White Buffalo Calf Woman

2012 Photo Credit:  Borrowed Light Photography, Travis Svihovec, for Friends of Scherr Howe

2012 Photo Credit: Borrowed Light Photography, Travis Svihovec, for Friends of Scherr Howe

Click on the audio clip below to hear an interview with Kevin Locke on this mural:


White Buffalo Calf Woman (Ptehincalaskawin) and the Sacred Buffalo Calf Pipe (Cannupa Wakan)

The story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and the Sacred Buffalo Calf Pipe has multiple versions. Stories, by their very nature, change and evolve over time. The central meaning of a story—the heart of the message—remains unchanged but stories vary according to the storyteller, the audience, or perhaps even the time of the year a story is told. The following version is one accepted account of this ancient tale. Before time immemorial during a period of food shortage, two young Lakota men were hunting when a youthful beautiful woman appeared before them. One of the hunters, so taken with her physical traits, desired her and approached the woman. The hunting companion, who possessed a good and pure heart, looked up to see the hunter who had held evil desires, covered by a mist and reduced to a pile of bones. The honorable hunter was then instructed to return to the community and to inform the head chief and his people that she, Ptehincalaskawin (White Buffalo Calf Woman), would appear to them in four days for she has something important to tell them. Four days later Ptehincalaskawin arrived at the camp’s community and she told the people, “I am bringing something so the people will live.” She presented to the people a bundle containing the Cannupa Wakan (Sacred Pipe) and told them that in time of need they should smoke the tobacco for spiritual guidance and as a means of prayer. It is believed that the smoke from the pipe will carry their prayers upward. She then instructed them in the great Wicoh’an Wakan Sakowin (Seven Sacred Rites), the basis of Lakota cosmology and spiritual life. As this version of the story goes, Ptehincalaskawin promised to watch over the people and to return one day. Ptehincalaskawin left the camp’s community and walked a short way off. The woman changed into four animals. The last animal, a white buffalo calf, suddenly disappeared in the horizon. The Cannupa Wakan is highly respected and remains among the people today. The Sacred Buffalo Calf Pipe has been handed down through the generations within the Sans Arc community on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Arvol Looking Horse is the current keeper of the Sacred Buffalo Calf Pipe.

Suggested Readings:

Brown, Joseph. The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Sacred Rites of the Oglala Sioux. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1972.

DeMallie, Raymond J. The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

DeMallie Raymond J. and Douglas R. Parks, eds. Sioux Indian Religion: Tradition and Innovation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

Walker, James R. Lakota Belief and Ritual. Edited by Raymond J. DeMallie and Elaine A. Jahner. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Walker, James R. Lakota Society. Edited by Raymond J. DeMallie. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.


Mural descriptions by Dr. Edward Welch, Humanities Professor at Augustana College, December 2012


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