Native American Legends
The Bear Woman
A Blackfoot Legend
Once there was a young woman with many suitors; but she refused
to marry. She had seven brothers and one little sister. Their mother
had been dead many years and they had no relatives, but lived alone
with their father.
Every day the six brothers went out hunting with their father.
It seems that the young woman had a bear for her lover and, as she
did not want any one to know this, she would meet him when she went
out after wood. She always went after wood as soon as her father
and brothers went out to hunt, leaving her little sister alone in
the lodge. As soon as she was out of sight in the brush, she would
run to the place where the bear lived.
As the little sister grew older, she began to be curious as to
why her older sister spent so much time getting wood. So one day
she followed her. She saw the young woman meet the bear and saw
that they were lovers. When she found this out, she ran home as
quickly as she could, and when her father returned she told him
what she had seen.
When he heard the story he said, "So, my elder daughter has
a bear for a husband. Now I know why she does not want to marry."
Then he went about the camp, telling all his people that they had
a bear for a brother-in-law, and that he wished all the men to go
out with him to kill this bear. So they went, found the bear, and
When the young woman found out what had been done, and that her
little sister had told on her, she was very angry. She scolded her
little sister vigorously, then ordered her to go out to the dead
bear, and bring some flesh from his paws. The little sister began
to cry, and said she was afraid to go out of the lodge, because
a dog with young pups had tried to bite her.
"Oh, do not be afraid!" said the young woman. "I
will paint your face like that of a bear, with black marks across
the: eyes and at the corners of the mouth; then no one will touch
you." So she went for the meat. Now the older sister was a
powerful medicine-woman. She could tan hides in a new way. She could
take up a hide, strike it four times with her skin-scraper and it
would be tanned.
The little sister had a younger brother that she carried on her
back. As their mother was dead, she took care of him. One day the
little sister said to the older sister, "Now you be a bear
and we will go out into the brush to play." The older sister
agreed to this, but said, "Little sister, you must not touch
me over my kidneys." So the big sister acted as a bear, and
they played in the brush. While they were playing, the little sister
forgot what she had been told, and touched her older sister in the
At once she turned into a real bear, ran into the camp, and killed
many of the people. After she had killed a large number, she turned
back into her former self. Now, when the little sister saw the older
run away as a real bear, she became frightened, took up her little
brother, and ran into their lodge. Here they waited, badly frightened,
but were very glad to see their older sister return after a time
as her true self.
Now the older brothers were out hunting, as usual. As the little
sister was going down for water with her little brother on her back,
she met her six brothers returning. The brothers noted how quiet
and deserted the camp seemed to be. So they said to their little
sister, "Where are all our people?" Then the little sister
explained how she and her sister were playing, when the elder turned
into a bear, ran through the camp, and killed many people.
She told her brothers that they were in great danger, as their
sister would surely kill them when they came home. So the six brothers
decided to go into the brush. One of them had killed a jack-rabbit.
He said to the little sister, "You take this rabbit home with
you. When it is dark, we will scatter prickly- pears all around
the lodge, except in one place. When you come out, you must look
for that place, and pass through."
When the little sister came back to the lodge, the elder sister
said, "Where have you been all this time?" "Oh, my
little brother mussed himself and I had to clean him," replied
the little sister. "Where did you get that rabbit?" she
asked. "I killed it with a sharp stick," said the little
sister. "That is a lie. Let me see you do it," said the
older sister. Then the little sister took up a stick lying near
her, threw it at the rabbit, and it stuck in the wound in his body.
"Well, all right," said the elder sister. Then the little
sister dressed the rabbit and cooked it. She offered some of it
to her older sister, but it was refused: so the little sister and
her brother ate all of it. When the elder sister saw that the rabbit
had all been eaten, she became very angry, and said, "Now I
have a mind to kill you."
So the little sister arose quickly, took her little brother on
her back, and said, "I am going out to look for wood."
As she went out, she followed the narrow trail through the prickly-pears
and met her six brothers in the brush. Then they decided to leave
the country, and started off as fast as they could go.
The older sister, being a powerful medicine-woman, knew at once
what they were doing. She became very angry and turned herself into
a bear to pursue them. Soon she was about to overtake them, when
one of the boys tried his power. He took a little water in the hollow
of his hand and sprinkled it around. At once it became a great lake
between them and the bear.
Then the children hurried on while the bear went around. After
a while the bear caught up with them again, when another brother
threw a porcupine-tail (a hairbrush) on the ground. This became
a great thicket; but the bear forced its way through, and again
overtook the children. This time they all climbed a high tree. The
bear came to the foot of the tree, and, looking up at them, said,
"Now I shall kill you all."
So she took a stick from the ground, threw it into the tree and
knocked down four of the brothers. While she was doing this, a little
bird flew around the tree, calling out to the children, "Shoot
her in the head! Shoot her in the head!" Then one of the boys
shot an arrow into the head of the bear, and at once she fell dead.
Then they came down from the tree.
Now the four brothers were dead. The little brother took an arrow,
shot it straight up into the air, and when it fell one of the dead
brothers came to life. This he repeated until all were alive again.
Then they held a council, and said to each other, "Where shall
we go? Our people have all been killed, and we are a long way from
home. We have no relatives living in the world." Finally they
decided that they preferred to live in the sky.
Then the little brother said, "Shut your eyes." As they
did so, they all went up. Now you can see them every night. The
little brother is the North Star. The six brothers and the little
sister are seen in the Great Dipper. The little sister and eldest
brother are in a line with the North Star, the little sister being
nearest it because she used to carry her little brother on her back.
The other brothers are arranged in order of their age, beginning
with the eldest. This is how the seven stars [Ursa Major] came to
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