A ranch for sale in the highlands near Flagstaff, Ariz., offers something rare to its buyer: a small herd of white buffalo. The price tag for the ranch and herd is $5 million. But the sale of the herd, bred by the owners of the ranch, has also stirred protest among Native Americans who have said that it is wrong to sell something that is sacred.

For many generations, the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman has been passed along through spiritual leaders of the Native American nations in the Great Plains. The story speaks of a handing down of sacred teachings by this being.

Jim and Dena Riley, the current owners of the 4.2-acre Spirit Mountain Ranch that is home to the white buffalo herd, started the herd on a 66-acre ranch in Wyoming, later moving the herd to South Dakota and then moving again to its current home in 2001.

A Web site set up to raise money to support the herd, http://www.sacredwhitebuffalo.org/, refers to the Rileys as “guardians of the Sacred White Buffalo.”

Portia Ryan, a Realtor who is working to sell the Spirit Mountain Ranch and herd, said, “They want to sell the herd. They have put nine years of their lives into this and all of their money. They are ranchers who should expect to see a profit from this sale.”

She also said that in her view, “sacredness does not have to equal poverty. The Rileys are not being greedy, but on the other hand they are not being stupid, either. (The buffalo) have a home now. A nice home. With nice owners who love them. The Rileys would like to sell, move to a lower elevation and spend more time with their family. The buffalo have a journey that will go on, and the Rileys want that journey to be with the right people.”

Dena Riley was reportedly in a major car accident last year, and the injury impaired her ability to help with ranch operations.

The Rileys’ ranch includes a tourist stop and gift shop, a small animal petting zoo with llamas and goats, farm equipment, art gallery and non-profit foundation to support the buffalo.

The white buffalo herd began with the purchase of two buffalo – the Rileys named the first buffalo Dances, and the second buffalo was a 2-year-old white buffalo bull that they named Dream Maker. Dances died after eating too many oak nuts, Ryan said, and the Rileys purchased three female buffalo. “One thing led to another, and the family grew,” she said.

The herd now includes 10 pure white buffalo that have been DNA-tested, according to a property listing for the ranch. The Rileys have used line-breeding with the herd, which is a form of inbreeding in which animals share a common ancestor.

Ryan said that it is odd for such a small herd to produce so many white buffalo.

“There is sound scientific reasoning for that occurrence, yet it does not entirely explain why so many are being born white, all from one original parent,” she said. “Other herds have had a white, yet not produced this many whites. So, there is the ‘unexplainable’ element in this story. Could it be connected to the White Buffalo Legend, as the white buffalo are the bringers of a new peace?”

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe who was born on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, was a child when he heard the prophecy about the return of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. In 1994, a white buffalo calf, called Miracle, was born in Janesville, Wis., and Arvol Looking Horse recognized the event as an important time of change for all peoples.

In 2003, he noted that many other animals have been born white in recent years, among them the lion, dolphin, raven, deer, black bear and moose. “We are now in a time of prophecy. These messages are a blessing and yet a great warning. It is a time of great urgency to unite for peace and harmony upon Mother Earth in order for our future generations to survive,” he stated. He also called for a world prayer day for all peoples.

Sally Higgins, a member of the Lakota Nation and a friend to Looking Horse, said that he is considered the “keeper of the spiritual laws. He keeps the history, he keeps the rules and he is to be respected.”

Higgins said that white animals are very rare and should be treated as sacred. “They’re not trophies. They’re not commercial commodities to be bought, sold and traded, and they’re certainly not showcased for public exhibition. Money cannot buy honor, truth or sacredness, and the problem with money is that it corrupts the truth.”

She added, “Our sacred ceremonies and our way of life are not for sale. If people love and respect the traditional Lakota ways, they honor these rules and they treat these animals with respect. They don’t showcase them and they don’t auction them off and they don’t sell them to the highest bidder.”

Ryan said that the Rileys have informed some Native American peoples about the sale of the ranch, and a report about the sale of the ranch was featured in the Lakota Journal.

“I am keeping the sale on the Web and networking with other organizations to get the word out,” she said.

Kate Coffey, an assistant to Ryan, said that the Rileys have maintained a Spirit Pole at the ranch for people to place ornaments, such as flags, sashes and medicine bags, to honor the white buffalo.

Coffey said the Rileys’ ranch is very isolated and its amenities are spare. The ranch uses a diesel generator and propane gas.

There has been national and international interest in the sale of the ranch, Coffey said, including “interest from Hollywood – it’s been very interesting.” Ryan stumbled upon the white buffalo ranch while searching for a sledding spot with her niece, Coffey said.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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