Bison Bellows: The birth of a white buffalo calf

A white bison, with hints of brown around its shoulders

Photo by Ronald Carlson

Millions of people around the world live faith-based lives, each expressed through different holiday celebrations and traditions. Whether is it spinning a dreidel (Hanukkah), decorating a Christmas tree (Christmas), or lighting a Kinara (Kwanzaa), many of these faith-based activities take place in December. In addition to celebratory traditions, stories are another way people connect with their faith and share personal messages. Stories often have a deep meaning and can be passed on from generation to generation. One story, the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, or Ptesan Wi, is a very sacred story for the American Indians. Many American Indians, such as the Sioux, Cherokee, Navaho, Lakota, and Dakota, celebrate the white buffalo calf and incorporate Ptesan Wi'steachings in their prayers.

The story of the birth of the white buffalo calf goes as follows: Long ago, there was a great famine and the Lakota chief sent out two scouts to hunt for food. While they were searching, they saw a figure in the distance. As they approached, the figure appeared to be a beautiful woman. One of the two scouts was filled with sexual desire, but despite the warnings from the second scout that the woman appeared to be sacred, the man approached the woman. Soon a cloud enclosed the pair, and the man turned into a pile of bones. The second man approached the woman, and although frightened, the woman explained that she was wakan, or holy. She instructed the scout to go back to his People and tell them of her arrival. When the White Buffalo Calf Woman arrived, she brought the White Buffalo Calf chanupa (pipe) — the most sacred object a person can possess — and taught them seven sacred ways to pray. Before she left, she told the people that she would return again to restore harmony and spirituality to a troubled world. She then rolled upon the earth four times, changing color each time and turned into a white buffalo calf before she disappeared. As she left, great herds of buffalo surrounded the camps. When a white buffalo calf is born, it is a sign that their prayers are being heard and that the promises of the prophecy are being fulfilled.

To American Indians, a White Buffalo Calf is the most sacred living thing on earth. The calf is a sign to begin life's sacred loop. Some American Indians say the birth of a white calf is an omen because the birth takes place in the most unexpected places and often happens among the poorest of people. The birth is sacred within the American Indian communities, because it brings a sense of hope and is a sign that good times are about to happen.

Read more Bison Bellows here.

Did you know?

On August 20, 1994, a white buffalo calf called Miracle was born on a farm in Janesville, Wisconsin. She is believed to be the first white buffalo calf born since 1933. It is important to note that Miracle was a very rare white buffalo and not to be mistaken with an albino buffalo. To the American Indians, the birth of Miracle was the fulfillment of their legends, as if the Great Spirit wished to bring hope and peace to all nations and people. As of today, the last known white buffalo calf, Baby, was born July 4, 2012 in Avon, Minnesota, but sadly died two weeks later.

Last updated: February 1, 2019