Monday, October 11, 2010

The search for the white buffalo

Isn't that an epic blog title? It's actually accurate. Let me explain.

I have long coveted this white deer mount from Z Gallerie:

I love the idea of a faux animal mount. It's rustic and cabin-esque (Rob's decor of choice), but this one is shiny and modern as well. Plus I wouldn't want a real animal mounted on my wall. That's just not my style, and I think it would creep me out (no offense intended to any of the deer hunters out there, especially my sister or other family members).

I liked this deer, and I envisioned it hanging on the partial wall that separates our living room from the kitchen. Rob liked the idea of an animal head in this space, but he wasn't sold on the deer. He said, "Why a deer? That's not significant to us in any way." And he's right. Plus it's not all that unique since a bevy of other bloggers have already incorporated the same (or similar) pieces in their homes.

I saw that Z Gallerie has a ram, a moose, another deer head... They even have a rhino head! Kinda bizarre, but ok.

None of them really spoke to me.

Then Rob located this white American buffalo* (aka bison) on Etsy:

* I use the words "buffalo" and "bison" interchangeably, but sometimes others use the word "buffalo" to refer to a much smaller breed of European cow. You are now ready for some bar room trivia.

The buffalo was perfect! You see, I have connections to this animal. The obvious reason - the bison is my beloved alma matter's school mascot. I am a proud North Dakota State University graduate. Hail the Bison! So the bison head was immediately very cool to me for that, but there's more. (If you keep reading, you'll get a little history lesson at the end of this post.)

The thing is, this buffalo head was pricey. The price is no longer listed, but I know it was in the $125-140 range. That's a lot for a young married couple on a budget!You all know how frugal the Whitmans are, and you might also know about our strict spending plan. Plus we make almost all of our own artwork, and so it was even more painful to think about dropping $125+ (plus $35 shipping) for this item that we couldn't even see in person before purchasing. We just weren't quite sure. Maybe if we could get the seller to drop the price a little?

One of my life mottos is this: "It doesn't hurt to try." So I emailed the seller and explained that we'd love the piece for our home but that it was a little out of our budget. I asked if she was willing to budge on the price or perhaps throw in free shipping instead? I offered to feature her shop on our blog and share our purchase with all our readers. But... We were shot down. To her credit, the seller was very nice in her reply and I have no hard feelings. Like I said, it doesn't hurt to ask.

A few days later, I was searching (for probably the 30th time) for another buffalo head. I doubted that the one on Etsy was one-of-a-kind, and so I searched. I also searched for a brown buffalo mount, knowing that my spray paint skills could easily turn it into a white one. I searched, mostly in vain. I did find a small shop with a very similar brown buffalo head for sale, but it was out of stock. So I contacted them to ask if they would be receiving any more. The shop emailed me back with the the somewhat comical response of: "No.. I am sorry... The supplier went under because of 'HOPE & CHANGE'."

Darn. The search continued.

And then I found it! It was brown, but it was IDENTICAL to the white buffalo we'd found earlier on Etsy.

And get this... it was only $34. Wow. The store (Decor for Your Home) only had one left in stock, and I snatched it right up. Shipping costs were $18. A can of white spray paint was $1. Total spending = $53.

That sure beats $150 for the one on Etsy.

We already received the bison head in the mail (that's a weird sentence). And it's perfect! Here's Rob checking it out:

And trying to pick a fight:

And being creepy:

We'll be spray-painting the bison white soon. I promise to post pics.

Here's where you get the history lesson.

Why a buffalo? Why a white one?

I grew up in Mandan, North Dakota, and the area has a rich history involving the Native American tribes that first settled that area. In fact, the town is named for the Mandan tribe, who lived in earth lodges (which you can still see and tour if you come to my hometown).

An earth lodge -- Photo source

The Mandan tribe hunted buffalo. From a very young age, I learned about buffalo and their importance to these tribes. This is from wikipedia:

"Hunting the buffalo was a critical part of Mandan survival and rituals. They called the buffalo to 'come to the village' in the Okipa ceremony at the beginning of each summer. In addition to eating the meat, the Mandan used all parts of the buffalo, so nothing went to waste. The hides were used for buffalo-fur robes or were tanned, and the leather used for clothing, bags, shelter and other uses. The Mandan were known for their painted buffalo hides that often recorded historic events. The bones would be carved into items such as needles and fish hooks. Bones were also used in farming: for instance, the scapula was used as a hoe-like device for breaking the soil."

Then in the mid '90s, an albino buffalo calf was born in a small North Dakota town. It was a big news story in our area. White bison are extremely rare, and they are considered to be spiritually sacred, holy, and symbolic. They named her Mahpiya Ska (White Cloud), and she was moved to the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, ND. When this happened, my grandma packed up all her grandchildren and drove us to Jamestown to visit the white buffalo. Yep, we drove three hours to see this:

Photo credit

We weren't the only ones. A lot of people traveled to see this rare animal. She's still there today, where she lives with the live herd that roams the pastures surrounding the museum. These pastures can be seen from Interstate 94, and I usually can spot White Cloud from my car every time I drive home to visit my family.

The birth of a white buffalo was a big story in ND, but it became even bigger when White Cloud gave birth to her own white calf just a few years ago:

Photo from the Bismarck Tribune

And then even more recently, a brown bison at the museum gave birth to yet ANOTHER white buffalo. It's unheard of, and the museum has grown quite legendary now that three are 3 sacred white buffalo roaming within the herd.

So a white buffalo has more significance than just a shiny, modern decoration. I am a believer in decorating your home with things that have personal meaning. And now you see why I am so excited about this find and to have this in my home.

This concludes my epic and history-riddled post. You can read more about the Mandan tribe here, if you'd like.


Vonda October 11, 2010 at 9:47 AM  

Glad you scored the buffalo head and can't wait to see it white! I loved that story! I have never seen a white buffalo.

Life in Rehab October 11, 2010 at 11:27 AM  

Nice persistence, and I'm glad it paid off! Can't wait to see the finished product.

Amanda October 11, 2010 at 12:05 PM  

I really like it, especially since it has significance to you. And Rob looks like the bunny from Donnie Darko in the creepy pic. Score on finding it for such a good deal!

Steph0871 October 11, 2010 at 3:13 PM  

Love it! And love the pictures of your creepy husband.

Nice find :)

oh, and random fact? my word verification is "humper" weird.

dm October 11, 2010 at 4:43 PM  

I've been to Mandan!

that's all i got.

Alexis L., The Studioist October 11, 2010 at 7:28 PM  

It's nice to see someone incorporating items with personal significance into their decor. It's not something you see very often these days with the incessant trend-chasing.

Chelsea October 12, 2010 at 11:30 AM  

How cool! I love that you have such a story and history behind the buffalo-head - I think that the best art has a personal relationship with the owner. :) Good score on the price, too! Makes me wonder about that one on Etsy... did they just spray paint it, too?


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