Native American Tales

The White Buffalo Woman

The White Buffalo WomanThe White Buffalo Woman

Brule Sioux

The seven sacred council fires came together but there was nothing to eat. They would send out hunters and they would come back empty-handed. Two hunters were out one day looking for game. As they came over a hill they saw a figure floating towards them. The figure was holy.

It was a woman dressed in a white buffalo skin. Her clothing had quill colors that no normal woman could make. Her hair was all free except for one bit that was bound with buffalo fur. She was the White Buffalo Woman.

One of the men tried to touch her, but she was holy and lightning struck him. A holy woman cannot be treated with disrespect. White Buffalo Woman gave instructions to the other hunter to prepare for her arrival. They were to construct a lodge with twenty-four poles. They did so and awaited her arrival.

She came bearing her bundle. She instructed them to build an altar in the middle of the lodge. They did. They walked around sunwise and White Buffalo Woman opened her bundle and inside was the sacred pipe. They did not have food to offer her so they dipped sweet grass in water and gave it to her.

White Buffalo Woman filled the pipe with red willow bark tobacco and walked around the lodge four times, sunwise. She lit a fire that was to be the fire without end. She taught them how to pray. She taught them the pipe-filling songs. She showed them how to lift their pipes up to Grandfather and bring them low for Grandmother Earth.

She explained the symbolism of the pipe to the people. The stone represented the buffalo, but also the flesh and blood of man. The buffalo represented the universe and the four directions. Every year he loses one hair. Every age he loses one leg. The buffalo was put in the west to hold back the water. When all his hair and legs are gone, the sacred hoop will end and the water will come again. The wooden stem represents all that grows on the Earth. The twelve feathers that hang from the pipe are from the spotted eagle, the wisest of birds. The seven circles engraved on the pipe represent the seven ceremonies that will be performed with the pipe.

White Buffalo Woman then spoke to the women and told them that it was their work and bodies that kept the people alive. They were from Mother Earth and what they did was as great as what warriors do.

She said that the pipe bound men and women together because they both had a hand in making it. When a couple was married they would hold the pipe between them and their hands would be bound together.

White Buffalo Woman then gave the women presents from her womb bag. She gave them corn, pemmican, and wild turnips. She showed them how to cook food with hot stones.

She spoke to the children and told them they were the next generation and that their parents remembered being little like themselves.

She told them the first ceremony they would perform with the pipe was to keep the soul of a dead person. Four women would become holy at that time.

She later told the chief that she would come again in the next age. She walked away the same direction she had come. She rolled over once and turned into a black buffalo. She rolled over again and was a brown buffalo. The third time she rolled over she was red buffalo. The fourth time she rolled over she was a white female buffalo calf. A white buffalo is the most sacred of all living things a person might encounter. She disappeared over the horizon and right after she did, great numbers of buffalo appeared as food for the people. From that time forward the people used buffalo for their food and for many necessities of life.


The wedding ceremony mentioned in this story is called handfasting in other cultures. I had a friend who got married, not too many years ago, and her wedding ceremony was a handfasting ceremony. The bride and groom hold hands and their hands are tied together by the guests. Each guest would bring their own ribbon. It’s a literal way to say two people are bound together.

In this story the pipe was something men and women worked on together so it was a symbol of something that did unite the two sexes. It makes sense that it would be used in a wedding ceremony.

The method of cooking that White Buffalo Woman shows the women is a real thing, it works, I’ve seen enough survival shows to know. If you happen to get yourself all stuck out in the woods, you can cook with hot stones. Find yourself some nice stones, make sure they’re fairly clean, put them in your fire, let them get hot, take them out, and put them in your container of water. The water will soon be boiling depending on how many stones you put in it. You can make soup or whatever. This does mean you must have a means to make a fire and a means to hold water.


This is a woman’s story. This story not only has a woman as the most important figure in the story, but it’s also about women. It’s about the importance of women. White Buffalo did not speak specifically to men. She spoke specifically to women. She imparted wisdom to them. She praised their work. You’re darn right that things wouldn’t continue on if it wasn’t for women. Women do a heck of a lot of work in the world and if it wasn’t for us humanity would probably be screwed, in more ways than one. If all the women in your life went on strike, just think of how awful your life would be. Imagine your mom isn’t there. Imagine your sisters aren’t there. Imagine your wife isn’t there. Imagine that nice woman at the bank isn’t there, or your waitress, or any woman you come into contact with on a regular basis. How’s life for you now? Not fun, that’s how.

White Buffalo Woman is for everyone, but she’s more for the women. She’s a figure for them to look up to and be empowered by. She is sacred and deserves respect, much like any woman deserves respect. She put the women on par with the men. Their work was just as important as the warrior’s work and it is. Without the woman doing all her work, there would be no men to be warriors.


I like her.

Weigh In

Without your mother’s work, where would you be in your life?

Do you think White Buffalo Woman is someone for everyone to look up to?


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