Minnesota's only known white buffalo calf, perhaps the first one born here in modern times, has died.

The calf had been born on July 4th on a farm in Avon, west of St. Cloud, where Steve Sarff has raised bison for nine years, shifting to the leaner meat after suffering a heart attack.

"Then I went out there this morning and almost had another one," Sarff said on Friday after finding the lifeless calf. "I don't know if she got kicked or hit. I guess it's just one of those things that happens in life. We're totally devastated."

Gail Griffin, executive director of the Minnesota Buffalo Association in Winona, had seen photos of the calf. She said it's quite possible that the calf took an errant kick.

"The flies are horrific because it's so dry and the moms are trying to kick the heel flies off," Griffin said. "If we don't get rain, we're going to have buffalo with wings, there are so many flies."

Sarff said he contacted several American Indian tribes about the calf, but got a tepid response. The heifer calf's death comes as hundreds of people, many of them Indians, are predicted to converge next week on a farm in Goshen, Conn., for the naming ceremony of a white bison born on June 16. According to a story in the national newspaper, Indian Country Today, the white buffalo is a spiritual symbol of sacred life and abundance to the Lakota and a sign of renewal from the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

White bison are considered as rare as one birth in 10 million. In 1994, a female calf born near Janesville, Wis., was believed to be the first white buffalo born in more than 60 years. The calf, named Miracle, became a tourist attraction. In 1996, a calf named White Cloud was born near Devils Lake, N.D. She, in turn, had a white calf in 2007, as part of a herd at the North Dakota Buffalo Museum in Jamestown.

In 2001, a white buffalo was born in Michigan. But it was in 2002 that a true phenomenon occurred on Dwaine Kirk's ranch in North Dakota, when four white calves were born. The Star Tribune reported at the time that veterinarians told the Kirks that one bull probably carries a unique gene.

In Minnesota, there are more than 11,000 buffalo being raised as of 2007, Griffin said. "We like to say that Minnesota has more buffalo now than lakes."

Sarff said he's planning on having a taxidermist preserve the calf. "I just like these animals," he said of his herd of 25. "I'm not in it for the money. There are just some things you got to take pride in, some reason to look forward to getting up in the morning."

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185