NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
When the white buffalo, Lightning Medicine Cloud, was born to a Lakota Indian rancher in Greenville in the spring of 2011, he regarded its coming as sign of great unity for all peoples.
Less than a year later, Lightning was found dead and any unity was shattered.
The rancher, Arby Little Solider, insisted the buffalo had been killed, gutted and skinned. The public was moved, and donated funds to help find the killer.
"A little boy went on home, his mother went on home, his dad went on home," Little Soldier said in May, 2011, after the buffalo was found dead. "They're all together, and God bless them."
But an investigation by the Hunt County Sheriff's Department and the Texas Rangers concluded the animal had not been killed. They determined it died of natural causes.
Records show investigators also found:
Little Soldier spent the reward money on personal and business expenses.
He failed to pay debts related to the buffalo.
He accused his friends of brutally butchering the calf.
One of those friends was Yolanda Blue Horse. When did she become concerned about Little Soldier's actions?
"When the money started coming into play, yeah," she said.
Blue Horse said her friendship with Little Soldier eroded soon after the buffalo was born. She was upset when Little Soldier planned a public celebration marking the birth of the animal and charged a $5 parking fee.
"You don't mix money with our spirituality," she said.
After the buffalo died, Yolanda Blue Horse was surprised to hear that she was being blamed for its death. Sheriff's department records show the person pointing the finger was Arby Little Soldier, the buffalo's owner.
In an interview recording released by the Sheriff's Department, Little Soldier's wife Pat pointed the finger at Yolanda Blue Horse, a fellow Native American.
"I don't say this to be racial. We had hoped it was some white, toothless redneck. I'm sorry, we had hoped it was," Pat Little Soldier told investigators. "We could not tell ourselves it was a Native American."
Then there's the broken relationship with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and its director, Sally Bird. She spent thousands of dollars to promote and support the public celebration when the white buffalo was born.
Bird said Little Soldier agreed to use the parking money to reimburse the Chamber about $2,000 for renting portable toilets.
"He has not paid us back," Bird said.
And then there was the last minute change of plans with the T-shirts that the chamber spent nearly $4,000 printing.
"We were told by Mrs. Little Soldier that because of some of something legal — and truly, I don't know exactly what she meant — but they were not allowed to sell anything except for the ones they were authorized to sell," Bird said.
Then, finally, there's the relationship with the public.
When people learned about the white buffalo's death, donors like Shirley Vilfordi of Dallas donated to a reward fund. She gave $100.
"I was hoping that it would help in leading to whoever did this," she said.
Bank records subpoenaed by the Sheriff show the public contributed a combined $7,345 — including one check for $5,000.
But the Sheriff concluded the money was co-mingled into Little Soldier's business account, which was used to pay for things like "motel rooms, Medieval Times, payroll for employees."
The investigator concluded the money "can not be accounted for."
"I'm disappointed," said fund donor Vilfordi.
Arby Little Soldier declined to be interviewed for this story, but after being interviewed by the Sheriff's investigator he wrote a post — since removed — on his website.
"It appears Arby and Pat Little Soldier are considered 'suspects' in the slaughter of the sacred white buffalo calf," the message said, adding that they "...will spend whatever is necessary and complete due process of the law, until justice has been served for this senseless crime."
During his interview with the Sheriff's department, Little Soldier remained firm that Lighting had been killed, gutted and skinned.
The Sheriff noted that because Little Solider waited six days to report the death, Lightning was badly decomposed by the time they dug up the body, but all signs pointed to a natural death.
During that conversation, three months into the investigation, Little Solider said he had photos from when the body was fresh.
"You said you have pictures of Lightning?" he was asked by a Texas Ranger working the case. "Yes," Little Soldier replied.
"Can you get those to us?" the Ranger asked. "Yes, ma'am," said Little Soldier.
But he never did. And without those photos, investigators said they had no choice but to close the case.
And a story that was supposed to be about unity ended with that vision in tatters.