Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

Grandmother Bear

Mr. Alexander Henry was made prisoner by the Indians on Lake Superior when Fort Mackinaw was taken by Indians. This was in the time of the Indian war which is called Pontiac's War, because the great chief Pontiac started it.

Nearly all the white men in Fort Mackinaw were killed, but Mr. Henry was saved. He had an Indian friend named Wawatam, who paid for his life. He went to live with Wawatam. He had his head shaved, and put on the dress of an Indian. He lived and hunted as the Indians did.

One day Mr. Henry saw a very large pine tree. Its trunk was six feet in diameter. The bark had been scratched by a bear's claws. Far up on the tree there was a large hole. All about this hole the small branches were broken.

Mr. Henry looked at the snow. There were no bear tracks in it. So he thought that an old bear had climbed up into the tree before the snow fell. Bears sleep nearly all winter. They do not even come out to get anything to eat.

Mr. Henry told the Indians about the tree. There was no way of getting up to the bear's hole. They could not get the bear out except by cutting down the tree. But the Indian women did not believe that the Indians could do it. Their axes were too small to chop down so big a tree.

However, the Indians wanted the bear's oil, which is of great use to them. It serves them for lard, and butter, and many other things. So at the tree they went with their little axes. As many as could stand about the tree worked at a time, and when one rested, another chopper took his place. They all worked, men and women, and they chopped all day. When the sun went down, they had chopped about halfway through the tree.

The next morning they began again. They chopped away until about two o'clock. Then the top of the great pine tree began to tremble. Slowly it leaned a little. Then the tree began to fall. Everybody got far out of the way. It fell down among the other trees with a crash that made the woods roar, and lay at last upon the ground.

Black Bear

But no bear came out of the big tree. Mr. Henry began to be afraid that there was no bear there. He thought such a crash was enough to wake up the sleepiest bear in the world. At last the nose of a bear was poked out of the hole. Then came the head. Then came out the great brown body of one of the largest bears in the woods. Mr. Henry shot the bear dead.

Though the Indians kill and eat bears, they are very much afraid of the ghosts of the bears after they are dead. They are more afraid of a bear after it is dead than when it is alive. So, whenever an Indian has killed a bear, he always begs the dead bear's pardon. Each of these Indians now politely begged pardon of the bear. The old woman who had adopted Mr. Henry for her son took the bear's head in her hands and kissed it. She called it her grandmother, and asked it not to do them any harm. The Indians told the dead bear that a white man had killed it. Of course, the dead bear did not say anything.

Though they called the bear their grandmother, they made haste to take off its skin. They were glad to find that Grandma Bear was very fat. It took two persons to carry home the fat. Four more were loaded with the meat of this nice old relative of theirs.

But still wishing to fool the bear's ghost, they carried the head also to their tent. They put all kinds of silver trinkets on the head, and many belts of wampum or shell beads on it. In order to please the ghost of Grandmother Bear still more, they laid the head on a kind of table that they made for it, and placed a large quantity of tobacco near its nose.

The next morning a feast was made to please the bear's ghost. The head of the bear was lifted, and a new blanket was spread under it. All the Indians lighted their pipes, and blew tobacco smoke into the bear's nose. Wawatam made a speech to the bear's spirit. He told it they were very sorry to have to kill their friends. But he said it could not be helped, for, if they did not do this, they should starve to death.

The speech being over, the whole party ate heartily of the bear's flesh. After three days they even took down the head itself, and put it into the kettle. Thus they ate their grandmother up, but they did it very politely.