Indian Mythology | Assiniboin Mythology

The Grateful Bear


An old man had a daughter, who married a man from another tribe. Before she left him, her father said, "Should your husband abuse you, come back to me." The woman was maltreated by her husband, so she fled from him. In the evening she got to a creek, which she was afraid to cross. She went into the brush, and found an old bear-cave. Looking in, she found it was empty, and went to sleep there. After a while she heard a bear coming. She was frightened, expecting to be killed. When close to the entrance, the bear stood still, scenting the woman. Finally, he entered. She thought he was about to kill her. He growled, pushed her, and put his paw on her palm. She saw that a stick had pierced it, and that he wanted her to remove it. At last she pulled it out with her teeth. At daylight the bear said, "I will tell you something. Before you reach home, you will see the camp of bad people. Hide in the brush. In the next camp after that you will find your friends." The woman obeyed. She hid when in sight of the first camp, then traveled all day. Finally she saw two horsemen, one of whom turned out to be her brother.

The Young Bear

A woman dreamt that she had a young bear. She asked her husband to try to kill a female bear and bring her the cub. The moan obeyed, and the woman then nursed the cub together with her own baby. One day the bear and the baby wrestled, and the bear won. After a while they wrestled again, and the boy won. The bear was angry and-began to-bite. The woman whipped both of them. The cub ran away and lived on berries. Once, when a woman came in search of berries, he seized her. She tried to free herself, but he held her fast, and they lived together. In the winter they stayed in a cave. They had plenty of food inside. The Bear said, "We need not starve, we can live well." In the middle of the winter, the woman bore a cub. At the beginning of the spring, the Bear once said, "I am going to stay out for a night." While he was gone, the woman fled with the cub. She ran all night, as well as the following day and night. The next morning, she heard something behind her. She also saw many lodges by a river in front of her. She ran as fast as she could. Her-people, who thought she was dead, recognized her as the lost woman. They killed the Bear. The cub played with the Indian boys. One day he struck a boy with his paws, killing him. In the same way he killed two other boys. When he was playing with the fourth boy, his mother asked him not to kill him. The cub said, "I'll kill another, then I'll stop, mother." He tried to avenge his father's death. He was playing with the biggest boy, who had lots of power, so the Bear could not injure him, but only broke his own claws. After that, he never attacked anyone. When the women went berrying, the Bear accompanied them, but he did not return with them. He stayed by himself, eating berries. Finally, he met a big bear; henceforth the two bears dwelt together.

The Bear-Wife.1

A chief's son and another young man who had but few relations were traveling together as comrades. After several days' journey they arrived at another camp. They returned to their own band again. On the way home, they got to a clump of trees. Going down a coul6e they found a sleeping she-bear lying supine by a big rock. The chief's son said, "Comrade, I wish to embrace her." His companion tried to dissuade him, but in vain. The chief's son stripped, and, asking his friend to watch, tiptoed up to the bear. He embraced her, but she did not wake up. He dressed and ran away, saying, "When she wakes up, she will pursue us." They ran on for a long time. They finally got home.

After some time, the bear came to the youth while everyone was sleeping. He felt something warm leaning against him, but did not move at first, trying to think what could be lying beside him. At last he rose, and found that it was the bear. The other people did not know what he had done. The young man thought it was the same bear he had met on the road. He aroused his father. "Father, build a fire. There's a bear by me, but don't be afraid. If she wanted to, she would have hurt me when she first came in." The bear got up in the morning and sat up on the bed. Her mate requested his father to ask the people for eagle-feathers, red flannel, and shells. A herald was sent to the camp circle and soon got the things wished for, which the chief's son presented to the bear. She wrapped the flannel around her neck and decorated herself with the feathers and shells. The young man then said, "You had better go home now," and she departed.

The next year the two comrades were passing through the same part of the country as before. They noticed a boy on the hill, who disappeared. They ran after him. He was shy, but they caught him. The other young man asked the chief's son, "Do you remember what you did last year? This is your son." His friend thought so too and took the boy home. They kept him, and he played with the other boys. Several days later, the bear came. Her husband asked the chief for more flannel, feathers and shells. Having decorated her as before, the man bade her depart. She growled. Her husband understood her to say, "This is your son. Keep him. If he had fur like mine, I would take care of him; but as his flesh is like yours, you may do so. When old enough, he will aid you by his mysterious powers. He will secure for you horses and scalps, and you will become a great chief.

I have given him all my power. I am not coming back any more." The boy grew up. He did what his mother had predicted. He went out alone, caught horses, killed the enemy, and returned with the scalps. He became a great chief. He always dressed in a big bear robe, and carried a shield and two big knives with him. His father used them also. They did lots of harm to the enemy. After his father died, the boy remained a chief until his own death.

Two men were traveling together. They found a she-bear stretched out on her back and sleeping. One of the men was frightened, while his companion embraced her. The former ran home, the other slept with the bear, who did not offer any resistance. The bear invited him to her cave. It was fitted up like a lodge and contained plenty of food. The bear said to her husband, "When you go home, I will accompany you." They went towards the camp. When close to it, the bear said, "I will come to your lodge to-night." The bay told his parents nothing about his bear-wife. When they were sleeping, she came in and lay with him. When the man's parents found their son sleeping with a bear, they were frightened. They would not stay in the lodge, but went to another tent. The bear went back to her cave, saying she would see her husband again. After a while the man visited his bear-wife. She gave birth to a boy, who was of human shape. Whatever he said, happened. He often took part in fights, but was never hurt. He killed many people, but no matter how close to him the enemy shot, they could never kill him.

Snake And Bear-Woman

Once the whole country was burnt up. Only a big snake was left. He walked along and felt lonesome. "I should like to see some people." He walked on and finally saw a woman on a hill. When he was close to her, she was frightened and was going to flee, but Snake said, " I am lonesome, I only wished to find a human being. Why are you afraid? I have traveled a long time hunting for people." The woman, who was a bear, said, "I am the only person left." "We had better camp together," said the Snake.

The Bear agreed, so they found a good site and were going to camp there. "What are we going to have for a tent?" asked Snake. The Bear replied, "At sunset we shall have a tent. I should also like to get some buckskin for moccasins, go away for a while and before you return I shall have made a lodge." Snake went off with his bow and arrows and killed a deer. He took some of the meat home. As he approached their camping-ground, he saw a fine lodge. The Snake said, "I should like to move our camp to the place where I killed the deer. How are we going to pack the lodge?" "Leave it where it is," she answered, and transplanted it to the desired place. She dried the meat, dressed the skin, and then asked her husband to get two more skins. The Snake killed two does, then his wife had three skins.

After the woman had finished drying the meat, she said, "We had better see my father." The Snake agreed to go. He never slept much, being afraid of his wife's magical powers. The Bear said to him, "You had better sleep, I won't hurt you." The next morning, when the Snake woke up, he looked around and found his father-in-law, a large bear, there. The Bear asked, "Who is your father?" "I don't know, I don't know where I come from." The old man said, "I know. At one time everything was burnt up. You lived alone in the water. Then you came out. Your name is Tome'sese (Snake)." They stayed there for one year. Then the old man said, "This winter you are going to stay in the next coul6e. Whoever finds my house, may have my robe. If anyone finds your house, give him your robe. The winter will seem to you like one night," They stayed close together all winter. The Snake became more like a bear every morning. In the spring, his wife went outside the cave and announced, "It is spring, it is time for you to go out." The old man said, "We will camp together," and they joined a lot of bears.

The Snake said, "I should like to go with my wife to our former camp." The old Bear instructed them as follows: "If you find 'people who have killed a bear, don't eat his flesh, don't drink his blood. If you do, it will be like eating myself. If you want a bear-skin, kill a bear gently." It was sunset now, and all went to sleep. When the Snake and his wife awoke, they were back in their old lodge.

1 Ft. Belknap.

Assiniboin Mythology

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Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History, 1909



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