" It used to be quiet here on Dave and Valerie Heider's 46-acre farm
in southern Wisconsin.
That changed two months ago with the birth of a white baby buffalo
named Miracle. The white calf is a sacred symbol, a prophecy fulfilled to
many American Indians, particularly those of the Northern Plains who maintain traditional beliefs, and it has ignited a pilgrimage.
The Heider family isn't sure how many have visted their buffalo so far,
but Doris Pierce, Valerie's mother, estimate 5,000 showed up last weekend alone, including 1,200 on Saturday--when it rained.
"We eat in shifts, and we don't get much housework done, but we want people to enjoy this as much as we do," said Pierce, who lives near her daughter and son-in-law.
Though a lot of people come out of mere curiosity, Pierce said Thursday, many come for a spiritual pilgrimage, "and you see a difference in them from when they go up and watch the buffalo to when they come back down."
"Then, they're entirely different. They're all smiles and holding hands." Pierce said the family "didn't know anything" about the white fubbalo legends and prophesies before it was born, "But boy, we believe in it now."
Jim Funmaker, 48, is a Wisconsin Winnebago, a spiritual leader and treatment coordinator at the Eagle Lodge, a Long Beach, Calif., substance abuse treatment center that utilizes American Indian culture in the healing process. The story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, he says, begins with two men walking on the prairie.
(It would take days to tell the entire story, and as is the case with oral history, details may differ from one person to the next. The message, however, is the same.)
It was probably his grandfather who first told Funmaker the story of how
the buffalo woman delievered a sacred gift to the people before vanishing into
"Two men were out one day looking for food, buffalo, in a time of
hardship," be says. "They were out on the prairie, and they saw something approaching them. They thought it was a buffalo."
As it drew near, they saw that it took on the appearance of a beautiful woman, Funmaker says. One of the men had feelings of lust for the woman,
while the other was a spiritual person who warned the other warrior that it was wrong to have such thoughts. "He said that what they were witnessing was
sacred, but the other man wanted to approach the woman with those physical feelings. He approached her with those thoghts, and a cloud came over them, and when the cloud lifted, the man lay dead on the ground."
The woman instructed the spiritual warrior to return to his people and tell them what he had sitnessed. She said to tell them that she was a messenger from the creator and would return in four days to deliver a gift.
"When she returned, she was carrying a bundle and some sage. She came into the lodge, which had been prepared for her, and came before the chiefs and headmen, the medicine men and spiritual leaders."
She opened the bundle and revealed a sacred pipe. The White Buffalo Calf Woman stayed four days, spending a day each with the men, the women,
the children and the elders, instructing them on how to live virtuous lives, how to use the sacred pipe in ceremonies to pray to the creator. Before leaving, she
told the peole that she would return someday.
"As she left the village, the people watched and she transformed back
into a buffalo," Funmaker says. "She rolled on the ground four times. Each time she rolled, whe was a different color. The final color was White. Then she
ascended into the clouds. That was the last time she was seen."
The story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman is not so different from those
of other believers, Funmaker says.
"In Christianity, a virgin woman gave birth to a child. That child was wrapped in a bundle, a figt to the people, the son of God. For us, when we unwrapped our bundle, it was a sacred pipe, also brought to us by a cirtuous woman from the creator. Our path is like any other's path. It leads to the same place," says Funmaker, a member of the Bear Clan, who was born in his grandparents' two-room log home in Wisconsin.
While he doesn't plan on visiting the calf, his belief in the sacred
pipe--the words delivered from the creator by the White Buffalo Woman--have been Funmaker's strength over the years.
He recalls his first day of school. His grandmother had braided his hair and dressed him in a fine vest she had made from deer hide and decorated
"When I got to school, they cut my hair and took my vest off and took me down to the basement where they had the furnace. They opened the furnace door, and the teaccher instructed me to take my vest and my hair and put it in the furnace."
He left home as a teen-ager and embarked on a journey, traveling all over the country, living on the streets. He drank too much, consumed and sold drugs. He did three years for assaulting a police officer in Wisconsin.
About 20 years ago, an elder offered him a pipel Funmaker fasted and prayed and decided to take the pipe, knowing that by doing so he must live his life according to the teachings of the White Buffalo Woman.
He now runs sweat lodges for inmates, and since 1983 has worked at the Eagle Lodge. He says he has dedicated his life to the sacred pipe, which is kept in green Grass in South Dakota, cared for by a family named Looking Horse.
It is the pipe, he says, that helped him heal from the alcohol, the drugs
and the image that burns in his memory of his hair and fine vest being claimed
There were three visions.
Looks for Buffalo, a rvered spiritual interpretere on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, says he received signs from spirits that the White Buffalo Calf Woman would soon return.
The premonitions told him that "The Lady" was coming to unite the people, and when he heard that a white calf had been born near Janesville, Wis.,
he began planning for the journey.
He arrived at the Heider farm Sept. 12 following four days of preparation in Minneapolis, where offerings from tribes all over the country were gathered. A purification ceremoney was conducted for about 300 people chosen to take part in the special ceremony to honor the sacred calf and the White Buffalo Calf Woman.
Before traveling to Wisconsin, Looks for Buffalo had a vision that the calf's father would die, so that the newborn could live. He telephoned Heider and explained who he was and that he was told by spirits to deliver that message.
Heider, unfamiliar with American Indian cultures, didn't know what to think of the call.
Two days later, the bull died.
Miracle now weights 135 pounds and is still nursing. Visitation has been limited to weekends.
"She runs wild in a fenced area of about 20 acres," Pierce said. "People can only see her from the fence. You wouldn't want to get close, because the mother wouldn't like it."
She said about half the visitors are American Indians, and people usually stay about 30 minutes.
"There's been no problem with the crowds," she said. "They're pretty well-behaved.
"I'm sure it's helped the local economy," she said of the visitors. "The motels are busy every weekend. But heavens no -- we're not the calf was born on Heider's farm, making anything off this. We're just appreciating it."
Heider doesn't quite know what to think about all the attention, about the medicine wheels and dream catchers and sacred bundles and eagle feathers being left hanging on the pasture gate.
There was a reason why according to Looks for Buffalo. "It was born to a white family as an omen to the white people," he says. "They must pay attention to what they are losing. When they want to know something, they ask a machine. They have lost touch with Mother Earth." Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader and caretaker of the sacred pipe, recentl visited the farm for about five hours. He and Heider drank coffee and talked.
"He told me that every four days, I could take the items off the gate, except for the eagle feathers, and burn them in a fire, and that the smoke would carry them to the spirits," Heider says.
It has been quite a learning experience for Heider. Some things he can't quite figure out, like the telephone call from Looks for Buffalo warning him of the death of the bull, which had been suffering from stomach ulcers. But he says he will abide by the wishes of the American Indians. He wil wait four days before removing sacred itmes. He does not wish to offend spirits he just recently has learned about.
"Maybe," he says, "Somebody up there is trying to tell us something."