Legend of the White Buffalo

Located in Jamestown, North Dakota is the National Buffalo Museum. They state that their purpose is “to advocate for the restoration of the North American bison through education and outreach.” It was an interesting stop on our road trip out west. The museum’s website states:

The National Buffalo Museum opened in June of 1993 and has since been dedicated to preserving the history of the bison and promoting the modern bison business.

In 1991, the North Dakota Buffalo Foundation (NDBF) (d.b.a. the National Buffalo Museum) formed to start a herd of bison that would graze in the pasture just below the “World’s Largest Buffalo” monument in Jamestown, ND. Around the same time, the National Buffalo Foundation was looking for a facility to house and display numerous accumulated bison-related objects, artwork, and historical memorabilia from the bison business. Thanks to tireless advocacy from the founding board members of the NDBF, many of whom were themselves bison producers, the first five animals in this herd came from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the site of that first small herd became the home of the National Buffalo Museum.

Paul standing below the “world’s largest buffalo”

We saw three white buffalo. The first one was White Cloud born in 1996. She gave birth three times before giving birth to Dakota Miracle in 2007. The next year another buffalo gave birth to an albino buffalo named Dakota Legend. These three very rare animals were quite a draw for the museum in Jamestown.

I wanted to get closer for this picture but decided I should probably stay outside the fenced area after I saw this sign.

This very rare animal is seen as sacred by many Native American plains Indians. The Lakota believed that the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought them the first sacred pipe. There are apparently different versions to the legend but this is the one we were told.

The legend states that two scouts were out looking for bison when they saw a white cloud coming toward them. As it came closer, they saw a young Indian woman dressed in white buckskin and carrying a bundle. She was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen.

One of the scouts had bad thoughts about her and shared them with his companion. He responded “That is a sacred woman; throw all bad thoughts away.” She knew their thoughts and said “If you want to do as you think, you may come.” When the scout with the bad thoughts came close to her a white cloud covered them both. The young woman came out of the cloud, blew it away and at her feet lay the bones of the foolish scout with the bad thoughts.

She then told the other scout to go home and tell his people that she was coming and they should build a big tipi for her. Four days later she came to the village. As she sang, a white cloud came from her mouth that was good to smell. She then gave the Chief a pipe with a bison calf carved on one side to mean the earth that bears and feeds us, and with twelve eagle feathers hanging from the stem for the sky and the twelve moons.

She told the Chief, “With this pipe, you will be bound to all your relatives. All these people and all things in the universe are joined to you who smoke the pipe. With this, you shall muliple and be a good nation.”

She stayed with them for four days showing them how to prepare the pipe and how to smoke it. This is how the pipe came to the Lakota tribe.

When the left she promised to return in times of need. She walked in the direction of the sun stopping to roll over four times. The first time she got up as a black buffalo. The second time she became a brown buffalo, the third time a red buffalo and then finally a white buffalo. The white buffalo walked on, stopped, bowed to each of the four directions and then disappeared over the hill.

This legend also led to the white buffalo umbilical cord pouch. When a baby was born, the umbilical cord was dried and put in a beaded pouch which was often turtle or lizard shaped. They believed the cord was the connection to life before birth and after death. When the person died, the pouch would be buried with him/her.

I recently discovered that Dakota Miracle died from injuries he sustained when he fell down a ravine. The Museum said his lack of pigmentation included poor eyesight and they believe this contributed to his fall.

If you make a trip to North Dakota this museum is worth planning a stop to see.

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