William “Bill” Runsabove, 63, of Wolf Point died Jan. 11, 2020.
He was born June 14, 1956, to Lloyd and Margaret (Red Cherries) Runsabove in Crow Agency and grew up in Lame Deer. He is Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. He was given his native name, “Buffalo Bear,” which also means “Grizzly Bear.” He attended school in Lame Deer and St. Labre and excelled in football and basketball.
He began singing when he was eight years old when he started his own drum group, the Brown Beavers, and was the lead singer. The other singers were childhood buddies and they used a wash tub as their drum. His father, Lloyd, made them a drum and took them to a powwow where they began. The Brown Beavers changed their name to the Riverside Singers. Many drum groups would have him lead their drums, including Teton Ramblers, Bad Land Singers of Brockton; Iron Wood Singers of Rosebud, S.D.; Lame Deer Singers; Birney Singers; Rocky Boy Singers; Mandaree Singers of Mandaree, N.D.; Blackfoot Crossing of Gleichen, Alta. Canada; Newtown Singers of Fort Berthold, N.D.; Bob Tail Singers of Hobema, Alta., Canada; and Four Sacred Mountains of Shiprock, N.M. In 1977, he began recording with Indian House of Taos, N.M., 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 him singing with many different drum groups. He was lead singer of Eagle Whistles of Mandaree, N.D., and recorded several recordings with them. In 1982, Eagle Whistles toured one summer, traveling to all parts of Canada and United States, which had a significant impact on the powwow trail with their unique rock and roll style.
As Bill got older, he started composing songs. Many of the songs heard today at powwows have been composed by him. In 1990, he and the Bad Land Singers performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Folk Masters and Traditional Music in the Americas. In 1992, he and the Bad Land Singers did a presentation in Washington, D.C., 1992: The year of the American Indian.
Also in 1992, he and his family performed on Broadway in New York City at the Symphony Space Theater. He did the singing for the Little Wolf dance group. He sang for both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugurations and President Obama’s first inauguration. He appeared in the movie Running Brave, starring Robbie Benson, about Olympic gold medal champion Billy Mills. He also served as arena director for many powwows.
At the age of 13, he started dancing in men’s fancy category and danced until he was 19. During these years, he won all first place honors, except for three seconds and two third places. He is a composer of original and traditional style songs and felt it was 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 music, which would make anyone want to dance. As a young boy, he listened to the songs of his uncle William Horn Cloud and realized they needed to be preserved. He was an advocate for preserving the original style of singing, preserving the songs and keeping it original.
He and his wife, Danna, made their home in Frazer, raising their children, Winona Rose, William Walter, Naomi Harris, Jonna Chavez and Novi. They have 15 grandchildren.
His siblings are Rose Dillard of Ashland, Leroy of Lame Deer, Georgia of Lame Deer, Maggie of Lame Deer and Floyd “Web” of Lodge Pole. Siblings preceding him in death were Cactus and Della.
In 1974, he was adopted by Ben Gray Hawk as a son in Poplar. After moving to Frazer, in 1977, he had a family in Fort Peck that he was very proud to be a part of with siblings Tote, Brad, Terry, Lenny, Little Ben, Justin, Jason, Mary Ellen, Jolene and Melda.
A funeral service was held Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Little Wolf Capitol Building in Lame Deer. A wake will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Frazer Community Hall. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17, at the Frazer High School gymnasium. Interment will be at the Clark Family Cemetery in Frazer. Clayton Stevenson Memorial Chapel was in charge of the arrangements.