Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear (§5 of the Hare Cycle)

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

David Hill  
Acorns (Huc) of Various Species of Oak  

One day Hare decided to visit his grandfather Bear, and with Grandmother's blessing, he took a sack full of acorns with him as a present. When he got there, he placed the sack of acorns outside the lodge and went in. Bear seemed happy to see him, especially when Hare told him that there was a sack of acorns waiting for him outside. Bear went out to get them, but after awhile he returned and said, "Where are they? All I found was just a half acorn which I ate with my left paw." Bear boiled some fat and the two of them sat down to a nice meal. Hare asked him, "There are constant raids in this area, aren't you a bit uneasy about living here? I know I'm a little on edge myself." Bear replied proudly, "Grandson, nothing scares me!" Hare stepped out of the lodge long enough to set up little piles of dung in each of which he stuck a feather. Then he told the piles of dung to give the war whoop first thing in the morning. When Hare returned, he took out an arrow and said, "Grandfather, aren't you afraid of this?" "No grandson," he replied. A second and third time Hare drew forth an arrow, and each time Bear claimed he felt no fear, but when Hare pulled out the fourth arrow, Bear said, "Grandson, put it away. That arrow does scare me." When night fell they went to bed, but bear was troubled in his sleep and cried out. Hare woke him up and said, "Grandfather, you were having a nightmare." "Yes," said Bear, "I dreamt that I was shot under my arm by that arrow you showed me earlier." "Well," replied Hare, "there you have it. You see why I felt a bit uneasy myself." At the crack of dawn a loud war whoop shattered their sleep. It sounded like the enemy was on top of them. Hare jumped outside and waited for Bear to come out. When Bear finally stumbled out, Hare shot him under his arm, so that the arrow went clean through him.

When Hare returned home, he said to Grandmother, "What a great man my Grandfather is!" "Yes," she agreed, "he is one of the great spirits." "Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration," he said, making a shooting motion with his bow. There was no doubt in her mind as to what he had done, "You big-eyed, big-eared, big-footed varmint, you killed my brother!" she yelled. "Well if that's the way you feel, I'll just wait outside and shoot you under the arm too!" "Oh no, grandson, it was all in jest. Actually what you did was a good thing, as now we will have plenty of fat to eat," she said.1

Commentary. Bear is not only the brother of Grandmother but, it would seem, also her husband.2 The part of the kill packed by Grandmother contained Bear's penis. Her remark that carrying the ribs of Bear might make hers longer, seems to be a reference to pregnancy, so her slide down the hill with Bear's hindquarters may represent a sex act. This is Hare's suspicion, that is why he does not want to have her fix any of her part of the bear as his food. Food that has had such intimate contact with women would weaken his waką, or holy power (for which, see also The Red Man).

Bear's vices, for which he is presumably shot, are greed and gluttony, as well as making false claims to fearlessness. The food given to Bear is from the tree most often struck by lightning, the same tree upon which the Thunderbirds alighted when they first came to earth.3 Thus the Bird Clan personal name, Cašgoguga, "Oak Tree."4 Acorns are the droppings of the Thunder tree, and the seed of the Thunder tree is what reproduces it and sustains its kind. It is this that Bear takes to himself and consumes, and it is primarily for this vice that Hare kills him. Hare, who establishes standards of ethics, represents law and order, and since he carries about the thunder arrow, he plays the role of a Thunderbird Clan chief who himself directs society on the correct path of conduct. In this "code" of the story, Bear must therefore represent the Bear Clan. The meaning of the events of the story form a riddle: what reproduces the Thunder Clan ("tree") that is also taken by the Bear Clan and destroyed? We know that the Thunderbird Clan was the repository for all prisoners adopted into the tribe.5 (The origin of this may be that those who successfully fled to sanctuary in the peace chief's lodge were adopted into his clan, which happens to be the Thunder Clan.) The Bear Clan, on the other hand, is in control of prisoners (a role they shared in some way with the Wonáǧire Wąkšik [Warrior] Clan and individual warleaders).6 The usual method was to make the captives do the Prisoner's Dance, then tie them to a stake and eventually burn them. As they say, the enemy is made to "play with fire." In ideological terms, this is appropriate, inasmuch as the enemy is said to be a fire.7 Just as prisoners of war who are spared are the possession of the Thunderbird Clan, so fire, which is symbolic of the enemy, is itself the sacred possession of the Thunderbird Clan.8 The Bear Clan uses fire to "eat" the prisoners, just as Bear eats the acorns, the seed of the Thunderbird's tree. Thunderbird Clan, since it is the most numerous, captures many of these men itself, a fact represented in the story by Hare presenting the sack of acorns as a gift to Bear. If the Bear Clan condemns too many prisoners (Thunder seed) to death, it will make it difficult for the Thunderbird Clan to replenish its own war losses and by this means maintain its growth and power. The result is a military weakening not only of the Thunderbird Clan, but of society as a whole. This is why in the story Bear's greed in consuming the Thunders' seed (acorns) takes place in a context of imminent military danger of which Hare is acutely aware, but to which Bear takes a foolhardy attitude of unconcern. Bear, stating what must count as the appropriate and ungreedy portion, says that he took only half an acorn and that in his left paw. This is oblique reference to a Bear Clan feast in which everyone eats in silence with their left hands. They ate no meat at all, but only the produce of the earth, and when the Bear Feast began, they extinguished all the fires and consumed the food in the dark. This allusion to the Bear Feast refers to fact that when the Bear Clan burns prisoners, it consumes meat by use of fire, which is the opposite of the associations that Bear wishes to create by his appropriate, but lying, response to Hare's query about what he did with the acorns. In the foundation myth for this rite (The Woman Who Fought the Bear), we are told that its blessings are for war and for life, but that no menstruating woman may participate in the rite.9 Menstruation represents not only infertility through the inability of women to reproduce during its progress, but a danger to the war weapons, since the touch of such a woman "kills" their power.10 In this purely vegetarian rite, the participants scrupulously avoid doing anything to harm either war or life powers. It is precisely this orientation — no blood, no meat, no fire — that Hare recommends to the Bear Clan to meet the needs of life and war.

The half acorn can have another political meaning: marriages are made with partners in the opposite moiety, so that Bear clansmen would occasionally marry women of the Thunderbird Clan. The Thunderbird woman is also "thunder seed," and therefore symbolically an acorn. However, they are, so to speak, in both the Thunderbird Clan and the Bear Clan simultaneously, so that in marriage she is half consumed by the Bears, and since it is a consumption of a female, it is of the distaff orientation. Therefore Bear tells Hare what he ought to have: consume a half acorn with his left hand — that is, consume the seed of the Thunders (acorns) through marriage, the form of consumption benefiting society as a whole. The truth is, however, that Bear has consumed the Thunder seed on a more voracious scale, one that is very detrimental to the good of society and the good of the Thunderbird Clan in particular.

This whole image is repeated in a new set of symbols. Hare enlists dung to be his warparty against Bear. They are at once the enemy of Bear, and the troops of Hare. Thus, they are like the acorns: they are outsiders who are now adopted and enlisted by the representative of the Thunderbird Clan (Hare). The dung, which like acorns is a kind of dropping, is rejected as outside the body (politic), not serving to sustain it like the internalized nutrients. They are the enemy unworthies whom Bear does not fear. However, Bear does fear the Thunder-arrow, the symbol of the Thunderbird Clan's internal power and preëminence. When Bear stumbles out to confront the vocal dung, the same that Bear has rejected as suitable for the Thunder Clan, he is shot by the weapon of the Thunders and killed as an object lesson in the fate that awaits those who consume too much of the seed of the Thunders' tree. In the end it is the thunder weapon (= the Thunderbird Clan?) that holds these undesirable ursine character traits in check, and keeps the great Bear Clan contained within the limits of its true function and prevents it from grasping for sovereignty itself.

Comparative Material: The Omaha versions of this waiką are very similar in some respects, but differ radically in having the black bears actually kill Hare. He is later resurrected by his grandmother who had foreseen the danger.11 Their myth makes Hare very Dionysian, even to the point of having him completely dismembered,12 but at the price of reducing his status. Since Hare is the principle of Law & Order among the Hocągara, his death in a Hocąk story would be tantamount to the death of law and order itself.

The Ponca story is closer to the Hocąk. "The Rabbit was was obliged to run down and kill the wild animals that the Grizzly Bear discovered, as the Grizzly Bear in those days was not powerful enough to act on the offensive. The Rabbit would have starved had not the youngest of the sons of the Grizzly Bear pitied him, bringing him by stealth a piece of fresh meat every time a buffalo was killed. At last the Rabbit thought that it was high time to insist on his rights, so he demanded from the Grizzly Bear his share of the meat. The Grizzly Bear would not listen to him, and as the Rabbit persisted in his demands, the Grizzly Bear rushed on him and rolled him over and over in the blood. But before the Rabbit left the scene to return to the lodge of the Grizzly Bear, he managed to secure a piece of the clotted blood of the slain animal, concealing it under his belt. He waited till night, and, when all the other occupants of the lodge were sound asleep, he addressed the blood, calling it his son, and ordering it to become a little child, and when he had ordered it to advance from infancy, through boyhood to youth, and from youth to manhood, his commands were obeyed. The final result was the Young Rabbit, or the Rabbit's Son, Mactcíñge ijíñge of the Poncas. It was the Young Rabbit who killed the Grizzly Bear and delivered his father."13

The following is an Arapaho story that has interesting similarities with our Hocąk myth. It is told in summary: "Then Clot-child looked for someone who would receive him as [a] relative. He went to an old woman's tent. She called him grandson. There he was given pemmican. He asked her for meat. She said: 'The bear people in the tribe are selfish. They have it all. They will allow no one to have meat.' Then he sent her to ask for meat. The old woman went to the bear who was guarding the meat and asked him for some. He spoke to her so angrily that she fell down from fear. She returned and told Clot-child. Then he went himself and took of the meat. The bear went to attack him. When he approached Clot-child he leaped, but Clot-child dodged him. Again the bear leaped, but was avoided, until he became tired, when Clot-child took his bow and shot him. One after another the bears came out to attack Clot-child and he shot them. All the fierce ones were dead. The survivors fled. He shot them also. There was only one that he did not shoot. It took refuge in the brush. 'Spare me, I am alone,' it said. 'Well, then, remain there,' said Clot-child. 'You will be in the timber.' The bear said: 'When you are unaware, but I see you, I will attack you and will kill you.' 'Very well,' Clot-child answered. 'But you will not see far. Your eyes will not be good.' 'But I shall smell you,' the bear said. Clot-child answered: 'Very well. But live alone. You will be by yourself, in the woods'."14

The Arapaho and the Hocąk stories represent two ways of expressing the bear spirit and its excesses. In both cases the spirit of justice curbs the excesses of this spirit, especially its gluttony; in both the bear must be killed on account of its reckless aggressiveness.

A Lakota story can still be recognized as cognate. There was once a badger family whose father was very successful in hunting. They had much meat. One day a black bear came to beg for food since he was starving. The badgers were very generous, but the bear kept coming every day. In time the bear gained weight and began to look quite healthy again. One day he showed up and threw the badger family out of their home altogether. Then he moved his own family into the badger lodge. From that time on the badger father had to beg the bear for meat. One day the youngest and ugliest of the bear family took pity on him and gave him some tough meat. Later the badger was able to get a blood clot from the carcass of a slain buffalo that the bears had butchered. He purified himself and the clot and made an offering to the Great Spirit. As he emerged from the sweat lodge, the blood clot had become a young warrior and followed after him, calling the badger "father." He was the Avenger who possessed a magic arrow. When he went with his badger father to beg meat, the black bear recognized him. He knew who the Avenger was, and became very frightened. He now changed his tune and offered the badger the choicest cuts of meat, but the Avenger spoke to him of justice. At that point the bear began trembling from fear of the magic arrow, and he rushed his family out of the old badger lodge and was not seen there ever again.15

A Fox tale bears some similarity to the Hocąk. One day Skunk and Long Claws met. Long Claws was a manitou, but he looked just like a bear. Long Claws thought it would be entertaining to frighten Skunk, but every time he made threatening gestures and noises, Skunk calmly replied, "You don't frighten me." Then Skunk suggested that he take a turn at frightening Long Claws. Long Claws thought that was really funny, but could see no harm in it. So Skunk walked around Long Claws, and when he had completed a circuit, he asked, "Are you afraid of me?" Long Claws was bored, but replied, "No, you don't frighten me." Skunk repeated this twice more, and each time Long Claws gave the same reply. By now Long Claws had started to doze off, so on his fourth circuit, Skunk seized the opportunity, and he turned his tail towards Long Claw and squirted him good. Long Claws was furious, but he could not see to kill his opponent. Skunk kept spraying him until finally, Long Claw fell over dead from the odor. Skunk made a fine necklace out of his long claws.16

A Gosiute tale has many of the same story elements. Coyote was traveling west on a little traveled road when he came upon Bear. He asked Bear if he were not afraid to be traveling on such a road, but Bear turned the question around. They both vomited and it became obvious that they had been eating people, and in fact Coyote had eaten the greater number by far. Since they were both man-eaters, they had no fear of sojourning on the road. Coyote persuaded Bear to go up the road to a hill called "When You Shoot an Arrow from a Bow." Coyote took a short-cut and when Bear arrived, he shot him dead with an arrow, after which he skinned and roasted him.17

To the incident in which Hare has feathers in dung cry out as warriors, the Pomo of California relate that their trickster figure, Coyote, created human beings out of feathers.18

See also the Dakota story in the Comparative Material to "Hare Kills Flint."

Links: Hare, Earth, Bear, Bear Spirits, The Sons of Earthmaker.

Links within the Hare Cycle: §4. Hare Kills Sharp Elbow; §6. Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat.

Stories: featuring Hare as a character: The Hare Cycle, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Kills Wildcat, The Messengers of Hare, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Grandmother's Gifts, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Spirit of Gambling, The Red Man, Maize Origin Myth, Hare Steals the Fish, The Animal who would Eat Men, The Gift of Shooting, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Petition to Earthmaker; mentioning (spirit) bears (other than were-bears): White Bear, Blue Bear, Black Bear, Red Bear, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Shaggy Man, Bear Offers Himself as Food, 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; featuring Bear as a character: Bear Offers Himself as Food, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear; featuring Grandmother Earth as a character: Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Maize Origin Myth, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Grandmother's Gifts, Owl Goes Hunting, Hare and the Grasshoppers, Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, Hare Kills Wildcat, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Necessity for Death, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Steals the Fish, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Kills Flint, The Gift of Shooting, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man (vv 4, 6), Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Redhorn's Father (?).

Themes: someone expresses concern about the military danger of the area where someone has erected his lodge: A Man's Revenge, The Warbundle Maker, White Fisher, The Dog Who Saved His Master; bear people eating with their left hands: Bear Clan Origin Myth (introduction), The Woman Who Fought the Bear; gluttony: The Big Eater, Sun and the Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families; someone who is otherwise fearless is deeply afraid of just one thing: Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins (a turkey), The Brown Squirrel (a red horn); a creature boasts that he is afraid of nothing, only to reveal later that he fears (a certain) arrow: The Brown Squirrel; handling a thunder weapon adversely affects bystanders: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, The Stone that Became a Frog; a person endows an inanimate object with the power of speech and orders it to speak for him/her while he/she escapes: Ocean Duck (an arrow), Little Human Head (a doll), Hare Kills Wildcat (acorns).


1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 98-100. Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) §8, pp. 70-71. The original Hocąk text is missing, but the English translation of Oliver LaMère is preserved in Paul Radin, "The Hare Cycle," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3851 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago IV, #1: 36-44.

2 Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 161, note 27.

3 Sam Blowsnake (Thunderbird Clan), Crashing Thunder. The Autobiography of an American Indian, ed. Paul Radin (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983 [1926]) 33-40.

4 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 176.

5 Oliver LaMère, "Clan Organization of the Winnebago," Publications of the Nebraska State Historical Society, 19 (1919): 86-94 (89). Oliver LaMère was a member of the Bear Clan. Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 159-163.

6 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 177-179.

7 W. C. McKern, "Winnebago Dog Myths," Yearbook, Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, 10 (1930): 318-321.

8 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 162.

9 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 180; 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) 1 - 17.

10 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles, 104-106.

11 Roger Welsch, Omaha Tribal Myths and Trickster Tales (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981) 33-35.

12 On the dismemberment of Dionysos, see Orphicorum fragmenta 35 (Kern).

13 Rev. James Owen Dorsey, "Nanibozhu in Siouan Mythology," The Journal of American Folklore, 5, #19 (Oct. - Dec., 1892): 293-304 [295-296]. 

14 Runs in the Water, "Blood-Clot-Boy," in George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 130: 298-304.

15 Zitkala-Ṣa, "The Badger and the Bear," Old Indian Legends (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1901) 59-73. Cf. J. O. Dorsey, "Nanibozhu in Siouan Mythology," 296.

16 William Jones, Ethnography of the Fox Indians, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 125 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1939) 37-39.

17 Commodore, "Coyote and Bear," in Anne M. Smith, Shoshone Tales (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993 [1939]) 17-18.

18 S. A. Barrett, "A Composite Myth of the Pomo Indians," Journal of American Folk-lore, XIX (1906) 37. Summarized in A. L. Kroeber, "Indian Myths of South Central California," University of California Publications, American Archaeology and Ethnology, 4 (1907), #4: 169-250 [186 nt. 1].