Richard Wallace Real Bird, the first born son to James and Lucy Wallace Real Bird, was born on August 21, 1940, at the Indian Health Service Hospital in Crow Agency, MT. He went to the other side of the camp on November 19, 2020. He always claimed he was born about 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon during the Bronc Riding at the annual Crow Fair, which was going on. His childhood name was Bisheechin Chilichish (Herds Cattle) given to him by his grandmother Otter Stays In Water. He was given the name Buatta Itche (Good Coyote) by Joe Morrison. When he was the Chairman of the Crow Nation, he pursued a lawsuit against the United States. He was then given the name Iichiilawaache (Sitting Horse) by Whistling Water men. He was a Big Lodge Clan Man and a Child of the Whistling Water.
By the time he was four days old his dad took him and made him sit on a horse and they say he never got off. When he was four years old, Richard and his cousins Gary Not Afraid and Wayne Moccasin were riding calves out of the calf chute during Crow Fair. He got on his first bucking horse when he was five years old, he jumped on this gentle four year old colt and it went to bucking. He rode him through 4 or 5 jumps and said he never forgot that ride. He started riding Bareback when he was 12 years old on just an old practice horse his uncles were riding.
He had a neighbor who had a couple of race horses and that old man would put him on the horse with a jockey saddle and a 40 foot lunge line and holler instructions on how to ride race horses. They kept this up most of that spring and summer. Richard won his first horse race that year at Crow Fair at age eight weighing 50 lbs.
In 1944 at age four, Richard rode drag on 1000 antler steers heading for summer pasture with his dad. They spent the night at the antler wagon in a cowboy bed roll and rode home the next day.
He started riding saddle bronc when he was 12 when some guy decided he didn’t want to ride. The horse bucked Richard off but he rode him a ways and that became his favorite event. He watched Bill Linderman and Casey Tibbs match Bronc Riding in Bridger, MT from right by the bucking chutes. He always remembered how they measured their rein and set their saddles.
Him and his cousins were riding just about everything they could. They flanked saddle horses, parade horses, kid horses with lariats. They rode heifers, cows, and range bulls anywhere they would catch them, including the neighbors milk cows. Richard spent the majority of his time on the back of a horse. He rode horse back from Lodge Grass to Sheridan, WY, when he was eight years old with his grandpa Chester
Medicine Crow. He rode to Crow Agency and on to Hardin many times. He would ride all the way to Tollock Creek. He cut out a herd of horses and ran ‘em all the way to the Little Big Horn with his Grandpa and Cousin in half a day, and bucked them horses by late afternoon.
He got involved in high school rodeo as a 14 year old freshman out of Hardin High School and worked every event. He qualified for state in the calf roping and saddle bronc riding 3 years and rode bulls there one year. He said it was a tough bronc riding with guys like Shawn Davis, Johnny Carr, Jess Langston in the West and Jimmy Baisch, Johnny Lie, Denny Katka, Doug Wall and Dennis Konig in the East. He was 4th in the bronc riding his senior year. He said one of the proudest moments was when he rode a bull called Beachnut of the Fettig Bros. at the district high school rodeos in Glendive, MT. He was roping against Bob Ragsdale his cousin Gary Not Afraid and Gary Murphy, at this time.
He went on to college at Montana State and made the second team, after college he rodeo’d in the NRA, NRCA, and MRA and open rodeos in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota. His idol and hero Joe Chase of North Dakota once told him that you got to beat ‘em so bad they’ll give it to you and that’s about the way he rode every time he nodded.
In 1962 he was crowned the 1st Indian World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider at the first ever all-Indian Rodeo at the Annual Crow Fair and what he calls the greatest honor of his life. He went on to ride in the RCA in the 60’s eventually breaking his neck in a riding mishap in California.
In 1958 he went to rep for his family at the padlock wagon, which was camped, on North Reno. When he got there Curley Wetzel, the cow boss at the time, hired him to ride the rough string, because the rough string rider had broken his jaw, collar bone, and some ribs when a knotheaded bronc stampeded over a cut bank with him. A few days later Richard rode that same horse that stampeded. He rode that horse up North Reno on a Stampede over the divide into Custer Creek and circled back to catch up with the mob at the foot of Custer look-out. That horse never stampeded again and became Jim Brooks’ favorite horse. Richard continued to ride the rough string and cowboy for the next 10 years or so. He became proficient at riding and roping out in the open country and worked for the SU, Antler, Miliron, and Padlock Ranches. Wetzel, who was one of the best at that time, taught him how to ride bucking horses.
After healing from a bone fusion in his neck, Richard continued to ride for another six years with little success. He broke his collar bone, an arm, and some ribs for his efforts and little else. He would ride good spuring full strokes for about 6 or 7 seconds, black out, and fall off. He didn’t know that the nerves in his neck were causing his black outs. But he enjoyed the camaraderie of the young guys who he coached and helped to give good advice, and provided financial help for a lot of them that had a hard time getting the entry fee. He taught his 4 brothers who went on to ride in the PRCA, High School, College, and All Indian Rodeo.
During this time Richard went to training race horses – winning the Montana Derby, Treasure State futurity, Autumn Leave, Thrifty $50,000.00 Futurity, the richest race in Montana at the time. He taught two of his sons how to ride race horses, Gary and Mark who went on to be a leading rider in Montana and a winner in Spokane, Denver, and Phoenix.
“It’s horsemanship,” he would tell his kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. If you learn horsemanship you can do any event in the sport of rodeo. He himself roped calves, rode bareback, wrestled a few steers, rode saddle bronc, team roped, and rode bulls. He’s been on a wild horse race team as the mugger.
When Richard quit competing he announced rodeos, serves as a secretary, a chute boss, pick-up man, arena director, and PR man for some small rodeos. He even fought bulls when the bull fighter was not available, and he said, “All it is, is horsemanship.” One Indian said that when Richard announces a rodeo, it is just like watching TV. Richard and his family were recently honored as being a foundation rodeo family and providing a lifetime of contribution to the sport of pro rodeo by the Wrangler World of Rodeo reunion and Gold Card gathering.
Until recently, you could still find Richard turning back a bunch of wild ones, as he ran 75-100 head of bucking horses. He contracted a few small rodeos and sold broncs to some of the top pro stock contractors in the country. Some of his broncs have appeared at the WNFR and there were 37 head of broncs wearing the O-W brand at the INFR in Las Vegas.
Richard used to say the greatest honor a man can receive is the recognition by his peers. He was so honored when he was selected as one of the best 50 cowboys in Montana during the Montana Centennial Cattle Drive, an honor he was sorry he couldn’t fulfill as he was in Washington, D.C. as the Chairman of the Crow Nation.
Richard served as Chairman of the Crow Nation for two terms from 1986-1990. On August 4, 1987, the Real Bird Administration filed a lawsuit for breach of trust responsibility and fiduciary duty against the United States Government regarding Section 2, Crow Allotment Act of 1920. Richard strongly believed in tribal sovereignty, the treaties, and holding the federal government accountable to its trust responsibility.
Richard loved to travel with his daughter Annie to take his great granddaughters Fallon and Kadie to rodeos and to watch his grandchildren and great grandchildren compete in sports, rodeos, Indian relay, and horseracing. It was the light of his life to see the next generations carrying on his legacy in the rodeo arena and on the racetrack.
Richard is preceded in death by his parents, James and Lucy Wallace Real Bird, his brother Coey Real Bird, and his sister Manuella Real Bird.
He is survived by his siblings Henry, Kennard, James, and Birdie Real Bird; his children Annie, Mark, Gary, Jess, and Sloane Real Bird; Uncle Chuck Real Bird; Aunt Margo Real Bird; his first grandchild Ken Henry who he raised; his first great grandchild Fallon who he raised; his nephew Wacey who he treated like a son; his special niece Roselee that he loved dearly, grandchildren Amber, Barbeth, Sunny Ashley, Winona, Sarcee, Charmayne, Goldman, Nakoa, Paden, Kania, Cecily, Holman, Bergan, Dixie, Zoey, Pace, Hudson, Madisyn, and Bridger; and 16 great grandchildren with one unborn great grandchild that he was excited to meet.
Richard’s family would like to extend a special thank you to Dr. Carlos Silva, nurse practitioner Christian Brady, all of the staff at the Billings Clinic Cancer Center, Dr. Sierra Gross Stallman, all of the doctors and staff at Sheridan Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Alvarez of Tijuana, Mexico.
Extended Families Include: He was a direct descendant of Plays with his Face.
Mother’s side: Wallace (Cooper, Pease, Laura Wallace Singer, Susie Wallace Spotted, Sam Bird In Ground Families), Otter Stays in the Water, Brass, Starr, Yellowmule, Bulltail, Fog In the Morning, Ballard of Fort Hall, ID.
Father’s Side: Medicine Crow, Medicine Tail (Real Bird & Deer Nose), Don’t Mix (Beads), Plenty Hawk. Buffalo Wellknown, Shoots His Foot, Two (Not Afraid) , Worm Woman (Smells), Fire Bear (Jefferson), Dreamer, Shakespeare & Big Rock of Ethete, WY.
If we forgot anyone please forgive us in this time of Grieving.
Tribute/viewing for Richard Sunday 11/22 at 12:00 PM at the Richard Real Bird Indoor Arena in Garryowen, MT. Procession leaving from Bullis at 11:15 AM if anyone wishes to follow.
Funeral Service Monday 11/23 at 11:00 AM at the Richard Real Bird Indoor Arena in Garryowen, MT. Procession leaving from Bullis at 10:00 AM if anyone wishes to follow.