Published on December 2, 2012 by Amy
The White Buffalo Cow Society was the most respected women’s society amongst the Mandan and Hidatsa tribal peoples, equaled in the importance by the Bull Society amongst the men. The women of the White Buffalo Cow Society performed the buffalo-calling ceremony during the winter.
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The White Buffalo Cow Society originated with the Mandan but was adopted by the Hidatsa. This society, associated with the White Buffalo Cow oral history, performed important winter buffalo-calling rites. Only post-menopausal women were permitted to join this society amongst the Hidatsa, but the Mandan did not observe this restriction; however, the leaders were always elderly women.
Members of the society painted one eye a color based on their personal preference, typically blue. They tattooed black markers between their lips and chin. The women wore a headdress with white buffalo cowhide cap, embellished with feathers.
At certain ceremonial dances, the leader wore a white buffalo cow hide blanket. While dancing, the leader held a bundle of twings, capped with eagle plumes, an eagle wing, and a tin cup tied at the handle. Two other women wore skunk hide headbands, and all the other society members wore the white buffalo cow skin headbands with owl or raven feathers. Feathers were partially dyed red. All the women wore vermilion face paint on the left and two spots of blue paint on their right temples.
The ceremonies performed by the White Buffalo Cow Society gradually ceased under the pressure from the United States Government Indian agents during the 19th century. Today several women’s organizations and centers among Northern Plains tribes bear the name “White Buffalo.”
Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied observed the society firsthand, and during his travels, every Mandan village has a White Buffalo Cow Society. Henry A. Boller was also able to observe and record the society during his residence in the Mandan and Hidatsa villages on the Upper Missouri from 1858 to 1862. The society was further studied by anthropologists Robert Harry Lowie and Alfred W. Bowers.