Native American Legends
John the Bear
An Assiniboin Legend
A man was living with his wife. It was summer. The woman was pregnant.
One day, while she was picking berries, a big bear saw and abducted
the woman, whom he kept in his cave.
Before spring, the woman gave birth to a child begotten by her
first husband, but with plenty of hair on his body, wherefore he
was called Icmá (Plenty-of- Hair). In the spring the bear
came out of his cave.
The boy looked outside and told his mother, "We had better
run away to where you first came from."
But the bear had stopped up the entrance with a big rock, and the
woman said, "We can't get out, the rock is too heavy."
The boy tried it, and was able to lift it. They fled before the
bear returned. They were already near the Indian camp when they
heard the bear coming in pursuit. The woman was exhausted, but the
boy packed her on his back and ran to the camp. At first, the woman
went to a stranger's lodge. Then someone told her husband that his
wife was back. The chief then took both her and his son home.
The boy used to play with other boys. Once he quarreled with one
of them and killed him with a single blow. This happened again on
another occasion. Then Icmá said to his father, "I don't
like to kill any more boys; I'll go traveling."
He started out and met two men, who became his comrades. One of
them was called Wood-Twister, the other Timber-Hauler. They got
to a good lodge, and decided to stay there together. On the first
day, Icmá and Wood-Twister went hunting. They bade Timber-Hauler
stay home and cook.
While they were away, an ogre that lived in the lodge came out,
threw Timber-Hauler on his back, and killed him. The two other men
found him dead, but Icmá restored him to life. The next day
Icmá said, "Wood-Twister, you stay home, I'll go hunting
with Timber-Hauler." At sunset Wood-Twister began cutting firewood.
He saw something coming out of the lodge that looked like a man,
but wearing a beard down to its waist and with nails as long as
bear-claws. It assaulted Wood-Twister, who was found dying by his
friends, but was restored by Icmá. The next day Icmá
said "You two go hunting, I will stay home." As he was
beginning to chop wood, the monster appeared and challenged him
to fight. Icmá seized its head, cut it off, and left the
body in the lodge.
When his comrades returned, Icmá asked them, "Why did
not you kill him like this?"
Then he said, "I don't like this house; let us, go traveling."
They started out and got to a large camp. The chief said, "My
three daughters have been stolen by a subterranean being. Whoever
brings them back, may marry them all." Icmá told Timber-Hauler
to get wood and ordered Wood- Twister to twist a rope of it. Then
he made a hole in the ground and put in a box to lower himself in.
He descended to the underground country and pulled the rope to
inform his friends of his arrival. He found the three girls. The
first one was guarded by a mountain-lion, the second by a big eagle,
the third by giant cannibals. Icmá killed the lion. The girl
said, "You had better turn back, the eagle will kill you."
But he slew the eagle. Then the girl said, "The cannibals
are bad men, you had better go home."
"I'll wait for them." The twelve cannibals approached
yelling; they were as big as trees. The girl said, "Run as
fast as you can."
But Icmá remained, and made two slings. With the first he
hurled a stone that went clean through six of the men and killed
them; and with the other sling he killed the remaining cannibals
in the same way. One of the girls gave him a handkerchief, another
one a tie, and the youngest one a ring. He took them to his box,
and pulled the rope.
His two comrades hoisted up the oldest one. Both wanted to marry
her, but Icmá pulled the rope again, and they hauled up the
second girl. Then Icmá sat down in the box with the youngest,
and pulled the rope.
As they were hauling them up, Wood-Twister said, "Let us cut
the rope." The other man refused, but Wood-Twister cut the
rope, and Icmá fell down. He stayed there a long time, while
his companions took the girls to the chief.
At last Icmá begged a large bird to carry him above ground.
The bird said he did not have enough to eat for such a trip. Then
Icmá killed five moose, and having packed the meat on the
bird's back, mounted with the third girl. Flying up, Icmá
fed the bird with moose-meat, and when his supply was exhausted,
he cut off his own flesh and gave it to the bird to eat. Icmá
came up on the day when his false friends were going to marry the
All the people were gathered there. Icmá arrived, saying,
"I should like to go into the lodge before they get married."
When he came in, Wood-Twister was frightened. "I should like
to go out, I'll be back in a short time," he said.
But he never returned. Then the chief asked, "Which of you
three rescued the girls?"
Then Icmá showed the handkerchief, the tie and the ring
given him by the girls, and got all the three girls for his wives.
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