May 05, 2010

White Buffalo = marauding Indian

The White BuffaloThe White Buffalo is a 1977 western film starring Charles Bronson, Kim Novak, Jack Warden, Slim Pickens, and Will Sampson.


Wild Bill Hickok is haunted by his dreams of a giant white buffalo. So much that he travels the West to find the beast. Along the way, Hickok meets Crazy Horse, who is also searching the plains for the giant white buffalo, who has killed Crazy Horse's daughter. Hickok and Crazy Horse team up to kill the elusive buffalo.
Charles Bronson: "The White Buffalo"

By jcwin228The White Buffalo (1977) is a strange kind of western about a monster buffalo and the crossing of paths of two real life western legends, Wild Bill Hickok and Crazy Horse. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Richard Sale who also wrote the screenplay. It stars Charles Bronson and is not very well known and in my opinion, grossly underappreciated. I’m not necessarily a big western fan or a Charles Bronson fan, but it’s always been one of my favorites. It’s really more like a horror story. As a kid, I would watch it every time it was on T.V., usually TBS, the Superstation. Who can’t resist a story of a giant, white, marauding monster in the wild west days.Someone posted this comment on Facebook:A lot of movies have done this. There was a horror movie called "The Manitou" which took a variety of Native spiritual traditions and made them all occultic/evil.

The movie "The White Buffalo" expresses in a way the same fear held by whites when the Ghost Dance was given. Take the tradition that the White Buffalo Calf will bring in an era of peace in which the First Nations will prosper (something colonists simply can't let happen of course) and retell the story from the conquerors' perspective that the White Buffalo will go about killing innocent white settlers and disrupting the economy.
Comment:  I haven't seen this movie, but the Facebook comment sounds about right. Fear of Native things that go bump in the night--white buffaloes, manitous, spirits, ghosts, zombies, demons, monsters, werewolves, skinwalkers, wendigos, sasquatches, etc.--is often a disguised fear of Native spirituality and other "soft" Native values. It's a fear of Natives, period--of what they have to tell us about our crass, profits-over-people culture.

In short, it seems the movie's White Buffalo is a stand-in for the marauding savage Indian. Look out, America...buffaloes and Indians on the warpath!

In a Native version of this story, the heroes wouldn't necessarily kill the monster. They might reason with it, gamble with it, trick it, outmaneuver it, leave it trapped, or free it from whatever spell it was under. That monsters are for killing is a typical Western trope.

For more on the subject, see Hercules vs. Coyote:  Native and Euro-American Beliefs and America's Cultural Mindset

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