Native American Legends
Bear's race with Turtle
A Seneca Legend
One fine snowy day. Bear was walking through the snow in the forest.
When he walked up on a little hill and stood up on his hind legs,
he was so much taller than anything else he could see that he was
very proud. Bear loved to brag about how splendid he was, so he
thumped himself on the chest and roared,"I'm the biggest animal
in the forest!" And nobody made a sound, because Bear really
was awfully big.
Bear got an itchy spot on his back, so he walked through the snow
to a little tree, leaned against it and wriggled around. While he
was scratching, the whole tree broke with a snap! Bear was so impressed
with how strong he was, once more he roared out, "I'm the strongest
animal in the forest!" And nobody said anything, because Bear
really was very strong.
Bear began to run down off that little hill. Now, every human child
learns very early that you can run like the wind downhill. But Bear
was so impressed with how fast he could run, he skidded to a halt
by a little frozen lake and roared, "I'm the fastest animal
in the forest!"
Then Bear heard a little voice pipe up from the edge of the lake,
"No, you're not. Bear! I'm a lot faster than you!"
"What?!" Bear couldn't believe his ears. Then he couldn't
believe his eyes! Because that voice came from a little green water
turtle, who was sticking his head up through a hole in the ice.
Turtle said it again. "Really, Bear, I'm a lot faster than
you are." Bear and Turtle began to disagree, then to argue,
and then they began to make so much noise that the other animals
came to see what was going on. A great argument was in the making
when it was decided that the only way to settle the question was
to have a race between Bear and Turtle. The animals reached a general
agreement: the race would be around the lake. But then Turtle said,
"I'm a water animal, so I'll have to race in the lake."
Bear objected, "You must think I'm pretty stupid! You can
just dive under the ice, then come back up and say you won!"
Though the animals did think he was pretty stupid, he had a point.
So a solution was agreed upon. Bear, who was a land animal, would
race around the lake, while Turtle would swim from one hole in the
ice to another, put his head up and say something, then swim on.
Fox, who had no reason to cheat in this case, was chosen to be the
starter and judge, and the race was scheduled for the next day.
The next morning. Elk, who had the biggest feet, was chosen to
punch holes in the ice every few feet. All the animals had heard
about the race and had come to see it. Almost all the spectators
were making bets, and because most of them were so tired of listening
to Bear brag, the bets were heavily in favor of Turtle.
Fox called the racers to his side. "Are you ready, Bear?"
Now Bear had been warming up, doing exercises, and getting in some
last minute bragging, so he yawned and said, "Yeah, I'm ready."
Fox asked, "Are you ready, Turtle?" And Turtle, at his
first hole in the ice said, "I'm ready!"
"Alright," said Fox, "Once around the lake and back
to me. Now ... RUN!"
Turtle dived under the water, and Bear began to just walk, waving
casually to his friends, just to prove how easy this was going to
be. But Bear had only taken a couple of steps when Turtle's head
came up in the second hole in the ice.
Turtle said, "Come on Bear, catch up with me!" And Turtle
dived under and went on. Bear was flabbergasted! This turtle was
faster than he thought, so Bear began to jog a little faster. But
only three steps farther. Turtle's head popped up at the next hole.
He said, "Come on, Bear, catch up with me!" then dived
under and went on.
Now, Bear knew he had to run! He dropped to all fours and began
to run as fast as he could. But before Bear passed the third hole,
Turtle came up at the fourth hole and said, "Come on. Bear,
I'm way ahead of you!"
Bear ran and ran as fast as he could, his tongue drooping further
and further out of his mouth, so out of breath he thought he would
drop. But, that turtle just kept getting farther and farther ahead,
each time popping out of a hole to say, "Come on, Bear, catch
up with me!" Until finally, when Bear was only half way around
the lake, Turtle finished the race!
A great cheer went up from the other animals, "Turtle is the
fastest animal in the forest!" Even those that hadn't bet on
Turtle came down to congratulate him and shake his clawed foot and
pat his shell.
And Bear? Well, Bear was exhausted, and so humiliated that he didn't
even finish the race. He turned and went to his house, which was
a cave, and slept the rest of the winter. And to this day, bears
sleep all winter so they don't have to remember losing that race
to a turtle!
There was a big party and feast in Turtle's honor, and then, finally,
everybody went home.
Now, Turtle looked around carefully, making sure everyone was gone.
Then he crawled down to the edge of the ice, stuck out his clawed
foot and rapped three times on the ice.
Suddenly, up through the holes in the ice came Turtle's brothers
and sisters, his mom and dad, his aunts, uncles, cousins near and
distant, even his grandma and grandpa turtles were there, and everyone
of them looked exactly like Turtle! They nodded their heads at each
other and said, "Yes, we are the fastest animals in the forest!"
Turtle said, "Thank you, my kinfolks. Today we have proved
that though we turtles may be slow of foot, we are not slow of wit!"
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends