Native American Legends
The Bear and his Indian Wife
A Haida Legend
This story of the Haidas of Queen Charlotte's Island, British Columbia,
was told in 1873 by a Haida named Yak Quahu, who heard it related
around the evening fires by the old people of his tribe.
Yak Quahu began: "Not long ago, as our old people tell us,
the bears were a race of beings less perfect than our fathers. They
used to talk, walk upright, and use their paws like hands. When
they wanted wives, they were accustomed to steal the daughters of
Quiss-an-kweedass and Kind-a-wuss were a youth and maiden in my
native village, she the daughter of one of our chiefs, he the son
of one of the common people.
Since both were about the same age and had been playmates from
youth, their fondness in later years ripened into a love so strong
that they seemed to live for each other.
But while they loved each other, they knew that they could never
live as husband and wife, because both were of one crest, the Raven.
By the social laws of the Haidas a mother gives her name and crest
to her children, whether Raven, Eagle, Frog, Beaver, or Bear. A
man is at liberty to take a wife from any other crest except the
one to which he himself belongs.
While the youth and maiden continued to love each other, time passed
unnoticed. Life to them seemed a pleasing dream - from which they
were awakened when both sets of parents reminded them that the time
had come for each to marry someone else.
Seeing that these admonitions passed unheeded, their parents resolved
to separate them. The lovers were confined in their homes, but they
contrived to slip away and meet outside the village.
They escaped to the woods, resolved to live on the meanest fare
in the mountain forests rather than return to be separated.
In a lonely glen under a shady spruce by a mountain stream, they
built a hut, to which they always returned at night. While wandering
in search of food they were careful lest they should meet any of
Thus they lived until the lengthening nights and stormy days reminded
them of winter. Quiss-an-kweedass resolved to revisit his home,
and to make the journey alone. Kind-a-wuss preferred to remain in
the solitude of the forest rather than face her angry relations.
He promised, however, to return before nightfall of the fourth
When he reached home, his parents welcomed him and asked about
Kind-a- wuss and her whereabouts since they departed. He told them
all, and when they heard how they lived, and how she had become
his wife, their wrath was great.
They told him that he would never go back, and they decided to
keep him prisoner until she also returned.
When Quiss-an-kweedass could not get away, he urged his people
to let him go and get Kind-a-wuss, for she would never return alone.
They were unmoved by his appeal.
After a considerable time, he managed to escape. He hastened to
his mountain home, hoping to meet Kind-a-wuss, yet fearing that
something might be wrong.
When he arrived at the place where they had parted, he found by
the footprints on the soft earth that she had started to return
to their hut. Drawing near it, he listened but heard no sound and
saw no trace of her.
When he went inside, he was horror-stricken to find that she had
not been there since he left. Where was she? Had she lost her way?
Hoping to find some clue, he searched the hut, looked up and down
the stream, went through the timber up to the mountains, calling
her by name as he went along:
"Kind-a-wuss, Kind-a-wuss, where are you? Kind-a-wuss, come
to me; I am your own Quiss-an-kweedass. Do you hear me, Kind-a-wuss?"
To these appeals the mountain echoes answered, Kind-a-wuss.
After searching for days, feeling sorrowful and angry, he turned
homeward, grieving for the dear one whom he had lost, and angry
with his parents, whom he blamed for his misfortune.
Once there, he told the villagers of his trouble and claimed their
assistance. Many responded, among them the two fathers, one anxious
for his daughter's safety, the other disturbed because he had detained
Early on the morning of the third day after Quiss-an-kweedass arrived,
he led a party out for a final search to try and find her, dead
or alive. But after ten days, during which they discovered nothing
except a place where traces of a struggle were visible, they abandoned
As weeks gave place to months and months to years, Kind-a-wuss
seemed to have been forgotten. She was seldom mentioned, or was
referred to only as the girl who was lost and never found. Yet her
lover never forgot; he believed her still alive and did all in his
power to find her. Having failed so often, he thought he would visit
a medicine man, or *skaga*, who was clairvoyant.
The *skaga* asked Quiss-an-kweedass if he had anything that the
maiden had worn. He gave a part of her clothing to the *skaga*,
who took it in his hand and said:
"I see a young woman lying on the ground; she seems to be
asleep. It is Kind- a-wuss. There is something in the bushes, coming
toward her. It is a large bear. He takes hold of her; she tries
to get away but cannot. He takes her with him, a long way off. I
see a lake. They reach it and stop at a large cedar tree. She lives
in the tree with the bear. I see two children, boys, that she has
had by the bear. If you go to the lake and find the tree, you will
discover them all there."
Quiss-an-kweedasslost no time in getting together a second party
led by the *skaga*, who soon found the lake and then the tree. There
they halted to consider what it was best to do. It was agreed that
Quiss-an-kweedass should call her by name before venturing up a
sort of stepladder which leaned against the tree. After he called
her several times, she looked out and said:
"Where do you come from? And who are you?"
"I am Quiss-an-kweedass," said he. "I have sought
long years for you. Now that I have found you, I mean to take you
home. Will you go?"
"I cannot go with you until my husband, the chief of bears,
After a little conversation, she consented to come down among them;
and when they had her in their power, they hastily carried her off
Her parents were glad to have their lost child, and Quiss-an-kweedass
was overjoyed to recover his loved one. Although she was at home
and kindly welcomed, she was worried for her two sons and wished
to return for them.
This her friends would not allow, though they offered to go and
fetch them. She replied that their father would not let them go.
"But," said she, "there is a way you might get them."
She explained that the bear had made up a song for her, and if
they would go to the tree and sing it, the bear chief would give
them whatever they wished.
After learning the song, a party went to the tree and began to
sing. As soon as the bear heard the song he came down, thinking
that Kind-a-wuss had returned. When he saw that she was not there,
he was upset and refused to let the children go. When the party
threatened to take them by force, however, he agreed to send them
to their mother.
Kind-a-wuss told the following story of how she had fallen into
the power of the bear. After she had parted from Quiss-an-kweedass
and turned back toward the hut, she had not gone far before she
felt tired and sick at heart for her lover.
Deciding to rest a little, she lay down in a dry, shady place and
fell asleep. There the bear found her, took her and carried her
to his home near the lake.
As the entrance to his house was high above the ground, he had
a sort of stepladder whereby he could get easily up and down. He
sent some of his tribe to gather soft moss to make her a bed.
She used to wonder why no one came to look for her; and when the
bear saw her downhearted, he would do all in his power to cheer
As the years passed and none of her relations nor her lover came
near her, she began to feel at home in the bear's tree house. By
the time the search party arrived, she had given up all hope of
The bear tried to make her comfortable and please her. He composed
a song which to this day is known among the children of the Haidas
as the Song of the Bears. I have heard it sung many times.
In 1888 an old acquaintance gave me the words:
I have taken a fair maid from her Haida friends as my wife. I hope
her relatives won't come and carry her away from me. I will be kind
to her. I will give her berries from the hill and roots from the
ground. I will do all I can to please her. For her I made this song,
and for her I sing it.
This is the Song of the Bears, and whoever can sing it has their
lasting friendship. Many people learned it from Kind-a-wuss, who
never went again to live with the bear. Out of consideration for
her, as well as for the hardships that the lovers had suffered,
they were allowed to live as man and wife.
As for the two sons, Soo-gaot and Cun-what, they showed different
dispositions as they grew up. Soo-gaot stayed with his mother's
people, while the other returned to his father and lived and died
among the bears.
Soo-gaot, marrying a girl belonging to his parental tribe, reared
a family from whom many of his people claim to be descended.
The direct descendant of Soo-gaotis a pretty girl, the offspring
of a Haida mother and Kanaku father, who inherits all the family
belongings, the savings of many generations.
The small brook which flowed by the mountain home of Quiss-an-kweedass
and Kind-a-wuss grew to be a large stream, up which large quantities
of salmon run in season. That stream is in the family to this day,
and out of it they catch their food.
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