Buffalo were very important to the Native American Indians. Besides food, the buffalo also contained material that could be used for clothing, housing, and tools. However, the rare white buffalo was considered to be a highly sacred animal.
The National Bison Association estimates that a white buffalo is born only once out of every 10 million births. There are several reasons by a buffalo might be born white. One is leucism, which is a reduction of pigmentation, but not the same as albinism. However, albinism, in which the animal remains unpigmented for the rest of its life, is another cause. While albinism is a reduction of only melanin, leucism is caused by the reduction of all skin pigment. Some buffalos are born white, but turn brown a year or two later. Some are white because they are a bison-cattle crossbreed known as beefalo.
Native American tribes see the birth of a white buffalo as a sign of prophesy. The Lakota believe that the White Buffalo Woman appeared 2,000 years ago as a messiah. The White Buffalo Woman taught the Lakota how to use buffalo and dictated to them seven sacred rites, similar to the 10 commandments.
When she walked away from the Lakota people, she rolled over four times. The first time, she appeared as a black buffalo. The second time, she appeared as a brown buffalo. The third time, she appeared as a red buffalo. The last time, she turned into a white female buffalo calf, and then disappeared.
Like Jesus, the White Buffalo Woman promised to return before disappearing. She said that as a signal of her return, four white buffalo would be born. During their lifetime, the buffalo would change to the colors of the medicine wheel: red, yellow, black, and white. However, she warned that not all white buffalo would go through the cycle. Once the four appeared, the Lakota people would be at a crossroads. If they chose the right path, the Earth would be renewed, but if they chose the wrong path, all hope of restoring harmony would be lost.
Over the past 75 years, there have been at least nineteen white buffalo births recorded.