Pawnee: The Bear-Man

The Pawnee are a Plains Indian tribe who are headquartered in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Pawnee people are enrolled in the federally recognized Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Historically, they lived in Nebraska and Kansas. In the Pawnee language, the Pawnee people refer to themselves as Chaticks si Chaticks or “Men of Men.”

Historically, the Pawnee lived in large earth lodge villages with adjacent farmlands. They used tipis when traveling. With the arrival of horses, the Pawnee retained their agricultural lifestyle, with the tribal economic activities throughout the year alternating between farming crops and hunting buffalo.
— Orly

The Bear-Man

There was once a boy of the Pawnee tribe who imitated the ways of a bear; and, indeed, he much resembled that animal. When he played with the other boys of his village he would pretend to be a bear, and even when he grew up he would often tell his companions laughingly that he could turn himself into a bear whenever he liked.

His resemblance to the animal came about in this manner. Before the boy was born his father had gone on the war-path, and at some distance from his home had come upon a tiny bear-cub. The little creature looked at him so wistfully and was so small and helpless that he could not pass by without taking notice of it. So he stooped and picked it up in his arms, tied some Indian tobacco round its neck, and said: "I know that the Great Spirit, Tiráwa, will care for you, but I cannot go on my way without putting these things round your neck to show that I feel kindly toward you. I hope that the animals will take care of my son when he is born, and help him to grow up a great and wise man." With that he went on his way.

On his return he told his wife of his encounter with the Little Bear, told her how he had taken it in his arms and looked at it and talked to it. Now there is an Indian superstition that a woman, before a child is born, must not look fixedly at or think much about any animal, or the infant will resemble it. So when the warrior's boy was born he was found to have the ways of a bear, and to become more and more like that animal the older he grew. The boy, quite aware of the resemblance, often went away by himself into the forest, where he used to pray to the Bear.

 

The Bear-Man Slain

On one occasion, when he was quite grown up, he accompanied a war party of the Pawnees as their chief. They travelled a considerable distance, but ere they arrived at any village they fell into a trap prepared for them by their enemies, the Sioux. Taken completely off their guard, the Pawnees, to the number of about forty, were slain to a man. The part of the country in which this incident took place was rocky and cedar-clad and harboured many bears, and the bodies of the dead Pawnees lay in a ravine in the path of these animals. When they came to the body of the Bear-man a she-bear instantly recognized it as that of their benefactor, who had sacrificed smokes to them, made songs about them, and done them many a good turn during his lifetime. She called to her companion and begged him to do something to bring the Bear-man to life again. The other protested that he could do nothing. "Nevertheless," he added, "I will try. If the sun were shining I might succeed, but when it is dark and cloudy I am powerless."

 

The Resuscitation of the Bear-Man

The sun was shining but fitfully that day, however. Long intervals of gloom succeeded each gleam of sunlight. But the two bears set about collecting the remains of the Bear-man, who was indeed sadly mutilated, and, lying down on his body, they worked over him with their magic medicine till he showed signs of returning life. At length he fully regained consciousness, and, finding himself in the presence of two bears, was at a loss to know what had happened to him. But the animals related how they had brought him to life, and the sight of his dead comrades lying around him recalled what had gone before. Gratefully acknowledging the service the bears had done him, he accompanied them to their den. He was still very weak, and frequently fainted, but ere long he recovered his strength and was as well as ever, only he had no hair on his head, for the Sioux had scalped him. During his sojourn with the bears he was taught all the things that they knew—which was a great deal, for all Indians know that the bear is one of the wisest of animals. However, his host begged him not to regard the wonderful things he did as the outcome of his own strength, but to give thanks to Tiráwa, who had made the bears and had given them their wisdom and greatness. Finally he told the Bear-man to return to his people, where he would become a very great man, great in war and in wealth. But at the same time he must not forget the bears, nor cease to imitate them, for on that would depend much of his success.

"I shall look after you," he concluded. "If I die, you shall die; if I grow old, you shall grow old along with me. This tree"—pointing to a cedar—"shall be a protector to you. It never becomes old; it is always fresh and beautiful, the gift of Tiráwa. And if a thunderstorm should come while you are at home throw some cedar-wood on the fire and you will be safe."

Giving him a bear-skin cap to hide his hairless scalp, the Bear then bade him depart.

Arrived at his home, the young man was greeted with amazement, for it was thought that he had perished with the rest of the war party. But when he convinced his parents that it was indeed their son who visited them, they received him joyfully. When he had embraced his friends and had been congratulated by them on his return, he told them of the bears, who were waiting outside the village. Taking presents of Indian tobacco, sweet-smelling clay, buffalo-meat, and beads, he returned to them, and again talked with the he-bear. The latter hugged him, saying: "As my fur has touched you, you will be great; as my hands have touched your hands, you will be fearless; and as my mouth touches your mouth, you will be wise." With that the bears departed.

True to his words, the animal made the Bear-man the greatest warrior of his tribe. He was the originator of the Bear Dance, which the Pawnees still practise. He lived to an advanced age, greatly honoured by his people.

The sun was shining but fitfully that day, however. Long intervals of gloom succeeded each gleam of sunlight. But the two bears set about collecting the remains of the Bear-man, who was indeed sadly mutilated, and, lying down on his body, they worked over him with their magic medicine till he showed signs of returning life. At length he fully regained consciousness, and, finding himself in the presence of two bears, was at a loss to know what had happened to him. But the animals related how they had brought him to life, and the sight of his dead comrades lying around him recalled what had gone before. Gratefully acknowledging the service the bears had done him, he accompanied them to their den. He was still very weak, and frequently fainted, but ere long he recovered his strength and was as well as ever, only he had no hair on his head, for the Sioux had scalped him. During his sojourn with the bears he was taught all the things that they knew—which was a great deal, for all Indians know that the bear is one of the wisest of animals. However, his host begged him not to regard the wonderful things he did as the outcome of his own strength, but to give thanks to Tiráwa, who had made the bears and had given them their wisdom and greatness. Finally he told the Bear-man to return to his people, where he would become a very great man, great in war and in wealth. But at the same time he must not forget the bears, nor cease to imitate them, for on that would depend much of his success.

"I shall look after you," he concluded. "If I die, you shall die; if I grow old, you shall grow old along with me. This tree"—pointing to a cedar—"shall be a protector to you. It never becomes old; it is always fresh and beautiful, the gift of Tiráwa. And if a thunderstorm should come while you are at home throw some cedar-wood on the fire and you will be safe."

Giving him a bear-skin cap to hide his hairless scalp, the Bear then bade him depart.

Arrived at his home, the young man was greeted with amazement, for it was thought that he had perished with the rest of the war party. But when he convinced his parents that it was indeed their son who visited them, they received him joyfully. When he had embraced his friends and had been congratulated by them on his return, he told them of the bears, who were waiting outside the village. Taking presents of Indian tobacco, sweet-smelling clay, buffalo-meat, and beads, he returned to them, and again talked with the he-bear. The latter hugged him, saying: "As my fur has touched you, you will be great; as my hands have touched your hands, you will be fearless; and as my mouth touches your mouth, you will be wise." With that the bears departed.

True to his words, the animal made the Bear-man the greatest warrior of his tribe. He was the originator of the Bear Dance, which the Pawnees still practise. He lived to an advanced age, greatly honoured by his people.

 

Source:  LS [1]

Culture:  Pawnee

Language Group: Caddoan

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