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Native American Legends

The man who married a Bear

A Nez Perce Legend

A man name Five-Times-Surrounded-in-War (Pákatamápaütx) lived with his father at Asotin, and in the spring of the year the youth would go away from home and lose himself till fall. He would tell no one where he had been. Now, he really was accustomed to go up the Little Salmon (Hune'he) branch of the Grande Ronde River to fish for salmon. It was the second year that he went there that this thing happened.

A bear girl lived just below the forks of Asotin Creek, and from that place she used to go over onto the Little Salmon, where Five-Times-Surrounded-in-War had a camp made of boughs. One day, after fishing, he was lying in his camp not quite asleep. He heard the noise of someone walking in the woods. He heard the noise of walking go all around the camp. The grizzly-bear girl was afraid to go near the man, and soon she went away and left him Next morning he tried to track her; and while he could see the tracks in the grass, he could not tell what it was that made them.

Next day the youth hunted deer in order to have dried meat for the winter; and that evening the grizzly-bear girl, dressed up as a human being, came into his camp. Five-Times-Surrounded-in-War had just finished his supper when he heard the footfalls, and, looking out into the forest, he saw a fine girl come into the open. He wondered if this person was what he had heard the night before.

He asked the girl to tell him what she wanted, and she came and sat down beside him. The youth was bashful and could not talk to her, although she was a pretty girl. Then he said, "Where are you camping?" And she told him that three days before she had come from the forks of Asotin Creek.

"I came to see you, and to find out whether or not you would marry me."

Now, Five-Times-Surrounded-in-War did not know of anyone who lived above the mouth of Asotin Creek, and for that reason he told the girl he would take home his meat and salmon and return in ten days. So the girl went back to the forks of Asotin Creek, and the youth to the mouth of the stream with his meat. Then they returned and met; and the youth fell deeply in love with the girl, and married her.

So they lived in his camp until she said to him, "Now we will go to my home."

And when they arrived, he saw that she had a fine supply of winter food -- dried salmon, dried meat, camas, kaus, sanitx, serviceberries, and huckleberries. But what most surprised him was that they went into a hole in the ground, because then he knew she must be a bear.

It grew late in the fall, and they had to stay in the cave, for the girl could not go out. In the dead of winter they were still in the cave when the snow began to settle and harden. One night, near midnight, when both were asleep in their beds, the grizzly-bear girl dreamed, and roared out in her sleep.

She told her husband to build a fire and make a light. Then the grizzly-bear girl sang a song, and blood came running from her mouth. She said, "This blood you see coming from my mouth is not my blood. It is the blood of men. Down at the mouth of Asotin Creek the hunters are making ready for a bear hunt. They have observed this cave, and five hunters are coming here to see if a bear is in it." The grizzly-bear girl in her sleep knew that the hunters were making ready.

Next morning the five hunters went up to that place, and that same morning the grizzly-bear girl donned a different dress from what she usually wore, a dress that was painted red. She told her husband, "Soon after the sun leaves the earth, these hunters will be here, and then I will do my killing."

They arrived, and Five-Times-Surrounded-in-War heard them talking. He heard them say that something must be living in the cave. When the first hunter came to the door of the cave, the grizzly-bear girl rushed out and killed him. Then the four other hunters went home and told the news, and ten hunters made ready to come up and kill the bear. They camped close by for the night.

About midnight the grizzly-bear girl had another dream. She sang a song, and told her husband, "I will leave you as soon as the sun is up. This blood you see coming out of my mouth is my own blood. The hunters are close by, and will soon be here."

Soon the youth could hear the hunters talking. Then they took a pole and hung an empty garment near the mouth of the cave, and the bear rushed out at this decoy. When she turned to go back, they fired, and killed her.

The youth in the cave heard the hunters say, "Watch out! There must be another one in the cave."

So he decided he would go out; and when he came into the light, the hunters recognized him. He went home with them and told the story.

This was the year before the French trappers came, and Five-Times- Surrounded-in-War went away with them. In a year he returned, and after that he disappeared.

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