By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Long ago, a holy woman came to the Lakota Oyate in the Black Hills. She gave them a sacred pipe, and she taught them how to live, how to pray, how to honor the pipe, and through it, how to become a living prayer. And when they learned everything she had to teach, she told them she was leaving. One day, she would return. First, she said, they would witness the births of four sacred white buffalo. They would know them by the changing color of their coats. If they changed four times, representing the four colors of the medicine wheel, their circle of unending life, they were the buffalo of prophecy. When the fourth calf had taken on all its colors, she would return and the world would come to a fork in its path. If man chose the right one, he would again find harmony with himself and nature. If man chose the wrong path, he would bring about his own destruction and the breaking of the world.
As the legend goes, she left the Lakota Oyate, and as she strode away, she morphed into a white buffalo. From that day forth, they honored the pipe White Buffalo Calf Woman had given them. They followed herds so vast they blotted out the plains, until white hunters shouldered Sharps .50-caliber rifles and littered the ground with bleaching bones.
And the Lakota Oyate watched for the signs of her return.
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, Little Soldier understood that he had been given the greatest gift and his life had changed irrevocably. He beheld something holy.
Little Soldier was a man known to many. His buffalo burgers and Indian tacos were popular on the powwow circuit. He organized the annual Greenville High Native American Club powwow, which raised $1,000 scholarships for local high school students. He is tall and wiry, with long, ink-black hair past his shoulders and outsized, powerful hands that had roped and wrestled steers to the ground on the rodeo circuit. He raised horses and buffalo. He is the self-described 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. Arby Little Soldier had danced for presidents.
And now good fortune shined on him once more, because he was also the keeper of the white buffalo calf, herald of the prophet's return. Word of its birth spread quickly among American Indians of North Texas. A group from the northern and southern tribes piled onto Little Soldier's trailer, and he towed them out into the pasture. As they approached, the herd — all ponderous skulls, curved horns and muscled haunches — formed a ring around the calf and tracked their movement closely. Their spirits were lifted. Little Soldier beamed.
"I believe the buffalo knew that calf was special," says Albert Old Crow, whom Little Soldier appointed war chief, charged with the protection and care of the calf.
Indeed it was, and not just for those who knew the message the calf brought them. A month and a half later, Little Soldier threw one of the biggest parties Hunt County had ever seen, in honor of the calf's naming. The city of Greenville fronted thousands of dollars, providing portable toilets and welcome signs, busing attendees out to the Lakota Ranch and even arranging for a flyover by an Air Force C-130 transport craft. More than 2,000 showed up just to get a glimpse of the sacred white buffalo, which would henceforth be known as Lightning Medicine Cloud. For a price, attendees could own a piece of the moment by purchasing a commemorative T-shirt, ball cap or ground buffalo meat.
The awe, the excitement and collective pride would give way to suspicion, anger and death less than a year later. On a recent afternoon, Albert Old Crow leaned against his pickup at a powwow in Parker County benefitting community radio station KNON-FM 89.3. He hosts a Sunday evening show called "Beyond Bows and Arrows." He's at least 6-foot-2, with broad, squared-off shoulders and silver-streaked black hair tied off in a short ponytail. His hair used to reach the middle of his back, but he cut it in mourning after the recent death of his mother.
He reached into the truck's backseat and produced a pouch filled with tobacco. It was for Little Soldier, he said, should their paths ever cross again. Accepting this pouch would signify a settling of accounts, the ceremonial ending of a sacred charge. Not so long ago, when everyone else was dizzy with joy at the future Lightning Medicine Cloud foretold, Old Crow had grave doubts. He'd had them ever since money became involved. Money was corruption, and the calf was sacrosanct. Lightning Medicine Cloud was a blessing, but he was also Little Soldier's burden, one he ultimately bore alone. Old Crow warned him, "If you don't change your ways, the calf will be taken from you."
Good greif! This story spirals into a "WTF is going on here" tale? Truth can be crazier than fiction. I can safely say that before I read this, my only interest in buffaloes was the meat, but dang! this story has religion, anthropology, law, and suspicion. A very good read!
Very well written piece, thank you for your investigative diligence; so appreciate your skills. Upon reading the comment Tanka1 wrote, stating there was an insurance policy; together with the multitude of lies and the blatant theft of donations- seems obvious to me that this Arby fellow needs to be charged with theft, fraud, obstruction of justice,animal cruelty, not to mention moral bankruptcy. The man is despicable,his wife should be ashamed instead of belligerent. My people,all Native Americans, are far too noble to claim this fool- he needs to be shunned and cast out. My prayers to the White Medicine Cloud, Old Crow, and Blue Horse.
Excellent job of breaking this down. So well written. I appreciate knowing what happened. My husband and I had been on a trip to Dallas, and he had read about the birth of the white buffalo, so we stopped by the ranch. It happened to be during the week before we heard the awful news. We had pulled-into the driveway where some workmen of some sort were up on the road, eventually a man in a golf cart type vehicle came out to talk to us. My husband told him that we had heard about the white buffalo and asked if he was where we could see him. The man looked at my husband kind of strangely, and said that they were busy getting ready for the buffalo's birthday celebration that weekend...so, of course, when we heard what had happened, we realized the buffalo was already dead when we were there. We have both kept trying to find out what happened. Thank you.
This publication is so hypocritical. It will ridicule Christians all day long for their "silly beliefs", so how is this ridiculous story of a holy freaking buffalo given sacred treatment? What is wrong with you bigots?
OK, I'm still missing it. Was the buffalo deliberately killed, who is the prime suspect, why would he do it, was there a motive?
Customary tradition notwithstanding, this should be a fairly simple who-done-it.
Observer has taken an oath in blood not to reveal real names, if it even knows them.
Please, in a paragraph or two, no symbols or signs, what's the story?
@halldecker It might help if you read all they way to the end. This is the third-from-last paragraph. "When you asked me why [Little Soldier] would blame me for the death of that calf, I told you I believed he panicked. He came up on that dead calf and he panicked. What do I do now? What what what what what? Instead of calling somebody that might be able to give him some decent information, he called up [Lone Wolf], and he tells him to bury it. You bury the thing."
@halldecker You are completely correct, halldecker. This piece is terribly written and hard to follow for anyone who is not already familiar with the story. Too much moving between timeframes and too much "he" and "they". I remember reading a writer on the New Yorker staff quoting one of the editors,"You can write the story any way you want, but we will cut it up and make it chronological in the end". Good advice.
@halldecker It appears the white buffalo died from Blackleg, a disease it picked up on the ranch. The investigators found that two other buffaloes had also died from this previously on the ranch. Lone Wolf (Little Soldier''s guru) had advised him not to vaccinate the white buffalo. It appears that when Little Soldier found the white buffalo dead, he panicked because of the money he was reaping from sales of memorabilia while at the same owing the county $6,000 it had fronted him for the naming ceremony. Some of the proceeds from the white buffalo publicity was also supposed to go into a scholarship fund. All this revenue from the white buffalo is still unaccounted for in addition to $17,000 in donations people sent in for reward money to find the white buffalo's killer. Because of all this, Little Soldier decided to make it look like a murder and fabricated accusations against other people. It was also revealed that his guru Lone Wolf has a long history of fraud, he isn't even Indian and has lived several previous identities as a con-artist. Lone Wolf may have had something to do with the misappropriation of funds and since he had Little Soldier wrapped around his finger, he got him to protect him.
@halldecker Little Soldier is the prime suspect because he didn't take care of his animals like he should. He is to blame for the deaths of his animals. The vet suspected blackleg because of the symptoms the buffaloes exhibited before they expired.
The White Buffalo was a symbol and a sign. Old Crow was right in that the commercialization of his birth was a mistake, and Arby found out that it was. The Buffalo did not die of natural causes. He died because of evil in this world. I am a Choctaw Freedman, and I did not hear of the Buffalo's existence, but I now know of it and will revere it. The spirit will protect those of us who believe.
It seems the buffalo are not the only beings in this story that have been "fenced-in, half-domesticated." This is a beautiful telling of a complicated story.
Little Soldier let greed take over what should have been a sacred event. The white buffalo was taken from him because he used it to benefit himself. I remember seeing Little Soldier in press conferences and sympathizing with him. Later on, I got the feeling he was trying to stay in the press; he liked all the attention. Your conclusion of the story in the last two paragraphs was beautiful.
The first Native American to make a Preparation H Commercial.
Legendary Chief Standing Bull.
Which is all I came away from the story understanding.
Can somebody summarize in a paragraph what the Hell happened? Was it blackleg? Was it murder? What the Hell happened?
@halldecker I am an Oklahoma Choctaw Freedman, which means we are Choctaw plus African American. It was my first time hearing about the white Buffalo. However, it was a story that I could relate too! The Buffalo was here as one of four signs. He was murdered--plain and simple! Who did it, is a mystery, but Old Crow told it like it was and is.
@mwa6582751 I don't believe the buffalo was "murdered". Little Soldier didn't take care of his animals and he didn't deserve to have this buffalo or any animals for that matter. He's greedy and he used the white buffalo to his advantage.
I have been following the story for the white buffalo for a very long time. I even stood with Arby Little Soldier one morning when Loyds of London handed him an insurance policy to look at. But first I would like to say that the White Buffalo Calf Woman first came to the Ponca Indians and not the Lakota and gifted them the pipe. Second is that skin color doesn't matter when it comes to descendents as we then fall into a slippery slope when looking for who we are or what culture carries on in our lives although skin may be more fair or dark then previous generations. And that the white buffalo in Goshen has now turned dark and is the sign that distruction is the path we have choosen because we lie, cheat, steal, rape, war, and have forgotten what is truly sacred in the world. Really, if the sixth generation of Sitting Bull has his spirit in profit over sanctity when it comes to the White Buffalo what is left of us? Also, Arby Little Soldiers connection to the House of Yehweh is something to be looked into as he gave them free raign over the podiums at times.