Native American Legends
The Legend of the Bear Family
A Penobscot Legend
Many, many generations ago, a Penobscot, his wife, and their little
son started out from their village to go to Canada. They were from
Penobscot Bay, bound for a great council and dance to be held at
the Iroquois village of Caughnawaga. They went upriver to the point
where they had to make a 20 mile portage to reach another river
that would take them to the St. Lawrence.
The man started ahead with the canoe on his back, leaving his wife
to pack part of the luggage to their first overnight campsite. The
little boy ran alongside of her. While she was busy arranging her
pack, her son ran on ahead to catch up with his father.
The man had gone so far ahead, the boy became lost. The mother
assumed the boy was with his father. When she arrived at the campground,
they discovered that their son was with neither of them. They began
a search immediately, but they could not find him.
The parents returned home to tell their story to their tribe. All
of the men turned out for a wide search party, which lasted for
several months without success. In March of the next year, the Penobscots
found some sharpened sticks near the river. They concluded that
the boy must be alive and had been spearing fish. Footprints of
bears were seen, and they thought perhaps the boy had been adopted
by a bear family.
In the village, there was a lazy man who did not enter into the
search, but lay around idly. Everyone asked him, "Why don't
you help hunt for the boy? You seem to be good for nothing."
"Very well, I will," he replied. He went right to the
bear's den and knocked with his bow on the rocks at the entrance.
Inside, a great noise arose where the father, mother, baby bear,
and adopted boy lived. The father-bear went to the entrance, holding
out a birch-bark vessel. The lazy man shot at it and killed the
The mother-bear says, "Now I will go." She took another
vessel, held it out at the entrance, and also was killed. The baby
bear did the same and was killed. All of the bears were laid out
dead in the cave. Then the lazy man entered and saw the little boy
terribly afraid and huddled in a dark corner, crying for his relatives
and trying to hide.
The lazy hunter gently carried him home to the village and gave
him to his parents. Everyone gave the lazy man presents: two blankets,
a canoe, ammunition, and other good things. He became rich overnight.
The boy's parents, however, noticed that their son seemed to be
turning into a bear. Bristles were showing on his upper back and
shoulders, and his manners had changed. Finally they helped him
to become a real person again, and he grew up to be a Penobscot
Indian like his father. He married and had children. Forever after
he and all of his descendants were called Bears.
They drew pictures of bears on pieces of birch-bark with charcoal
and left them at camps wherever they went. All of their descendants
seemed to do this and declare, "I am one of the Bear family."
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