in subsequent years. Miller noted in a personal statement about his art that he typically painted the portraits on flat, white acrylic backgrounds, often eliminating the shoulders and necks, unless the Indian wore a distinctive necklace or other special ornamentation. Although he started painting with pastels and tempera, he soon switched to oils which became his preferred medium.
The scenes Miller painted in the Fine Arts Collection, "It's a Good Day to Die" and "Desert Run&uot; reflect the meticulous research and fidelity to detail he put into his art. He noted in his personal statement that "Nothing can be faked in terms of correct gear, clothing or weapons-not to mention the artist's usual considerations of composition, color, tone and anatomy." The painting "It's a Good Day to Die" was used on the cover of his book, Custer's Fall, since it depicts the action of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Miller wrote that the title reflects an old Sioux war cry and reflects the "utter fearlessness of old-time warriors in battle."
Source of BiographyMiller, David Humphreys. "Echoes of the Little Bighorn." American Heritage. 22:4 (June 1971);
Gaines, John. "Portraits of Surviving Warriors Turn Focus Away from Custer." The San Diego Tribune, June 25, 1992;
Obituary, The San Diego Tribune, August 22, 1992;