Yellowtail, Thomas

Yellowtail, Thomas (1903–1993) – Medicine man (akbaalia) and Sun Dance chief of the Absaroke (Crow). He succeeded the Shoshone medicine man and Sun Dance chief John Truhujo (Trehero) and was himself succeeded by John Pretty on Top in 1985. In 1972 Yellowtail adopted Michael Fitzgerald and told him everything he needed to know in order to write the biography Yellowtail (1991). This details the process by which Yellowtail and the other medicine men were initiated and employed. He also contributed four stories to Rodney Frey’s Stories That Make the World (1995). Yellowtail “doctored” as well as worked as a ritual leader, but he notes that not all “medicine people” are healers. He not only conducted Sun Dances but also presided over the opening of medicine bundles. Although Yellowtail presented the “peyote way” or Native American Church as incompatible with the Sun Dance religion, on the basis of a visionary test by the “medicine father,” Seven Arrows, he was a member of a Baptist Christian church. Both positions are rooted in an understanding of what “roads” will enable people to travel furthest and of what rites fit with the cultural needs of Plains people: peyote’s attachment to Mexico and the Southwest of the United States made it, in his opinion, less adaptable than the less spatially located Baptist tradition.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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