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."
Call it karma or whatever you like, Old Crow says. The spirits had a way of balancing the ledger, of reclaiming that which was not rightly honored. A big drum began to sound, and three old men sitting beneath two post oaks lifted their voices in song.
"I told my wife at the time what happened," Old Crow recalls. "And she said, 'If anything ever happens to that calf, he's going to blame you.'"
It was as though that little white buffalo had led them all down a path that forked suddenly. And then, he asked them to choose the way.
Not far from the fence line of the Lakota Ranch, near a copse of trees, a bare limb jutted up from a mound of turned soil, marking the spot where Lightning Medicine Cloud was buried. The red ear tag of Buffalo Woman, the calf's mother, hung from one of its branches. She lay just a short distance away in a cloud of black flies.
This May 3, the day Little Soldier reported the white buffalo slain, law enforcement descended on the ranch. On hand were a game warden, representatives from the Hunt County Office of Homeland Security, the Hunt County Sheriff's Office and a Texas Ranger. Little Soldier knelt in the packed dirt at the edge of a shallow grave and carefully removed the earth covering the white buffalo's carcass.
He explained that he and his wife, Pat, left for a rodeo in Oklahoma City on April 25. The animal was placed in the care of David Rice, another of the war chiefs, who said he'd last seen him alive and well on the 27th. The Little Soldiers returned late in the evening of the 29th. The next morning, as he prepared the ranch for the buffalo's first birthday celebration and the Greenville High scholarship powwow, he found the carcass. It wasn't far from the spot where he'd driven a ceremonial lance into the soil to sanctify the pasture during the naming ceremony as onlookers whooped and yelped. It had been skinned, he said, and some 200 pounds of flesh had been carved from its young frame.
The animal's head, tail and tongue faced east, he said. "That was Indian."
Pat told investigators the hooves were missing and claimed she had seen what appeared to be a bullet hole in its skull. On the advice of his elders, Little Soldier said, he buried the white buffalo next to its father, Big Ben, which was killed by lightning the month before, the night a tornado cut a seven-mile trail through Hunt County.
And just yesterday, Arby continued, he found Buffalo Woman lying near the pond, away from the herd. She seemed depressed, he said, as though grieving over the death. The next morning, she too was dead. He suspected she'd been shot.
An investigator asked him who he thought might have done it. Pat spoke Yolanda Blue Horse's name almost immediately. She was a "witch," she said. Little Soldier said one of his war chiefs may have been involved. In front of the police, Pat began screaming over and over, "If it was him, I don't want to know!"
Albert Old Crow was always against every move he'd ever made regarding the white buffalo, he said. Old Crow hounded Little Soldier about his decision to charge for parking at the calf's naming ceremony.
Roger Seals, one of the sheriff's investigators, left the group to inspect Buffalo Woman's carcass. If the animal had been seen alive the day before, decomposition was remarkably rapid. Its rib cage was exposed, along with much of the mandible.
Seals made his way back over to Lightning's grave. He met a man named Sam Lone Wolf, whom Little Soldier had described as his "spiritual elder." Lone Wolf said he was Cherokee, Seals' report states, and that he considered himself more of a "medicine man." He'd just driven up from Palestine, where he ran a dojo out of his home. In an online martial arts profile, Lone Wolf says he runs a wolf sanctuary and rarely travels without one of his animals at his side "for protection." Lone Wolf, Little Soldier said, had advised him to bury the white buffalo quickly.
Little Soldier laid down his shovel and was clawing away at a thin layer of earth with his hands. A black horn with a red string tied around it began to emerge. Seals saw a feed sack, and as Little Soldier dug deeper, he uncovered a small piece of red cloth. Slowly, the white buffalo came into view. They saw the bare, fan-like thoracic vertebrae that formed his growing hump. They saw his legs and his hooves, which hadn't been severed after all. And they saw hide and hair covering his ribs. Before them lay the desiccated husk of Lightning Medicine Cloud, bellwether of the White Buffalo Calf Woman's return, which looked very much like it had been dead and buried for some time.
Old Crow was born in the oil and ranching hamlet of Hammon, in west Oklahoma. It was populated by the descendants of a peaceful Cheyenne band savaged one day in 1868 on the banks of the Washita River by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer's cavalrymen. What was left of Chief Black Kettle's band relocated to present-day Hammon, where they received a land grant. But the blood never stopped flowing. Old Crow grew up watching his father drink himself to death. He saw alcohol kill his friends by suicide, car wrecks and bullets.
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.
Less than a week later, Texas Ranger Laura Simmons called Hunt County Sheriff's Office investigator Seals. The county judge said he had received a voice message from Little Soldier on April 30, the day he told investigators he found the carcass. In fact, the message was left at 10:30 in the morning, roughly one hour after he would have stumbled upon his sacred, mutilated body. The judge called him back and Little Soldier asked whether he would still be willing to say a few words at the upcoming powwow. He talked about the rodeo in Oklahoma City he'd just attended, but he never mentioned the white buffalo.
A few days later, May 12, the investigators attended Little Soldier's powwow, which was now a memorial. The clouds above were heavy and gray, and the wind blew hard, the way it did when Lightning was born. Little Soldier stepped up to the emcee's booth. He wore a palm-leaf cowboy hat with a large feather tucked into the hatband and what looked like a huge necklace made of bear claws.
"We're celebrating his birthday today," he said, the PA system carrying his voice out into the sparse crowd on a YouTube video of the event. "He's not here. He's been taken away from us."
He pointed below him at a poster with a blown-up photo of the white buffalo standing in tall grass, gazing placidly into the camera.
"He was the hope of all nations. He brought spirituality back to all of us, when we needed to get our hearts, souls and minds back together with the creator."
Whoever had destroyed this precious thing, he said, could not stop its message.
"We went on with this powwow for a reason. It's a Greenville School powwow for our people to continue their education. And second, it's in memory of the special buffalo that was born here. We're having his birthday today. Tomorrow, I'll send him home."
The investigators left as rain began to fall, and vendors began to shut down. Little Soldier pointed to the sky.
"She washes away. She's letting the clean start again. And I'll have another one. I'll have another white buffalo. The elders have said I will receive another one."
A week later, Ranger Simmons and investigator Seals decided they needed more information from Little Soldier: a list of employees and anyone who'd ever had access to the white buffalo; bills of sale for the buffaloes; veterinary records; anything that could tell them something more than they might learn from the long-dead carcass. More than a week passed, and Seals finally reached Little Soldier. He explained that he'd been trying to contact him, and that they needed more information to continue their investigation. Little Soldier said he'd been out of town, and that he'd get back to him in about a week with the information they needed.
The same day, Seals and Simmons went out to the Lakota Ranch. They interviewed an employee, who showed them where they'd found the white buffalo that day. Seals looked at the grass and could see several spots where it had been matted, as though the animal had gotten up and fallen down repeatedly.
Three weeks passed, and the investigators didn't hear from Little Soldier. But on June 14, they got a call from Sheriff Randy Meeks. Little Soldier had contacted him, he said, and had asked for an update on the investigation. It was another week before Seals reached him. Little Soldier said he had the requested documents. They met the next morning at the Lakota Ranch. Little Soldier was in the horse barn. He asked about the status of the investigation. His tribal elders, he said, were growing restless. Simmons, a thorough Ranger who wore her blonde hair tied back in a bun, explained to him in her measured but insistent way that he'd been almost impossible to reach, and that he hadn't supplied them with any information to go on. Little Soldier said everything they needed was at the house and began walking toward the back porch. He sat down and gazed up at them. Now what was it they needed?
The investigators again listed the kinds of documentation they would require. He couldn't find the bill of sale for the herd, he said. Nor did he vaccinate the buffalo; they took care of themselves. Sam Lone Wolf, his spiritual elder, told him he was not to touch the white buffalo before its first birthday. As for the employment records, the investigators were welcome to pick them up at his wife's office.
His elders were beginning to ask questions, he repeated. They asked why no arrests had been made. They wanted something done. He knew these elders, he said, but he didn't just call them; Lone Wolf was his intermediary.
But investigators began to wonder at what sort of advice he was giving Little Soldier, because Lone Wolf was not this man's only name. Over the years, according to his extensive FBI rap sheet, some had called him Joseph Lee, Joe Quinones, Michael Waters and John Haggerty. His father in Puerto Rico knew him at his birth as Joseph Molano.
The investigators called Old Crow next. He told them he'd spoken with Little Soldier the day after he'd allegedly discovered the carcass. He could not emcee the birthday celebration and scholarship powwow, Old Crow informed him. He was mourning his mother. He didn't learn of the calf's death until two days later. He and Little Soldier had a number of disagreements, yes. He didn't care for the way Lone Wolf had guided the white buffalo's spiritual life. In fact, he wasn't even sure the man was Indian. Listen to Little Soldier's words closely, Old Crow advised with a wry grin. He "forgets what he tells people."
Either way, Old Crow's alibi checked out. His phone records and receipts proved he'd been out of town.
Over the next week or so, Seals and Simmons interviewed a retiree who mucked the horse stalls briefly for Little Soldier. He said their condition when he was hired was abysmal. They spoke to David Rice, the war chief who'd been tasked with looking in on the white buffalo in the Little Soldiers' absence. Among other things, he mentioned that Little Soldier lost a couple of buffaloes a few years ago and had concluded they were poisoned. What's more, he said, two other buffaloes had died since the passing of the white buffalo and its mother. He said Little Soldier told him he sent samples to Texas A&M to determine the cause of death.
On July 20, Simmons and Seals decided they would try to interview Little Soldier again in the coming days. But four days later, they received an unmistakable message from him, as did television viewers in the Dallas area. That day he held a news conference at the Lakota Ranch. Seven, if not more, may have been involved in the murder of Lightning Medicine Cloud, he told reporters. "This was a hate crime committed by men who wanted to stop the message the calf brought," he said. "We will not let them."
Sam Lone Wolf spoke next. "The way things have been handled is nothing from when I was in law enforcement in Wichita, Kansas," he said. Neither the Wichita Police, the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office, the Kansas Highway Patrol nor the state of Kansas has any record of Lone Wolf's employment.
It was Tuesday, Lone Wolf continued, standing at Little Soldier's shoulder. If justice had not been served by Friday, he was taking matters into his own hands. "If the killers want Indian justice, they will get it."
The investigators requested Little Soldier's presence at the sheriff's office in three days. The keeper of the white buffalo, defiant before the cameras earlier, asked if he needed to bring an attorney.
The Hunt County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney Noble Walker were under intense scrutiny as the white buffalo's death made headlines across the country. They had to get this right. The investigators began consulting with a Dallas lawyer who had experience in tribal affairs. His name was Eric Reed, an Oklahoma Choctaw and former tribal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office. It did not surprise Reed that members of different tribes had divergent ideas about how the white buffalo should be treated. If it had been slain, he did not believe it was at the hands of a Native American. "If the skull was with that animal, there wasn't Indians involved with the killing of it. The most significant thing on that animal was the skull."
On July 27, nearly three months after Lightning's death, Little Soldier, wife Pat and Frank Owens, one of the war chiefs, walked into an interview room at the sheriff's office. Little Soldier wore his ribbon shirt and his customary palm-leaf hat and feather. He pointed at Seals. "Where we at?"
The investigators told him they needed more information.
Little Soldier said people from all over the country had called him with visions.
And what of the seven suspects he spoke of to the press, Simmons asked, doing most of the talking as Seals took notes.
"That wasn't from Arby Little Soldier's mouth."
He held up a photo of the white buffalo.
"We're looking at something innocent here, like a dog that got burned. Something that's high profile to the Native Americans of the Lakota Nation." In a video of the interview, he looked from Seals to Simmons, waving the picture back and forth. "I want justice for this," he said, stabbing the photo with his finger and creating a startlingly loud thwack. "And hopefully we're getting there with the understanding of that."
He said they'd had visions of lookout cars posted on nearby county roads. He said he and a couple of friends found a trail of blood along the fence line using luminol, a chemical that lights up blue in its presence.
"When was that?" Simmons asked.
Just after Lightning's death, Little Soldier replied. This was the first time he'd mentioned that to the investigators.
Simmons asked Little Soldier why he thought Yolanda Blue Horse, Albert Old Crow and his wife were involved.
"You keep asking us, 'How do we know?'" Pat said. "Why do you keep doubting?"
Little Soldier said the Cheyenne, Old Crow's tribe, believed that if they ate the organs of the white buffalo, they assumed its power.
How well do you know Lone Wolf? Simmons asked. He said he'd known him for five or six years. He was once a policeman. Simmons said she hadn't found that anywhere in his record. What she did find, she told him, was a history of "fraud and deceit."
Pat was clearly displeased by this line of questioning. Simmons explained that they had to look at the animal's death from all angles, including natural causes. There were inconsistencies. Little Soldier, Simmons said, told them the calf had been skinned. Yet the veterinarian commented on the generous amount of hide left on its carcass.
No, Little Soldier insisted, he took pictures of it before he buried him. This, too, he'd never told investigators. It would be "greatly helpful," Simmons stressed, if he would share them.
Pat became furious. To even suggest Lightning had not been skinned, she said, was reason enough to end the meeting now.
Simmons asked Little Soldier about the buffaloes that died on his ranch in the last few months. He didn't respond.
"The vet knows," Little Soldier said. Pat told him to show them the letter from their veterinarian. It affirmed that Dr. Dean Hansen of Frisco was, in fact, his veterinarian, and that he had inspected the buffaloes once a month since the white buffalo's death.
Did he conduct any testing? Simmons probed. They hadn't spoken since he returned from vacation, Little Soldier said. If he had lost that many animals in only a few short months, Simmons said, something other than foul play could explain their deaths. Had they vaccinated their herd? Little Soldier said he put deworming blocks out in the pasture. When their tongues turned black, he said, it was a sign of poison.
"Did you know that?" Pat chided. "Did your research tell you that?"
Before long, she stormed out of the interview room.
Simmons concluded the meeting a short time later and reminded Little Soldier to bring them the photos he'd taken of the carcass.
Later that day, the sheriff's office received a call from an anonymous woman. Yolanda Blue Horse, one of the prime suspects, was at the Lakota Ranch, the caller said. A patrol unit in the area found Little Soldier and Blue Horse talking. Both said they were fine. At the time Blue Horse did not know she was a suspect. And before she left the ranch, she says Little Soldier never accused her. "I find him very cowardly," she says. "If he thought I did it, I'm right here. Tell me!"
Seals called Hansen, Little Soldier's vet, and asked him if he'd been out to the ranch. He said he hadn't. But what about the letter Little Soldier had provided them?
"What letter?" Hansen replied. He had not set foot on the Lakota Ranch since Big Ben was killed by lightning.
More than two weeks later, Hansen called Seals. Pat Little Soldier had contacted his office while he was out of town. She asked his office assistant to type the letter, and dictated what she wanted it to say. He said he had also been out to the ranch about a separate matter. Little Soldier was going to give him another buffalo, to replace Ben, but the animal he'd chosen had died.
Hansen asked Little Soldier about the symptoms the buffaloes exhibited before they expired. He suspected they had a case of blackleg on the ranch. It's a cattle disease caused by a bacterium that lives in the soil in the form of a spore, which can lie dormant for years. When cattle, or buffaloes, for that matter, ingest the spores, they enter the bloodstream and lodge in the muscle tissue. There they proliferate, producing gas pockets that eventually starve the muscles of oxygen. Once the infection sets in, the animal goes down quickly and may never get back up. It's almost always fatal. The gas pockets created by the bacteria would separate the white buffalo's skin from its muscle tissue. It wouldn't take much tearing by, say, a coyote for the hide to be stripped away. There is a vaccine for the disease routinely given to cattle. It hasn't been approved specifically for buffaloes, but it's nonetheless administered to them commonly, and works about the same.
Given the deaths of the other buffaloes, and lack of physical evidence on the worm-eaten carcass of the white buffalo, it was the investigators' best guess. Blackleg, not Yolanda Blue Horse, Albert Old Crow and men with skinning knives, became the most likely culprit.
Two weeks passed since the interview, and Little Soldier had not provided them with the photos of the carcass. Sheriff Meeks handed Seals a letter from the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, which said it fronted more than $6,000 to Little Soldier for the naming ceremony. It had yet to see a dime in payment despite his robust memorabilia sales.
Curious about the reward money Little Soldier had spoken of, Seals subpoenaed his and Pat's bank records. The checks being mailed in by well-wishers donating to the reward, memorial and scholarship funds were being deposited directly into Pat Little Soldier's personal checking account. Before the news of Lightning's demise, the account had a balance of $12,000. Over that month, $16,000 more was deposited, including more than $7,000 in checks marked specifically for one of the funds. At the same time, the account had some $28,000 in expenditures. They spent $11,500 on two horses. They paid for motel rooms, employee payroll and a belt buckle for Little Soldier. By the end of May, there was only $500 in the account. Greenville High said it hadn't received a dime for its scholarship fund.
"It appears this account was not a dedicated fund set up for reward money or scholarship money," Seals wrote in his final report. "It appears this account is used for daily operation of the ranch." To be specific, $7,345 designated for the funds "cannot be accounted for ..."
In response, Little Soldier held another press conference. Sam Lone Wolf was nowhere in sight. "I guess, at this time, we're kinda disappointed with what they've come up with, the status they've come up with; this blackleg and stuff like that here," he told the assembled reporters near a table he'd set up with a portrait of the white buffalo calf and its mother. Asked about evidence indicating that the calf had not been skinned, he replied, "That's their word; they're saying there's hide on it? I did not see no hide. The only hide I seen was up on the back legs and everything else was gone from the neck, back."
Suddenly, they all heard a woman's voice behind them. Standing out on the side of U.S. Highway 380, just beyond Little Soldier's property line, was Yolanda Blue Horse. As 18-wheelers and pickups roared past, she shouted over the din. "You lied on everyone around you, everyone who supported you." The reporters' attention shifted from Little Soldier. Their cameras wheeled around. When he had concluded his press conference, she asked the group a simple question: Why do you not see any other Native Americans standing with Arby Little Soldier today?
On a recent afternoon, Little Soldier was plowing the arena next to his house for his wife's barrel-racing practice. He pulled up to the fence and shut it down. His attorney had advised him not to talk to reporters, he said, and he didn't want any notes taken as he talked. But he continued to speak for some 20 minutes or so about the death of Lightning Medicine Cloud. The Lakota Nation, he said, was itching to tear Hunt County apart for this insult. What the sheriff and the Texas Ranger had done to him, he said, was tantamount to the breaking of treaties long ago.
"Something," he said, had been placed on the heads of the sheriff and the Texas Ranger by medicine men. He didn't know whether it would be a "heart attack or a car wreck." But he claimed he had a board with names written on it in red. He was only waiting to put a line through them.
Lightning's death, he continued, was a Cheyenne conspiracy. Albert Old Crow and Yolanda Blue Horse represented "demonic" forces. He speculated that rocker Ted Nugent may have been involved. Storm clouds were gathering, and the wind was picking up. It smelled like rain.
The calf was ready to leave its mother, he said. It was going to come to him and assume its power. With that, he had nothing more to say.
It is not known whether District Attorney Walker or Sheriff Randy Meeks intend to try to hold the Little Soldiers to account for the donations. Neither responded to repeated requests for comment. In Ranger Simmons' report, some of which was redacted, the U.S. Postal Inspection Office in Fort Worth concluded Pat Little Soldier had committed mail fraud, but the amount did not meet federal requirements. Walker's office, her report reads, believes fraud has not been committed until someone tries to claim the reward money. Eric Reed, the Choctaw attorney and former tribal prosecutor, doubted charges would ever be filed. What would be gained? he asks. Better to walk away and allow healing to begin. For Old Crow, it already had.
"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."
Yolanda Blue Horse, a 6-foot-tall Sicangu Lakota woman, a daughter of the tribes of the northern plains, says what happened here must be remembered. If religion is made of stories worth retelling, shaped by the tongues of generations, then what she witnessed is a parable in her own time. It is about a man who came to North Texas from the Sahnish and Lakota Oyate in North Dakota. It is about the fenced-in, half-domesticated descendant of the North American buffalo, to which the lives of this man's ancestors were once inextricably bound. With the birth of this bull calf, whose coat was bone-white and whose nose was the color of charred wood, a test thousands of years in the making took form. The white buffalo born to Arby Little Soldier could not take on the four colors of the medicine wheel. But the never-ending circle it represents continues to revolve. Another white buffalo calf was born on a farm in Goshen, Connecticut, a little more than a month after Lightning Medicine Cloud's death. Its name is Yellow Medicine Dancing Boy.
If it is the buffalo of prophecy, soon White Buffalo Calf Woman will present the Lakota Oyate with two paths. One leads to harmony. The other leads to discord and destruction. Then she will ask them to choose.
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.