A farm in Wisconsin is quickly becoming hallowed ground again for American Indians with the birth of its third white buffalo, an animal considered sacred by many tribes for its potential to bring good fortune and peace.
Dave Heider said he was inspecting damage on his farm after a late August storm when he saw the newly born buffalo, a male. His last white buffalo, a female named Miracle, died in 2004 at the age of 10. Thousands of people came to see the animal, whose coat became darker as it aged.
"We took one look at it and I can't repeat what I thought but I thought, 'Here we go again,'" Heider said.
This time around Heider plans to recruit volunteers to handle the visitors he expects at his farm, called Davalas, in Janesville, about 70 miles southwest of Milwaukee. About 50 American Indians held a drum ceremony at the farm this past weekend to honor the calf, which has yet to be named, he said. It is no relation to Miracle, he said.
"We never even thought about having another white one until we got this one," he said. "There's got to be a reason that we're getting these white calves."
The second white buffalo born at the nearly 200 acre farm was born in 1996 but it died after three days, he said.
It's no surprise that the farm has had another white buffalo, said Floyd "Looks for Buffalo" Hand, a medicine man in the Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, S.D. He said it was fate that the white buffaloes chose one farm, which will become a focal point for visitors, who make offerings like tobacco and dream catchers in the hopes of earning good fortune and peace.
"That's destiny," he said. "The message was only choose one person."
That this latest birth is a male doesn't make it any less significant in American Indian prophecies, which say that such an animal will reunite all the races of man and restore balance to the world. The coat on this animal, like Miracle before it, will change from white to black, red and yellow, the colors of the various races of man, before turning brown again, he said.
Women have long been revered in American Indian culture but men now need to take responsibility for their families and the future of the tribe, he said. The birth of this male signifies that, he said.
"It's the time for man's responsibilities," Hand said. "They're not listening to their children, they're not hugging them. They're not telling them what life is about."
Odds of having a white buffalo are at least 1 in the millions, said Jim Matheson, assistant director of the National Bison Association. For years buffalo in general were rare but their numbers are increasing, with some 250,000 now in the U.S., he said.
Many people, like Heider, choose to raise the animals for their meat, which is considered a healthier, low-fat alternative to beef.
Heider and his wife have about 65 head of buffalo on their farm, which they hope to turn into a full-time business in the coming years. They plan to breed the new calf with Miracle's four daughters and three granddaughters, he said. None of those animals is white.
"I guess this is going to change things," Heider said. "We're going to have to figure out how things are going for this one."
Gary Adamson, 65, of Elkhorn, said the event at Heider's farm this weekend helped welcome the animal into the world. American Indian elders will help interpret what significance the animal has, said Adamson, who is of Choctaw and Cherokee heritage. The calf will help fill the void that was left with Miracle's passing, he said.
"There are still things that need to be done and Miracle's task wasn't quite done yet and we feel there's something there," Adamson said.
The news of the birth of another white buffalo calf at the same farm is surprising and will surely draw visitors to see the animal in the hopes of securing good fortune, said Mike Fox, interim director of the Intertribal Bison Association, based in Rapid City, S.D.
A group from his association visited and made offerings to Miracle not long after the animal was born, said Fox, a member of the Gros Ventre Tribe in Montana.
"Oh, absolutely this is big news. As we hear about it more and more, tribal interest will be drawn to it," he said.