The Ugly Wild Boy who drove the Bear away from South-Eastern Mesa
A Zuni Legend
In the days of the ancients there lived with his old grandmother, not far from K'iákime, east, where the sweet wafer-bread is pictured on the rocks, a frightfully ugly boy. The color of his body and face was blue. He had a twisted nose, crooked scars of various colors ran down each side of his face, and he had a bunch of red things like peppers on his head; in fact, in all ways he resembled the Héhea, or the wild men of the Sacred Dance who serve as runners to the priest-clowns.
Now, one season it had rained so much that the piñon trees were laden with nuts, and the datilas were heavy with fruit, and the gray grass and red-top were so heavy with seeds that even when the wind did not blow they bent as if in a breeze.
In vain the people of K'iákime went to the South-Eastern Mesa, where the nut trees and datilas and grass grew. They could not gather the nuts and the fruit and the seeds, because of the ugly old Bear who claimed the country and its products for his own, and waxed fat thereon. Some of the people were killed by him, others were maimed, and all the rest were driven away.
One day the ugly little boy said to his grandmother: "O grandmother, I am going out to gather datilas and piñon nuts on the South-Eastern Mesa."
"Child, child!" cried the grandmother, "do not go; do not, by any means, go! You know very well there is an ugly Bear there who will either kill you or maim you frightfully."
"I don't care for all that!" cried the boy I am going!" Whereupon he went.
He followed the trail called the Road of the Pending Meal-sack, and he climbed the crooked path up Shoyakoskwe (South-Eastern Mesa), and advanced over the wide plateau. No sooner had he begun to pluck the sweet datila fruit and eat of it, and had cracked between his teeth an occasional piñon nut, than "Wha-a-a-a!" snarled the old Bear; and he came rushing out of the nearest thicket toward the boy.
"U shoma kutchi kihe!" shouted the boy. "Friend, friend, don't bite me! It'll hurt! Don't bite me! I came to make a bargain with you."
"I'd like to know why I shouldn't bite you!" growled the Bear. "I'll tear you to pieces. What have you come to my country for, stealing my fruit and nuts and grass-seed?"
"I came to get something to eat," replied the boy. "You have plenty."
"Indeed, I have not. I will let you pick nothing. I will tear you to pieces!" said the Bear.
"Don't, don't, and I will make a bargain with you," said the boy.
"Who should talk of bargains to me?" yelled the Bear, cracking a small pine-tree to pieces with his paws and teeth, so great was his rage.
"These things are no more yours than mine," said the boy, "and I'll prove it."
"How?" asked the Bear.
"They are mine; they are not yours!" cried the boy.
"They are mine, I tell you! They are not yours!" replied the Bear.
"They are mine!" retorted the boy.
And so they might have wrangled till sunset, or torn one another into pieces, had it not been for a suggestion that the boy made.
"Look here! I'll make a proposition to you," said he.
"What's that? asked the Bear.
"Whoever is certain of his rights on this plateau and the things that grow on it must prove it by not being scared by anything that the other does," said the boy.
"Ha, ha!" laughed the Bear, in his big, coarse voice. "That is a good plan, indeed. I am perfectly willing to stand the test."
"Well, now, one of us must run away and hide," said the boy, "and then the other must come on him unaware in some way and frighten him, if he can."
"All right," said the Bear. "Who first?"
"Just as you say," said the boy.
"Well, then, I will try you first," said the Bear, "for this place belongs to me." Whereupon he turned and fled into the thicket. And the boy went around picking datilas and eating them, and throwing the skins away. Presently the Bear came rushing out of the thicket, snapping the trees and twigs, and throwing them about at such a rate that you would have thought there was a sandstorm raging through the forest.
"Ku hai yaau!
Ku pekwia nu!
Ha! ha! ha! haaaa!" he exclaimed, rushing at the boy from the rear.
The boy stirred never so much as a leaf, only kept on champing his datilas.
Again the Bear retired, and again he came rushing forth and snarling out: "Ha! ha! ha! hu! hu! hu!" in a terrific voice, and grabbed the boy; but never so much as the boy's heart stirred.
"By my senses!" exclaimed the Bear; "you are a man, and I must give it up. Now, suppose you try me. I can stand as much frightening as you, and, unless you can frighten me, I tell you, you must keep away from my datila and piñon patch."
Then the boy turned on his heel and fled away toward his grandmother's house, singing as he went:
He of the piñon patch frightened shall be!
He of the piñon patch frightened shall be
Oh! shall he?" cried his grandmother. "I declare, I am surprised to see you come back alive and well."
"Hurry up, grandmother," said the boy, "and paint me as frightfully as you can."
"All right, my son; I will help you!" So she blackened the right side of his face with soot, and painted the left side with ashes, until he looked like a veritable demon. Then she gave him a stone axe of ancient time and magic power, and she said: "Take this, my son, and see what you can do with it."
The boy ran back to the mountain. The Bear was wandering around eating datilas. The boy suddenly ran toward him, and exclaimed:
He! he! he! he! he! he! he! tooh!"-- and he whacked the side of a hollow piñon tree with his axe. The tree was shivered with a thundering noise, the earth shook, and the Bear jumped as if he had been struck by one of the flying splinters. Then, recovering himself and catching sight of the boy, he exclaimed: "What a fool I am, to be scared by that little wretch of a boy!" But presently, seeing the boy's face, he was startled again, and exclaimed: "By my eyes, the Death Demon is after me, surely!"
Again the boy, as he came near, whacked with his magic axe the body of another tree, calling out in a still louder voice. The earth shook so much and the noise was so thunderous that the Bear sneezed with agitation. And again, as the boy came still nearer, once more he struck a tree a tremendous blow, and again the earth thundered and trembled more violently than ever, and the Bear almost lost his senses with fright and thought surely the Corpse Demon was coming this time. When, for the fourth time, the boy struck a tree, close to the Bear, the old fellow was thrown violently to the ground with the heaving of the earth and the bellowing of the sounds that issued forth. Picking himself up as fast as he could, never stopping to see whether it was a boy or a devil, he fled to the eastward as fast as his legs would carry him, and, as he heard the boy following him, he never stopped until he reached the Zuñi Mountains.
"There!" said the boy; "I'll chase the old rogue no farther. He's been living all these years on the mountain where more fruit and nuts and grass-seed grow than a thousand Bears could eat, and yet he's never let so much as a single soul of the town of K'iákime gather a bit."
Then the boy returned to his grandmother, and related to her what had taken place.
"Go," said she, "and tell the people of K'iákime, from the top of yonder high rock, that those who wish to go out to gather grass-seed and datilas and piñon nuts need fear no longer."
So the boy went out, and, mounting the high rock, informed and directed the people as follows:
"Ye of the Home of the Eagles! Ye do I now inform, whomsoever of ye would gather datilas, whomsoever of ye would gather piñon nuts, whomsoever of ye would gather grass-seed, that bread may be made, hie ye over the mountains, and gather them to your hearts' content, for I have driven the Bear away!"
A few believed in what the boy said; and some, because he was ugly, would not believe it and would not go; and thus were as much hindered from gathering grass-seed and nuts for daily food as if the Bear had been really there. You know people nowadays are often frightened by such a kind of Bear as this.
Thus it was in the days of the ancients. And therefore the Zuñi Mountains to this day are filled with bears; but they rarely descend to the mesas in the southwest, being fully convinced from the experience of their ancestor that the Corpse Demon is near and continues to lie in wait for them. And our people go over the mountains as they will, even women and children, and gather datila fruit, piñon nuts, and grass-seed without hindrance.
Thus shortens my story.
Return to Zuni Legends