LAME DEER — “When he died the drum stopped beating” Burton Fisher Sr., Mo'ohnahaevaoo' estse (Elk standing with wife), was born on July 28, 1929, near the Teepee ranch just north of Birney, Mont., along the Tongue River. He resided in the Birney community all his life on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. Burton was the son of John Fisher and Mary Playing Bear Fisher who raised him in the traditional Cheyenne way. He was one of the last traditionally elected chiefs among the Northern Cheyenne. Coming from a long line of Cheyenne singers, Burton was known throughout Indian country as a song maker and head singer for the Birney drum group, the last of the traditional Cheyenne style drum groups. Powwow people throughout Indian country often asked about him after he ended his traveling days and commented on his songs and how they became family songs to them. During his youth Burton attended Birney Day School and later went to St. Labre Mission School in Ashland and on to the Busby Boarding School. He grew up on his father's ranch and worked for a number of non Indian ranches along the Tongue River. Later, he worked for the Factory in Ashland, Mont., for many years. Then in the 1980s, he started working for the Lame Deer School as a bus driver and later for the Northern Cheyenne Headstart (27 years) until his retirement in 2011 at the age of 81. He had many friends in Indian country because of his singing and was adopted by the Kenny Scabbing Robe family (Black Lodge drum group). He had a passion for the welfare of the children at the Northern Cheyenne Headstart. Even after he retired from Headstart, young children as well as young adults knew him as “grandpa” and “bus driver” because he worked there so long.
Burton met the love of his life, Alberta American Horse, in November 1985 and they married in February 1986 at the residence of Marg Eagleman near the Lame Deer rodeo grounds. They were very active in social and community activities around the reservation because of their cultural knowledge and experience. He enjoyed hunting, riding horses, singing, and watching sporting events especially boxing. He and Alberta enjoyed being around their grandchildren. He was especially fond of the boys Roman, Cazzie, Eric, Andrew, Blair, Brent and Ramsey. His passion was his family and singing. He would say that he didn’t make songs but rather they came to him. They were old style songs with a lot of heart, soul and meaning. He always said that the songs were meant to be sung by everyone and that he was only the messenger. All he wanted was to have people sing the songs the way they were meant to be sung. He was a modest man, a kind man, a man of a few words, but had the respect of all that knew him. His spirit and legacy will never die. His songs and music will live forever through others. His spirit and influence is alive within his children, grandchildren and future generations. He always encouraged all his children including the grandchildren about the importance of education and never wanted them to do manual labor but rather become successful in leadership arenas.
He is preceded in death by his parents John Fisher and Mary Playingbear Fisher; his sister Rose Marie; his sons Dean Darrell and Emery Fisher.
He is survived by his wife Alberta Fisher; his sons Burton Jr., Conrad, Lionel, Dennis Carter, Oran Red Fox, and William Redfox; daughters Colleen (Gabriel) MedicineEagle, Mary Ann Fisher, Marilyn (John) Wilson, Jennifer Redfox Spang, Tamara Weaselbear; grandchildren Tawny, Sasha, Blair, Brent, Roman, Juliet (Eric) Plainbull, Nancy Whiteclay, Chantell (Cody), Miranda (Eric), Duke (Cindy), Stephanie, Jessica, John, Shanelle Whitegrass, Candace and Casey Carter, Jackie, Jasmine, Joe Foote, Tamara and Tamaria Littlebear, Andrew Foote, Trestan Redfox, Eric Littlebear, Brenna Roundstone, Devin Whiskers, Tilman Tallbull, Elias LaRance, Jalen LaRance; 69 grandchildren and 36 great grandchildren. He is also survived by his siblings. Betty, George, Dudley, Cowboy, and Floyd Fisher. Also surviving Burton is his adopted brother Kenny Scabby Robe and adopted sons Arnie Calf Boss Ribs and Francis Old Dwarf. He had many relatives including the families of the Blackhorse, Yellowfox, Lame Bears, Medicine Tops, Old Bulls, Clubfootes, Blackwolfs, Wolfblacks, and Standingelks, if we missed someone please forgive us during this time of need.
When he died, the drum stopped beating momentarily. A tribute to a great man, a man of honor who’s legacy was the gift of singing and song making - maybe one of the last of the old style song makers and singers.
Wake services will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, in Birney at the Rusty Locher Memorial Hall and funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 23, in Birney at the Hall.