Among the Pueblo tribes, bears are considered one of the six directional guardians, associated with the west and the color blue. The Zunis ascribe healing powers to bears and carve stone bear fetishes to protect them and bring them luck. A bear’s claw was one of the talismans frequently included in medicine bundles, and warriors in some tribes wore necklaces of bear claws to bring them power and strength. There were also many taboos regarding bears in different Native American tribes– the use of hunting seasons (to avoid killing mother bears with their cubs) was the most common, but in some tribes, it was considered disrespectful and dangerous to insult bears, step on their scat, or even utter their names outside of certain ritual contexts. Among the Innu, it was taboo for children or unmarried women to eat bear meat, and some Apache tribes did not eat bears at all.
In folklore, Bear is often portrayed either as a sort of enforcer figure who punishes disrespectful or improper behavior among other animals and people, or as a humorless “straight man” for weaker but cleverer trickster characters to play against. Bear personalities in these stories range from wise and noble, to morally upright but somewhat stupid and gullible, to aggressive and intimidating, but in most cases, they do not bother people who have not done anything wrong. (There are a few exceptions to this– in some tribes, such as the Cherokee, bears are sometimes portrayed as violent enemies of humans, although they are still an important clan animal to the Cherokees. Some tribes also tell stories about monsters resembling man-eating bears the size of elephants, which prey on innocent people and must be slain by heroes.) The devoted maternal behavior of female bears is often noted in folktales, with mother bears sacrificing themselves for their cubs or adopting human children.
Bears are also one of the most important and widespread clan animals in Native American cultures. Tribes with Bear Clans include the Creek (whose Bear Clan is named Nokosalgi or Nokosvlke,) the Chippewa (whose Bear Clan and its totem are called Nooke,) Algonquian tribes such as the Mi’kmaq and Menominee, the Huron and Iroquois tribes, Plains tribes such as the Caddo and Osage, the Hopi (whose Bear Clan is called Honngyam or Hona-wungwa), the Navajo and Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, and Northwest Coast tribes such as the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Nisgaa-Gitksan, and Salishan tribes. Bear was an important clan crest on the Northwest Coast and can often be found carved on totem poles. And many eastern tribes, such as the Caddo, Lenape, and Iroquois, have a Bear Dance among their tribal dance traditions.
Badger and the Bear (Lakota)
Bear’s Lodge (Kiowa)
Bear and Deer Children (Pohonichi Miwok)
Bear and his Indian Wife (Haida)
Bear and Rabbit Hunt Buffalo (Sioux)
Bear And Raccoon Boy (Nez Perce / Nee-Me-Poo)
Bear and the Fawns (Miwok)
Bear Cubs (Mashkussut)
Bears And Coyote (Nez Perce / Nee-Me-Poo)
Bear Legend (Cherokee)
Bear Man (Cherokee)
Bear Mother (Haida)
Bear Woman (Blackfoot)
Bear Leads A Boy Astray (Nez Perce / Nee-Me-Poo)
Bear-Woman and Deer-Woman (Lassik)
Long ago when animals could talk, a bear was walking along. Now it has always been said that bears think very highly of themselves. Since they are big and strong, they are certain that they are the most important of the animals.
As this bear went along turning over big logs with his paws to look for food to eat, he felt very sure of himself. “There is nothing I cannot do,” said this bear.
“Is that so?” said a small voice. Bear looked down. There was a little chipmunk looking up at Bear from its hole in the ground.
“Yes,” Bear said, “that is true indeed.” He reached out one huge paw and rolled over a big log. “Look at how easily I can do this. I am the strongest of all the animals. I can do anything. All the other animals fear me.”
“Can you stop the sun from rising in the morning?” said the Chipmunk.
Bear thought for a moment. “I have never tried that,” he said. “Yes, I am sure I could stop the sun from rising.”
“You are sure?” said Chipmunk.
“I am sure,” said Bear. “Tomorrow morning the sun will not rise. I, Bear, have said so.” Bear sat down facing the east to wait.
Behind him the sun set for the night and still he sat there. The chipmunk went into its hole and curled up in its snug little nest, chuckling about how foolish Bear was. All through the night Bear sat. Finally the first birds started their songs and the east glowed with the light which comes before the sun.
“The sun will not rise today,” said Bear. He stared hard at the glowing light. “The sun will not rise today.”
However, the sun rose, just as it always had. Bear was very upset, but Chipmunk was delighted. He laughed and laughed. “Sun is stronger than Bear,” said the chipmunk, twittering with laughter. Chipmunk was so amused that he came out of his hole and began running around in circles, singing this song:
“The sun came up,
The sun came up.
Bear is angry,
But the sun came up.”
While Bear sat there looking very unhappy, Chipmunk ran around and around, singing and laughing until he was so weak that he rolled over on his back. Then, quicker than the leap of a fish from a stream, Bear shot out one big paw and pinned him to the ground.
“Perhaps I cannot stop the sun from rising,” said Bear, “but you will never see another sunrise.”
‘Oh, Bear,” said the chipmunk. “oh, oh, oh, you are the strongest, you are the quickest, you are the best of all of the animals. I was only joking.” But Bear did not move his paw.
“Oh, Bear,” Chipmunk said, “you are right to kill me, I deserve to die. Just please let me say one last prayer to Creator before you eat me.”
“Say your prayer quickly,” said Bear. “Your time to walk the Sky Road has come!”
“Oh, Bear,” said Chipmunk, “I would like to die. But you are pressing down on me so hard I cannot breathe. I can hardly squeak. I do not have enough breath to say a prayer. If you would just lift your paw a little, just a little bit, then I could breathe. And I could say my last prayer to the Maker of all, to the one who made great, wise, powerful Bear and the foolish, weak, little Chipmunk.
“Bear lifted up his paw. He lifted it just a little bit. That little bit, though, was enough. Chipmunk squirmed free and ran for his hole as quickly as the blinking of an eye. Bear swung his paw at the little chipmunk as it darted away. He was not quick enough to catch him, but the very tips of his long claws scraped along Chipmunk’s back leaving three pale scars.
To this day, all chipmunks wear those scars as a reminder to them of what happens when one animal makes fun to another.
Back in the old days, Bear had a tail which was his proudest possession. It was long and black and glossy and Bear used to wave it around just so that people would look at it. Fox saw this. Fox, as everyone knows, is a trickster and likes nothing better than fooling others. So it was that he decided to play a trick on Bear.
It was the time of year when Hatho, the Spirit of Frost, had swept across the land, covering the lakes with ice and pounding on the trees with his big hammer. Fox made a hole in the ice, right near a place where Bear liked to walk. By the time Bear came by, all around Fox, in a big circle, were big trout and fat perch. Just as Bear was about to ask Fox what he was doing, Fox twitched his tail which he had sticking through that hole in the ice and pulled out a huge trout.
“Greetings, Brother,” said Fox. “How are you this fine day?”
“Greetings,” answered Bear, looking at the big circle of fat fish. ” I am well, Brother. But what are you doing?”
“I am fishing,” answered Fox. “Would you like to try?”
“Oh, yes,” said Bear, as he started to lumber over to Fox’s fishing hole.
But Fox stopped him. “Wait, Brother,” he said, “This place will not be good. As you can see, I have already caught all the fish. Let us make you a new fishing spot where you can catch many big trout.”
Bear agreed and so he followed Fox to the new place, a place where, as Fox knew very well, the lake was too shallow to catch the winter fish–which always stay in the deepest water when Hatho has covered their ponds. Bear watched as Fox made the hole in the ice, already tasting the fine fish he would soon catch. “Now,” Fox said, “you must do just as I tell you. Clear your mind of all thoughts of fish. Do not even think of a song or the fish will hear you. Turn your back to the hole and place your tail inside it. Soon a fish will come and grab your tail and you can pull him out.”
“But how will I know if a fish has grabbed my tail if my back is turned?” asked Bear.
“I will hide over here where the fish cannot see me,” said Fox. “When a fish grabs your tail, I will shout. Then you must pull as hard as you can to catch your fish. But you must be very patient. Do not move at all until I tell you.”
Bear nodded, “I will do exactly as you say.” He sat down next to the hole, placed his long beautiful black tail in the icy water and turned his back.
Fox watched for a time to make sure that Bear was doing as he was told and then, very quietly, sneaked back to his own house and went to bed. The next morning he woke up and thought of Bear. “I wonder if he is still there,” Fox said to himself. “I’ll just go and check.”
So Fox went back to the ice covered pond and what do you think he saw? He saw what looked like a little white hill in the middle of the ice. It had snowed during the night and covered Bear, who had fallen asleep while waiting for Fox to tell him to pull his tail and catch a fish. And Bear was snoring. His snores were so loud that the ice was shaking. It was so funny that Fox rolled with laughter. But when he was through laughing, he decided the time had come to wake up poor Bear. He crept very close to Bear’s ear, took a deep breath, and then shouted: “Now, Bear!!!”
Bear woke up with a start and pulled his long tail hard as he could. But his tail had been caught in the ice which had frozen over during the night and as he pulled, it broke off — Whack! — just like that. Bear turned around to look at the fish he had caught and instead saw his long lovely tail caught in the ice.
“Ohhh,” he moaned, “ohhh, Fox. I will get you for this.” But Fox, even though he was laughing fit to kill was still faster than Bear and he leaped aside and was gone.
So it is that even to this day Bears have short tails and no love at all for Fox. And if you ever hear a bear moaning, it is probably because he remembers the trick Fox played on him long ago and he is mourning for his lost tail.
The story concerning the Bear family was revealed through a descendant of the original hero of the following tale. He owned a very old powder horn bearing an incised representation of his mother, who was a Bear, seated in the bow of a canoe travelling to the hunting grounds with her husband.
Many, many generations ago, a Penobscot, his wife, and their little son started out from their village to go to Canada. They were from Penobscot Bay, bound for a great council and dance to be held at the Iroquois village of Caughnawaga. They went upriver to the point where they had to make a 20-mile portage to reach another river that would take them to the St. Lawrence.
The man started ahead with the canoe on his back, leaving his wife to pack part of the luggage to their first overnight campsite. The little boy ran alongside of her. While she was busy arranging her pack, her son ran on ahead to catch up with his father.
The man had gone so far ahead, the boy became lost. The mother assumed the boy was with his father. When she arrived at the campground, they discovered that their son was with neither of them. They began a search immediately, but they could not find him.
The parents returned home to tell their story to their tribe. All of the men turned out for a wide search party, which lasted for several months without success. In March of the next year, the Penobscots found some sharpened sticks near the river. They concluded that the boy must be alive and had been spearing fish. Footprints of bears were seen, and they thought perhaps the boy had been adopted by a bear family.
In the village, there was a lazy man who did not enter into the search, but lay around idly. Everyone asked him, “Why don’t you help hunt for the boy? You seem to be good for nothing.”
“Very well, I will,” he replied. He went right to the bear’s den and knocked with his bow on the rocks at the entrance. Inside, a great noise arose where the father, mother, baby bear, and adopted boy lived. The father-bear went to the entrance, holding out a birch-bark vessel. The lazy man shot at it and killed the bear.
The mother-bear says, “Now I will go.” She took another vessel, held it out at the entrance, and also was killed. The baby bear did the same and was killed. All of the bears were laid out dead in the cave. Then the lazy man entered and saw the little boy terribly afraid and huddled in a dark corner, crying for his relatives and trying to hide.
The lazy hunter gently carried him home to the village and gave him to his parents. Everyone gave the lazy man presents: two blankets, a canoe, ammunition, and other good things. He became rich overnight.
The boy’s parents, however, noticed that their son seemed to be turning into a bear. Bristles were showing on his upper back and shoulders, and his manners had changed. Finally they helped him to become a real person again, and he grew up to be a Penobscot Indian like his father. He married and had children. Forever after he and all of his descendants were called Bears.
They drew pictures of bears on pieces of birch-bark with charcoal and left them at camps wherever they went. All of their descendants seemed to do this and declare, “I am one of the Bear family.”
Now in the Old Time there lived a boy called Sigo, whose father had died when he was a baby. Sigo was too young to hunt and provide food for the wigwam, so his mother was obliged to take another husband, a jealous spiteful man who soon came to dislike his small stepson, for he thought the mother cared more for the child than for himself. He thought of a plan to be rid of the boy.
“Wife,” said he, “it is time the boy learned something of the forest. I will take him with me today, hunting.”
“Oh no!” cried his wife. “Sigo is far too young!”
But the husband snatched the boy and took him into the forest, while the mother wept, for she knew her husband’s jealous heart.
The stepfather knew of a cave deep in the forest, a deep cave that led into a rocky hill. To this cave, he led his stepson and told him to go inside and hunt for the tracks of rabbit. The boy hung back.
“It is dark in there. I am afraid.”
“Afraid!” scoffed the man. “A fine hunter you’ll make,” and he pushed the boy roughly into the cave. “Stay in there until I tell you to come out.”
Then the stepfather took a pole and thrust it under a huge boulder so that it tumbled over and covered the mouth of the cave completely. He knew well there was no other opening. The boy was shut in for good and would soon die of starvation.
The stepfather left the place, intending to tell the boy’s mother that her son had been disobedient, had run off and got lost, and he had been unable to find him. He would not return home at once. He would let time pass, as if he had been looking for the boy. Another idea occurred to him. He would spend the time on Blomidon’s beach and collect some of Glooscap’s purple stones to take as a peace offering to his wife. She might suspect, but nothing could be proved, and nobody would ever know what had happened.
Nobody? There was one who knew already. Glooscap the Great Chief was well aware of what had happened and he was angry, very angry. He struck his great spear into the red stone of Blomidon and the clip split. Earth and stones tumbled down, down, down to the beach, burying the wicked stepfather and killing him instantly.
Then Glooscap called upon a faithful servant, Porcupine, and told him what he was to do.
In the dark cave in the hillside, Sigo cried out his loneliness and fear. He was only six after all, and he wanted his mother. Suddenly he heard a voice.
“Sigo! Come this way.”
He saw two glowing eyes and went towards them, trembling. The eyes grew bigger and brighter and at last he could see they belonged to an old porcupine.
“Don’t cry any more, my son,” said Porcupine. “I am here to help you,” and the boy was afraid no longer. He watched as Porcupine went to the cave entrance and tried to push away the stone, but the stone was too heavy. Porcupine put his lips to the crack of light between boulder and hill side and called out:
“Friends of Glooscap! Come around, all of you!”
The animals and birds heard him and came–Wolf, Raccoon, Caribou, Turtle, Possum, Rabbit, and Squirrel, and birds of all kinds from Turkey to Hummingbird.
“A boy has been left here to die,” called the old Porcupine from inside the cave. “I am not strong enough to move the rock. Help us or we are lost.”
The animals called back that they would try. First Raccoon marched up and tried to wrap his arms around the stone, but they were much too short. Then Fox came and bit and scratched at the boulder, but he only made his lips bleed. Then Caribou stepped up and, thrusting her long antlers into the crack, she tried to pry the stone loose, but only broke off one of her antlers. It was no use. In the end, all gave up. They could not move the stone.
“Kwah-ee,” a new voice spoke. “What is going on?” They turned and saw Mooinskw, which means she-bear, who had come quietly out of the woods. Some of the smaller animals were frightened and hid, but the others told Mooinskw what had happened. She promptly embraced the boulder in the cave’s mouth and heaved with all her great strength. With a rumble and a crash, the stone rolled over. Then out came Sigo and Porcupine, joyfully.
Porcupine thanked the animals for their help and said, “Now I must find someone to take care of this boy and bring him up. My food is not the best for him. Perhaps there is someone here whose diet will suit him better. The boy is hungry–who will bring him food ?”
All scattered at once in search of food. Robin was the first to return, and he laid down worms before the boy, but Sigo could not eat them. Beaver came next, with bark, but the boy shook his head. Others brought seeds and insects, but Sigo, hungry as he was, could not touch any of them, At last came Mooinskw and held out a flat cake made of blue berries. The boy seized it eagerly and ate.
“Oh, how good it is,” he cried. And Porcupine nodded wisely.
“From now on,” he said, “Mooinskw will be this boy’s foster mother.”
So Sigo went to live with the bears. Besides the mother bear, there were two boy cubs and a girl cub. All were pleased to have a new brother and they soon taught Sigo all their tricks and all the secrets of thee forest, and Sigo was happy with his new-found family. Gradually, he forgot his old life. Even the face of his mother grew dim in memory and, walking often on all fours as the bears did, he almost began to think he was a bear.
One spring when Sigo was ten, the bears went fishing for smelts. Mooinskw walked into the water, seated herself on her haunches and commenced seizing the smelts and tossing them out on the bank to the children. All were enjoying themselves greatly when suddenly Mooinskw plunged to the shore, crying, “Come children, hurry!” She had caught the scent of man. “Run for your lives!”
As they ran, she stayed behind them, guarding them, until at last they were safe at home.
“What animal was that, Mother?” asked Sigo.
“That was a hunter,” said his foster-mother, “a human like yourself, who kills bears for food.” And she warned them all to be very watchful from now on. “You must always run from the sight or scent of a hunter.”
Not long afterwards, the bear family went with other bear families to pick blueberries for the winter. The small ones soon tired of picking and the oldest cub had a sudden mischievous thought.
“Chase me towards the crowd,” he told Sigo, “just as men do when they hunt bears. The others will be frightened and run away. Then we can have all the berries for ourselves.”
So Sigo began to chase his brothers towards the other bears, whooping loudly, and the bears at once scattered in all directions. All, that is, except the mother bear who recognized the voice of her adopted son.
“Offspring of Lox!” she cried. “What mischief are you up to now?” And she rounded up the children and spanked them soundly, Sigo too.
So the sun crossed the sky each day and the days grew shorter. At last the mother bear led her family to their winter quarters in a large hollow tree. For half the winter they were happy and safe, with plenty of blueberry cakes to keep them from being hungry. Then, one sad day, the hunters found the tree.
Seeing the scratches on its trunk, they guessed that bears were inside, and they prepared to smoke them out into the open.
Mooinskw knew well enough what was about to happen and that not all would escape.
“I must go out first,” she said, “and attract the man’s attention, while you two cubs jump out and run away. Then you, Sigo, show yourself and plead for your little sister. Perhaps they will spare her for your sake.”
And thus it happened, just as the brave and loving mother bear had said. As soon as she climbed down from the tree, the Indians shot her dead, but the two male cubs had time to escape. Then Sigo rushed out, crying:
“I am a human, like you. Spare the she-cub, my adopted sister.”
The amazed Indians put down their arrows and spears and, when they had heard Sigo’s story, they gladly spared the little she- bear and were sorry they had killed Mooinskw who had been so good to an Indian child.
Sigo wept over the body of his foster mother and made a solemn vow.
“I shall be called Mooin, the bear’s son, from this day forwards. And when I am grown, and a hunter, never will I kill a mother bear, or bear children!”
And Mooin never did.
With his foster sister, he returned to his old village, to the great joy of his Indian mother, who cared tenderly for the she- cub until she was old enough to care for herself.
And ever since then, when Indians see smoke rising from a hollow tree, they know a mother bear is in there cooking food for her children, and they leave that tree alone.
Thus, kespeadooksit–the story ends.
by Joaquin Miller
Before people were on the Earth, the Chief of the Great Sky Spirits grew tired of his home in the Above World because it was always cold. So he made a hole in the sky by turning a stone around and around. Through the hole he pushed snow and ice until he made a big mound. This mound was Mount Shasta.
Then Sky Spirit stepped from the sky to the mountain and walked down. When he got about halfway down, he thought: “On this mountain there should be trees.” So he put his finger down and eveywhere he touched, up sprang trees. Everywhere he stepped, the snow melted and became rivers.
The Sky Spirit broke off the end of his big walking stick he had carried from the sky and threw the pieces in the water. The long pieces became Beaver and Otter. The smaller pieces became fish. From the other end of his stick he made the animals.
Biggest of all was Grizzly Bear. They were covered with fur and had sharp claws just like today, but they could walk on their hind feet and talk. They were so fierce looking that the Sky Spirit sent them to live at the bottom of the mountain.
When the leaves fell from the trees, Sky Spirit blew on them and made the birds.
Then Sky Spirit decided to stay on the Earth and sent for his family. Mount Shasta became their lodge. He made a BIG fire in the middle of the mountain and a hole in the top for the smoke and sparks. Every time he threw a really big log on the fire, the Earth would tremble and sparks would fly from the top of the mountain.
Late one spring, Wind Spirit was blowing so hard that it blew the smoke back down the hole and burned the eyes of Sky Spirit’s family. Sky Spirit told his youngest daughter to go tell Wind Spirit not to blow so hard.
Sky Spirit warned his daughter: “When you get to the top, don’t poke your head out. The wind might catch your hair and pull you out. Just put your arm through and make a sign and then speak to Wind Spirit.”
The little girl hurried to the top of the mountain and spoke to Wind Spirit. As she started back down, she remembered that her father had told her that the ocean could be seen from the top of the mountain. He had made the ocean since moving his family to the mountain and his daughter had never seen it.
She put her head out of the hole and looked to the west. The Wind Spirit caught her hair and pulled her out of the mountain. She flew over the ice and snow and landed in the scrubby fir trees at the timberline, her long red hair flowing over the snow.
There Grizzly Bear found her. He carried the little girl home with him wondering who she was. Mother Grizzly Bear took care of her and brought her up with her cubs. The little girl and the cubs grew up together.
When she bacame a young woman, she and the eldest son of Gizzly Bear were married. In the years that followed they had many children. The children didn’t look like their father or their mother.
All the grizzly bears throughout the forest were proud of these new creatures. They were so pleased, they made a new lodge for the red-haired mother and her strange looking children. They called the Lodge – Little Mount Shasta.
Ater many years had passed, Mother Grizzly Bear knew that she would soon die. Fearing that she had done wrong in keeping the little girl, she felt she should send word to the Chief of the Sky Spirits and ask his forgiveness. So she gathered all the grizzlies at Little Mount Shasta and sent her oldest grandson to the top of Mount Shasta, in a cloud, to tell the Spirit Chief where he could find his daughter.
The father was very glad. He came down the mountain in great strides. He hurried so fast the snow melted. His tracks can be seen to this day.
As he neared the lodge, he called out for his daughter.
He expected to see a little girl exactly as he saw her last. When he saw the strange creatures his daughter was taking care of, he was surprised to learn that they were his grandchildren and he was very angry. He looked so sternly at the old grandmother that she died at once. Then he cursed all the grizzlies.
“Get down on your hands and knees. From this moment on all grizzlies shall walk on four feet. And you shall never talk again. You have wronged me.”
He drove his grandchildren out of the lodge, threw his daughter over his shoulder and climbed back up the mountain. Never again did he come to the forest. Some say he put out the fire in the center of his lodge and returned to the sky with his daughter.
Those strange grandchildren scattered and wandered over the earth. They were the first Indians, the ancestors of all the Indian Tribes.
That is why the Indians living around Mount Shasta never kill Grizzly Bear. Whenever one of them was killed by a grizzly bear, his body was burned on the spot. And for many years all who passed that way cast a stone there until a great pile of stones marked the place of his death.
One day Puma took his son hunting with him. The Bear came to Puma’s tent and saw his wife there, and immediately fell in love with her. “I wish to have her for my wife,” he thought. Then he went in to where she was sitting. In only a short time, he proposed that she run away with him. She consented and ran away with the Bear.
When Puma returned, he could not find his wife. “I wonder if she could have eloped with that Bear?” he mused. At first he and his son saw no tracks, but eventually they picked up the couple’s trail. Angry by now, Puma followed the Bear tracks.
A high wind began to blow, obliterating most of the tracks. The next day Puma found them again and followed on. “Perhaps they are in that cedar wood,” he thought. As he moved closer, he heard voices and recognized his wife’s and the Bear’s.
He sent his son to circle the wood, approaching from the other side of the wood to force the Bear out toward Puma. The woman said “Puma is very strong.” “But I am stronger,” said the Bear, seizing a cedar tree and pulling it from the ground. “He is stronger than that,” said the woman.
The Bear had his moccasins off when Puma’s son attacked. Quickly the Bear put on his moccasins, but in his haste he put them on the wrong feet. Then, not knowing who was coming behind him, he ran forward into Puma. The two grappled and Puma threw the Bear to the ground. The Bear rose up again and charged at Puma, who thrust the Bear down against a rock and broke the Bear’s back.
Then Puma sent his wife away into the woods, letting her know that he did not want her for his wife again. Puma and his son left on another hunting trip to find a new wife and home for themselves.
In a tribal village there lived a mighty bear-hunter. For more than three years, he had been constantly successful in killing so many that his friend tried to persuade him to stop hunting.
“If you insist upon hunting one more bear, you will come across a huge bear who might kill you,” he said. The hunter ignored his friend’s advice and replied, “I will attack every bear I come across.”
A few days later the hunter started out and saw a bear with two cubs. He decided this was not the huge bear he had been worried about, so he attacked the mother bear, and after some difficulty killed her. The cubs ran away. After the hunter dragged the bear home for his tribe, his friend continued to urge him to give up the bear hunt, but without success.
On another hunt, after a few days on the trail, the hunter met a stranger who informed him that near his village were a great many bears. “Every year many are killed by our hunters, but always there is an invincible one that has destroyed many of our hunters. Each time he kills a man, the bear tears him apart, examines him carefully as if searching for a special body mark. He is different because his feet and head are white.”
They parted, and the hunter started out to look for that hunting ground. On his way, he stopped near a fish creek looking for game, but after a long night none appeared. Next morning he moved onward and came to a high bluff; below it he saw many bears on the tundra. He waited until some separated and looked over the remainder.
Among those, he saw the white-faced bear with white feet and concluded that this must be the ferocious, huge bear he sought. First he would keep an eye on it and wait for a favourable opportunity to kill it.
Now it seems that at one time, the white-faced bear was a human being and a very successful bear-hunter, too successful for his own good. His friends were envious and plotted to kill him. So they went to a medicine-man deep in the woods, and begged him to transform the successful hunter into a beast.
“Shoot a bear, skin it and place the skin under the pillow of your successful hunter,” advised the shaman.
After the bear-skin had been prepared, the shaman and his friends quietly went to the man’s hut and placed the skin under the man’s pillow. They hid themselves to see what would happen when the man went to bed. Upon waking, the man found that he had become a huge bear with a white face and white feet.
“The white marks will show you which bear he is,” said the shaman, who disappeared into the woods.
Now our bear-hunter still sat at the edge of the bluff. Toward evening he saw the bears begin to leave, all except the white- faced bear. He was the last to get up, and he shook himself three times and acted as if he was deeply enraged. He moved toward the bluff where the hunter sat perfectly still. But the bear approached, and when he was almost face to face, asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I came out to hunt,” he replied.
“Is it not enough that you have killed all my family, and recently killed my wife, and now you want to take my life? If you had injured my children the other day, I would now tear you to pieces. I will, however, spare your life this time on your promise that you will never hunt bears again. All the bears you saw today are my children and of my brother. Should I ever see you hunting bear, I will tear you apart.”
Relieved to get away so easily, the hunter headed homeward. His friend met him and inquired about the white-faced bear, and when told what had happened, he urged the hunter to give up hunting. A whole week passed before the hunter set forth again, taking along six hunting friends.
For two days they hunted without luck, then came to the fish creek where they camped overnight. Next morning their leader took the six to the edge of the bluff where they could look down at the tundra and see many bears. But they could not see the white- faced bear and, encouraged, followed their leader toward the animals.
“Look at that strange-looking beast with white paws and a white face!” exclaimed one man.
The hunter-leader caught sight of that special bear and ordered his followers to retreat at once. So they went around another mountain where they saw many bears. They killed seven, one for each man.
Loaded with their spoil they took the homeward trail, but a short distance behind them they heard a commotion. They saw the white faced bear rapidly approaching them. The hunter aimed, but his bowstring broke. The others shot and missed. The white-faced bear spoke up and said, “Why do you shoot at me? I never harm you. Your leader killed my wife and nearly all my family. I warned him that if I found him hunting again, I would tear him apart. And this I shall do now, piece by piece. The rest of you can go. I’ll not harm you because you have not harmed me.”
Hurriedly, as fast as possible, the six men fled. The white- faced bear turned to the bear-hunter.
“I had you in my power once and I let you go on your promise not to hunt bear again. Now you are back at it and brought more bear- hunters along. This time I will do to you as you have done to mine.”
The hunter pleaded to be allowed to live one more night so he could go home. At first the bear refused outright. The white- faced bear then relented, and would even spare his life entirely, if the hunter would tell him who had transformed him from a man into a beast. The hunter agreed to meet him the next night and go to the home of the shaman.
When the bear-hunter reached home and found his six companions talking excitedly about the day’s experience, they were surprised to see the hunter-leader alive.
The hunter told them his plan to meet the white-faced bear at the home of the shaman next evening and asked the six to go with him. They refused and tried to dissuade their leader. But the bear- hunter kept his word and met the white-faced bear at the appointed place. A light shone from every hut except that of the shaman.
“This is the place,” said the man.
“I will remain here,” ordered the bear. “You go inside and tell him there is a man outside wishing to speak with him.”
The man advanced and found the skin-door tied, so he reported to the bear that the shaman must be out. The bear ordered him back to cut the door, then walk in. Upon entering, the man heard someone call, “Who dares come into my lodge?”
“It is I,” said the bear-hunter.
“What do you wish?”
“There is a man outside who wishes to speak to you.”
Had the shaman not been so sleepy, he might have been suspicious. Under the circumstances, his mind was not clear and he fell into the trap.
When the shaman came near the white-faced bear, the old man became frightened and was ready to run away. But the bear blocked his way and said, “For years you have tortured me and made my life a burden in this condition. I demand you give me back my human form immediately, otherwise I shall tear you to pieces.”
The shaman promised to do so if the bear would follow him into his hut. Before going in, the bear said to the hunter, “Meet me here when I come out.”
All night the shaman worked hard with the bear, and by next morning succeeded in pulling off the bear-skin, and a human form appeared. The shaman asked to keep the white-faced bear’s skin, but the man kept the white-face and the white claws, which he cut off at once, giving the rest of the skin to the shaman.
“If you ever again try to transform a man into a beast, I will be back and kill you dead, dead, dead,” said the man.
The next day when the bear-man met the bear-hunter he said, “I caution you against ever going out to hunt bear. You may even hear people say I’ve become a bear again, and they will hunt me. Don’t you join them. If I find you in their company, I will kill you dead, dead, dead.”
For about four weeks the hunter remained at home with every intention of keeping his promise to the transformed man. But one day two young men from the neighbouring tribal village came to beg his assistance. They asked his help to kill a ferocious bear with a white face and four white feet.
Of course the hunter knew the bear they feared, but decided to disguise himself and go help them. They gathered all of the village warriors and set out to find the white-faced bear. The bear saw them coming. He rose and shook himself three times, giving the impression of great anger, which frightened the warriors. Their chief said, “We are in great danger, so we must stand and fight.”
Madly, the white-faced bear jumped, landed in front of the hunter and tore him to pieces. Then it pawed a hole in the ground and covered up the parts. The terrified warriors tried to escape, but the white-faced bear chased them back to their village, tearing them apart, killing all of them, including the old shaman. Finished, the white-faced bear turned back into the woods to rest undisturbed forever.
Oral Traditions of the Iroquois
Boy Who Lived With the Bears (Video)
Boy Who Lived With the Bears
Chipmunk and Bear (Video)
Chipmunk and Bear
How Bear Lost His Tail
Hunting of the Great Bear
Turtle’s Race With Bear
It was an early winter, cold enough so that the ice had frozen on all the ponds and Bear, who had not yet learned in those days that it was wiser to sleep through the White Season, grumbled as he walked through the woods. Perhaps he was remembering a trick another animal had played on him, perhaps he was just not in a good mood. It happened that he came to the edge of a great pond and saw Turtle there with his head sticking out of the ice.
“Hah,” shouted Bear, not even giving his old friend a greeting. “What are you looking at, Slow One?”
Turtle looked at Bear. “Why do you call me slow?”
Bear snorted. “You are the slowest of the animals. If I were to race you, I would leave you far behind.” Perhaps Bear never heard of Turtle’s big race with Beaver and perhaps Bear did not remember that Turtle, like Coyote, is an animal whose greatest speed is in his wits.
“My friend,” Turtle said, “let us have a race to see who is the swiftest.”
“All right,” said Bear. “Where will we race?”
“We will race here at this pond and the race will be tomorrow morning when the sun is the width of one hand above the horizon. You will run along the banks of the pond and I will swim in the water.”
“How can that be?” Bear said. “There is ice all over the pond.”
“We will do it this way,” said Turtle. “I will make holes in the ice along the side of the pond and swim under the water to each hole and stick my head out when I reach it.”
“I agree,” said Bear. “Tomorrow we will race.”
When the next day came, many of the other animals had gathered to watch. They lined the banks of the great pond and watched Bear as he rolled in the snow and jumped up and down making himself ready.
Finally, just as the sun was a hand’s width in the sky, Turtle’s head popped out of the hole in the ice at the starting line. “Bear,” he called, “I am ready.”
Bear walked quickly to the starting place and as soon as the signal was given, he rushed forward, snow flying from his feet and his breath making great white clouds above his head. Turtle’s head disappeared in the first hole and then in almost no time at all reappeared from the next hole, far ahead of Bear.
“Here I am Bear,” Turtle called. “Catch up to me!” And then he was gone again. Bear was astonished and ran even faster. But before he could reach the next hole, he saw Turtle’s green head pop out of it.
“Here I am, Bear,” Turtle called again. “Catch up to me!” Now bear began to run in earnest. His sides were puffing in and out as he ran and his eyes were becoming bloodshot, but it was no use. Each time, long before he would reach each of the holes, the ugly green head of Turtle would be there ahead of him calling out to him to catch up!
When Bear finally reached the finish line, he was barely able to crawl. Turtle was waiting there for him, surrounded by all the other animals. Bear had lost the race. He dragged himself home in disgrace, so tired that he fell asleep as soon as he reached his home. He was so tired that he slept until the warm breath of the Spring came to the woods again.
It was not long after Bear and all to other animals had left the pond that Turtle tapped on the ice with one long claw. At his sign it a dozen ugly heads like his popped up from the holes all along the edge of the pond. It was Turtle’s cousins and brothers, all of whom looked just like him!
“My relatives,” Turtle said, “I wish to thank you. Today we have shown Bear that it does not pay to call other people names. We have taught him a good lesson.”
Turtle smiled and a dozen other turtles, all just like him, smiled back. “And we have shown the other animals,” Turtle said, “that Turtles are not the slowest of the animals.”
The Hunting of the Great Bear
There were four hunters who were brothers. No hunters were as good as they at following a trail. They never gave up once they began tracking their quarry.
One day, in the moon when the cold nights return, an urgent message came to the village of the four hunters. A great bear, one so large and powerful that many thought it must be some kind of monster, had appeared. The people of the village whose hunting grounds the monster had invaded were afraid. The children no longer went out to play in the woods. The long houses of the village were guarded each night by men with weapons who stood by the entrances. Each morning, when the people went outside, they found the huge tracks of the bear in the midst of their village. They knew that soon it would become even more bold.
Picking up their spears and calling to their small dog, the four hunters set forth for that village, which was not far away. As they came closer they noticed how quiet the woods were. There were no signs of rabbits or deer and even the birds were silent. On a great pine tree they found the scars where the great bear had reared up on hind legs and made deep scratches to mark its territory. The tallest of the brothers tried to touch the highest of the scratch marks with the tip of his spear. “It is as the people feared,” the first brother said. “This one we are to hunt is Nyah-gwaheh, a monster bear.”
“But what about the magic that the Nyah-gwaheh has?” said the second brother.
The first brother shook his head. “That magic will do it no good if we find its track.”
“That’s so,” said the third brother. “I have always heard that from the old people. Those creatures can only chase a hunter who has not yet found its trail. When you find the track of the Nyah-gwaheh and begin to chase it, then it must run from you.”
“Brothers,” said the fourth hunter who was the fattest and laziest, “did we bring along enough food to eat? It may take a long time to catch this big bear. I’m feeling hungry.”
Before long, the four hunters and their small dog reached the village. It was a sad sight to see. There was no fire burning in the centre of the village and the doors of all the long houses were closed. Grim men stood on guard with clubs and spears and there was no game hung from the racks or skins stretched for tanning. The people looked hungry.
The elder sachem of the village came out and the tallest of the four hunters spoke to him.
“Uncle,” the hunter said, “we have come to help you get rid of the monster.”
Then the fattest and laziest of the four brothers spoke. “Uncle,” he said, “is there some food we can eat? Can we find a place to rest before we start chasing this big bear. I’m tired.”
The first hunter shook his head and smiled. “My brother is only joking, Uncle.” he said. ” We are going now to pick up the monster bear’s trail.”
“I am not sure you can do that, Nephews,” the elder sachem said. “Though we find tracks closer and closer to the doors of our lodges each morning, whenever we try to follow those tracks they disappear.”
The second hunter knelt down and patted the head of their small dog. “Uncle,” he said, that is because they do not have a dog such as ours.” He pointed to the two black circles above the eyes of the small dog. “Four-Eyes can see any tracks, even those many days old.”
“May Creator’s protection be with you,” said the elder sachem.
“Do not worry. Uncle,” said the third hunter. “Once we are on a trail we never stop following until we’ve finished our hunt.” “That’s why I think we should have something to eat first,” said the fourth hunter, but his brothers did not listen. They nodded to the elder sachem and began to leave. Sighing, the fattest and laziest of the brothers lifted up his long spear and trudged after them.
They walked, following their little dog. It kept lifting up its head, as if to look around with its four eyes. The trail was not easy to find.
“Brothers,” the fattest and laziest hunter complained, “don’t you think we should rest. We’ve been walking a long time.” But his brothers paid no attention to him. Though they could see no tracks, they could feel the presence of the Nyah-gwaheh. They knew that if they did not soon find its trail, it would make its way behind them. Then they would be the hunted ones.
The fattest and laziest brother took out his pemmican pouch. At least he could eat while they walked along. He opened the pouch and shook out the food he had prepared so carefully by pounding together strips of meat and berries with maple sugar and then drying them in the sun. But instead of pemmican, pale squirming things fell out into his hands. The magic of the Nyah-gwaheh had changed the food into worms.
“Brothers,” the fattest and laziest of the hunters shouted, “let’s hurry up and catch that big bear! Look what it did to my pemmican. Now I’m getting angry.”
Meanwhile, like a pale giant shadow, the Nyah-gwaheh was moving through the trees close to the hunters. Its mouth was open as it watched them and its huge teeth shone, its eyes flashed red. Soon it would be behind them and on their trail.
Just then, though, the little dog lifted its head and yelped. “Eh-heh!” the first brother called.
“Four-Eyes has found the trail,” shouted the second brother.
“We have the track of the Nyah-gwaheh,” said the third brother.
“Big Bear,” the fattest and laziest one yelled, “we are after you, now!”
Fear filled the heart of the great bear for the first time and it began to run. As it broke from the cover of the pines, the four hunters saw it, a gigantic white shape, so pale as to appear almost naked. With loud hunting cries, they began to run after it. The great bear’s strides were long and it ran more swiftly than a deer. The four hunters and their little dog were swift also though and they did not fall behind. The trail led through the swamps and the thickets. It was easy to read, for the bear pushed everything aside as it ran, even knocking down big trees. On and on they ran, over hills and through valleys. They came to the slope of a mountain and followed the trail higher and higher, every now and then catching a glimpse of their quarry over the next rise.
Now though the lazy hunter was getting tired of running. He pretended to fall and twist his ankle.
“Brothers,” he called, “I have sprained my ankle. You must carry me.”
So his three brothers did as he asked, two of them carrying him by turns while the third hunter carried his spear. They ran more slowly now because of their heavy load, but they were not falling any further behind. The day had turned now into night, yet they could still see the white shape of the great bear ahead of them. They were at the top of the mountain now and the ground beneath them was very dark as they ran across it. The bear was tiring, but so were they. It was not easy to carry their fat and lazy brother. The little dog, Four-Eyes, was close behind the great bear, nipping at its tail as it ran.
“Brothers,” said the fattest and laziest one. “put me down now. I think my leg has gotten better.”
The brothers did as he asked. Fresh and rested, the fattest and laziest one grabbed his spear and dashed ahead of the others. Just as the great bear turned to bite at the little dog, the fattest and laziest hunter levelled his spear and thrust it into the heart of the Nyah-Gwaheh. The monster bear fell dead.
By the time the other brothers caught up, the fattest and laziest hunter had already built a fire and was cutting up the big bear.
“Come on, brothers,” he said. “Let’s eat. All this running has made me hungry!”
So they cooked the meat of the great bear and its fat sizzled as it dripped from their fire. They ate until even the fattest and laziest one was satisfied and leaned back in contentment. Just then, though, the first hunter looked down at his feet.
“Brothers,” he exclaimed, “look below us!”
The four hunters looked down. Below them were thousands of small sparkling lights in the darkness which. they realized, was all around them.
“We aren’t on a mountain top at all,” said the third brother. “We are up in the sky.”
And it was so. The great bear had indeed been magical. Its feet had taken it high above the earth as it tried to escape the four hunters. However, their determination not to give up the chase had carried them up that strange trail.
Just then their little dog yipped twice.
“The great bear!” said the second hunter. “Look!”
The hunters looked. There, where they had piled the bones of their feast the Great Bear was coming back to life and rising to its feet. As they watched, it began to run again, the small dog close on its heels.
“Follow me,” shouted the first brother. Grabbing up their spears, the four hunters again began to chase the great bear across the skies.
So it was, the old people say, and so it still is. Each autumn the hunters chase the great bear across the skies and kill it. Then, as they cut it up for their meal, the blood falls down from the heavens and colours the leaves of the maple trees scarlet. They cook the bear and the fat dripping from their fires turns the grass white.
If you look carefully into the skies as the seasons change, you can read that story. The great bear is the square shape some call the bowl of the Big Dipper. The hunters and their small dog (which you can just barely see) are close behind, the dipper’s handle. When autumn comes and that constellation turns upside down, the old people say. “Ah, the lazy hunter has killed the bear.” But as the moons pass and the sky moves once more towards spring, the bear slowly rises back on its feet and the chase begins again.