In the rolling meadow below Mohawk Mountain in the northwest corner of Connecticut, a white buffalo baby trots alongside his massive mother, his whiteness highlighted against her dark brown winter fur that is still molting in the summer heat.
The white buffalo or bison—Tatanka Ska in the Sioux language—was born June 16, at 1 p.m. on Peter Fay’s Mohawk Bison ranch in Goshen, Connecticut. Although Fay is not a Native and was only vaguely familiar with the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and the white buffalo as a spiritual symbol of sacred life and abundance to the Lakota and others, he has opened his heart and mind to the indigenous knowledge and practices that strangers have introduced into his life—sweet grass, tobacco, sage and stories of the ceremonies surrounding the birth of a white buffalo.
“I think it’s amazing. I’m pretty excited about it. I’m learning a lot,” Fay said. “It’s a good thing.”
Fay will learn even more at the end of July when he welcomes to his ranch elders from the Lakota Nation in South Dakota and other traditional Indians from around the northeast and participates in ceremonies, including a sweat lodge and a naming ceremony for the baby bull bison. While Fay is not actively inviting the public to attend, he suspects that thousands of people might show up for the event.
Fay was at a fence on the outside of one of the fields on June 16 watching a regular brown bison baby being born when he noticed the white bison being born. “I saw it was white but he was wet, so it was hard to tell exactly, but once it got up I could see it was really white,” he said. He had heard about the specialness of the white calf from a couple in the nearby town of Cornwall, who have been involved with Native friends and the Sun Dance ceremony at Pine Ridge for decades. “(The wife) had made a comment once, ‘If you ever have a white bison calf there’ll be thousands of people coming to see it.’ I didn’t think much about it, but when this white calf was born I knew it was different, so I called her and she came right over.”
The woman, who asked not to be named, spread the word about the birth of the sacred white bison bull to her friends in South Dakota, including Marian White Mouse of Wanblee, S.D., who will travel to Fay’s ranch for the ceremonies.
“I was stunned because it’s a very rare event, these things don’t just happen,” White Mouse told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We were having our Sun Dance during that time, and it was four days after the Sun Dance when we finally heard about it.”
White Mouse said her brother-in-law Steve Stonearrow, a Lakota medicine man, plans to travel to Fay’s ranch and conduct the ceremony.
“In the ceremony, they’ll tell us the reason why this buffalo was born and they’ll actually name the buffalo at that time, so that’s why we’re coming up that way to get that done,” White Mouse said.
The baby white buffalo was special almost from the moment he was born, Fay said. He was around 30 pounds, which is a bit smaller than usual, Fay said.
“The other bison treat him differently. Around five hours after he was born, I couldn’t find him. I looked everywhere. The next morning I went out to look for him and he was standing in a circle of big bulls,” Fay said. “He somehow got through a fence and there he got in with the bulls by mistake. Usually the bulls kill the calves if they get the chance to. It was amazing. There he was standing in a circle of big bulls.”
White Mouse said that Fay has been honored with the birth of the white buffalo because “he treats animals the way they’re supposed to be treated. He has a lot of respect for them. This is good for him. He’ll be surprised by a lot of the changes he’s going to see in his own family life. This little buffalo is going to bring an added blessing to his family.”
Fay, who lives on the land where he grew up and where four generations of his family ran a dairy farm, has owned and operated a construction business, Fay & Wright Excavating, for 30 years. About four years ago he decided to do something in addition to the construction business.
“I don’t even know how I got into the whole bison thing,” Fay said. “I went to a bison ranch and talked to the owner. I was just going to get a few for a hobby, than a couple of years later I had 40 animals, then I started going to shows where the animals were judged. I wanted to have the best of the best. I bought bison from all over the country.”
He breeds the bison to sell the calves and sells a small amount of meat to a single area restaurant. The only meat he eats now is bison, he said. Fay said the buffalo are rugged, exotic animals.
“They’re wild animals. There’s nothing domesticated about them. I always liked them. I don’t know, I just started putting the fences up and that was it,” he said. “It’s not a money maker. I know some guys with two, three or four hundred animals and they can make money with them.”
The number of white buffalo has definitely increased in recent years, according to Dan Sharps, a biologist at the National Bison Range in Montana, where the famous white buffalo “Big Medicine” was born in 1933 and lived till his death in 1959. Sharps said he recalled that the incidence of white buffalo in naturally occurring herds in earlier years was “something like one in ten million.” But not all white buffalo are born naturally. On Monday, July 2, Fay sent hair clippings from the white buffalo baby to Texas A & M University for DNA testing to make sure it is a pure buffalo and not a “beefalo” or hybrid offspring of domestic cattle and bison.
Well aware of the slaughter of a young white buffalo in Texas recently, Fay is not taking any chances and has beefed up security at this ranch to protect the baby white buffalo. He’s already received an anonymous phone call threatening to harm the animal.
“I haven’t gone to work since he was born,” he said. “I’m getting so many calls and people stopping by and people are very, very concerned about what’s going to happen to him. They know about what happened in Texas.”
Although Fay doesn’t know what will ultimately happen to the white buffalo, he’s determined to make sure the animal is well taken care of. The white buffalo may end up living his life on Fay’s ranch on the farm’s sunny meadow. In any case, Fay plans on having bison on his land for a good long time. “I’ll never give them up,” he said.