The Beloit Daily News
First published September 2, 1994
By Neal White, City Editor
Bull That Sired White Buffalo Dead Just Days After Rare Calf Born
JANESVILLE -- Nestled beneath her mother's legs, the white buffalo calf stared through the fence at her father. Less than two weeks old, she would occasionally call out in a low groan as if beckoning the large bull to rise. Only his spirit rose on Thursday; the sire of the white buffalo calf had died.
Since her birth Aug. 20, on David and Valerie Heider's 45acre exotic animal farm in rural Janesville, the white buffalo calf has drawn nationwide attention. With the odds estimated at more than 1 in 10 million, experts with the National Buffalo Association had believed the gene needed to produce a white calf had been lost when the buffalo was nearly driven to extinction. The Heider's calf is the first living white buffalo born in more than 50 years. To Native Americans, she is also being revered as a prophecy come true.
David discovered the bull Thursday morning while doing routine chores. He had died in the pen, down on the lower part of the 24acre buffalo pasture. David spent most of the morning alone, grieving the loss of an animal, and what it had come to represent.
In order to produce a white calf, both parents must carry the gene for that trait. With the bull dead, the odds of having another white calf seemed to have died with him.
Gaining his composure, by midmorning David drove to where his son, Corey was working and broke the news. Not knowing why the 6yearold bull had died, the family decided to call a veterinarian and perform an autopsy. It's been an extremely difficult day," Valerie said. We're not the only ones grieving today," she added, pointing to the 13 buffalo surrounding the pen. Sensing the bull's death, several of the cows stood guard at the edge of the pen, as if waiting to pay their last respects. Others charged along the fence line, running back and forth, the earth shaking beneath their hooves. The white buffalo calf, never straying from its mother, stared with wide eyes at her motionless father.
By midafternoon the vet had arrived, and Brown Bear, a representative of the Oneida tribe in Green Bay, was en route to Janesville. An elder in his tribe, Brown Bear had already visited the white buffalo calf. He was returning to pay tribute and pray for her father's spirit.
As the autopsy began, the family gathered around to see what could have caused the death. After 17 years of raising cattle, horses, llama and dozens of other critters, posting a carcass had become routine. But Marvin, the Heider's buffalo sire, was no ordinary livestock. Several times during the autopsy David had to turn and walk away. Not from the sight or the stench, but to wipe away the tears.
Taking a break, David said he had received a phone call Tuesday night from Floyd Hand, chief medicine man of the Sioux Nation in Pine Ridge, S.D. He told me the white buffalo calf was safe, and it was protected from evil spirits. He also said that Marvin was alright now, but he would lay down his life for the white calf," David said.
When I asked him what he meant, he said I see a black blockage.' I didn't think anything else anything about it until I walked out here this morning and Marvin was dead," he added.
An hour into the autopsy, Dr. Jim Schwisow called Valerie over to look at something in one of the stomachs. It was the first of two softballsized hemorrhages formed near the entrance, deep black in color. Valerie's face turned pale as she looked over at Corey. By 5 p.m., Dr. Schwisow discovered the cause of the hemorrhages: several bleeding ulcers in the lower stomach. He determined the ulcers had caused the bull's death.
As the evening fell into darkness, the Heiders sat around the dinning room table waiting for Brown Bear to arrive before removing the carcass. Respecting the beliefs of his culture, they agreed to allow a prayer service. Since the white calf's birth, the Heiders haven't been able to leave home. In addition to receiving roundtheclock phone calls from across the country, a steady stream of uninvited sightseers are constantly pulling into their driveway wanting to visit.
Except for family members, the Heiders have only allowed Native Americans and a few members of the media to see the calf. To (Native Americans), the white buffalo is sacred. It's only right to let them see it and say prayers for it," David said. To date, representatives from the Oneida, Cherokee, Sioux, Navaho, Ojibwa, Winnebago and Lac du Flambou tribes have either called or stopped to pay homage to the calf.
On the knoll above the pen, a tree is adorned with more than a dozen Native American icons left to protect the white calf. Pointing at the different items and explaining its significance, David stops at the dream catcher. A web of thread, woven in a circular shape hangs from the branch. A symbolic eagle feature is tethered to the bottom. This is to catch the dreams of the white buffalo calf, which are pure and good, while preventing evil dreams from coming in," David explained during an earlier visit.
With very little experience in Native American culture, the Heiders have gotten a crash course in the past two weeks. The more I understand the symbolism of the white buffalo and what it represents (to Native Americans), I got to admit, it scares the hell out of me," David said. Why I was chosen for something so rare, I don't know. I have to believe that something good will come out of this. I was picked for a reason. What that reason is I don't know yet. But there has to be some reason behind it," he added.
Although he's had offers to buy the white calf from an exotic game farm in Florida and rock star Ted Nuggent, the Heiders have no intention of selling her. I tell them all thanks for the interest, but no sale'," David said. This isn't about money. There's something going on here that larger than me or you. Money just doesn't enter into it."
Putting a flannel jacket on over his work shirt, David turned on a flashlight and began walking up the hill to the pen. ''This has been a really rough day," he said aloud, not really addressing it to anyone. I'm told that for every window that shuts, there is another one that opens. We'll just have to wait for that window."