Native American Legends
The Medicine Grizzly Bear
A Pawnee Legend
A long time ago there lived in a camp of Pawnees a certain poor
boy. His father had only one pony. Once he had been a leading man
in the tribe, but now he seemed to be unlucky.
When he went on the war-path he brought back nothing, and when
he fought he did nothing, and the people did not now look up to
There was a chief's son who loved the poor boy, and these two went
together all the time. They were like brothers; they used to hunt
together and go courting together, and when they were traveling,
the poor boy often rode one of the ponies of the chief's son, and
the latter used to go to the poor boy's lodge and sleep there with
Once the camp went off to hunt buffalo, and the poor boy and the
chief's son rode together all the time. After the people had made
camp at a certain place, the chiefs decided to stop here for four
days, because the buffalo were close by, and they could kill plenty
and dry the meat here. North of the camp was a hill on which grew
many cedar-trees, and during the day the poor boy had overheard
people saying that many Indians had been killed on that hill, among
those trees. They said that no one ought to go there, for it was
a dangerous place.
That night the chief's son went over to his friend's lodge to sleep
there, but before they went to bed he left the lodge for a time,
and while he was gone the poor boy, as he sat there waiting, began
to think about himself and how unhappy he was. He remembered how
poor he and his father were, and how everybody looked down on them
and despised them, and it did not seem to him that things would
ever be any better for them than they were now. For a long time
he sat there thinking about all these things, and the more he thought
of them the worse they seemed, and at last he felt that he was no
longer glad to live, and he made up his mind to go up into those
He went out of the lodge and started to go up toward the trees.
It was bright moonlight, so that he could see well. Just before
he reached the edge of the timber he crossed a ravine, and saw there
many skeletons of people who had been killed. The ground was white
with these bones. He went on into the cedars, and came to a ravine
leading up the hills, and followed it. As he went on he saw before
him a trail and followed it, and when he came to the head of the
ravine there was a big hole in the bank, and the trail led to it.
He stopped for a moment when he came to his hole, but then he went
in, and when he had entered he saw there, sitting by the fire, a
big she-bear and some little cubs.
As the boy stood there looking at her, the she-bear said to him:
"I am sorry that you have come here. My husband is the one
who kills persons and brings them here for the children and me to
eat. You had better go back to your people quickly, or he will eat
you up. He has gone hunting, but he will soon be back again. If
he finds you here, he will kill you."
The poor boy said: "Well, I came here on purpose to be killed,
and I give myself up to you. I shall be glad to be eaten by you.
I am here ready to be killed. I am yours. Take me."
The she-bear said: "Oh, I wish I could do something to save
you, but I cannot. He is one of those bad bears -- a grizzly --
medicine. I can do nothing for you, but I will try. As soon as you
hear any noise outside -- any one coming -- pick up that cub, the
littlest one, and hold it in your arms. When he comes in he will
tell you to put it down, but do not do so. Hold it tight; he loves
that one best of all."
All at once the boy heard outside the cave the noise of a bear
snorting and grunting. The she-bear said, "Pick up the cub,
quick; he is coming." The boy caught up the little bear, and
held it tight to his breast. All at once the noise came to the mouth
of the den and stopped. It was the Bear. The boy could hear him
talking. He said: "Here! somebody has been about my house.
I smell human beings. Yes, he even came in. Where is he? Let me
see him, so that I may jump upon him and kill him." When he
came in he saw the boy, and seemed very angry. He stood up on his
hind feet and threw up his hands, and then came down again and struck
his paws on the ground, and then rose up and snorted "whoof,"
and blew out red dust from his nostrils, and then came down and
jumped about, and sometimes sprang toward the boy, as though he
were going to seize him. He was very terrible, and the boy was very
The Bear called out to the boy in a loud voice: "How dare
you take up my child and hold it? Let it go, or I will tear you
to pieces and eat you." But the boy still held the cub. No
matter what the Bear said or what he did, the boy held fast to the
When the Bear saw that the boy would not let the cub go, he became
quiet, and no longer seemed angry. He said: "Boy, you are my
son. Put down your brother, for now he is your brother. He shall
go with you, he shall be your companion, and shall be with you always
as your guide and helper. He has told me your story, and how you
are poor, unhappy, and now he has kept you from being eaten up.
I have taken pity on you, and we will send you back to your people,
where you may do some good among them. My son, I am at the head
of all these animal lodges, down at Pahuk and at Pahur and everywhere
else. I am at the head; there is no animal living that is stronger
than I; none that I cannot kill. If a man shoots at me, I make the
arrow to fall from my skin without hurting me. Look up around my
lodge. See these arrows, these guns, these leggings, these beads,
and the medicine that men have brought, thinking to kill me; but
I have killed them, and have taken these things, and keep them here.
"I knew that your people were coming to this place to hunt.
I drove the buffalo over, so that the people should stop here and
hunt and kill meat, in order that you might come to my lodge. I
know all your feelings. I know that you are sorry for your poor
father, my brother, and I wished you to come here, so that I might
make you my son and give my power to you, so that you may become
a great man among your people. I know that they are now killing
buffalo, and that they will be camped here for four days.
"Now, my son, set your brother free. All the power that I
have I give to you. I shall kill my son, your little brother there,
and give you his skin to keep and to carry away with you, so that
he may be your companion and may be with you always. Your brother,
your friend at the camp, is looking for you, mourning for you, for
he thinks you dead, but tomorrow night you shall see him, and shall
tell him to rejoice for you and not to mourn. You shall tell him
where you have been."
The little bear that he was holding said to the boy: "It is
all right now, brother; put me down. My father means what he says.
I am glad that I am going to be with you, my brother." The
boy put him down.
Then the Bear said to his wife: "Get up. Take that gun."
The she-bear took the gun, and they walked around the fire-place
in a circle, and sang, and the boy looked on. The Bear took the
gun and told the boy to look at them, and to watch carefully everything
that they did. After a little he stopped, and shot his wife, and
she fell down dead. Then he put down the gun, and went to the she-
bear and put his mouth on the wound, and breathed on it and snorted
"woof," and sucked in his breath and took the bullet out,
and went around the lodge, singing and making motions, and then
he took hold of the she-bear and lifted her to her feet, and supported
her, and pushed her around, and helped her, and at last she walked,
and was well. Then he called the boy to him and said, "Now
I will do the same thing to you." And he did the same thing
to the boy, and brought him to life in the same way. Then he said,
"That is one power I give you tonight."
Then he gave the gun to the boy and went to the other side of the
lodge, and sat up, and said, "Now I will open my mouth, and
you shoot me right in the mouth." He opened his mouth, and
the boy shot him, and he fell over. After a moment he got up on
his feet and slapped his paws on his chest several times, and the
bullet came out of his mouth, and he walked around the fireplace
two or three times, and made motions and grunted, and then he was
well. Then he took the boy in his arms, and hugged him and kissed
him and breathed on him, and said: "Now I give you my power.
Go over there and I will shoot you as you shot me. Do just as I
did." The boy went over there, and the Bear shot him, and the
boy did just as the Bear had done, and made himself well.
The Bear then put an arrow in the gun and shot it at the boy, and
when the smoke cleared away the boy found the arrow fast in his
throat, the feather end sticking out. The Bear took it out and made
him well, and gave him also this power. Then the Bear told him to
load the gun with a ball and to shoot it at him, and he did so,
and shot the Bear, but the lead was made flat and dropped to the
ground. The bullet did not go into the Bear.
The Bear now told the boy to take the bow and arrow and to shoot
at him with all his strength. The boy did this, but the arrow did
not go through the Bear, but the spike rolled up and the shaft was
split. The Bear said: "Now you see, my son, that the gun and
the bow, the bullet and the arrow, cannot harm me. You shall have
the same power. When you go into battle you shall not carry a gun
nor arrows, for they are not mine, but you shall take this paint
and put it all over your body, then put this feather on your head,
and take this club, which is part of my jawbone. All these things
have my power and medicine. When you are carrying these things your
enemy cannot hurt you, even if you run right on to him; but with
one stroke of this club you shall kill your enemy.
The next morning the Bear took the boy out on the prairie and showed
him the different roots and leaves of medicines, and told him how
to use them; how he should eat some medicine and then he could cure
the wounded by just breathing on the wound.
That night the Bear said to him: "Hereafter you shall have
the same feelings as the bear. When you get angry, you will have
a grunt like a bear; and if you get too fierce, teeth like a bear's
will stick out of your mouth, so that the people will know that
you are very angry. You shall have my power, and you can go into
any of the lodges of the animals, of which I am the chief."
And he told him how to get into these lodges.
That day they staid in the Bear's lodge, and the Bear took the
claw off from his little finger and gave it and a little bundle
of medicine to the boy. He said, "Take this claw and this bundle
of medicine and put them on a string and wear them on your neck
always, the claw hanging in front." He taught him how to make
plums grow on trees, and how to make ground-cherries come out of
That night he sent the boy back to the camp. He said: "Tell
your father and mother not to mourn for you, for you will return
in two days more. I have driven plenty of buffalo to this place,
and they will kill them and dry the meat. Now go to the camp and
get a pipe and some tobacco, and bring them here."
The boy went back to the camp. When he went into the lodge his
father and mother were glad to see him. He told them not to be anxious
about him, and not to say anything about his having been away. Then
he went out and found his brother, the chief's son, asleep. He said
to him: "Wake up, brother. I want you to get some tobacco and
a pipe from your father. Tell no one that it is for me. Bring it
here. I want to smoke with you. I am going away again, but you must
stay in camp. I will be back in a few days." The chief's son
got the things and gave them to the boy. He wanted to go with him,
but the poor boy would not let him.
That same night the boy went back to the Bear's den, carrying with
him the pipe and tobacco. After he went into the lodge he filled
his pipe and lighted it, and he and the Bear smoked together. The
Bear said to him: "After you have gone home, whenever you smoke,
always point your pipe toward my den and ask me to smoke with you.
After lighting your pipe, point it first to Atius Tirawat, and then
blow a few whiffs to me. Then I shall know that you still remember
me. All my power comes from Atius. He made me. There will be an
end to my days as there is to those of every mortal. So long as
I live I shall protect you; when I die of old age, you shall die
After this he said, "Now bring my youngest boy here."
The boy brought the little cub, and the Bear said, "Now kill
him." The boy hesitated to do this. He did not want to kill
the little bear, but it said to him: "Go on, my brother, kill
me. After this I am going to be a spirit, and always to be with
you." Then the boy killed him, and skinned him, and tanned
his hide. After it was tanned he put some red medicine paint on
the hide. When this was done the Bear told him to put his paint,
his feathers, and his war-club in this hide, and to wrap them up
and make a bundle of them. Then he said: "Now, my son, go to
your people, and when you get home hang your bundle up at the back
of the lodge, and let the people know nothing of all this. Keep
it secret. Wherever you go, or wherever you are, I shall be with
The boy went home to the camp, and told his mother to hang up his
bundle, as the Bear had said. Next morning he was in camp and all
the people saw him. They were surprised, for they had thought that
he had been killed. By this time the Pawnees had all the buffalo
they wanted, and the next day they started back to their village.
After they had reached their home, the boy told the chief's son
that he wanted him to go off with him on the war-path. His brother
said: "It is good. I will go." The poor boy took his bundle,
and they started. After traveling many days they came to a camp
of the enemy. They went into the village in the daytime, and took
many horses and started away with them, riding hard. Soon the enemy
pursued them, and at length they could see them coming, and it seemed
as if they must soon overtake them. Then the poor boy got off his
horse and stopped, telling his brother to go on, driving the horses.
The boy had painted himself red over his whole body. He held his
war-club in his hand, and had his feather tied on his head and the
little bear-skin on his back. The enemy soon came up and tried to
kill him, but they could not. He would run after one and kill him,
and all the others would shoot at him with their arrows, but they
could not hurt him, and at last they left him and went back, and
he went on and overtook the chief's son. Then his brother saw that
he had great power. After this they traveled on slowly, and at last
reached the village. His brother told the people that this man was
powerful, that they had taken the horses in broad daylight, and
the young man had staid behind on foot and fought the enemy off,
while he drove on the horses.
A few days after they reached home a war-party of the enemy attacked
the village. All the Pawnees went out to fight them, but the poor
boy staid behind in the lodge. He took down his bundle, filled the
pipe, and pointed it first to Atius, and then toward the Bear's
lodge, and smoked. Then he took the paint and mixed it with grease,
and rubbed it all over his body except his face: that he painted
black. Then he put the feather on his head and the little bear-robe
on his back, and took his war-club in his hand and started out.
The Bear had told him that in going into battle he must never start
toward the east, but must attack going toward the west. So he went
around, and came on the battle-field from one side.
As he came up he saw that his people were having a hard time, and
were being driven back. There was one of the enemy who seemed to
be the bravest of all. The poor boy rushed at this man and killed
him with his club, and then ran back to his own line. When his people
looked at him, and saw that it was really the poor boy who had just
done so brave a deed, they knew that what the chief's son had said
was true. When he started again to rush toward the enemy's line,
all the Pawnees followed him. He ran among the enemy, and with his
club killed one here and one there, and the enemy became afraid
and ran, and the Pawnees followed and killed many of them. That
night they returned to the village, rejoicing over the victory.
Everybody was praising the young man. Old men were calling his name,
young women were singing about him, and old women dancing before
him. People no longer made fun of his father or mother, or of him.
Now they looked upon him as a great and powerful person.
The Bear had told him that when he wanted his name changed he must
call himself Ku ruks la war uks ti, Medicine Bear.
That night the Bear came to the boy in his sleep and spoke to him.
He said: "My son, tomorrow the chief of the tribe is going
to ask you to take his daughter for your wife, but you must not
do this yet. I wish you to wait until you have done certain things.
If you take a wife before that time, your power will go from you."
The next day the chief came to Medicine Bear and asked him to marry
his daughter, and told him the people wanted him to be their head
chief. He refused.
Some time after this all the different tribes that had been attacked
by him joined forces and came down together to fight the Pawnees.
All the people went out to meet them, but he staid in his lodge
and painted himself, and put his feather in his head and the bear-claw
on his neck and his bear-skin on his back, and smoked as he always
did, and took his club and went out. When he came to the battle,
the Pawnees were having a hard time, because the enemy were so many.
Medicine Bear charged, and killed a man, and then came back, and
the second time he charged the people charged all together, following
him, and they killed many and drove the enemy off, and those who
had the fastest horses were the only ones who got away. The Pawnees
went home to the village. Everybody rejoiced, and there were many
scalp-dances. Now the poor boy was more highly thought of than ever.
Even the chiefs bowed their heads when they saw him. They could
not equal him. This time he called himself Ku ruks ti carish, Angry
After the excitement had quieted down, one day the head chief said:
"Medicine Bear, in all this tribe there is no chief who is
equal to you. Sit down by my daughter. Take her for your wife, and
take my place as chief. I and my wife will go out of this lodge,
and it shall be yours. You shall be the chief of the tribe. Whatever
you say we will abide by." The poor boy said: "My father,
I will think about this. By morning I will let you know." In
the night, before he slept, he filled the pipe and smoked as the
Bear had told him to do, and then he went to bed. In dreams the
Bear said to him: "My son, you have done what I wished you
to do. Now the power will remain with you as long as you shall live.
Now you can marry, if you will."
But the boy was not yet ready to do this. The girl was very pretty,
and he liked her, but he felt that before he married there were
still some things that he must do. He called his brother and said
to him, "Go, kill the fattest of the buffalo; bring it to me,
and I will take a long journey with you."
His brother went hunting and killed a buffalo, and brought the
meat home, and they dried it and made a bundle of it. Medicine Bear
told his brother to carry this bundle and a rawhide rope and a little
hatchet, and they started on a journey toward the Missouri River.
One day toward evening they reached the river, and they found themselves
on top of a steep-cut bluff. The river ran at its foot. The poor
boy cut a cottonwood pole and drove it into the ground, and tied
the rope to it, and then tied the other end of the rope about his
brother's body. Then he sharpened a stick and gave it to his brother
and said: "Now take the bundle of meat, and I will let you
down over the bank. You must put the meat on a ledge of the cliff,
and when the birds come you must feed them. Give a piece to the
first one that comes, and then take your sharp stick and get another
piece, and so feed all the birds. They are the ones that have power,
and they can take pity on you." So he let the chief's son down.
The first bird that came was a buzzard, then an eagle, then hawks
and owls, all kinds of birds that kill their prey. He fed them all.
While he was doing this, the poor boy was above lying on top of
the bank. Late in the afternoon, just as the sun was going down,
he saw, far up the river, what looked like a flock of geese coming.
They came nearer and nearer, and at last passed out of sight under
the bank. Afterward, when he looked down on the river, he could
see in the water red light as if it were all on fire, and as he
lay on the bank he could hear down below him the sound of drumming
and singing just as plain as could be, and all the time the chief's
son was hanging there in front of the bank, and the poor boy would
call down to him to cry and ask the animals to take pity on him.
When Medicine Bear had done this, he started back and went home,
leaving the chief's son hanging there.
The chief's son staid there all the night and all the next day,
and for three days and nights, and on the night of the fourth day
he fell asleep. When he awoke he was in a lodge. It was under the
Missouri River. When he looked about him he saw that those in the
lodge were all animals. There was the beaver, there was the otter,
two buffalo, the antelope, hawks, owls, ermines, bears, frogs, woodpeckers,
catfish -- all kinds of animals. On each side of the lodge was a
little pool, and in each pool sat a goose, and every time they sang,
the geese would shake their wings on the water, and it sounded just
like drumming. The chief of the animals spoke to him, saying: "My
son, at this time we can do nothing for you. We must first send
our messenger up to the Bear's lodge to ask him what we may do for
you." While he was saying this the Bear's servant entered the
lodge and said: "My father, it is all right. Our father the
Bear told me to say to you that his son has sent this young man
to you, and you must exert all your power for him."
Now the animals began to make ready to use their power to help
the chief's son. First the Beaver talked to the young man, to tell
him of his powers and his ways, so that he might perform wonderful
acts. How he should take the branch of a tree and strike a man with
its point and it would go through him, and then how to draw it out
and to make the man well again. He gave him the power to do this.
He taught him how to take a stick two feet long and swallow it,
and then take it out again from his throat, and gave him this power.
The Otter gave him the power, if his enemies ever attacked him,
to break their arrows with his teeth and shoot back the shaft without
a spike, and if he hit an enemy with the shaft, it would kill him.
"The poison from your mouth will kill him," he said.
The Ground-dog said: "My son, here is my little one. I give
him to you. Take him, and if you have an enemy among the doctors
in your tribe, take this little one down to the water early in the
morning and dip his nose in the water, and when you take it out
it will have a piece of liver in its mouth. The man who has tried
to kill you will be found dead."
The Owl said: "My son, I give you power to see in the night.
When you go on the war-path and want to take horses, the night will
be like daytime for you."
The Hawk said: "My son, I give you power to run swiftly, and
I give you my war-club, which is my wing. You shall strike your
enemy with it only once, and the blow shall kill him. Take also
this little black rope; you shall use it when you go on the war-path
to catch horses. Take also this scalp which you see hanging down
from my claw. You shall be a great man for scalping."
Each of the other animals gave him all his kinds of power.
For two days and two nights, they taught him the different kinds
of power, and for two days and two nights they taught him the different
kinds of roots and herbs for healing the sick. They said to him:
"You shall be the great doctor of your people. Every now and
then you must bring us tobacco, so that we can smoke." They
further told him that at this time they could teach him only a little,
but that afterward, one at a time, they would meet him out on the
prairie, and would teach him more. At last they said: "Now
it is time for you to go. Your friend has come, and is waiting for
you out on the prairie."
The Buffalo now stood up and said: "My son, I want to be with
you always. I give you my robe. Wear it wherever you go, that the
people may know that you come from this place." All the animals
said, "We want to be with you too." Each one of the birds
took off a feather and put it on the robe, and each animal put one
of its claws on it, and some put medicine on it. In one of the holes
the Beaver tied a little sweet-grass, and others did the same. By
the time they were through, the robe was all covered with feathers
and claws and smelt sweet. The animals had put their medicine on
it so that it smelt sweet. Then the animals said, "Go, my son,
to your people, and bring us something to smoke, so that we may
Presently the chief's son found himself upon the bluff, facing
his brother. His brother grasped him in his arms and said: "Oh,
my brother, you smell nice. What a fine robe you have on! Look at
all these feathers." They hugged each other. Then they went
home together. The chief's son had a bundle that the animals had
Soon after this the Pawnees had a big doctors' dance. These boys
went into the doctors' lodge and said: "Doctors, you are the
head doctors, but we have come tonight to visit you. We want to
do a few things ourselves." The doctors all said "Lau-a."
The young men took seats close to the door, which is the most important
place in this dance. All the doctors were surprised, and said "Uh!"
The Bear boy got up first and began shooting at the chief's son,
just as he had done with the Bear, and all the doctors thought he
was powerful, shooting at this young man and curing him. When he
got through, it was the other boy's turn. He would take a long sharp
stick and thrust it through his brother, and then heal him again,
and then take a knife and stab him, and then cure him. He did some
powerful things, more so than his brother had done. After the doctors
had seen all these things they all said, "Let us have these
two for our head doctors." But the poor boy said: "Not
so. This one who is sitting by me has more power than I have. He
ought to be the head doctor, for I am a warrior, and can never stay
in the camp to doctor people. My brother has gone into the animals'
lodge, and they have given him more power than I possess."
So the chief's son was chosen to be the head doctor.
When the doctors' dance was over, the two brothers at once started
to go to the animals' lodge, carrying with them tobacco and a pipe.
When they got there, the chief's son told his brother to wait on
the bank, that he was going down to take the tobacco and the pipe
to his fathers. He jumped off the steep bank into the river, down
into the door of the lodge, and went in. When they saw him all the
animals slapped their mouths and called out. They were glad to see
him. After smoking with them, he went back to his friend. After
that the chief's son would go off by himself and would meet the
animals on the hills. They would tell him about different roots,
and how to doctor this disease and that. He would come back with
some roots and herbs and put them away.
Finally the head chief sent for the Bear man and said to him: "My
son, I offered you my lodge, my daughter, and the whole tribe. Now
take all this. Let me go out of this lodge and look for another
one, and you stay here with my daughter." The young man said:
"What of my brother? Send for the other chief. Let him give
his daughter, his lodge, his people, to him, and this day we will
accept your gifts to us. My brother will after this be the head
doctor of this tribe." The other chief when asked to do this
agreed, and it was so done.
The Bear man went often on the warpath, but his brother staid at
home, and fought against the enemy only when they attacked the village.
He took charge of the doctors' lodge. The Bear man after this had
some children, and when they had grown up he told his son the secrets
of his power. He was now beginning to grow old, and his son went
on the warpath, while he staid at home.
One night he had a dream about his father the Bear. The Bear said
to him: "My son, I made you great and powerful among your people.
The hairs of my body are falling and soon I shall die. Then you
too will die. Tell your son all the secret powers that I gave you.
He shall keep the same power that you have had."
Soon after this the old Bear must have died, for the man died.
Before he died he said to his brother: "Do not mourn for me,
for I shall always be near you. Take care of your people. Cure them
when they are sick, and always be their chief."
When the enemy came and attacked these people and wounded any,
the chief's son was always there and always cured them. He was a
great doctor. At last he also died, but his son had the same kind
of power. But these two sons never had so great a power as their
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