Native American Legends
Child fed and cared for by a Porcupine and a Bear
A Seneca Legend
A Widower, who had a little son, married a second time, and soon
after he took his wife and child and went to the forest to camp
The three lived happily till the woman began to think that her
husband loved the child better than he did her. This worried her
and made her uneasy. She could think of nothing else, and she began
to study how to get rid of the boy.
One day, while her husband was hunting, she led the child to a
cave in the woods, told him there was a bear in the cave and that
he must crawl in and scare it, make it run out at the other end
of the opening.
The child crept in. The woman rolled a stone up, closed the opening,
and went home.
When the man came from hunting, he missed his boy and asked where
he was. The woman said that when she went to gather bark the child
was at play near the house, but when she came back she couldn't
find him, that she had hunted everywhere. She was afraid he had
been carried off by some wild beast.
The father was nearly crazy. He hunted many days for the child,
but could only find tracks made by his little moccasins, tracks
that the step-mother had made far into the woods, to mislead and
deceive the father.
When the child found that it couldn't get out of the cave it began
All at once a voice said, "Poor child, stop crying, I am your grandmother.
I will give you something to eat," and a hand wiped away his tears.
Then somebody brought him food that he thought was very nice, though
it was only hemlock burrs.
The woman in the cave was a porcupine and she gave the boy some
of the food she had saved for herself. When he had eaten enough
she said, "You are tired, my little grandson, come and lie down."
In this way the woman cared for the child a long time.
One day she said, "My burrs are gone. It is Spring now, you'll
not be cold out-of-doors. Your step-mother fastened us in here,
but I can call my neighbors and they will let us out. When we are
out, I must leave you in their care and go to hunt for food."
She went to the opening and called for help. Soon the boy heard
a noise and voices outside the cave, and after a while he heard
a man ask, "Who can push away this stone?"
The Bird people came and pecked at the stone; they could do nothing.
Small animals scratched at the stone, but it didn't move. One after
another tried and all failed. At last Wolf said, "I can pull that
stone away! I'm the man to do it."
He pushed his long claws under the stone and pulled and pulled
till at last his hold gave way and he fell over on his back.
Deer, with his long horns, tried to raise the stone. All tried,
each one in his own way, from the smallest to the largest, except
a bear that sat off a short distance with three cubs playing near
When all had failed, Bear said, "I will try."
She walked slowly to the stone, examined it and made up her mind
how to act, then she quickly moved the stone. Looking into the cave
she saw Porcupine and a little boy and was so frightened that she
ran away from the opening. Others looked in, were frightened and
ran till they were far enough away to make sure of escape, then
they waited to see what would happen.
Porcupine came out and called to them not to be afraid, and said,
"We are very poor, my grandson and I," and she told them how the
boy came to be there and that her burrs were gone.
She said, "You are able to care for my grandson and I want to leave
him with you."
Even the Bird people said they would care for the child.
"I must know what you can give him to eat," said Porcupine, "and
when I find out which one of you can supply food that my grandson
can eat I will give him to that one."
Each one brought a little of the food they could furnish and put
it down before Porcupine.
Wolf brought what he had to eat, Porcupine looked at it and then
asked, "What would you and the boy do in case of danger?"
"We would run."
"No," said Porcupine, "My grandson can't go with you; he couldn't
run fast enough."
Deer came with food, but when Porcupine asked, "What would you
do in case of danger?" he ran off so swiftly that his horns could
be heard knocking against the trees.
Last of all Bear came forward, and said, "Others have failed and
though I have a large family of my own, I will take care of the
boy and feed him as I feed my cubs; on blackberries, chestnuts and
When asked what she would do in danger she went back to her cubs,
and gave the sign of danger. The cubs crouched down by a log and
the mother Bear lay down near them and watched.
"This is what I do," said she. "We lie still till the danger is
past. I know where berries grow, I will take the boy there. I know
where my Winter quarters will be. My cubs and your grandson will
get nourishment by sucking my fat paws."
"You are the one to care for the child," said Porcupine,
"I am going for food."
The boy never saw Porcupine again.
When Bear led him to the berries, he thought she took him by the
hand, as a human being would.
The cubs became fond of the boy and when their mother was lying
asleep in the sun, they pulled his finger-nails to make them long
like their own, and tried to teach him to climb trees as they did.
At last the boy could almost equal the cubs in climbing for his
nails were long and sharp.
One day the mother Bear woke up and couldn't see the boy. Then,
a long way off, she saw him high up in a tree. She scolded the cubs,
was angry with them, and put the boy's nails back as they were before.
Summer passed and Winter came. Then the mother Bear said, "It is
time to go to our den." And she led her cubs and the boy to a hollow
tree. The boy thought there was plenty of room in the tree; he and
the cubs played together and were happy. The mother Bear slept most
of the time, but when there was a noise she wakened in an instant,
and said, "Keep still! There is a hunter around." There was a crack
in the tree and they could look out. Soon after a warning they would
see a man coming. Then the boy thought the mother Bear put her hand
in her pocket and drew out something that had two prongs, put it
through the crack and moved it to and fro till the hunter was out
of sight, then she drew it in.
All went well till one day towards Spring when they heard a hunter
coming. Though they all kept very still the mother Bear said to
the boy, "I think that our time has come, you can stay here, but
we must go. We are bears, but you are a human being. The hunter
will take you home and you will be cared for."
The mother Bear put out her two-pronged bough, but she could do
nothing; all her magic power was gone.
When the hunter came near he saw claw marks in the bark of the
The mother Bear knew then that the end had come, and she said to
her eldest cub, "You must go first, the others will follow."
The eldest crawled out of the tree and that instant the boy heard
the whiz of an arrow. As he watched the little bear it seemed to
throw off a pack. The pack fell to the ground but the little bear
itself went straight on, never stopping.
The other little bears followed and each shared the fate of the
first. Each time the boy heard the whiz of an arrow and saw the
pack fall, but as he saw his friends still running he wasn't frightened.
When her children had gone, the mother Bear said to the boy, "I
have to go, you must be obedient and all will be well."
The boy heard a whiz and saw a burden drop to the ground, but the
mother Bear ran on as her children had done.
Now the boy screamed, for he was alone.
The hunter heard the scream and was frightened, but remembering
that a child had been lost, he set to work and soon had the boy
out of the tree.
The child was naked and unable to talk. The hunter skinned the
bears and made him clothing. The boy was terribly grieved but he
couldn't speak to let the hunter know how dear the bears were to
The hunter took the boy to his father, who was overjoyed to find
his child, and ever after took him with him wherever he went.
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