White Buffalo Calf Woman

Jeff Stanton

The Buffalo is a sacred animal to many American Indians; the Lakota Indians are one of these peoples. The buffalo plays a very important role in the traditional beliefs of the Lakota. The Lakota regard the buffalo as a brother because he gave his flesh for them so that they would survive. The Lakota, who are also called the Buffalo Nation, tell the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. This legend recounts how the sacred pipe came to the Lakota Indians and describes how their ceremonies and way of life were taught to them over six centuries ago. White Buffalo Calf Woman, hereafter Ptesan Win, is said to have been the human incarnation of the buffalo. She was sent by the Great Spirit to the Lakota in a time of great need.

The legend tells of a time when all the tribes of the Lakota nation had come together for their midsummer celebration. At this time of the year, the plains were covered with green grasses and rich with game. This was a time when all of the tribes could be together and live easily off the bounty of the land. This, however, was not to be the fate of this particular gathering. When all of the tribes were assembled, their warriors were sent out to find game, but there was none to be found. It was not long before all of the tribes were starving for the lack of game. Standing Hollow Horn, Chief of the Itazipcho ("Without Bows") tribe, decided to send out two warriors to scout for buffalo. These two scouts searched far and wide for buffalo in hopes of returning with good news. After going on as far as they possibly could without sighting a buffalo, the scouts were at the point of giving up the search. Just as they were ready to turn for home, one of the warriors spotted a single buffalo on the plain. As the buffalo came closer, the second warrior recognized that it was a woman approaching and not a buffalo after all. As this woman came closer to them, they could see that she was more beautiful than any woman they had ever seen. She wore a white fringed dress made of deerskin, and her hair hung loose about her shoulders. A small piece of buffalo hair was tied into her hair on the left side. Upon seeing the beauty of this maiden and that she was alone, one of the warriors was taken with lust for her and told the other that he intended to lay with her. The other warrior, who was pure in his thoughts, and could see that she was no ordinary maiden, begged him not to do this. The young warrior would not listen, and when he reached out to touch the maiden, a cloud fell upon him, and when it had cleared, all that was left of him was a pile of bones. The remaining warrior was then instructed to return to his tribe with the news of what had happened and of the coming of Ptesan Win.

Ptesan Win gave the warrior the instructions to erect a tipi with the door facing the direction of the sunset. The floor of this tipi was to be covered with sage. A rack of three sticks, two upright and one across, was to be built inside the tipi, and the skull of a buffalo was to be placed before this. In front of the skull was to be made a square of smoothed earth, and all was to be made holy. The warrior was then told to return home without looking back.

When the warrior came home, he told the Chief all that had happened. Standing Hollow Horn made sure that everything was prepared and then instructed everyone to be in front of the camp at sunrise to welcome Ptesan Win. At sunrise Ptesan Win appeared at the camp, and she was carrying the Ptehinchala Huhu Chanupa (the sacred pipe). The stem of this pipe is made from the leg bone of a buffalo calf. The pipe was made by Wakan Tanka, the creator, and it was the first pipe in all of the world. Ptesan Win then sang a sacred song and entered the tipi that had been prepared for her. She sat down in the place of honor in the tipi and again began to sing. Through her song of prayer she blessed and gave the pipe to the next tribe, but told them that the pipe was for all nations. Over the next four days she instructed the people on proper living and in performing their seven sacred rituals. Once the teachings were completed, she told the tribe to follow her to a near-by hill, and they would no longer be hungry. She then walked east, and as she came to the top of the hill, she transformed into a white buffalo calf. Before she disappeared from their sight, she changed color twice, first to brown and then to a reddish color. As the tribe came to the top of the hill, they found before them a herd of buffalo which ended their starvation. Within the teachings, it is said that Ptesan Win told the people, "I will return again some day, and then it will be for always. Then there will be a new life and a new understanding."

The recent birth of a female white calf has been seen by many as an event of great significance. The calf was born on August 20th on the farm of Valerie and Dave Heider. Attention to this event has come not only from American Indians, but other cultures from around the world as well. To date, over 32,000 visitors have made the journey to see the white buffalo calf. Some of these visitors have come from as far away as Kenya and Japan. The people who come to see the buffalo calf bring offerings of protection and good will such as sage, tobacco and cedar. In September the farm that Miracle (the calf) was born on was consecrated as holy land by Lakota tribal leaders.

Dave Heider, Miracle's owner, has had many offers from prospective buyers, all of which he has turned down. Heider has also declined the opportunity to exploit the calf by charging an admission fee to see her. In fact, anyone inclined to see the calf can do so by simply traveling to the Heider's farm, which is located just outside of Janesville, Wisconsin. The farm was closed to visitors in December due to cold winter months but will re-open in April. The fact that the white calf has started to turn brown is not a bad omen, but rather, it is seen as fulfilling the prophesy of the White Buffalo Calf legend.

The significance of this event is obviously very great indeed. Dr. Arvol Looking Horse, who is also the present guardian of the sacred pipe, tells of the prophet Black Elk. Black Elk said that the sacred hoop was broken at Wounded Knee in 1890. This prophesy also said that the White Buffalo Calf would return. Looking Horse says that now is the time for the healing of the sacred hoop to begin and is also time for the Lakota "to take their rightful place in leading the people toward peace and balance once again."

On June 21st, 1996, there will be a prayer for world peace and the return of holy lands to the Indian nations, which will take place in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. What will become of the white buffalo remains to be seen. Only time will tell the extent of the changes that the birth of this calf will inspire. Already, the awareness of the American Indian cultures has expanded to include people who might never have given serious thought to it. Perhaps a new life and understanding did begin with Miracle's birth. The people of the nations can only wait patiently and try to help the understanding spread to include all of the people.


Copyright 1995 Kaleidoscope. Write Place. Volume 6.
Contributors retain all rights to their work.
URL: http://leo.stcloud.msus.edu/kaleidoscope/volume6/page8.html