Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE BLACKFOOT AND THE BEAR
NE summer long ago, when the Blackfeet Indians roamed
freely over the Canadian plains, the son of one of the
Chiefs decided to go off alone to seek adventure. He
wanted to be a great man like his father, and he
thought he could never become great if he always stayed
at home. He said to his father, "I am going away far to
the West, beyond the mountains. I have heard that our
Indian enemies who live there have many fine horses. I
will bring some of their horses back to you." His
father loved his son well, for he was his only child.
He knew that it would be a very dangerous journey, and
he tried to persuade his son not to go. But the boy
said, "Have no fear for me. If I do not come back
before the frost is on the prairies, do not be worried
about me. But if I do not come before the snow lies
deep on the plains, then you will know that I have gone
forever and that I shall never come back." His father
knew that only by attempting dangerous deeds and doing
hard tasks could his son become great. And although he
was loath to see him go, he said good-bye and wished
him good luck.
was summer in the north country when the boy set out.
He took a number of companions with him. They
 towards the Great Water in the West, and in a
few days they passed through the foot-hills and then
beyond the mountains. Soon they came to a great
river. They saw the trail of Indians along the
bank. They followed the trail for many days, and at
last in the distance they saw the camps of their
enemies. Then they stopped where they would be
hidden from their enemies' sight. That night a new
summer moon was shining in the sky, and by its light
they could see many horses around the distant camp.
The moon disappeared early. When it had gone and the
night was quite dark, the young man went to the camp to
get the horses. He went alone and told his comrades
to wait for him. Soon he came back driving many horses.
But his enemies had heard him driving the horses and
they set out in pursuit of him. When he reached his
own camp, he called to his comrades to ride for their
lives. All night they rode with their horses. When
morning broke, the fleeing Blackfeet could see the dust
of their pursuers far behind them. For days they rode
with their enemies not far away. They passed at last
through the mountains and out again into the rolling
foothills. The plains were before them, and already
they could feel the wind of the prairies. They thought
they were now safe.
their pursuers slowly but surely gained on them.
Soon they were close upon them, and a shower of arrows
told the Blackfeet that they would have to fight.
The Blackfeet saw on the trail ahead of them a lonely
pine tree. It was
 surrounded by scrubby trees and
shrubs. To this spot they fled. They dug a pit and
tried to defend themselves. But their pursuers
surrounded the spot and shot their arrows into it.
All the young Chief's comrades were soon killed, and
when night came on he alone remained alive. He was
wounded and weary, but he lay silent in the pit.
Then his pursuers built fires all around the place
where he lay to prevent his escape and to drive him out
of his hiding place. As the fires crept closer, the
young man thought that he must surely die. Then he
prayed to the Spirit of the Storm that rain might fall,
and he used all the charms he carried with him to try
to bring rain. Soon a heavy rain began to fall and
the fires were put out. The night became very dark,
for the sky was covered with storm clouds. In the
darkness the young man crawled through the trees and
soon reached the open plain. He crawled north into
the foothills and hid in a
cave in the hills. He covered the front of the cave
with grass and boughs and lay hidden
out of sight. For many days and nights he lay there
waiting for his wounds to heal. At
night he crawled out and gathered berries and roots for
food. But his wounds did not heal
rapidly. He grew weaker and weaker, and at last he
was unable to leave the cave. He
waited for death. He thought of his home far away to
the south-east, and of his people's
fear and worry for him, for the snow would soon be deep
on the plains.
day when the snow was falling and he knew that
had come, he heard footsteps outside the cave. He
thought that an enemy had found him. The footsteps drew
nearer, and soon a huge form appeared at the door. It
was not an Indian, but a bear. The young man knew then
that the cave was the bear's winter home.
thought that the bear would eat him. But the bear only
sniffed and smelled him all over. The man said, "Are
you going to kill me or to help me?" The bear said,
"I will help you. I will take you home to your
people. We will start in a few days." Then the bear
licked the man's wounds. The man said he was very
hungry, and the bear said he would go out and get food.
So he went off and soon came back with a grouse in his
mouth. The man ate the grouse and felt better.
Each day the bear brought him food, and licked his
wounds so that they healed. At last, one
morning the bear said, "To-day I must take you home.
Get on my back and hold on tight, and I will soon
carry you to your people." So the man climbed up on the
bear's back and held on tight to his long hair. And
the bear trotted off towards the man's home. For
many days he ran over the plains. Each night he
rested and caught food to feed himself and the man.
At last they came one night to the top of a ridge in
the plains. From here, as the young man looked, he
could see not far away the camps of his people near a
broad winding river. The bear said, "Now you see your
home-land. We shall camp here to-night. To-morrow you
must go on alone, and
 I shall go back to the hills." So
in the morning the bear got ready to go back. He said,
"The snow is lying deep on the hills. I must hurry and
find a den for the winter." The man was sorry to see
him go. He said, "You have been very kind to me. Can I
do anything for you in return for your kindness?" And
the bear answered, "You can do one thing for me. Tell
your people what I have done for you. And tell them
never to kill a bear that has gone to its den for the
winter. Tell them always to give a bear a chance to
fight or to run for his life." Then the bear said
good-bye and trotted away towards his winter home in
the distant hills, and the man walked on to his people
on the plains. He told his people of his adventures and
what the bear had done for him. And since that day the
Blackfeet of the Canadian plains will not kill a bear
that has gone to its den for the winter. They still
remember the favour asked by the bear in return for his
kindness to their ancestor in the old days.