LM Otero, Associated Press
A rare white buffalo walks in a corral after a Native American naming ceremony was held in Greenville, Texas Wednesday, June 29, 2011. The buffalo, named Lightning Medicine Cloud, was born to the Texas herd in May, 2011, and holds a special place in Native American culture.

Lightning Medicine Cloud, the all-white male buffalo calf considered by some Native Americans to be a sacred religious symbol, was killed late last month in Greenville, Texas, less than two weeks before his first birthday.

The Fort-Worth Star Telegram reported Monday, "Arby Little Soldier, great-great-great grandson of Sitting Bull and owner/operator of the Lakota Ranch, said (May 7) that he found the calf slaughtered and skinned April 30 after returning to the North Texas town from an out-of-town trip to Oklahoma City."

A page on the Lakota Ranch website explained the significance of a white buffalo in the Lakota Tribe's lore: "The Native Americans see the birth of a white buffalo calf as the most significant of prophetic signs, equivalent to the weeping statues, bleeding icons and crosses of light that are becoming prevalent within the Christian churches today. Where the Christian faithful who visit these signs see them as a renewal of God's ongoing relationship with humanity, so do the Native Americans see the white buffalo calf as the sign to begin life's sacred hoop."

Given the animal's elevated religious status, Lightning Medicine Cloud's untimely death left behind not only a $45,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator, but also a bevy of unresolved religious and legal questions. Indeed, Arby Little Soldier told the Indian Country Today Media Network on Wednesday that a groundswell of voices is calling for the perpetrator(s) to eventually stand trial on hate-crime charges.

“Local people here are pushing for this to be considered a hate crime,” Little Soldier said. “They’re contacting their senators, their congressmen. There is no penalty for killing a buffalo in the state of Texas. If you kill a horse, you get hung. If you kill a buffalo, nothing happens. So some people around here would like to see this classified as a hate crime, which would make it a federal crime."

Lightning Medicine Cloud would've marked his first birthday on May 12. His mother, the aptly named Buffalo Mother, appeared disoriented when Lightning Medicine Cloud's corpse was discovered; she died the next day. The white calf's father, Gentle Ben, died April 4 after being stuck by lightning.

Per the Lakota Ranch website, the 18th Annual Greenville Scholarship Native American Powwow takes place this weekend. The event was previously hailed as the 1st Annual Lightning Medicine Cloud Birthday and Powwow. NPR reported Tuesday that the event "was supposed to be a ceremony honoring the birth of a sacred white buffalo. Instead, it will serve as a memorial for Lightning Medicine Cloud and his mother."