Shawn Real Bird takes his 2-year-old horse Big Doins for a ride around the Sheridan County Fairgrounds on July 12. Real Bird will appear in the season finally of the “Yellowstone” spin-off series “1883.”

Shawn Real Bird takes his 2-year-old horse Big Doins for a ride around the Sheridan County Fairgrounds on July 12. Real Bird will appear in the season finally of the “Yellowstone” spin-off series “1883.”
SHERIDAN —Shawn Real Bird is known for different things in different circles across Sheridan County.
To some, he’s known as the Sheridan WYO Rodeo’s Indian events coordinator and one of the masterminds behind bringing many American Indian events back to the rodeo, including the World Championship Indian Relay Races, in the 1990s.
To others, he’s known as a Crow language expert and the medicine man in the first season finale of the “Yellowstone” spin-off, “1883.”
In fact, Real Bird is both. Through his different roles, Real Bird infuses both the Sheridan WYO Rodeo and popular culture with Crow language, culture and traditions.
Historically, combining Native cultures and Western culture into one event has been a long-standing tradition at rodeos, including the local event, Sheridan WYO Rodeo historian Tom Ringley explained.
During the local rodeo’s first year — 1931 — hundreds of people from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations came down to participate in the festivities, despite facing significant discrimination from Sheridanites.
Lucy Yellowmule, a Crow woman, was crowned Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen in 1951, Ringley said, instigating the creation of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo’s All American Indian Days and the Miss Indian America competition, both of which drew American Indians from across the U.S. to Sheridan.
“Indians have been involved in the Sheridan WYO Rodeo since the very beginning,” Ringley said.
But the rodeo’s All American Indian Days and the Miss Indian America competition came to an end in Sheridan in the 1980s. By the next decade, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo was experiencing a slump in popularity and in American Indian involvement in the event, Real Bird said.
To fix this, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Board called upon Real Bird, seeking to bring back the Indigenous culture and flair that once reigned at the local rodeo.
The Real Bird family’s close relationship with the King family, combined with his involvement in reenactments at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and a Crow parade and dance troupe, made Shawn Real Bird the perfect person to organize the Sheridan WYO Rodeo’s American Indian events, from presence in the parade to powwows to the World Championship Indian Relay Races.
Real Bird has served as the rodeo’s Indian events coordinator ever since.
“Since then,” Ringley summarized, “[the races have] taken hold, and it’s probably the most popular part of the rodeo.”
The role offers him a chance to share Crow culture and histories with rodeo spectators from around the world, Real Bird said, while honoring rodeo tradition by unifying Indigenous and Western cultures in a single event.
Although he was initially commanding almost all Sheridan WYO Rodeo Indian events, Real Bird said he learned to delegate some tasks too.
For instance, he offered the task of announcing the Indian relay races to his brother, Kennard Real Bird, whose fabled narration of the event continues today.
At Wednesday’s World Championship Indian Relay Races, Kennard Real Bird proudly announced 2022 as the 24th consecutive year of Indian relay races at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo.
Between rodeos one year, Real Bird got a call from television producers.
After someone involved in the production of the hit series “Yellowstone” saw Real Bird perform in regalia at the Crow Fair, the producers offered Real Bird a job as a Crow language expert and the medicine man on their new spinoff series, “1883.”
“I told them, ‘I’m not a Hollywood Indian. I’m a real Indian,’” Real Bird recalled.
The production team’s response: They were looking for a “real Indian.” A native speaker of the Crow language and a descendant of two generations of Apsáalooke-English dual-immersion teachers, Real Bird had the language skills necessary to ensure dialogue in Apsáalooke was spoken properly on screen.
Real Bird took the job.
In addition to playing the part of a Crow medicine man in the show’s season finale, Real Bird coached Canadian actor Graham Greene in how to say a Crow phrase correctly and repeated the phrase to Greene via an earpiece.
It was amazing, Real Bird said, to be able to speak his native language on television.
“I never experienced any kind of movie industry type filming before. It was an outstanding experience…” Real Bird said. “It was one way to show the world the Crow Indian culture, traditions, history and our [ways of life]. To bring it to the forefront. To be able to speak my language on the big screen.”
These days, folks recognize Real Bird from “1883” and ask him about his acting experience. A few taps on his cellphone result in photos of Real Bird next to Sam Elliott and Tim McGraw.
Hollywood agents have contacted him, Real Bird said, and he may act again in the future.
But for now, Real Bird’s mind is at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo.
“At this point, my focus is the World Championship Indian Relays,” Real Bird said.
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