By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Sports kept him alive. He was a ballplayer, center field. He made the All-State roster. Murray State College gave him a full ride, then he transferred to Central Oklahoma State. He started showing up to batting practice drunk. He missed the bus leaving early for an away game. When he missed it a second time, his coach kicked him off the team. Tethered to nothing that kept him from the death he'd chased since he was 14 years old, Old Crow drank and caroused and fought, believing there was nothing his powerful hands could not do. And one night, a man's fist nearly tore his nose from his face. He never took another drink. He finished his degree in education and became a commercial driving instructor. Today, he is the transportation director for Head Start schools in Dallas. Old Crow found a part of himself, an inner world, that he never knew existed. With a sober mind, he became a kind of spiritual guide for the loose-knit community of Native Americans in North Texas, though he wouldn't take on any formal title.
So he only reluctantly accepted the designation of war chief offered to him by Arby Little Soldier. They and two others would meet to discuss the proper handling of Lightning Medicine Cloud. Old Crow cut a stand of willows on Little Soldier's ranch and arrayed the poles in a circle. He tied the ends together to create a domed structure. He covered it in heavy tarp, and it was there they would sweat and pray for the white buffalo in the absolute dark of the sweat lodge, as the lava rocks hissed and steamed. Old Crow built a brush arbor made of woven willow, behind which they would smoke their pipes during the naming ceremony. He believed the smoking of the pipe was a private act, best conducted outside the view of the crowd that would gather.
At the outset, though, Old Crow and Little Soldier did not see eye to eye. His decision to charge for parking at the naming ceremony troubled Old Crow deeply, and he told Little Soldier so almost as often as he saw him. He said Little Soldier let his livestock into the area where he had built the sweat lodge. Several willow poles were broken. "That'd be like going and vandalizing a church, in my eyes," Old Crow says.
Little Soldier would later accuse Old Crow of constructing it poorly.
Old Crow found the naming ceremony, held June 29, 2011, even more distasteful. A relative of Little Soldier's, who Old Crow says "didn't even look Indian," donned a war bonnet and rambled on about the theft of land perpetrated by the white man. "It wasn't the time or the place," Old Crow says. "He was an embarrassment and a disgrace. He looked like a non-Indian dressed up as an Indian."
He was horrified as they smoked their pipes before the audience instead of behind the brush arbor he had woven. And as the sun beat down and the temperature edged into the high 90s, the white buffalo, its mother and the rest of the herd were released into the corral so that the audience, mostly non-Indian, could view the sacred calf. The animals kept circling and circling. Their lope eventually slowed to a trot, and Old Crow could see the white buffalo breathing hard, its tongue lolling. He finally blocked their way with his pickup so they would stop circling and move through the gate.
As far as Old Crow was concerned, this was a carnival, not befitting their precious symbol. He didn't see as much of the white buffalo or its owner after that. Little Soldier would later say he was phasing Old Crow out as war chief, tiring of his criticisms.
Old Crow showed up from time to time uninvited, Little Soldier would say, to hang prayer cloths from limbs and fences at the farthest points north, south, east and west. Occasionally, his wife, Kathy Old Crow, came to photograph the changing colors of the calf's coat. It had darkened from its original bone color to dun, like dried prairie grass, and then to a ruddy brown.
They spoke on May 1, the day after Little Soldier claimed to have found the white buffalo's carcass. He asked Old Crow if he could borrow his public address system for the coming birthday celebration. He called the next day to confirm. Nothing was ever said of the death on Lakota Ranch.
And on the day after, as he unearthed what little was left of the calf, he told investigators there were but a handful of people who could distinguish Lightning Medicine Cloud from his half-brother Red Cloud. He told them he believed Old Crow was involved in the killing of an animal he had sworn to protect.
As Little Soldier began to re-inter the white buffalo and excavate another grave with his front-end loader for Buffalo Woman, the veterinarian that investigators called out to the site was certain of one thing only: If the calf had been skinned, whoever wielded the knife had done a poor job. Otherwise, it was far too decomposed to establish a cause of death. Maybe, she suggested, if she boiled its bones down she could search them for signs of trauma. But Little Soldier would not consent, and so he buried the white buffalo once again.
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?
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?
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.
@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.
@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.