At one hundred and five, the apache native White Buffalo sits in the reclining chair, looking out the nursing home window. He can’t see much, just the asphalt parking lot and a few blurry trees beyond. His failing eyes see a dot moving about in the sky and assumes it’s an eagle.
“Tell me, friend eagle, when will the Great Spirit come and take me to the land of peace and plenty? I have lived too long and serve no purpose. These people here treat me like a living artifact, a credit to the nursing home. Even though I can hear perfectly, they speak to me loudly as if speaking to a child. Perhaps they think I’m hard of hearing because I usually do not answer their silly questions.” White buffalo sighs, “Once I was a warrior, but now I’m just an oddity.
The year is 1972, and White Buffalo is weary of living. The sun shines on his withered brown face as he closes his eyes and thinks back to when he was young. Back in 1869, when he was eighteen and first met Little Dove.
White Buffalo is very excited because his eighteenth birthday has arrived, so h can now join the council of warriors. This is exciting because it means he can now go on the warpath with the rest of the warriors. Mostly they fight with Mexican intruders, but lately, they’ve been having more trouble with the white settlers. White Buffalo is anxious to serve his tribe and impress the girl he likes, Little Dove. Over the last few months, he has been trying to get close to her but feels very awkward. Little Dove is beautiful and slender and wears her silky black hair in a braid down to her waist. It is tightly fastened at the end with a beaded .eather band and dove feathers. Whit Buffalo goes to her father Kuruk and asks if he can marry her, for this is another benefit of being eighteen. He is allowed to take a wife. But Little Dove’s father is reluctant to let her go, for she is very dutiful to him, and he is getting old. In the hope of discouraging White Buffalo, Kuruk asks for fifteen ponies. White Buffalo says nothing, turns, and walks away. Listening from inside her tepee, Little Dove feels her heart sink, thinking her love can never get that many ponies. Two weeks later, White Buffalo returns to Kuruk’s wigwam with twenty-five ponies for him and leaves with Little Dove by his side.
White Buffalo builds a new, larger tepee for Little Dove and himself and for his widowed mother to live with them. It has many buffalo and bear hides plus some buckskins. White Buffalo and his wife sleep on one side while his mother sleeps on the other. They are all very happy together. As the days pass, White Buffalo can’t be happier. Little Dove gets busy decorating the inside walls of their tepee by painting colorful drawings of antelope, bears, and buffalos. With White Buffalo’s help, She paints protecting totems of thunderbirds and gods of rain and wind on the outside. White Buffalo sometimes goes on raids with his chief Geronimo and is gaining status as a good warrior.
There are also feasts and festivals to which they will invite a neighboring tribe to attend. White Buffalo is so excited that he reminds Little Dove of the children looking forward to the fun. The men eat and tell tales of great battles they have fought while children run around chasing one another. The women prepare and serve the food along with many treasured treats. The feasting lasts all day long, and the chief signals that it is time for the singing and dancing to begin. Only the men dance and sing to the beat of the esadadedne (a buckskin-covered hoop) around a large campfire in the middle of an opening. They pantomime different folk tales and legends well into the night. These feasts last for days. Besides eating, singing, and dancing, there are games to play and competitions in which to compete.
White Buffalo won a horse race on his pinto pony, Swift Winds. He is so proud he paints his pony in bright colors and covers its blanket with flowers and feathers. He rides Swift Winds around for everyone to see. Little Dove cheers loudly for her man. There are also foot races and jumping competitions to see who can jump the furthest. There are even some intense wrestling matches to see who is the strongest. White Buffalo does sell but loses to Great Bear, a massive and mighty warrior. On the fourth day, the visiting tribe tells Geronimo they are satisfied and help break up camp, then leave, saying they will host the next feast. White Buffalo’s tribe talks and laughs about the feast for days afterward. (In the present, a smile finds its way across White Buffalo’s face.)
After they are together for about a year and a half, Little Dove becomes pregnant, but not all is well, for Little Dove is a frail girl and is having difficulty carrying the baby. She grows weak and thin. This weakness causes her to develop pneumonia. She can’t eat and grows thinner still. The baby stays small and inactive. Finally, well before her due date, Little Dove goes into labor. The baby is too weak and dies, and Little Dove nearly succumbs herself. Sobbing, Little Dove apologizes to White Buffalo for being a bad wife. He tells her that she is the very meaning of his life and doesn’t care if they never have children so long as he has her.
His chief, Geronimo, has had several treaties broken by the white man’s military leaders and has escaped from different reservations where he and his followers were forced to live. These last few years, they have been on the run, being chased by five thousand troopers and scouts and three thousand Mexican soldiers. Geronimo has finally grown tired of running and tells White Buffalo he plans to surrender. First, however, he will do his best to ensure that those who follow him will be treated fairly. The agent of Indian affairs promises Geronimo that because he has surrendered, they would move him and his men to Florida for a short period, and they would be able to return later. Unfortunately, this does not happen. They are forced into hard labor instead, and it isn’t until fifteen years have passed did White Buffalo return to Arizona.
After he returns, he begins searching for his family. He learns from an Indian organization that Little Dove and his mother were moved to a reservation in the middle of the desert. Sadly, Little Dove soon succumbed to the harsh environment. His mother died not long after that.
White buffalo wanders around feeling lost until he finally gets a job working for a white rancher who grows cotton. White Buffalo works hard, and the white rancher likes and treats him fairly. The rancher’s name is Cooper and after fifteen years decides to take care of White Buffalo, for White Buffalo is ninety-seven now and far from the strong warrior he used to be. He tells him he has made arrangements with a nearby nursing home.
“You’ve lived a long hard life, my friend. It’s time for you to sit and relax.” Says Cooper.
Whit Buffalo feels someone nudging his shoulder, trying to wake him up. “They probably want me to eat. Why must I eat when I’m not hungry? Just because they have prepared the food, we must all eat now?” The shaking continues, and Whit Buffalo is about to tell them to leave him alone when he hears a familiar voice.
“White Buffalo, my love. Wake up. It is time to go.” White Buffalo slowly opens his eyes, and there before him is Little Dove. Just as he remembers her, she is beautiful, radiant, and smiling demurely. “You are not dreaming. It is true. I’m here. The Great Spirit has sent me to come and take you to the place of peace and plenty. Just call Swift Winds, and we can leave.” Stunned, White Buffalo rises and looks back at his old self. A nursing home aide shakes his shoulder frantically until she calls for help.
“Someone, please come and help me! I can’t wake up Mr. Buffalo!” White Buffalo smiles and repeats, “Mr. Buffalo.” Turning to face Little Dove, he says, “Come, little Dove, take me to the Great Spirit.” Then giving a loud whistle, he summons Swift Winds.