Native American Legends
The Bear Man
A Cherokee Legend
A man went hunting in the mountains and came across a black bear,
which he wounded with an arrow. The bear turned and started to run
the other way, and the hunter followed, shooting one arrow after
another into it without bringing it down.
Now, this was a medicine bear, and could talk or read the thoughts
of people without their saying a word. At last he stopped and pulled
the arrows out of his side and gave them to the man, saying, "It
is of no use for you to shoot at me, for you can not kill me. Come
to my house and let us live together."
The hunter thought to himself, "He may kill me;" but
the bear read his thoughts and said, "No, I won't hurt you."
The man thought again, "How can I get anything to eat?"
but the bear knew his thoughts, and said, "There shall be plenty."
So the hunter went with the bear.
They went on together until they came to a hole in the side of
the mountain, and the bear said, "This is not where I live,
but there is going to be a council here and we will see what they
do." They went in, and the hole widened as they went, until
they came to a large cave like a townhouse.
It was full of bears--old bears, young bears, and cubs, white bears,
black bears, and brown bears--and a large white bear was the chief.
They sat down in a corner, but soon the bears scented the hunter
and began to ask, "What is it that smells bad?" The chief
said, "Don't talk so; it is only a stranger come to see us.
Let him alone."
Food was getting scarce in the mountains, and the council was to
decide what to do about it. They had Sent out messengers all over,
and while they were talking two bears came in and reported that
they had found a country in the low grounds where there, were so
many chestnuts and acorns that mast was knee deep. Then they were
all pleased, and got ready for a dance, and the dance leader was
the one the Indians call Kalâs'-gûnähi'ta, "Long
Hams," a great black bear that is always lean.
After the dance the bears noticed the hunter's bow and arrows,
and one said, "This is what men use to kill us. Let us see
if we can manage them, and maybe we can fight man with his own weapons."
So they took the bow and arrows from the hunter to try them. They
fitted the arrow and drew back the string, but when they let go
it caught in their long claws and the arrows dropped to the ground.
They saw that they could not use the bow and arrows and gave them
back to the man. When the dance and the council were over, they
began to go home, excepting the White Bear chief, who lived there,
and at last the hunter and the bear went out together.
They went on until they came to another hole in the side of the
mountain, when the bear said, "This is where I live,"
and they went in. By this time the hunter was very hungry and was
wondering how he could get something to eat. The other knew his
thoughts, and sitting up on his hind legs he rubbed his stomach
with his forepaws--so--and at once he had both paws full of chestnuts
and gave them to the man.
He rubbed his stomach again--so--and had his paws full of huckleberries,
and gave them to the man. He rubbed again--so--and gave the man
both paws full of blackberries. He rubbed again--so--and had his
paws full of acorns, but the man said that he could not eat them,
and that he had enough already.
The hunter lived in the cave with the bear all winter, until long
hair like that of a bear began to grow all over his body and he
began to act like a bear; but he still walked like a man. One day
in early spring the bear said to him, "Your people down in
the settlement are getting ready for a grand hunt in these mountains,
and they will come to this cave and kill me and take these clothes
from me"--he meant his skin--" but they will not hurt
you and will take you home with them." The bear knew what the
people were doing down in the settlement just as he always knew
what the man was thinking about.
Some days passed and the bear said again, "This is the day
when the Topknots will come to kill me, but the Split-noses will
come first and find us. When they have killed me they will drag
me outside the cave and take off my clothes and cut me in pieces.
You must cover the blood with leaves, and when they are taking you
away look back after you have gone a piece and you will see something."
Soon they heard the hunters coming up the mountain, and then the
dogs found the cave and began to bark. The hunters came and looked
inside and saw the bear and killed him with their arrows. Then they
dragged him outside the cave and skinned the body and cut it in
quarters to carry home. The dogs kept on barking until the hunters
thought there must be another bear in the cave.
They looked in again and saw the man away at the farther end. At
first they thought it was another bear on account of his long hair,
but they soon saw it was the hunter who had been lost the year before,
so they went in and brought him out. Then each hunter took a load
of the bear meat and they started home again, bringing the man and
the skin with them.
Before they left the man piled leaves over the spot where they
had cut up the bear, and when they had gone a little way he looked
behind and saw the bear rise up out of the leaves, shake himself,
and go back into the woods.
When they came near the settlement the man told the hunters that
he must be shut up where no one could see him, without anything
to eat or drink for seven days and nights, until the bear nature
had left him and he became like a man again.
So they shut him up alone in a house and tried to keep very still
about it, but the news got out and his wife heard of it. She came
for her husband, but the people would not let her near him; but
she came every day and begged so hard that at last after four or
five days they let her have him. She took him home with her, but
in a short time he died, because he still had a bear's nature and
could not live like a man.
If they had kept him shut up and fasting until the end of the seven
days he would have become a man again and would have lived.
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