Although some have questioned her right to do so, Dena Riley is a woman that has taken on a great responsibility. She is the custodian of the largest herd of white buffalos in the world, which now totals a very improbable 11.
Births of white buffalos are extremely rare; some have estimated one in 10 million and more. Adding additional significance to the very rare birth rate is a Native American prophecy of the Lakota people, that goes back almost 2,000 years, about the return of the white buffalo.
According to the prophecy, originally given by White Buffalo Calf Woman, the white buffalo would return at a time of great chaos and strife among the people of the world. It would hardly be argued that such chaos and strife are at unprecedented levels today, as we are on the threshold of what would represent global transformational change, or total annihilation. The return of white buffalo would symbolize the Universe’s leaning and intent toward the former.
With all that said, you’d think that Dena Riley’s stewardship of these massive, but gentle animals, would be characterized by great cooperation and support, not only by Native American people, but by all of humanity. Indeed, their return is not suggested to be the province of any given ethnic group, but instead, is a reminder that our greatest opportunity for advancement as a species will come by seeing ourselves and people of all nations, as equals; members of one family. Such cooperation and support has been the notable exception, not the rule.
I learned of Dena and the white buffalo herd last fall upon meeting Jana Shilo, a Sedona-based practitioner of homeopathy as winter approached. While homeopathy itself became a subject of interest, I was most intrigued by a homeopathic product that she had developed, from white buffalo, which she called, White Buffalo Bliss. That was nice, but it didn’t mean much to me until she explained the rarity of the white buffalo, and the Lakota prophecy surrounding it. As she explained some of the consistently remarkable experiences that people have reported after spritzing some of the solution on, I had to know more.
That’s when she informed me of how she came to create the essence, and that the source was in Arizona. As I prepared myself to hear of the attraction that this collection of animals must have become, I learned instead of their trials and tribulations. It hasn’t been a pretty picture.
The first birth, to a white buffalo calf that was named, Miracle Moon, came in April, 1997. They had a small animal farm, raising miniature horses and llamas on 66 acres at the time. The ranch was located in northeast tip of Wyoming, between Alzada Montana and Bell Fourche, South Dakota. But when Jim developed allergies to these animals, they began looking for another animal that allowed them to share their passion for stewardship, and of being and working together as a couple. Buffalos filled the bill. Dena was also drawn by the fact that they made great lawn mowers. That led to their first acquisition, a buffalo named Dances.
When Dances died suddenly from an infection, much to the dismay of the bull Dena and Jim had acquired for her, their search resulted in three females, all of which were pregnant. They were also warned that a young bull might attempt to kill the mother’s newborn. So a tense birth watch ensued.
Sure enough, the started bull did indeed attempt to toss the newborn calf into the next time zone while it was still in the birth sack. After it landed, Jim didn’t allow another attempt. He quickly moved between the bull and the calf on his ATV, scooped up the baby and whisked it away to safety. At first its seemed that his heroic effort might have been all in vein, as the calf appeared to be lifeless. Yet, after a short period of time, the mother began to lick the calf, which then demonstrated signs of life. It played out like a miracle indeed.
Beyond the drama surrounding it, the birth didn’t seem overly significant at the time. Perhaps the bigger news was that two other calves (not white buffalos) were born in fairly rapid succession. Miracle Moon’s coat was red, like all newborn buffalos. But with the passage of time, all that changed, as the coloration of white buffalos shifts each year with the seasons, to include red, yellow, black, and white.
By 2001, two more white buffalos, Rainbow Spirit and Mandela Peace Pilgrim, both females, had been born. An isolated phenomena was morphing into a phenomenon. Health reasons, and a desire to be closer to family, led to the decision to move to Arizona. But while the number of white buffalo births continued to rise, the vision of growth and prosperity for the Riley couple did not materialize.
On May 4, 2008, one month to the day after Jim’s death, a female, Jim’s “Be Happy Spirit” was born. She was the 10th white buffalo to join the family. Eleven days later, on May 15th, the 11th calf, Dena’s “Pride and Joy” was born.
When I learned of Dena and the white buffalo herd, winter was beginning to set in in Arizona’s high country. Situated on five acres, the Rileys were confident that there would be plenty of land to allow them to expand their property, and allow the herd to roam and feed on grass, their natural source of nutrition (as it is for cattle, which are now fed grain).
The many neighboring land parcels that sold for $20,000 around the time the Sacred Mountain Ranch arrived, all of a sudden carried $150,000 price tags. The dream of expansion, and building an attraction that could be enjoyed b
y thousands of people on their way to and from the Grand Canyon, was up in smoke. The facility still sits on the five acres that it was founded on.
A “Sorry We’re Closed” sign greets the visitor who might stop to see if anyone is home. A large fence conceals the sacred treasure that might be seen from the road by passers by. Electricity is by generator, which requires a 20 mile trip into Flagstaff to refuel. The generator also makes it possible to water the herd. Bales of hay, which is the only way that the herd can be fed, cost $20 each, and go through five of them daily.
There have been other challenges, including criticism by some (not all) members of the Native American community, who took exception to the fact that this amazing phenomenon were not under the jurisdiction of a Native American nation, and curious, even adversarial treatment by Coconino County officials. While it might be considered enough to break the spirit of most, the problems haven’t dampened the enthusiasm that Dena has for these gentle creatures. The enthusiasm remains, but the desire to move to more suitable land, now drives Dena Riley.
Angels have come, sometimes at the eleventh hour, to offer financial assistance. One such angel came and offered more… a helping hand. Glen traveled to Arizona all the way from England to help feed and water the herd, do poop duty (well, I guess a buffalo produces POOP instead of “poop”), and generally help in any way he’s needed. Europeans have shown great generosity for this treasure that walks on U.S. soil.
Land has been donated in Oregon that would allow the herd to move, but the eleventh hour persists.
I invite you to listen to my Talk For Food interview with Dena Riley, and find your own heart. They need your help, although if you get Jana Shilo’s White Buffalo Bliss, there would be mutual benefit (a portion of proceeds will be donated to the 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization that John and Dena organized.
The Sacred White Buffalo don’t belong to any group, and the fact that some would take issue with the ethnicity of their caretakers shows that snobbism can infect any mind, no matter who you are or what your traditions. I wish they weren’t leaving Arizona, but I’d rather them be adequately cared for wherever they are.
Let’s celebrate the white buffalo, and the amazing times that we have entered.
My Talk For Food interview with Dena Riley was produced fully as a video program. If you would be interested in purchasing on DVD, or making a download purchase, please email me.