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The Man Who Entertained Bears


Source: Indian Legends Retold

There was once a man who had lost all of his family in a terrible
sickness that came upon the people of his village. He was all alone in
the world and very sorrowful. He did not know what to do. First he
thought he would get into his canoe and paddle away till he came to
another village. Then it occurred to him that they might think he had
run away from home because he had been accused of witchcraft or of
some other shameful thing.

He considered taking his own life, but did not like to do it. Finally
he concluded to go among the bears and let them kill him. He found a
bear trail, and lay down in it till he heard the bushes breaking and
saw several grizzly bears coming along the trail. An unusually large
bear was at their head.

Suddenly the man became frightened and felt that he had chosen a hard
death. He arose and spoke to the leading bear.

"Brother," said he, "I am come to invite you to a feast in honor of my
dead. I have lost my children and my wife and there is none left of my
blood and of my house. Will you help me to do honor to their spirits?"

The largest bear turned toward the others and whined, as if he were
telling them of the invitation. Then they all went back, and the man
hurried home to prepare his feast. He took away all the old sand from
his fireplace and replaced it with clean sand. He brought a load of
wood and picked many berries, both cranberries and huckleberries. He
also told his neighbors what guests he expected, and they all supposed
him crazed by sorrow.

Next morning he arose early and painted himself with unusual care.
When all was ready, he stood in the doorway of his house awaiting his
guests. Presently he saw the bears entering the mouth of the creek in
single file, the great bear in the lead, just as on the day before.
The other villagers saw them too and ran and hid themselves in their
houses, terrified out of their wits; but their host stood still to
receive them and give them the seats of honor, the chief in the middle
seat, as is the custom.

First he served them with large trays of cranberries covered with
grease, and as soon as the bear chief began to eat of the food the
others followed his example. The other courses were served and eaten
in the same way. When all had finished eating and were about to
retire, each in turn licked some of the paint from his breast and arms
in sign of their sympathy.

On the next day, the smallest bear came back alone in human form, and
spoke to his host in his own tongue, telling him that he was a man who
had long since been captured and adopted into the Bear tribe. "The
Bear Chief," said this person, "is very sorry for you, because he too
has lost all of his friends. He understood your sorrow and for that
reason refrained from killing you. I was not permitted to speak to you
in his presence, but he wishes you to remember him when you mourn for
your dead."

Ever since this time, the old men, when they kill a grizzly bear,
paint a cross on its skin. It is also commanded that when you give a
feast you should invite every one, even your enemies, just as this
man invited the Bears, who are the enemies of human kind.

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