The Spotted Grizzly Man

from the collection of W. C. McKern

Original manuscript pages: | 292 | 293 | 294 | 295 | 296 | 297 | 298 | 299 | 300 |

(292) There was an Indian village. Ten brothers lived there. The youngest one used to blacken his face and fast right along. In those days the family all lived together — it was not separated. Another man was a grizzly bear man. He could turn into a spotted grizzly bear. People were all afraid of this man because of his changing into a grizzly bear at will. Whenever he saw a beautiful girl, he carried her off to his lodge. When people went on the buffalo hunt, when they killed the buffalo, he always took the fattest part of the animal for himself. This he did without asking.

The youngest of the ten brothers was trying to get a good dream. One time the ten brothers went out on a buffalo hunt with others. The youngest went along. These were among the best hunters in the tribe. They often went hunting. (293) but they never brought home anything but poor meat. This was because the bear-man always took the good meat away before they brought it in. So it happened this time. The bear-man brought home the fat meat; the ten brothers got only this meat. When they arrived home with their meat, they cooked some. The oldest one, eating this, nearly choked to death because the meat was so lean and dry. In the morning, often breakfast, the younger brother said, "I shall go with you, but I do not like this giving all the fat meat to the bear-man, because my oldest brother nearly chokes to death on this dry meat." So they took the youngest brother with them. A long way they went from the village. So they hunted, and the ten brothers wanted to leave the youngest at the tent to take care of things there, but he said, "No, I want to go with you, so that I can bring back the very best meat that we get." "Don't say that," said his brothers. "How could you successfully fight this man? You talk two minds." The next morning, they hunted buffalo. They killed some good buffalo. The younger brother said, "Pick out the best meat for us. I will take some of it for you. Then the bear-man came along. The older (294) had said, "Don't take the best meat, because our brave man may come along. He will want it, so save it for him." "No, that's why I came along, to prevent him from taking all the best meat," said the younger brother. The oldest one said, "My youngest brother, I don't want to see you killed while I am yet alive. You have no weapons with which to fight this brave man." "You will find out something," said the youngest. "I am in no danger, as this man cannot kill me. I know what I am doing. Don't worry about my being killed, my brother." "All right," said the oldest, and returned to the hunt. Then the bear-man came along. He said, "Well, I am thankful to you for taking care of all this best meat for me." Then he spoke to several of his wives, "Go ahead and take care of this meat." Then he grabbed hold of some of the meat. The boy then gave him a push, so that he fell over. "Don't do that," he said. The bear-man got up and tried to push the boy away, but he could not push him. "All right, young (295) man, you can keep this meat, but we will see about it," said the brave man. The youth then pushed him over again. "If you are going to do something, why not do it now?" he asked. "I came down here just on your account. I am going to make you stop treating the people as you have been treating them." The bear-man said, "You are nothing but a boy, and you are talking a great deal. You had better keep quiet. I am able to make you stop talking as you have been talking to me. The boy again pushed him away, and kicked him. "Do it, then, why don't you. You are a man and I am a boy. Why don't you do something except talk?" said the boy. The other searched for the best meat in some of the other buffalo that the boy and his brothers had killed. The boy said, "Don't touch any of that meat. Get away from here." The bear-man said, "All right, young body, I shall do as you say, but you will find out about it tomorrow morning." So he left. Then the boy took care of all the meat his brothers (296) had killed. "Let us gather all we have killed now and go home," he said. So they took all of the meat and went back to the camp.

The night of the return, the bear-man went to his lodge, somewhat separated from the other lodges of the village. There he lived with his many wives. When the ten brothers came home, the young man sneaked in by the bear-man's lodge where were his many stolen wives, for he loved the most beautiful of the women. This you fellow knew that he had more power than the bear-man had. After awhile, the bear-man went to sleep. Then the youth entered and went to the woman. Then he awakened her. "I came for you," he said. "I want you to come to my lodge with me." She said, "It is well, I like you, but we are going to get killed." He said, "I have more power than this fellow. It is I that will kill him." She asked, "How will you do this?" "If you don't believe what I say, I shall kill you also," he said. "You seem sure, so I shall believe you," she said. "Then come with me, if you are willing," he said. So he went out, and she followed. He said, "We are going to run away." So they went outside the village (297) and ran round and round about it. All night they ran. She said to him, "It is about daylight. You said that we were going to run away from the village, but here we are. When do we start to run away? Morning is nearly here." At dawn, the lad went to his own lodge and walked right through, then they went to a small hill near the village. "Let's rest here," he said, "and wait for him." So they did.

Then people began to waken. Said one, "One of the favorite wives of our best man is gone. Whoever did this thing, take her back to him." So they awakened the other nine brothers. Then they saw that their youngest brother was gone. "Maybe he did this," they said. The bear-man then began to imitate the actions and cries of a bear. People said to one another, "Our brave man is now getting angry. Whoever stole his wife is about to get killed." So the grizzly bear came out and trailed the fleeing youth and woman. Then the woman said, "Why do we not flee? He is following our trail. Soon he will find us." "Don't worry about it," said the lad. "He will find out all (298) about it when he comes here. We have been waiting for him." While the bear was trailing them, the youth said to the woman, "See if you can find a louse on my head." So she did, a big fat one, and he gave it to her and told her to save it. "This fellow is going to kill himself," said the lad, "I won't have to kill him." The people saw them sitting there on the hill, and they knew that the youth had done this thing. Finally, the bear went through the lodge of the ten brothers. Then he came directly to where the two awaited him. Then the spotted grizzly bear sat down. "Well boy," he said, "because you are not teaching the people right, I want you to stop this mistreatment. Now you are going to find out who I am." Then the lad began to imitate a bear. All the people watched them. Then the oldest of his ten brothers said to the others, "Well, we are going to die today, my brothers, because our youngest brother, whom we love, is about (299) to be killed. So let us get ready, and we will do what we can, anyway, even if it is but to die." "The next to the youngest one said, "It is no use in dressing. My younger brother knows what he is doing. I am not worrying about him at all." The oldest one said, "You are a coward, that is why you do not dress for war." "There is no use talking about it," said the next to youngest, "We'll find out soon now, anyway, what our brother can do." Then the youngest brother was seen to have turned into a large red bear. The spotted bear said to him, "Let us be friends, my brother. Half of the village will be yours and the other half mine. Half of my wives shall also be yours, and this, my favorite wife, shall be yours also. Then when our enemies come we will help one another and so we will save our people from them." "All right," said the red bear, "let it be so, but let's see what you can do with this." Then he threw (300) the louse on the spotted bear. The bear began to scratch himself then. Then his great claws tore the flesh form his own body. Thus the lad said, "This is the third time I have come down to stop your evil work upon the people. Hereafter I shall keep a close watch on you. If you do this a fourth time, I shall kill you. See to it that you do not mistreat these people again." The spotted bear continued to tear at his own flesh. Finally, he seized his own heart and tore it form his body. So he died. The next to youngest brother had said to the oldest brother, "I am going to prepare something for our youngest brother," so he boiled a buffalo tongue. "When my brother comes back, I shall give him this, for I am sure he will return safely." So after the spotted bear was dead, the red bear said to the woman, "Go tell the wives of the man to return to their own homes. You, too, can return to your own people. It is not right that you should be my wife."

That is all.1

Commentary. "a spotted grizzly bear" — the possession of spots it the outward characteristic that distinguishes bad Waterspirits from good ones. The same seems to apply in this case.

"youngest" — in stories, the youngest of a group is generally the strongest, since strength is associated with youth.

"a good dream" — that is, he was trying to get a powerful blessing, which is obtained through a "dream" or vision.

"several of his wives" — having more than one wife, while permissible, is considered greedy, and marks this man to the audience as a person of bad character.

"red bear" — this is the cinnamon bear, a black bear whose coat is a reddish brown.

"this is the third time I have come down" — McKern has this to say about the myth as a whole: "In this series of four stories, Little Priest is supposed to have been the fourth reincarnation of Red Bear. It is not said who the spotted grizzly was in the fourth episode, but he did not live to do the work and so incurred the punishment promised."

"a buffalo tongue" — the tongue is considered the greatest delicacy.

Comparative Material. ...

Links: Red Bear, Were-Grizzlies and Other Man-Bears, Lice.

Stories: featuring were-bears as characters: The Were-Grizzly, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, 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 (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, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, 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; mentioning grizzly bears: Blue Bear, Brass and Red Bear Boy, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Were-Grizzly, 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; mentioning Red Bear: Brass and Red Bear Boy, The Journey to Spiritland, The Creation of the World, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 7), Red Bear; mentioning lice (and nits): Little Human Head, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Ocean Duck, Journey to Spiritland (v. 8); mentioning red yarn (as an offering to the spirits): The Elk's Skull, Ocean Duck, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Trickster Soils the Princess (Trickster's turban), Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married.

Themes: attempting to procure a bride through intimidation: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Thunder Cloud Marries Again; polygamy: Bladder and His Brothers (v. 2), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Green Man, Wazųka, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Markings on the Moon, Redhorn's Sons, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Gets Swallowed, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Spirit of Gambling; a large group of brothers (usually ten) live alone together: Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Quail Hunter, Bladder and His Brothers, Wojijé, The Race for the Chief's Daughter; 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 Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, 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), 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); a man is able to turn into a spotted grizzly: The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum; a powerful man becomes tyrannical: Wazųka, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Manawa Village Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Iron Staff and His Companions; the fruit of the hunt is stolen: Porcupine and His Brothers, Crane and His Brothers, Old Man and Wears White Feather, White Wolf, The Brown Squirrel; good spirits rescue women held by an evil spirit: Hare Gets Swallowed, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Iron Staff and His Companions.


1 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 292-300.