The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear

"There was once a chief in an old Indian village who had eight children, all boys. The youngest of these was very willful and was always fighting with the other boys of the village, and staying out late at night. His father could do nothing with him. He often took him to a quiet spot and told him that he was the son of a chief and that he must not spend his time fighting, because some day he himself might be chief. These counsels, however, did not do the least good. Whenever he (the chief) heard boys crying, he would always find, upon inquiry, that it was the chief's son who had caused them to cry.

As the boy grew older, he became worse and worse. He would not only fight younger men but he would even fight with his older brothers. He seemed to be getting worse and worse every day. He gambled, played moccasins and always won. Finally, the chief called together his other sons and held a council about this youngest one. They all said that they were afraid of him, so the father concluded that something must be done, before the boy got beyond control. Then the father again called a council, this time of all the brave men and the old men. The chief told them about his youngest son, about the disturbances he was creating, and each one got up in turn and offered some suggestion.

Now there was an old man who lived at the end of the village. He was at the council, although he had not been invited. After every one else had said something, he rose and spoke as follows: "Chief, your son is going to become a great man. Even now he does not act as we do, and at some future time he will most certainly save our village from the hands of the enemy. Therefore, chief, the only thing you can do now is to make him chief, young though he be, and he will then change for the good. He will not fight his own people and he will be good to every one. "When the old man stopped speaking, the warriors and medicine men made fun of him, but the chief said, "Let us listen to this gray-haired old man." So they became quiet and the chief told the council that he would make his son chief, to see if this would make him change for the better.

When they had all gone away, the chief returned to his lodge and sent for his youngest son. The young man came into the lodge singing. "Now, my son, I am going to make you chief of all our people. You will be given full power and all the people will have to obey your orders. They will do as you say. The men and the boys will be your children and so will the girls and the women." "You are my father, so I will do whatever you say," said the boy. Then the boy continued, "I think that I can be a chief, now that you say that these people are my sons and daughters and that they will do just as I tell them. If they do that they will do right." Thus the boy became chief, but he was hardly ever to be found at the chief's lodge. Instead, he was always away somewhere playing moccasins. As he was a good gambler he won everything from the people, although he would always give them back his winnings and start anew. He never hurt any of the boys again. However, if anyone refused to gamble with him, he would say "I am your father and it is not right for you to refuse to do what I tell you." Then they would give in and play.

Things went on this way for some time. When the chief was not gambling he was out hunting with his brothers. As all the brothers were now married, his father thought that he would stay home more if he also got married. So he spoke to him and said, "My son, you are now a man; all your brothers are married and I think it is time for you to get married too." Then the young chief said, "Father, when you made me chief, you said that all the women were to be my daughters and the men my sons. Now it would hardly be right for me to marry any of my daughters." The father agreed with him and said no more about the matter. The boy kept on gambling.

One day there came to the village about two hundred Giants, and they sent a man to the chief's lodge, which was situated in the middle of the village and had ten fire places. The messenger arrived and asked for the chief, and he was told that the chief was out somewhere gambling. The Giant then said, "We have come to gamble with the people of your village and my people have sent me over to ask where we can camp in the meanwhile." The people sent word to the young chief who replied, "I am busy just now. Tell them to camp over there on that nice spot. (The place that he meant was rough and full of underbrush.) The Giant messenger then returned and told his chief that when he had inquired for the chief of the village, he had been told that he was out somewhere gambling, and that when the people had sent for him he had given word that they were to camp on a nice spot. "He must be a great chief to act in that manner," the Giant said. In the evening when the young chief came home his people told him that many Giants had come and that they were afraid of them for they had killed people every now and then. The young chief laughed and said, "Why are my people afraid of them? If they are large then our arrows cannot so easily miss them. They would make a good target for me and my brothers." He ate and then he went away again. No one knew where he had gone.

He went with a young man to the camp of these Giants and began looking around, when one of the Giants spied him. This Giant went and told the others that there were some boys hanging around the camp. The young chief and his companion kept going around the camp; and finally entered the lodge of one of the Giants. Thereupon the Giant asked him what kind of a man his chief was. He said, "I am the chief and all these people are mine. If you do not believe me ask these boys." They asked the boys and when they found that he was really the chief, they laughed. Whereupon he asked them to gamble with him. "What kind of a game do you play?" they asked . He answered, "We play cards and we play moccasins for beads and other trinkets." The Giant then said, "We play only with human beings as stakes." Then the young chief replied, "Our bodies are worth two of yours. If you want to gamble, I will stake my friends." "All right," they said, "what kind of a game do you wish to play? Then the chief answered, "We will play the kicking game." The Giants agreed to this.

"I will do the kicking myself," the young chief said. The Giant replied, "You stand there and my man will stand at the other end and will run towards you and kick you." So he stood at the place indicated and the Giant ran towards him and kicked him. The chief rose in the air and then fell down and lay dead. After awhile he got up and stood in his place again. The Giant ran and kicked him again. This time he kicked him into the fireplace, but he got up again and, regaining his feet, stood it he same place again. The third time he was kicked he merely staggered. The last time he was kicked, he did not even move; he merely laughed. "Now it is my turn to kick you," the young chief said. So the Giant took his stand and the young chief ran towards him and kicking him cut him into halves. "This will do for this evening. You have won," said the Giants. The chief left the two Giants who had been put aside as stakes until the next morning saying that he would kill them then. He then went home with his friend. After he reached home, he told his father that he had been and the Giant's camp and had had a little fun, and that the next morning he would have still more fun with them an that he would take none but his brothers with him.

The next day he and his brothers went over to the Giant camp and this time he wrestled with one of them, breaking him in two. That was all for that day. Then turning to the Giants, he said, "That woman that you have brought here, keep her in her lodge and do not allow her to come out tomorrow, because at sunrise, I am going to play with you fellows for the last time. I will play my best. You have been killing my people all these years and now you are, in turn, going to suffer and that is why I want you to forbid the woman to come out of her lodge until sunset." So the Giants told the woman to stay in her lodge.

That night, the young chief went to a little hill not far from the village and decided to sleep there. He told his oldest brother to take tobacco, a deer skin, and feathers, and to make sacrifice on a certain spot on that hill. The next evening, just about sunset, he (the young chief) told his elder brother that he must do as he bade him, if he wished to see him in human form again. He also told his people to stay in their lodges the next day because he was going to fight with the Giants for the last time. He further told them that if any left their lodges he might kill them. So they all obeyed him. The next morning they heard a grizzly bear on the hill where the chief had slept. He (the grizzly bear), was moving towards the Giant's camp. The Giants heard the bear coming and got up and began to flee, but he overtook them and killed all of them before the sun set.

His brother was afraid of him but he went to the part of the hill that the chief had designated, with the deer skin, tobacco, and red feathers, and made the offering to the chief of the grizzly bears, asking him to restore his brother to human shape. His offerings were accepted and soon he heard his brother breathe. He looked about and saw him all bear except his head, which was human. The second time he breathed, half of his body became human. The third time he breathed he was almost entirely human. The fourth time, he came towards his brother, saying, "My brother, this is indeed good. I am so glad that you had the courage to restore me to human form. Then he spoke with his brother and told him that Earthmaker had sent him to help the human race, and that for that reason he had been born into that particular family. In reality he was a grizzly bear. He, however, liked the ways of the human beings so he asked for permission to be born into his particular family. Then the chief and his brother got up and went home. When he reached the lodge, the young chief told the people that his brother had been brave and restored him to human shape so that he could be among the people he loved.

When night came he went to the Giant's camp and entered the lodge where the Giant woman was hiding and called to her, saying, "Are you still there? If you are, come out." So she came out. Then he reduced her to his own size, took her home and made her his wife. They lived together and had children.

This story explains what the Hocągara mean when they say that they are descended from different animals, such as Thunderbirds and bears. This is the way people used to live long ago."1

Commentary. This waiką is in many ways a variant of Young Man Gambles Often, where the protagonist is an incarnation of Fire. This suggests that the grizzly bear is viewed as having a firey nature.

In this story, the Grizzly Bear Spirit marries a Giantess and they have offspring who are members of human society. It has been stated elsewhere that humans married into the Giants making us all part Giant; however, this is the first story to suggest that Giant women were as big as the men. The usual suggestion is that they were the same size as human men, only the males were four times larger. Humans, or at least some of us, are therefore also descended from Grizzly Bear Spirits as well. However, contrary to the suggestion contained at the end of the story, the belief in animal descent rests mainly on the notion that the clans were founded by Animal Spirits who quickly evolved into human beings. However, the establishment of these animals as humans was much the same as in the present story.

Comparative Material. The tale of the boy who rises to the occasion in defense of his people must recall the story of David and Goliath from the Hebrew Bible.

Links: Were-Grizzlies and Other Man-Bears, Bear Spirits, Giants, Earthmaker.

Stories: featuring were-bears as characters: The Were-Grizzly, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Partridge's Older Brother, Turtle's Warparty, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, The Roaster, Wazųka, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Shaggy Man; mentioning grizzly bears: Blue Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, The Were-Grizzly, The Spotted Grizzly Man, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, Wazųka, Little Priest's Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistega's Magic, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, The Two Boys (giant black grizzly), Partridge's Older Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Dipper (white grizzly), Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Creation of Man (v. 9), The Creation of Evil, cp. The Woman Who Fought the Bear; featuring Giants as characters: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Stone Heart, Young Man Gambles Often, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Morning Star and His Friend, The Old Man and the Giants, Shakes the Earth, White Wolf, Redhorn's Father, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Roaster, Grandfather's Two Families, Redhorn's Sons, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Little Human Head, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Origins of the Milky Way, Ocean Duck, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Wears White Feather on His Head, cf. The Shaggy Man; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; mentioning red feathers (as an offering to the spirits): The Red Feather, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, The Elk's Skull, The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Great Walker's Medicine, The Twins Visit Their Father's Village, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Were-fish (v. 1), Disease Giver, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth.

Themes: a chief's young son bullies everyone to the embarrassment of his father: Iron Staff and His Companions; a little boy is made chief: Young Man Gambles Often, Ocean Duck; the chief of the tribe spends his time gambling: Young Man Gambles Often; anthropophagy and cannibalism: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Witch Men's Desert, The Were-Grizzly, Grandfather's Two Families, The Roaster, Redhorn's Father, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Lost Blanket, Young Man Gambles Often, White Wolf, The Shaggy Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, Partridge's Older Brother, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hocąk War, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Morning Star and His Friend, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Seven Maidens, Šųgepaga, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Shakes the Earth, The Stone Heart, Thunder Cloud is Blessed; contests with the Giants: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Father, White Wolf, The Roaster, Young Man Gambles Often, Little Human Head, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn's Sons, Morning Star and His Friend, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Old Man and the Giants, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Shakes the Earth, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Shaggy Man, Grandfather's Two Families; two opponents play the game Kicking Each Other (Nąkįxjage): Young Man Gambles Often, The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 3), The Shaggy Man, Bladder and His Brothers; a human turns into a (spirit) animal: How the Thunders Met the Nights (Thunderbird), Waruǧábᵉra (Thunderbird), The Dipper (hummingbird), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (blackhawk, owl), Elk Clan Origin Myth (elk), Young Man Gambles Often (elk), Sun and the Big Eater (horse), The Were-Grizzly, Partridge's Older Brother (bear), The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother (bear), Porcupine and His Brothers (bear), The Shaggy Man (bear), The Roaster (bear), Wazųka (bear), The Spotted Grizzly Man (bear), Brass and Red Bear Boy (bear, buffalo), White Wolf (dog, wolf), Worúxega (wolf, bird, snake), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (buffalo), The Brown Squirrel (squirrel), The Skunk Origin Myth (skunk), The Fleetfooted Man (otter, bird), A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga (otter), The Diving Contest (Waterspirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (snake, Waterspirit), The Omahas who turned into Snakes (four-legged snakes), The Twins Get into Hot Water (v. 3) (alligators), Snowshoe Strings (a frog), How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (v. 3) (earthworms), The Woman Who Became an Ant, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane (ant); spirits come to earth in order to rescue humanity from enemies who threaten their existence: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Bladder and His Brothers, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Grandfather's Two Families, The Hare Cycle, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Raccoon Coat, Redhorn's Sons, The Redhorn Cycle, The Roaster, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Spirit of Gambling, The Trickster Cycle, Wojijé, Redhorn's Father, Turtle and the Merchant.


1 Paul Radin, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, Notebooks, Winnebago IV, #7, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Story 7k: 1015-1020.