William 'Bill' Runsabove: Singer, composer and collector of Original and Traditional style songs
Indian Country Today
William “Bill” Runsabove has been singing since he was 8 years old. He started his own drum group, known as the Brown Beavers, which he was the lead singer. The other singers were his childhood buddies and they used a wash tub as their drum.
Bill’s father, Lloyd, made them a drum and took them to a powwow where they began. The Brown Beavers then changed their name to the Riverside Singers. Bill became a lead singer and many drum groups would have him lead their drums.
Drum groups such as, Teton Ramblers, Bad Land Singers of Brockton, Montana; Iron Wood Singers of Rosebud, South Dakota; Lame Deer Singers, of Lame Deer, Montana; Birney Singers of Birney, Montana; Rocky Boy Singers of Rocky Boy, Montana; Mandaree Singers of Mandaree, North Dakota; Blackfoot Crossing of Gleichen, Alberta; Newtown Singers of Fort Berthold, North Dakota; Bob Tail Singers of Hobema, Alberta; Four Sacred Mountains of Shiprock, New Mexico; In 1977, Bill began recording with Indian House of Taos, New Mexico, singing with the Bad Land Singers.
The recordings were called “Bad Land Singers at Home” and “ Gahomani Songs by Bad Land Singers.” He later recorded with the Bad Land Singers, “Live at Bismarck, Volumes 1 and 2.Indian House Records has recorded Bill singing with different drum groups, such as High Noon Singers of Hobema, Alberta; Big Bear Singers of Thunder Child, Saskatchewan; Mad Dog Singers of Crow Agency, Montana.
Bill became Lead Singer of Eagle Whistles of Mandaree, North Dakota. He recorded several recordings with Eagle Whistles with Indian House, Feather Stone of Brookings, South Dakota; and High Star Productions of Taos, New Mexico, and Canyon Records of Phoenix, Arizona.
In 1982, Eagle Whistles began their tour one summer, traveling to all parts of Canada and United States. This tour had a significant impact on the powwow trail as their unique rock and roll style influenced other singers.
As Bill got older, he started composing songs. Many of the songs you hear today at powwows, have been composed by him. He has composed honor songs for people and for special events that have had significant impact on Indian country.
Drum groups and singers have asked for songs from him so they can sing a Bill Runsabove tune. He composed a song for Eloise Cobell. He composed the theme song for Idle No More in Canada. Some of his significant compositions have been sung and adopted by runners, many family giveaways and Native American causes.
In 1990, Bill and the Bad Land Singers performed at Carnegie Hall, in New York, Folk Masters, and Traditional Music in the Americas.
In 1992, Bill and the Bad Land Singers did a presentation in Washington DC, “1992: The year of the American Indian.” Other performers were the late Floyd Westerman.
Also in 1992, Bill and his own family performed on Broadway in New York City, at the Symphony Space Theater.
Bill did the singing for the Little Wolf dance group. Bill and the Bad Land Singers performed in a National Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts.
One of the highlights of this performance was Allison Kraus performed right after them. Bill has sang for both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugurations and President Obama’s first inauguration.
In the movie, “Running Brave,” starring Robbie Benson, about Olympic gold medal Champion, Billy Mills, Bill was in two scenes. He was hired to teach Robbie Benson to sing a powwow song, and it was sung in this movie.
Ira Englander was the producer.
Bill performed in the opening of the National Folk Festival in Butte, Montana. During the festival, he gave a presentation on Native song which led him to be one of finale performers. He received the same billing as the reggae, R&B and Soul performers.
Bill and the Eagle Whistle drum group have been asked to be a host drum at many powwows throughout the United States and Canada.
Bill has also served as arena director for many powwows also, given this right by his Uncle George Harris of Lame Deer, Montana.
Bill was born to Lloyd and Margaret Runsabove and grew up in Lame Deer, Montana. He is Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. He was given his Native name, “Buffalo Bear’ which also means “Grizzly Bear”
Bill is a direct descendant of Chief Little Wolf, Northern Cheyenne, who brought his people back from Oklahoma to where they now live in Lame Deer, Montana.
He is also a direct descendant of Chief Wild Hog who was a war chief who assisted Chief Little Wolf, fought the soldiers that were pursuing them the whole way. Chief Wild Hog’s son, Bird Wild Hog married Lydia Little Wolf, daughter of Chief Little Wolf, both of which were children when they were coming back from Oklahoma to Montana. Bird and Lydia had a daughter, Bessie, who married William Red Cherries, one of the 44 Chiefs of the Cheyenne Nation.
Bill is also a direct descendant of Chief Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota. Chief Red Cloud’s daughter was Cloud Comes Out who married Runs Above or Kills Above, son of Chief Iron Tail. Chief Iron Tail is portrayed on the Buffalo Nickel. Chief Iron Tail participated in the Buffalo Bill shows becoming good friends with Buffalo Bill. Runs Above and Cloud Comes Out had a son, Peter Eli Runsabove, who was a trick roper in a Wild West show. Peter’s son and Bill’s dad, Lloyd, was also a performer. Lloyd and his brother, George, dressed and clowned and were known a “Lightning and Thunder,” performing at various powwows.
Bill started dancing at a young age. At the age of 13, he started dancing in Men’s Fancy category and danced until he was 19 years.
During these years of dancing, Bill won all first place honors, except for three seconds and two third places.
Bill is a composer of Original and Traditional style songs. He feels that it is very important to keep this original way of singing and drumming the way the elders teach. He had added a little bit of his own style of singing to the powwow circuit. He liked to sing up-tempo style of music, which would make anybody want to dance.
As a young boy, he listened to the songs of his uncle William Horn Cloud, and realized the songs needed to be preserved. Bill is advocate for preserving the original style of singing, preserving the songs, and keeping it original. The younger generation must learn and respect where this singing came from. It is an important part of our Native American culture and some of these songs have been sung for generations.
Bill and his wife, Danna, made their home in Frazer, Montana raising their children, Winona Rose (Wes Kill Eagle), William Walter (Kassie), Naomi Harris, Jonna (Kendall) Chavez, and Novi (Cheyenne). They have 15 grandchildren.
Bill was born on June 14, 1956 in Crow Agency to Lloyd and Margaret (Red Cherries) Runsabove, in Crow Agency, Montana. Bill lived his childhood years in Lame Deer, Montana. Bill attend school in Lame Deer and St. Labre. He excelled in football and basketball. Bill’s siblings are: Rose Dillard of Ashland, MT; Leroy (Charlotte), Lame Deer, MT; Georgia, Lame Deer, MT; Maggie of Lame Deer, MT and Floyd “Web” (Gail) of Lodge Pole, MT. Preceding him in death: Cactus and Della.
Also preceding him was his favorite Paint Horse, “Eddie” who was died earlier this year.
In 1974, Bill was adopted by the late Ben Gray Hawk as a son, in Poplar, Montana. After moving to Frazer, in 1977, Bill had a family in Fort Peck that he was very proud to be a part of, Ben Gray Hawk’s family, with siblings, Tote, Brad, Terry, Lenny, Little Ben, Justin, Jason, Mary Ellen and Jolene, and Melda.
Bill traveled everywhere. And everywhere he went, he made new friends and family. Always coming home with new relatives. There are numerous brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, all over the United States and Canada, many Tribes.
On January 16th Wake service at Frazer community hall at 6 pm. Funeral service scheduled for 11 am at Frazer High School. Feed to follow at Frazer community hall.