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The Giant Bear

Source: Thirty Indian Legends

In the far north there was a village where many warlike Indians lived.
In one family there were ten brothers, all brave and fearless. In the
spring of the year the youngest brother blackened his face and fasted
for several days. Then he sent for his nine brothers and said to them:

"I have fasted and dreamed, and my dreams are good. Will you come on a
war journey with me?"

"Yes," they all said readily.

"Then tell no one, not even your wives, of our plan." They agreed to
meet on a certain night so that no one should see them go. One brother
was named Mudjekeewis, and he was very odd. He was the first to
promise that he would not tell. The next two days were spent in
preparations for the journey. Mudjekeewis told his wife many times to
get his moccasins for him.

"And hurry." he said; "do hurry."

"Why do you want them?" she asked. "You have a good pair on."

"Well, if you must know, we are going on a war journey," he answered.

When the night had come which the leader had named, they met at his
wigwam and set out on their long journey. The snow lay on the ground,
and the night was very dark.

After they had travelled some miles, the leader gathered some snow and
made it into a ball. He threw it in the air and said, as it fell, "It
was thus I saw the snow fall in my dreams to cover our footmarks, so
that no one may follow us."

The snow began to fall heavily and continued for two days. It was so
thick that they could scarcely see each other, though they walked very
closely together.

The leader cheered his brothers by telling them they would win in their
battle. At this Mudjekeewis, who was walking behind, ran forward. He
swung his war-club in the air and uttered the war-cry. Then bringing
his war-club down, he struck a tree, and it fell as if hit by lightning.

"See, brothers," he said, "this is the way I shall serve our enemy."

"Hush, Mudjekeewis," said the leader. "He whom we are going to fight
cannot be treated so lightly."

Then they travelled on for several days, until at last they reached the
borders of the White Plain, where the bones of men lay bleaching.

"These are the bones of men who have gone before us. No one has ever
returned to tell of their sad fate." Mudjekeewis looked frightened at
this and thought, "I wonder who this terrible enemy is."

"Be not afraid, my brothers," said the leader. Mudjekeewis then took
courage, again jumped forward, and uttering the war-cry, brought his
warclub down on a small rock, and split it into pieces. "See, I am not
afraid," he cried. "Thus shall I serve my enemy." But the leader
still pressed onward over the plain, until at last a small rise in the
ground brought them in sight of the enemy. Some distance away, on the
top of the mountain, a giant bear lay sleeping.

"Look, brothers," said the leader. "There is the mighty enemy, for he
is a Manitou.[1] But come now, we need not fear, as he is asleep.
Around his neck he has the precious wampum,[2] which we must take from

They advanced slowly and quietly. The huge animal did not hear them.
Around his neck was a belt which contained the wampum.

"Now we must take this off," said the youngest brother. One after the
other tried, but could not do it, until the next to the youngest tried.
He pulled it nearly over the bear's head. Then came the turn of the
youngest, and he pulled it the rest of the way. He put the belt
quickly on the back of the oldest brother.

"Now we must run," said the leader, "for when he awakens, he will miss
his belt."

They all hastened away. The wampum was very heavy, so they had to take
turns in carrying it. They kept looking back as they ran, and had
almost reached the edge of the plain before the bear awoke. He slowly
rose to his feet and stood for a moment before he noticed that the belt
was gone. Then he uttered a roar that reached to the skies.

"Who has dared to steal my belt?" he roared. "Earth is not so large
but that I shall find him."

Saying this, he jumped from the mountain, and the earth shook with his
weight. Then with powerful strides he rushed in pursuit of the

They had passed all the bones now and were becoming very tired.

"Brothers," said the leader, "I dreamed that when we were hard pressed
and running for our lives, we saw a lodge where an old man lived, and
he helped us. I hope my dream will come true."

Just then they saw, a short distance away, a lodge with smoke curling
from the top. They ran to it, and an old man opened the door.

"Grandfather," they gasped, "will you save us? A Manitou is after us."

"Who is a Manitou but I?" said he. "Come in and eat." They entered
the lodge and he gave them food. Then, opening the door, he looked out
and saw the bear coming with great strides. Shutting the door, he
said, "He is indeed a mighty Manitou and will take my life; but you
asked for my help and I shall give it. When he comes, you run out of
the back door."

Going to a bag which hung from a tree, he took out two small, black,
dogs. He patted the sides of the dogs, and they began to swell until
they filled the doorway. The dogs had strong, white teeth and growled
fiercely. The bear had now reached the door, and with one bound the
first dog leaped out, followed by the second. The brothers ran out of
the back of the lodge. They could hear the howls of the animals as
they fought, and looking back, they saw first one dog killed, then the
other, and at last the shrieks of the old man came to them as the bear
tore him in pieces. They doubled their speed now, as they saw the bear
beginning to follow them again. The food they had eaten gave them new
strength, so they were able to run very swiftly for a time. But at
last they all felt their strength fail again, for the bear was close
behind them now.

"Brothers, I had another dream," said the leader. "It was that an old
Manitou saved us. Perhaps his lodge is near us now."

Even as he spoke, they came in sight of another lodge, and as they ran
up to the door an old man opened it.

"Save us from the Manitou," they cried as they rushed in.

"Manitou?" he said. "Who is a Manitou but I? Come in and eat," and he
closed the door. He brought food for them; then he looked out of the
door. The bear was only a few yards away now. Hastily closing the
door, he said, "This is indeed a mighty Manitou. You have brought
trouble to me, my children; but you run out the back way and I shall
fight him."

He then went to his medicine sack and drew out two war-clubs of black
stone. As he handled them they grew to an immense size. He opened the
door, and as he did so, the brothers ran out the back way. They could
hear the blows like claps of thunder as he hit the bear on the head.
After that came two sharp cracks, and they knew the clubs were broken
with the force of the blows. Then came his shrieks, as he met the fate
of the first old man. They tried to run faster than ever now, for they
knew the bear must be after them again, but their strength was nearly

"Oh, brother," they asked, "have you no other dream to help us?"

"Yes, I dreamed, when we were running like this, that we came to a lake
and on the shore of it was a canoe with ten paddles in it waiting for
us. We jumped in and were saved."

As he spoke, there appeared in front of them a lake just as he had
dreamed, and a canoe waiting. Getting in, they quickly paddled to the
middle of the lake, and waited to see what the bear would do.

He came on with his slow, powerful strides until he reached the water's
edge. Then, rising on his hind legs, he took a look around. Dropping
down, he waded into the water, but slipped and nearly fell. He waded
out and began to walk around the lake. When he reached the spot he had
started from, he bent down his head and began to drink the waters of
the lake. He drank in such large mouthfuls that the brothers could see
the water sinking, and the current began to flow so swiftly towards his
mouth that they could not keep their canoe steady. It floated in the
current straight to him.

"Now, Mudjekeewis," said the leader, "this is your chance to show us
how you would treat your enemy."

"I shall show you and him," said Mudjekeewis. Then, as the canoe came
near the big mouth, he stood up and levelled his war-club. Just as the
boat touched the bear's teeth, Mudjekeewis uttered the war-cry and
dealt the animal a mighty blow on the head. This he repeated, and the
bear fell stunned. As the animal fell, he disgorged the water with
such force that it sent the canoe spinning to the other side of the
lake, where the brothers landed and ran ahead as fast as they could.
They had not gone far when they could hear the bear coming behind them.

"Do not be afraid, brothers," said the leader, as he noticed how
frightened they all looked. "I have one more dream. If it fails us,
we are lost, but let us hope that it will come true. I dreamed we were
running, and we came to a lodge out of which came a young maiden. Her
brother was a Manitou and by his magic she saved us. Run on and fear
not, else your limbs will be fear-bound. Look for his lodge."

And sure enough, behind a little clump of trees, stood a lodge. As
they ran to it a maiden came forth and invited them in.

"Enter," she said, "and rest. I shall meet the bear, and when I need
you, I shall call you."

Saying this, she took down a medicine-sack, which was hanging on the
wall near the door. They entered, and she walked out to meet the bear.
The animal came up with angry growls and swinging strides. The maiden
quickly opened the medicine-sack and took out some war feathers, paint,
and tufts of hair.

As the bear came up, the girl tossed them up in the air, saying,
"Behold, these are the magic arrows of my dead brother. These are the
magic war paints of my dead brother. This is the eagle's feather of my
dead brother, and these are the tufts of hair of wild animals he has

As she said these words and the things fell on the ground near the
animal, he tottered and fell. She called the brothers, and they rushed

"Cut him into pieces quickly," she said, "or he will come to life

They all set to work and cut the huge animal into small pieces, which
they tossed away. When they had finished, they saw, to their surprise,
that these pieces had turned into small, black bears, which had jumped
up and were running away in every direction. And it is from these
bears that the bears called the Makwas had their beginning.

[1] A manitou is the spirit of an Indian who has been killed. Manitous
often take the forms of animals when they come back to life.

[2] Wampum; long, narrow beads, sometimes made of shells. They were
usually blue and white and were often woven into a belt. They were
greatly treasured by the Indians.

Next: The Summer-maker

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