The Hunt County Sheriff’s Department reported Tuesday that the criminal investigation into the death of a rare white buffalo is closed following the discovery that the animal died of a bacterial infection called blackleg.
The deaths of the buffalo, Lightning Medicine Cloud, and its mother, named Buffalo Woman, were widely reported by the media because the white animal was considered sacred by its Lakota Sioux owner, Arby Little Soldier.
Little Soldier reported finding the young buffalo dead in May just shy of its first birthday and its mother the next day on his ranch near Greenville. He said it had been skinned and mutilated, prompting outcries to find the killer or killers and reward offers.
The calf’s father, Ben, had been killed earlier when he was struck by lightning during the storms that spawned several tornadoes.
"To lose all three in a month is really terrible," Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said following the deaths of mother and son.
Thousands of people attended a naming ceremony at the ranch last year to celebrate the calf’s May 12 birth. Meeks spoke at the event.
On Tuesday, Meeks issued a statement saying that the deaths of Lightning Medicine Cloud and Buffalo Woman were due to "natural causes."
"Officials obtained what evidence was available and consulted with a veterinarian in reference to the manner of death," Meeks said. "We conducted a thorough investigation, interviewed over 25 people and looked at every angle in this matter such as hate crimes, vengeance, hunters, etc."
He said the young buffalo "was dead at least six days and buried for three days prior to our notification."
"The remains were decomposed," the sheriff said. "We have photographs indicating Lightning Medicine Cloud was not skinned. The photographs depict skin and hair on the remains and the veterinarian advised there was a lot of skin left on the remains."
He said they were closing the case.
"Should further evidence surface in the future that would indicate the deaths were not natural, we would gladly reopen the case," Meeks said.
Also on Tuesday, investigators said two other calves died of similar infections after the passing of Lightning Medicine Cloud.
According to Lakota Sioux lore, the goddess of peace once appeared in the form of a white buffalo calf.
After the deaths, Little Soldier issued a statement that the white buffalo "was brought in by God, but taken out by hands of evil people."
He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Greenville is about 75 miles east of Fort Worth.
— Marty Sabota