Gillam Joe was born in 1946 in Chisana, Alaska to Huston and Susie Sanford. In 1952, he moved to Chistochina, Alaska where he was raised by Bell and Maggie Joe. Gillam attended school in Chistochina, Gakona, and Glennallen, but did not finish high school. Gillam learned to hunt and fish from Bell Joe and other Ahtna elders, learning traditional practices and showing respect for animals. He killed his first moose when he was eleven years old. Gillam worked at the Chistochina Lodge and then around 1964 Bud Hickathier of Pioneer Outfitters in Chisana hired him to be a hunting guide. Gillam learned to be a guide from Bud and worked closely with Terry Overly, who took over the business from his step-father. Because of this close relationship, Terry and Gillam think of each other like brothers. Gillam also worked as a guide for Bud Conkle and other hunting outfitters in the Wrangell-St. Elias area. In 1977, Gillam lost his leg in a shooting accident, and gave up guiding in 1983. From 1984 to 1991, he worked in food service on the North Slope. He also did seismographic work for the oil industry. After 1991, he returned to live in Chistochina where he has served as a member of the village council. He continues to live in Chistochina.