Grant Bulltail came from one of the last of the traditional storytelling families of the Apsáalooke or Crow people. He was a member of the Úuwuutasshe (Greasy Mouth) clan, and a child of his father's clan, the Ashiíooshe (Sore Lip) clan. His Crow name was Bishéessawaache (The One Who Sits Among the Buffalo), a name given him by his grandfather. He was a member of the Crow Culture Commission at Crow Agency, Montana, a Lodge Erector and Pipe Carrier in the tribe’s Sacred Tobacco Society, and a Vietnam War veteran in the Marines.
Bulltail grew up on a horse ranch in the Pryor Mountains of Montana but also spent much of his youth in the Heart Mountain area of Wyoming. In both states he worked as a ranch hand and competed professionally in local rodeos. His original home in Montana stood close to what is now the Chief Plenty Coups Museum, home of the renowned Crow leader who was close to Bulltail’s family and related directly to them. Bulltail also claims as his lineage Chief Wolf Bow (Treaty of 1868), Chief Blinky (Treaty of 1868), Chief White Horse (Treaty of 1855), Chief Long Hair (Treaty of 1825), Chief Little Black Dog (Treaty of 1825), Chief Double Face (Treaty of 1825), and Chief Plays With His Face (Treaty of 1825). Bulltail’s second name implies this proud lineage—an individual earned the right to place the tail from a buffalo bull on their tipi to designate the chiefs of their lineage.
Bulltail learned most of his stories from his grandfather Comes Up Red (1847-1947), and also from his grandmother’s cousin, Yellow Brow. Comes Up Red was a well-known warrior and respected storyteller. Bulltail learned his grandfather’s stories by listening far into the night and later going into a trance-like state to recite them. Comes Up Red actively encouraged his young grandson to carry on the family’s oral traditions: storytelling, memorizing the histories of battles, the use of edible and medicinal plants, and other cultural narratives.
After serving with the Marines, Grant spent a year at Utah State University studying with folklorist Austin Fife, where he confirmed his commitment to carrying on the cultural heritage of his people. He has shared his stories with classes at Little Big Horn College, at state and national parks (including Yellowstone and Grand Teton) and at places of importance to the Crow people, including Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and Rainy Buttes, South Dakota. He also taught classes at Utah State University, home of the Fife Folklore Archives, which is building a collection of Bulltail’s work.
Bulltail represented the Crow on Ken Burns’ Before There Were Parks: Yellowstone and Glacier Through Native Eyes and for the BBC’s Unnatural Histories: Yellowstone. In 1992, he was a key consultant for the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area’s Ethnographic Resource Overview. From 1994 to 1998, he worked on Yellowstone National Park’s Ethnographic Resource Overview, a project that drew consultants from a half-dozen tribes historically connected to the landscape of what became the nation’s first national park. Bulltail was a founding member of the Native Memory Project.
By Sharon Kahin, PhD