Grinnell, George Bird. The Medicine Grizzly Bear
Harper's Monthly 102 (April 1901): 736-744.
A LONG time ago there lived in a camp of Pawnees a certain poor boy. His father had
only one pony. Once he had been a leading man in the tribe, but now he seemed to
be unlucky. When he went on the war-path he brought back nothing, and when he fought he did nothing, and the people did not now look up to him.
There was a chief's son who loved the poor boy, and these two went together all
the time. They were like brothers; they used to hunt together and go courting together, and when they were travelling, the poor boy often rode one of the ponies of the chief's son, and the latter used to go to the poor boy's lodge and sleep there with him.
Once the camp went off to hunt buffalo, and the poor boy and the chief's son rode
together all the time. After the people had made camp at a certain place, the chiefs
decided to stop here for four days, because the buffalo were close by, and they
could kill plenty and dry the meat here. North of the camp was a hill on which grew
many cedar-trees, and during the day the poor boy had overheard people saying that
many Indians had been killed on that hill, among those trees. They said that no one
ought to go there, for it was a dangerous place.
That night the chief's son went over to his friend's lodge to sleep there, but before they went to bed he left the lodge for a time, and while he was gone the poor boy, as he sat there waiting, began to think about himself and how unhappy he was. He
remembered how poor he and his father were, and how everybody looked down on them and despised them, and it did not seem to him that things would ever be any better for them than they were now. For a long time he sat there thinking about all these things, and the more he thought of them the worse they seemed, and at last he felt that he was no longer glad to live, and he made up his mind to go up into those cedars.
He went out of the lodge and started to go up toward the trees. It was bright
moonlight, so that he could see well. Just before he reached the edge of the timber he
crossed a ravine, and saw there many skeletons of people who had been killed. The
ground was white with these bones. He went on into the cedars, and came to a
ravine leading up the hills, and followed it. As he went on he saw before him a trail
and followed it, and when he came to the head of the ravine there was a big hole in
the bank, and the trail led to it. He stopped for a moment when he came to his hole,
but then he went in, and when he had entered he saw there, sitting by the fire, a big
she-bear and some little cubs.
As the boy stood there looking at her, the she-bear said to him: "I am sorry that
you have come here. My husband is the one who kills persons and brings them here
for the children and me to eat. You had better go back to your people quickly, or he
will eat you up. He has gone hunting, but he will soon be back again. If he finds you
here, he will kill you."
The poor boy said: "Well, I came here on purpose to be killed, and I give myself up
to you. I shall be glad to be eaten by you. I am here ready to be killed. I am yours.
The she-bear said: "Oh, I wish I could do something to save you, but I cannot. He
is one of those bad bears -- a grizzly -- medicine. I can do nothing for you, but I will
try. As soon as you hear any noise outside -- any one coming -- pick up that cub, the
littlest one, and hold it in your arms. When he comes in he will tell you to put it
down, but do not do so. Hold it tight; he loves that one best of all."
All at once the boy heard outside the cave the noise of a bear snorting and
grunting. The she-bear said, "Pick up the cub, quick; he is coming." The boy caught
up the little bear, and held it tight to his breast. All at once the noise came to the
mouth of the den and stopped. It was the Bear. The boy could hear him talking. He
said: "Here! somebody has been about my house. I smell human beings. Yes, he
even came in. Where is he? Let me see him, so that I may jump upon him and kill
him." When he came in he saw the boy, and seemed very angry. He stood up on his
hind feet and threw up his hands, and then came down again and struck his paws on
the ground, and then rose up and snorted "whoof," and blew out red dust from his
nostrils, and then came down and jumped about, and sometimes sprang toward the
boy, as though he were going to seize him. He was very terrible, and the boy was
very much afraid.
The Bear called out to the boy in a loud voice: "How dare you take up my child
and hold it? Let it go, or I will tear you to pieces and eat you." But the boy still held the cub. No matter what the Bear said or what he did, the boy held fast to the cub.
When the Bear saw that the boy would not let the cub go, he became quiet, and no
longer seemed angry. He said: "Boy, you are my son. Put down your brother, for
now he is your brother. He shall go with you, he shall be your companion, and shall
be with you always as your guide and helper. He has told me your story, and how
you are poor, unhappy, and now he has kept you from being eaten up. I have taken
pity on you, and we will send you back to your people, where you may do some
good among them. My son, I am at the head of all these animal lodges, down at
Pahuk and at Pahur and everywhere else. I am at the head; there is no animal living
that is stronger than I; none that I cannot kill. If a man shoots at me, I make the arrow to fall from my skin without hurting me. Look up around my lodge. See these arrows, these guns, these leggings, these beads, and the medicine that men have brought,
thinking to kill me; but I have killed them, and have taken these things, and keep
"I knew that your people were coming to this place to hunt. I drove the buffalo
over, so that the people should stop here and hunt and kill meat, in order that you
might come to my lodge. I know all your feelings. I know that you are sorry for
your poor father, my brother, and I wished you to come here, so that I might make
you my son and give my power to you, so that you may become a great man among
your people. I know that they are now killing buffalo, and that they will be camped
here for four days.
"Now, my son, set your brother free. All the power that I have I give to you. I shall kill my son, your little brother there, and give you his skin to keep and to carry away with you, so that he may be your companion and may be with you always. Your
brother, your friend at the camp, is looking for you, mourning for you, for he thinks
you dead, but to-morrow night you shall see him, and shall tell him to rejoice for you
and not to mourn. You shall tell him where you have been."
The little bear that he was holding said to the boy: "It is all right now, brother; put me down. My father means what he says. I am glad that I am going to be with you,
my brother." The boy put him down.
Then the Bear said to his wife: "Get up. Take that gun." The she-bear took the
gun, and they walked around the fire-place in a circle, and sang, and the boy looked
on. The Bear took the gun and told the boy to look at them, and to watch carefully
everything that they did. After a little he stopped, and shot his wife, and she fell
down dead. Then he put down the gun, and went to the she-bear and put his mouth
on the wound, and breathed on it and snorted "whoof," and sucked in his breath and
took the bullet out, and went around the lodge, singing and making motions, and
then he took hold of the she-bear and lifted her to her feet, and supported her, and
pushed her around, and helped her, and at last she walked, and was well. Then he
called the boy to him and said, "Now I will do the same thing to you." And he did the
same thing to the boy, and brought him to life in the same way. Then he said, "That
is one power I give you to-night."
Then he gave the gun to the boy and went to the other side of the lodge, and sat
up, and said, "Now I will open my mouth, and you shoot me right in the mouth." He
opened his mouth, and the boy shot him, and he fell over. After a moment he got up
on his feet and slapped his paws on his chest several times, and the bullet came out
of his mouth, and he walked around the fireplace two or three times, and made
motions and grunted, and then he was well. Then he took the boy in his arms, and
hugged him and kissed him and breathed on him, and said: "Now I give you my
power. Go over there and I will shoot you as you shot me. Do just as I did." The boy
went over there, and the Bear shot him, and the boy did just as the Bear had done,
and made himself well.
The Bear then put an arrow in the gun and shot it at the boy, and when the smoke
cleared away the boy found the arrow fast in his throat, the feather end sticking out.
The Bear took it out and made him well, and gave him also this power. Then the Bear
told him to load the gun with a ball and to shoot it at him, and he did so, and shot the
Bear, but the lead was made flat and dropped to the ground. The bullet did not go
into the Bear.
The Bear now told the boy to take the bow and arrow and to shoot at him with all
his strength. The boy did this, but the arrow did not go through the Bear, but the
spike rolled up and the shaft was split. The Bear said: "Now you see, my son, that
the gun and the bow, the bullet and the arrow, cannot harm me. You shall have the
same power. When you go into battle you shall not carry a gun nor arrows, for they
are not mine, but you shall take this paint and put it all over your body, then put this
feather on your head, and take this club, which is part of my jawbone. All these
things have my power and medicine. When you are carrying these things your
enemy cannot hurt you, even if you run right on to him; but with one stroke of this
club you shall kill your enemy."
The next morning the Bear took the boy out on the prairie and showed him the
different roots and leaves of medicines, and told him how to use them; how he
should eat some medicine and then he could cure the wounded by just breathing on
That night the Bear said to him: "Hereafter you shall have the same feelings as the
bear. When you get angry, you will have a grunt like a bear; and if you get too fierce,
tushes like a bear's will stick out of your mouth, so that the people will know that you are very angry. You shall have my power, and you can go into any of the lodges of the animals, of which I am the chief." And he told him how to get into these lodges.
That day they staid in the Bear's lodge, and the Bear took the claw off from his
little finger and gave it and a little bundle of medicine to the boy. He said, "Take this claw and this bundle of medicine and put them on a string and wear them on your
neck always, the claw hanging in front." He taught him how to make plums grow on
trees, and how to make ground-cherries come out of his mouth.
That night he sent the boy back to the camp. He said: "Tell your father and mother
not to mourn for you, for you will return in two days more. I have driven plenty of
buffalo to this place, and they will kill them and dry the meat. Now go to the camp
and get a pipe and some tobacco, and bring them here."
The boy went back to the camp. When he went into the lodge his father and
mother were glad to see him. He told them not to be anxious about him, and not to
say anything about his having been away. Then he went out and found his brother,
the chief's son, asleep. He said to him: "Wake up, brother. I want you to get some
tobacco and a pipe from your father. Tell no one that it is for me. Bring it here. I want to smoke with you. I am going away again, but you must stay in camp. I will be back in a few days." The chief's son got the things and gave them to the boy. He wanted to go with him, but the poor boy would not let him.
That same night the boy went back to the Bear's den, carrying with him the pipe
and tobacco. After he went into the lodge he filled his pipe and lighted it, and he and the Bear smoked together. The Bear said to him: "After you have gone home, whenever you smoke, always point your pipe toward my den and ask me to smoke with you. After lighting your pipe, point it first to Atius Tirawat, and then blow a few whiffs to me. Then I shall know that you still remember me. All my power comes from Atius. He made me. There will be an end to my days as there is to those of every mortal. So long as I live I shall protect you; when I die of old age, you shall die too."
After this he said, "Now bring my youngest boy here." The boy brought the little
cub, and the Bear said, "Now kill him." The boy hesitated to do this. He did not want
to kill the little bear, but it said to him: "Go on, my brother, kill me. After this I am
going to be a spirit, and always to be with you." Then the boy killed him, and
skinned him, and tanned his hide. After it was tanned he put some red medicine paint
on the hide. When this was done the Bear told him to put his paint, his feathers, and
his war-club in this hide, and to wrap them up and make a bundle of them. Then he
said: "Now, my son, go to your people, and when you get home hang your bundle
up at the back of the lodge, and let the people know nothing of all this. Keep it
secret. Wherever you go, or wherever you are, I shall be with you."
The boy went home to the camp, and told his mother to hang up his bundle, as the
Bear had said. Next morning he was in camp and all the people saw him. They were
surprised, for they had thought that he had been killed. By this time the Pawnees had
all the buffalo they wanted, and the next day they started back to their village.
After they had reached their home, the boy told the chief's son that he wanted him
to go off with him on the war-path. His brother said: "It is good. I will go." The poor
boy took his bundle, and they started. After travelling many days they came to a
camp of the enemy. They went into the village in the daytime, and took many horses
and started away with them, riding hard. Soon the enemy pursued them, and at
length they could see them coming, and it seemed as if they must soon overtake
them. Then the poor boy got off his horse and stopped, telling his brother to go on,
driving the horses.
The boy had painted himself red over his whole body. He held his war-club in his
hand, and had his feather tied on his head and the little bear-skin on his back. The
enemy soon came up and tried to kill him, but they could not. He would run after one
and kill him, and all the others would shoot at him with their arrows, but they could
not hurt him, and at last they left him and went back, and he went on and overtook
the chief's son. Then his brother saw that he had great power. After this they
travelled on slowly, and at last reached the village. His brother told the people that
this man was powerful, that they had taken the horses in broad daylight, and the
young man had staid behind on foot and fought the enemy off, while he drove on
A few days after they reached home a war-party of the enemy attacked the village.
All the Pawnees went out to fight them, but the poor boy staid behind in the lodge.
He took down his bundle, filled the pipe, and pointed it first to Atius, and then
toward the Bear's lodge, and smoked. Then he took the paint and mixed it with
grease, and rubbed it all over his body except his face: that he painted black. Then he
put the feather on his head and the little bear-robe on his back, and took his war-club
in his hand and started out. The Bear had told him that in going into battle he must
never start toward the east, but must attack going toward the west. So he went
around, and came on the battle-field from one side.
As he came up he saw that his people were having a hard time, and were being
driven back. There was one of the enemy who seemed to be the bravest of all. The
poor boy rushed at this man and killed him with his club, and then ran back to his
own line. When his people looked at him, and saw that it was really the poor boy
who had just done so brave a deed, they knew that what the chief's son had said was
true. When he started again to rush toward the enemy's line, all the Pawnees
followed him. He ran among the enemy, and with his club killed one here and one
there, and the enemy became afraid and ran, and the Pawnees followed and killed
many of them. That night they returned to the village, rejoicing over the victory. Everybody was praising the young man. Old men were calling his name, young women were singing about him,
and old women dancing before him. People no longer made fun of his father or
mother, or of him. Now they looked upon him as a great and powerful person.
The Bear had told him that when he wanted his name changed he must call himself
Ku ruks la war uks ti, Medicine Bear.
That night the Bear came to the boy in his sleep and spoke to him. He said: "My
son, to-morrow the chief of the tribe is going to ask you to take his daughter for your
wife, but you must not do this yet. I wish you to wait until you have done certain things. If you take a wife before that time, your power will go from you."
The next day the chief came to Medicine Bear and asked him to marry his
daughter, and told him the people wanted him to be their head chief. He refused.
Some time after this all the different tribes that had been attacked by him joined
forces and came down together to fight the Pawnees. All the people went out to meet
them, but he staid in his lodge and painted himself, and put his feather in his head
and the bear-claw on his neck and his bear-skin on his back, and smoked as he
always did, and took his club and went out. When he came to the battle, the
Pawnees were having a hard time, because the enemy were so many. Medicine Bear
charged, and killed a man, and then came back, and the second time he charged the
people charged all together, following him, and they killed many and drove the
enemy off, and those who had the fastest horses were the only ones who got away.
The Pawnees went home to the village. Everybody rejoiced, and there were many
scalp-dances. Now the poor boy was more highly thought of than ever. Even the
chiefs bowed their heads when they saw him. They could not equal him. This time he
called himself Ku ruks ti carish, Angry Bear.
After the excitement had quieted down, one day the head chief said: "Medicine
Bear, in all this tribe there is no chief who is equal to you. Sit down by my daughter.
Take her for your wife, and take my place as chief. I and my wife will go out of this
lodge, and it shall be yours. You shall be the chief of the tribe. Whatever you say we
will abide by." The poor boy said: "My father, I will think about this. By morning I
will let you know." In the night, before he slept, he filled the pipe and smoked as the
Bear had told him to do, and then he went to bed. In dreams the Bear said to him:
"My son, you have done what I wished you to do. Now the power will remain with
you as long as you shall live. Now you can marry, if you will."
But the boy was not yet ready to do this. The girl was very pretty, and he liked
her, but he felt that before he married there were still some things that he must do. He
called his brother and said to him, "Go, kill the fattest of the buffalo; bring it to me, and I will take a long journey with you."
His brother went hunting and killed a buffalo, and brought the meat home, and
they dried it and made a bundle of it. Medicine Bear told his brother to carry this
bundle and a rawhide rope and a little hatchet, and they started on a journey toward
the Missouri River. One day toward evening they reached the river, and they found
themselves on top of a steep-cut bluff. The river ran at its foot. The poor boy cut a
cottonwood pole and drove it into the ground, and tied the rope to it, and then tied
the other end of the rope about his brother's body. Then he sharpened a stick and
gave it to his brother and said: "Now take the bundle of meat, and I will let you down
over the bank. You must put the meat on a ledge of the cliff, and when the birds
come you must feed them. Give a piece to the first one that comes, and then take
your sharp stick and get another piece, and so feed all the birds. They are the ones
that have power, and they can take pity on you." So he let the chief's son down.
The first bird that came was a buzzard, then an eagle, then hawks and owls, all
kinds of birds that kill their prey. He fed them all. While he was doing this, the poor
boy was above lying on top of the bank. Late in the afternoon, just as the sun was
going down, he saw, far up the river, what looked like a flock of geese coming. They came nearer and nearer, and at last passed out
of sight under the bank. Afterward, when he looked down on the river, he could see
in the water red light as if it were all on fire, and as he lay on the bank he could hear
down below him the sound of drumming and singing just as plain as could be, and all
the time the chief's son was hanging there in front of the bank, and the poor boy
would call down to him to cry and ask the animals to take pity on him. When
Medicine Bear had done this, he started back and went home, leaving the chief's son hanging there.
The chief's son staid there all the night and all the next day, and for three days and nights, and on the night of the fourth day he fell asleep. When he awoke he was in a
lodge. It was under the Missouri River. When he looked about him he saw that those
in the lodge were all animals. There was the beaver, there was the otter, two buffalo,
the antelope, hawks, owls, ermines, bears, frogs, woodpeckers, catfish -- all kinds of
animals. On each side of the lodge was a little pool, and in each pool sat a goose, and
every time they sang, the geese would shake their wings on the water, and it
sounded just like drumming.
The chief of the animals spoke to him, saying: "My son, at this time we can do nothing for you. We must first send our messenger up to the
Bear's lodge to ask him what we may do for you." While he was saying this the
Bear's servant entered the lodge and said: "My father, it is all right. Our father the
Bear told me to say to you that his son has sent this young man to you, and you must exert all your power for him."
Now the animals began to make ready to use their power to help the chief's son.
First the Beaver talked to the young man, to tell him of his powers and his ways, so
that he might perform wonderful acts. How he should take the branch of a tree and
strike a man with its point and it would go through him, and then how to draw it out
and to make the man well again. He gave him the power to do this. He taught him
how to take a stick two feet long and swallow it, and then take it out again from his throat, and gave him this power.
The Otter gave him the power, if his enemies ever attacked him, to break their
arrows with his teeth and shoot back the shaft without a spike, and if he hit an
enemy with the shaft, it would kill him. "The poison from your mouth will kill him," he said.
The Ground-dog said: "My son, here is my little one. I give him to you. Take him,
and if you have an enemy among the doctors in your tribe, take this little one down
to the water early in the morning and dip his nose in the water, and when you take it out it will have a piece of liver in its mouth. The man who has tried to kill you will be found dead."
The Owl said: "My son, I give you power to see in the night. When you go on the war-path and want to take horses, the night will be like daytime for you."
The Hawk said: "My son, I give you power to run swiftly, and I give you my
war-club, which is my wing. You shall strike your enemy with it only once, and the
blow shall kill him. Take also this little black rope; you shall use it when you go on
the war-path to catch horses. Take also this scalp which you see hanging down from my claw. You shall be a great man for scalping."
Each of the other animals gave him all his kinds of power.
For two days and two nights, they taught him the different kinds of power, and for
two days and two nights they taught him the different kinds of roots and herbs for
healing the sick. They said to him: "You shall be the great doctor of your people.
Every now and then you must bring us tobacco, so that we can smoke." They further
told him that at this time they could teach him only a little, but that afterward, one at a time, they would meet him out on the prairie, and would teach him more. At last
they said: "Now it is time for you to go. Your friend has come, and is waiting for you out on the prairie."
The Buffalo now stood up and said: "My son, I want to be with you always. I give
you my robe. Wear it wherever you go, that the people may know that you come
from this place." All the animals said, "We want to be with you too." Each one of the
birds took off a feather and put it on the robe, and each animal put one of its claws
on it, and some put medicine on it. In one of the holes the Beaver tied a little sweet-grass, and others did the same. By the time they were through, the robe was all covered with feathers and claws and smelt sweet. The animals had put their medicine on it so that it smelt sweet. Then the animals said, "Go, my son, to your people, and bring us something to smoke, so that we may be satisfied."
Presently the chief's son found himself upon the bluff, facing his brother. His
brother grasped him in his arms and said: "Oh, my brother, you smell nice. What a
fine robe you have on! Look at all these feathers." They hugged each other. Then
they went home together. The chief's son had a bundle that the animals had given him.
Soon after this the Pawnees had a big doctors' dance. These boys went into the
doctors' lodge and said: "Doctors, you are the head doctors, but we have come
to-night to visit you. We want to do a few things ourselves." The doctors all said
"Lau-a." The young men took seats close to the door, which is the most important
place in this dance. All the doctors were surprised, and said "Uh!"
The Bear boy got up first and began shooting at the chief's son, just as he had
done with the Bear, and all the doctors thought he was powerful, shooting at this
young man and curing him. When he got through, it was the other boy's turn. He
would take a long sharp stick and thrust it through his brother, and then heal him
again, and then take a knife and stab him, and then cure him. He did some powerful
things, more so than his brother had done. After the doctors had seen all these
things they all said, "Let us have these two for our head doctors." But the poor boy
said: "Not so. This one who is sitting by me has more power than I have. He ought
to be the head doctor, for I am a warrior, and can never stay in the camp to doctor
people. My brother has gone into the animals' lodge, and they have given him more
power than I possess." So the chief's son was chosen to be the head doctor.
When the doctors' dance was over, the two brothers at once started to go to the
animals' lodge, carrying with them tobacco and a pipe. When they got there, the
chief's son told his brother to wait on the bank, that he was going down to take the
tobacco and the pipe to his fathers. He jumped off the steep bank into the river,
down into the door of the lodge, and went in. When they saw him all the animals
slapped their mouths and called out. They were glad to see him. After smoking with
them, he went back to his friend. After that the chief's son would go off by himself
and would meet the animals on the hills. They would tell him about different roots,
and how to doctor this disease and that. He would come back with some roots and herbs and put them away.
Finally the head chief sent for the Bear man and said to him: "My son, I offered
you my lodge, my daughter, and the whole tribe. Now take all this. Let me go out of
this lodge and look for another one, and you stay here with my daughter." The
young man said: "What of my brother? Send for the other chief. Let him give his
daughter, his lodge, his people, to him, and this day we will accept your gifts to us.
My brother will after this be the head doctor of this tribe." The other chief when asked to do this agreed, and it was so done.
The Bear man went often on the warpath, but his brother staid at home, and fought
against the enemy only when they attacked the village. He took charge of the
doctors' lodge. The Bear man after this had some children, and when they had grown
up he told his son the secrets of his power. He was now beginning to grow old, and
his son went on the warpath, while he staid at home.
One night he had a dream about his father the Bear. The Bear said to him: "My
son, I made you great and powerful among your people. The hairs of my body are
falling and soon I shall die. Then you too will die. Tell your son all the secret powers
that I gave you. He shall keep the same power that you have had."
Soon after this the old Bear must have died, for the man died. Before he died he
said to his brother: "Do not mourn for me, for I shall always be near you. Take care of
your people. Cure them when they are sick, and always be their chief."
When the enemy came and attacked these people and wounded any, the chief's
son was always there and always cured them. He was a great doctor. At last he also
died, but his son had the same kind of power. But these two sons never had so great
a power as their fathers.