When a white buffalo was born before 1830, it was born in the wild, a gift from White Buffalo Woman as a sacred reminder of her promise to return to help the people. The calf was sacred and a gift to all of the people. Today, the closest thing to a wild buffalo is found in National Parks like Yellowstone. When a white buffalo calf is born in captivity it can bring great notoriety to the owner but can also bring great tragedy. Take the case of “Lightning Medicine Cloud” born on the Lakota Ranch near Dallas, Texas owned by Arby Little Soldier.
As reported in the Dallas Observer News, “In the early morning hours of May 12, 2011, thunderstorms lashed a ranch in Hunt County, an hour east of Dallas. When dawn came and the heavy rain slackened, rancher [Arby] Little Soldier discovered that one of his buffalo cows had given birth to a bull calf whose coat was the color of snow. Its unsteady legs tucked beneath it, the calf was nestled in the wet grass against its mother’s flank. At that moment, Arby Little Soldier understood that he had been given the greatest gift and his life had changed irrevocably. He beheld something holy.”
There have been a number of calves born with white hair over the past two hundred years, but few have been authentic sacred calves according to Little Soldier. Many are beefalo, a cream-colored cross between a brown bull and a white Charolais cow, and some are albinos. But, for a white buffalo to be considered authentic to the Lakota, it must be born from a brown mother and must be a male, with black eyes, nose, and tail.
Arby Little Soldier is a tall, thin, Native American with long, ink-black hair past his shoulders and a thick, black mustache who describes himself as the “great-great-great-grandson of Sitting Bull and the son of the late Nathan Little Soldier, a former tribal council member for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. Little Soldier spent his younger days as a rodeo star before purchasing the Lakota Ranch where he raises horses and buffalo. He is known to the powwow circuit for his buffalo burgers. “I was young, drinking whiskey, on fire at all times,” Arby says. “Being a rodeo guy too, it was a wild life. I looked death in the eye every day and just laughed at it.” He quit drinking in 1985 and says he hasn’t taken a drop since.
To announce and honor the miracle, Little Soldier organized a grand celebration to name the calf in June, 2011. More than 2,000 attended from all parts of the country. As reported in Texas Monthly, “He had been planning the ceremony for weeks now, and the day would be packed with ritual, beginning with a 9 a.m. flyover from a C-130 that came in low over the terrain, from east to west, like the path of the sun. A group of Native American veterans formed a color guard that marched through the grounds. Three men sat around a large drum, pounding an insistent beat and singing an ancient song. Tribal elders sat in a circle and smoked a sacred pipe, each one lifting it high and raising it to the four directions, in honor of the calf.
“… A murmur swept through the throng as a dozen buffalo were steered into the pasture—and suddenly, there he was, the sacred calf. In a teeming mass of brown and black, the calf was easy to make out. He looked like a mild little lamb, white with a beige tint. He scampered along next to his mother, Buffalo Woman, horn nubs poking out of his head, to the cheers of the adoring crowd.
“… “The spiritual message behind this buffalo today is the hope of all nations to come together,” Arby announced. “We are all Americans. We’ve got to unite as one. That’s the message.” The pilgrims nodded and smiled. “It’s the new birth that’s going to refeed everything,” said Gordon Poche. “The buffalo are coming back, and the white bison’s here to represent the new age.” “
With the approach of the calf’s first birthday, Arby, and his wife Pat, had just returned from a weekend in Oklahoma when he spotted an animal lying on the ground. When he and a ranch hand arrived at the site, Arby describes what he saw,”“The skull was there, the ribs were there, the bones were there, the tail was there. Part of the skin was on the legs. But the meat was gone, the innards were gone, the hide was gone.”
It appeared that someone had gutted his sacred calf.
Acting upon advice from Elder Sam Lone Wolf, Little Soldier took hair samples and then buried the calf with his father. Ironically, according to Little Soldier, Lightning’s father, Ben, had died only a month earlier when he was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Then, [again quoting from Texas Monthly], “To Arby’s horror, on the following day, May 1, Lightning’s mother, Buffalo Woman, also died. She had been lethargic, refusing to eat. Though Arby could find no wounds on her body, he thought she had suffered a punctured lung and was probably killed trying to protect her calf. “I think it was a professional hit on the mom,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram . “It was a slow death.” The whole sacred family had been wiped out.
“… Arby didn’t want to go public with news of the calf’s death until after the birthday powwow, in order to “lure the enemy into our camp.” But someone tipped off Dallas TV station CBS 11, and hours after Arby had dug up the carcass [for investigators] the station reported the death. The news went viral. Who would slaughter a helpless calf, a sacred symbol? Was it a hate crime committed against Native Americans? Or was it, as Arby suggested, an act perpetrated by other Indians, who knew the calf’s significance? “There’s a reason they didn’t want him to have his first birthday,” Arby told reporters. “
Next week, in Part 4, I will report on the shocking conclusion of the investigation of Lightning Medicine Cloud’s death.