Indian Mythology | Blackfoot Mythology

The Bears


Now Old Man was walking along, and far off he saw many wolves; and when he came closer, he saw there the chief of the wolves, a very old one, and sitting around him were all his children.

     Old Man said, "Pity me, Wolf Chief; make me into a wolf, that I may live your way and catch deer and everything that runs fast."

     "Come near then," said the Wolf Chief, "that I may rub your body with my hands, so that hair will cover you."

     "Hold," said Old Man; "do not cover my body with hair. On my head, arms, and legs only, put hair."

     When the Chief Wolf had done so, he said to Old Man: "You shall have three companions to help you, one is a very swift runner, another a good runner, and the last is not very fast. Take them with you now, and others of my younger children who are learning to hunt, but do not go where the wind blows; keep in the shelter, or the young ones will freeze to death." Then they went hunting, and Old Man led them on the high buttes, where it was very cold.

     At night, they lay down to sleep, and Old Man nearly froze; and he said to the wolves, "Cover me with your tails." So all the wolves lay down around him, and covered his body with their tails, and he soon got warm and slept. Before long he awoke and said angrily, "Take off those tails," and the wolves moved away; but after a little time he again became cold, and cried out, "Oh my young brothers, cover me with your tails or I shall freeze." So they lay down by him again and covered his body with their tails.

     When it was daylight, they all rose and hunted. They saw some moose, and, chasing them, killed three. Now, when they were about to eat, the Chief Wolf came along with many of his children, and one wolf said, "Let us make pemmican of those moose"; and every one was glad. Then said the one who made pemmican, "No one must look, everybody shut his eyes, while I make the pemmican"; but Old Man looked, and the pemmican-maker threw a round bone and hit him on the nose, and it hurt. Then Old Man said, "Let me make the pemmican." So all the wolves shut their eyes, and Old Man took the round bone and killed the wolf who had hit him. Then the Chief Wolf was angry, and he said, "Why did you kill your brother?" "I didn't mean to," replied Old Man. "He looked and I threw the round bone at him, but I only meant to hurt him a little." Then said the Chief Wolf: "You cannot live with us any longer. Take one of your companions, and go off by yourselves and hunt." So Old Man took the swift runner, and they went and lived by themselves a long time; and they killed all the elk, and deer, and antelope, and moose they wanted.

     One morning they awoke, and Old Man said: "Oh my young brother, I have had a bad dream. Hereafter, when you chase anything, if it jumps a stream, you must not follow it. Even a little spring you must not jump." And the wolf promised not to jump over water.

     Now one day the wolf was chasing a moose, and it ran on to an island. The stream about it was very small; so the wolf thought: "This is such a little stream that I must jump it. That moose is very tired, and I don't think it will leave the island." So he jumped on to the island, and as soon as he entered the brush, a bear caught him, for the island was the home of the Chief Bear and his two brothers. Old Man waited a long time for the wolf to come back, and then went to look for him. He asked all the birds he met if they had seen him, but they all said they had not.
     At last he saw a kingfisher, who was sitting on a limb overhanging the water. "Why do you sit there, my young brother?" said Old Man. "Because," replied the kingfisher, "the Chief Bear and his brothers have killed your wolf; they have eaten the meat and thrown the fat into the river, and whenever I see a piece come floating along, I fly down and get it." Then said Old Man, "Do the Bear Chief and his brothers often come out? and where do they live?" "They come out every morning to play," said the kingfisher; "and they live upon that island."

     Old Man went up there and saw their tracks on the sand, where they had been playing, and he turned himself into a rotten tree. By and by the bears came out, and when they saw the tree, the Chief Bear said: "Look at that rotten tree. It is Old Man. Go, brothers, and see if it is not." So the two brothers went over to the tree, and clawed it; and they said, "No, brother, it is only a tree." Then the Chief Bear went over and clawed and bit the tree, and although it hurt Old Man, he never moved. Then the Bear Chief was sure it was only a tree, and he began to play with his brothers. Now while they were playing, and all were on their backs, Old Man leaned over and shot an arrow into each one of them; and they cried out loudly and ran back on the island. Then Old Man changed into himself, and walked down along the river. Pretty soon he saw a frog jumping along, and every time it jumped it would say, "Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu!" And sometimes it would stop and sing:      "Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu! Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu! Chief Bear! Chief Bear! Nap'-i I-nit'-si-wah Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu!" Old Man kill him Chief Bear! "What do you say?" cried Old Man. The frog repeated what he had said.

     "Ah!" exclaimed Old Man, "tell me all about it."

     "The Chief Bear and his brothers," replied the frog, "were playing on the sand, when Old Man shot arrows into them. They are not dead, but the arrows are very near their hearts; if you should shove ever so little on them, the points would cut their hearts. I am going after medicine now to cure them."

     Then Old Man killed the frog and skinned her, and put the hide on himself and swam back to the island, and hopped up toward the bears, crying at every step, "Ni'-nah O-kyai'-yu!" just as the frog had done.

     "Hurry," cried the Chief Bear.

     "Yes," replied Old Man, and he went up and shoved the arrow into his heart.

     "I cured him; he is asleep now," he cried, and he went up and shoved the arrow into the biggest brother's heart. "I cured them; they are asleep now"; and he went up and shoved the arrow into the other bear's heart. Then he built a big fire and skinned the bears, and tried out the fat and poured it into a hollow in the ground; and he called all the animals to come and roll in it, that they might be fat. And all the animals came and rolled in it. The bears came first and rolled in it, that is the reason they get so fat. Last of all came the rabbits, and the grease was almost all gone; but they filled their paws with it and rubbed it on their backs and between their hind legs. That is the reason why rabbits have two such large layers of fat on their backs, and that is what makes them so fat between the hind legs.

[NOTE. The four preceding stories show the serious side of Old Man's character. Those which follow represent him as malicious, foolish, and impotent.]

The Fast Runners

Once, long ago, the antelope and the deer met on the prairie. At this time both of them had galls and both dew claws. They began to talk together, and each was telling the other what he could do. Each one told how fast he could run, and before long they were disputing as to which could run the faster. Neither would allow that the other could beat him, so they agreed that they would have a race to decide which was the swifter, and they bet their galls on the race. When they ran, the antelope proved the faster runner, and beat the deer and took his gall.

     Then the deer said: "Yes, you have beaten me on the prairie, but that is not where I live. I only go out there sometimes to feed, or when I am traveling around. We ought to have another race in the timber. That is my home, and there I can run faster than you can."

     The antelope felt very big because he had beaten the deer in the race, and he thought wherever they might be, he could run faster than the deer. So he agreed to race in the timber, and on this race they bet their dew claws.

     They ran through the thick timber, among the brush and over fallen logs, and this time the antelope ran slowly, because he was not used to this kind of traveling, and the deer easily beat him, and took his dew claws.

     Since then the deer has had no gall, and the antelope no dew claws.

[NOTE. A version of the first portion of this story is current among the Pawnees, and has been printed in Pawnee Hero Stories and Folk Tales.]

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