Black Bear

by Richard L. Dieterle

Harvey Barrison     The Black Bear Emblem  
A Black Bear    

Of the four great Bear Spirits, Earthmaker created Black Bear last of all. The Creator placed him in the south as an Island Weight, where he gives stability to the earth and manifests himself as the South Wind. Black Bear is also the wisest of bears: he can read minds and has "forward knowledge." The Spirit Bear has actually been seen from time to time in the form of a black bear who comes subtly in the distance to show his loving concern for those of his descendants chosen in his blessings.1The lineage of the Black Bear among the Hocągara are considered the intellectuals of the clan, and express the spirit of Black Bear by formulating policies to be considered in council by the clan as a whole.2

In the Medicine Rite, the End of the Road, which is the designation of the seat in the south, is occupied by a "dark haired one." As Radin says, "Each seat was originally covered with an animal skin, this one with a bear skin. Frequently it was referred to as the bear or the bear's lair. 'To be wrapped in a dark haired skin' is a metaphorical way of referring to the seat."3 The darked hair bear of the south is here again Black Bear.

One worak says that "Black Fur" is the chief of bears.4

Links: Bear Spirits, South Wind, Island Weights, Earthmaker, Red Bear, White Bear, Blue Bear, Were-Grizzlies and Other Man-Bears, Bear, Witches.

Stories: featuring Black Bear as a character: The Creation of the World, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 7); mentioning (spirit) bears (other than were-bears): White Bear, Blue Bear, Red Bear, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Shaggy Man, Bear Offers Himself as Food, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, The Spotted Grizzly Man, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Redhorn's Sons, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The Messengers of Hare, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Red Man, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Two Boys, Creation of the World (v. 5), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Brown Squirrel, Snowshoe Strings, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Spider's Eyes, Little Priest's Game, Little Priest, How He went out as a Soldier, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Trickster's Tail, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Warbundle Maker, cf. Fourth Universe.


1 Walter W. Funmaker, The Bear in Winnebago Culture: A Study in Cosmology and Society (Master Thesis, University of Minnesota: June, 1974 [MnU-M 74-29]) 14, 61, 65-66. Dr. Funmaker, and his informant, Walking Soldier (1900-1977), are members of the Black Bear Subclan.

2 Walter Funmaker, The Winnebago Black Bear Subclan: a Defended Culture (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota: December, 1986 [MnU-D 86-361]) 49. Informant: One Who Wins of the Bear Clan.

3 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 340 nt 31; the original text comes from Jasper Blowsnake, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3876 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Library, n.d.) Winnebago II, #6: 94-96.

4 Paul Radin, "How the Old Woman Fought the Bears Who Came to Kill the Women Who Had Taken Part in a Feast During their Menstrual Period," Miscellany (American Philosophical Library, ca. 1912) pp. 4, 10.