The Man Who Entertained Bears

: 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 sh
meful 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.