Native American Legends
The White Faced Bear
An Aleut Legend
In a tribal village there lived a mighty bear-hunter. For more
than three years, he had been constantly successful in killing so
many that his friend tried to persuade him to stop hunting.
"If you insist upon hunting one more bear, you will come across
a huge bear who might kill you," he said. The hunter ignored
his friend's advice and replied, "I will attack every bear
I come across."
A few days later the hunter started out and saw a bear with two
cubs. He decided this was not the huge bear he had been worried
about, so he attacked the mother bear, and after some difficulty
killed her. The cubs ran away. After the hunter dragged the bear
home for his tribe, his friend continued to urge him to give up
the bear hunt, but without success.
On another hunt, after a few days on the trail, the hunter met
a stranger who informed him that near his village were a great many
bears. "Every year many are killed by our hunters, but always
there is an invincible one that has destroyed many of our hunters.
Each time he kills a man, the bear tears him apart, examines him
carefully as if searching for a special body mark. He is different
because his feet and head are white."
They parted, and the hunter started out to look for that hunting
ground. On his way, he stopped near a fish creek looking for game,
but after a long night none appeared. Next morning he moved onward
and came to a high bluff; below it he saw many bears on the tundra.
He waited until some separated and looked over the remainder.
Among those, he saw the white-faced bear with white feet and concluded
that this must be the ferocious, huge bear he sought. First he would
keep an eye on it and wait for a favorable opportunity to kill it.
Now it seems that at one time, the white-faced bear was a human
being and a very successful bear-hunter, too successful for his
own good. His friends were envious and plotted to kill him. So they
went to a medicine-man deep in the woods, and begged him to transform
the successful hunter into a beast.
"Shoot a bear, skin it and place the skin under the pillow
of your successful hunter," advised the Shaman.
After the bear-skin had been prepared, the Shaman and his friends
quietly went to the man's hut and placed the skin under the man's
pillow. They hid themselves to see what would happen when the man
went to bed. Upon waking, the man found that he had become a huge
bear with a white face and white feet.
"The white marks will show you which bear he is," said
the Shaman, who disappeared into the woods.
Now our bear-hunter still sat at the edge of the bluff. Toward
evening he saw the bears begin to leave, all except the white- faced
bear. He was the last to get up, and he shook himself three times
and acted as if he was deeply enraged. He moved toward the bluff
where the hunter sat perfectly still. But the bear approached, and
when he was almost face to face, asked, "What are you doing
"I came out to hunt," he replied.
"Is it not enough that you have killed all my family, and
recently killed my wife, and now you want to take my life? If you
had injured my children the other day, I would now tear you to pieces.
I will, however, spare your life this time on your promise that
you will never hunt bears again. All the bears you saw today are
my children and of my brother. Should I ever see you hunting bear,
I will tear you apart."
Relieved to get away so easily, the hunter headed homeward. His
friend met him and inquired about the white-faced bear, and when
told what had happened, he urged the hunter to give up hunting.
A whole week passed before the hunter set forth again, taking along
six hunting friends.
For two days they hunted without luck, then came to the fish creek
where they camped overnight. Next morning their leader took the
six to the edge of the bluff where they could look down at the tundra
and see many bears. But they could not see the white- faced bear
and, encouraged, followed their leader toward the animals.
"Look at that strange-looking beast with white paws and a
white face!" exclaimed one man.
The hunter-leader caught sight of that special bear and ordered
his followers to retreat at once. So they went around another mountain
where they saw many bears. They killed seven, one for each man.
Loaded with their spoil they took the homeward trail, but a short
distance behind them they heard a commotion. They saw the white
faced bear rapidly approaching them. The hunter aimed, but his bowstring
broke. The others shot and missed. The white-faced bear spoke up
and said, "Why do you shoot at me? I never harm you. Your leader
killed my wife and nearly all my family. I warned him that if I
found him hunting again, I would tear him apart. And this I shall
do now, piece by piece. The rest of you can go. I'll not harm you
because you have not harmed me."
Hurriedly, as fast as possible, the six men fled. The white- faced
bear turned to the bear-hunter.
"I had you in my power once and I let you go on your promise
not to hunt bear again. Now you are back at it and brought more
bear- hunters along. This time I will do to you as you have done
The hunter pleaded to be allowed to live one more night so he could
go home. At first the bear refused outright. The white- faced bear
then relented, and would even spare his life entirely, if the hunter
would tell him who had transformed him from a man into a beast.
The hunter agreed to meet him the next night and go to the home
of the Shaman.
When the bear-hunter reached home and found his six companions
talking excitedly about the day's experience, they were surprised
to see the hunter- leader alive.
The hunter told them his plan to meet the white-faced bear at the
home of the Shaman next evening and asked the six to go with him.
They refused and tried to dissuade their leader. But the bear- hunter
kept his word and met the white-faced bear at the appointed place.
A light shone from every hut except that of the Shaman.
"This is the place," said the man.
"I will remain here," ordered the bear. "You go
inside and tell him there is a man outside wishing to speak with
The man advanced and found the skin-door tied, so he reported to
the bear that the Shaman must be out. The bear ordered him back
to cut the door, then walk in. Upon entering, the man heard someone
call, "Who dares come into my lodge?"
"It is I," said the bear-hunter.
"What do you wish?"
"There is a man outside who wishes to speak to you."
Had the Shaman not been so sleepy, he might have been suspicious.
Under the circumstances, his mind was not clear and he fell into
When the Shaman came near the white-faced bear, the old man became
frightened and was ready to run away. But the bear blocked his way
and said, "For years you have tortured me and made my life
a burden in this condition. I demand you give me back my human form
immediately, otherwise I shall tear you to pieces."
The Shaman promised to do so if the bear would follow him into
his hut. Before going in, the bear said to the hunter, "Meet
me here when I come out."
All night the Shaman worked hard with the bear, and by next morning
succeeded in pulling off the bear-skin, and a human form appeared.
The Shaman asked to keep the white-faced bear's skin, but the man
kept the white-face and the white claws, which he cut off at once,
giving the rest of the skin to the Shaman.
"If you ever again try to transform a man into a beast, I
will be back and kill you dead, dead, dead," said the man.
The next day when the bear-man met the bear-hunter he said, "I
caution you against ever going out to hunt bear. You may even hear
people say I've become a bear again, and they will hunt me. Don't
you join them. If I find you in their company, I will kill you dead,
For about four weeks the hunter remained at home with every intention
of keeping his promise to the transformed man. But one day two young
men from the neighboring tribal village came to beg his assistance.
They asked his help to kill a ferocious bear with a white face and
four white feet.
Of course the hunter knew the bear they feared, but decided to
disguise himself and go help them. They gathered all of the village
warriors and set out to find the white-faced bear. The bear saw
them coming. He rose and shook himself three times, giving the impression
of great anger, which frightened the warriors. Their chief said,
"We are in great danger, so we must stand and fight."
Madly, the white-faced bear jumped, landed in front of the hunter
and tore him to pieces. Then it pawed a hole in the ground and covered
up the parts. The terrified warriors tried to escape, but the white-faced
bear chased them back to their village, tearing them apart, killing
all of them, including the old Shaman. Finished, the white-faced
bear turned back into the woods to rest undisturbed forever.
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