Legend Categories
North America / Great Plains Area
Blackfoot - Bear-Moccasin, the Great Medicine-Man


There was once a man named Bear-Moccasin, who had a chum called Chief-Old-Man. The reason why the former was called Bear-Moccasin was that he wore bearskins on his feet. He also wore a bear's ear on the head and a claw, but he gave them and some paint to Chief-Old-Man. Now Bear-Moccasin had powerful dreams. He said to Chief-Old-Man. "The reason I am going to do this is because you are a good friend of mine, I know you will help me. You will have a dream on account of having done this." "Well," said Chief-Old-Man, "whatever it is, I will do it." Then Bear-Moccasin told him what to do if anything should happen. Bear-Moccasin put his robe down on the ground, saying, "Let this robe be the same as myself." Then Bear-Moccasin took up some paint and began to paint himself, saying as he did so, "If I am killed, paint me in this way, and put the robe over my body." Then Bear-Moccasin explained the use of the pipe and the bear-claw and taught Chief-Old-Man the songs. When all this was done, Bear-Moccasin took a loaded gun, told Chief-Old-Man that an evil spirit gave him great power, and that it came from above. Then he shot himself. Now Chief-Old-Man did as directed. He painted the body, sang the songs, held the pipe to the corpse, and Bear-Moccasin came to life. Now Bear-Moccasin had a dagger, and, painting it, he planted it point up, in the ground. Then he began singing, and threw himself down upon the knife. Chief-Old-Man sprang upon his back and jumped up and down until the knife came through. Now he was dead again.

Then Chief-Old-Man sang the songs, took the pipe, and did as before. Bear-Moccasin sprang up again all well. There was not even a scar. Now Bear-Moccasin took the knife and handed it to Chief-Old-Man Then he painted his neck. Chief-Old-Man cut off his head and threw it down upon the ground. Then Chief-Old-Man took the head, fitted it to the body covered with the robe, sang the songs as before, took a gun, painted it and the bullet, and shot Bear-Moccasin in the head. Then he got up In the next trial, Chief-Old Man shot seven arrows into Bear-Moccasin and as he fell he broke some of them. Then the robe was placed over the corpse and the pipe placed in its mouth, Chief-Old-Man crying as he went away, Well, this is your smoke." As Chief-Old-Man was going along; he looked back and saw Bear-Moccasin following him, smoking. As he came up, he showed Chief-Old-Man all the arrows, telling him that two had been broken Now, m the next trial, Chief-Old-Man took a stone hammer and an elk-horn whip-handle, and with these he beat Bear-Moccasin death Then he covered up the body with the robe, sang the songs, and put the pipe to his mouth as before. This time Bear-Moccasin in came to life, but the upper part of his body was like that of a bear. In the next trial, Chief-Old-Man took a new sharp axe and a new lance. With the lance he stuck Bear-Moccasin through and through, and cut him up with the axe. (Bear-Moccasin had told him before this to scratch his left foot with a bear-claw but to get his horse ready and go quickly to the top of the hill, and not to come back again until he was called.) Now Chief-Old-Man held his bridle in one hand, scratched the left foot of the corpse, leaped on his horse and rode off. Bear-Moccasin sprang to his feet, made a noise like a bear wrestled With the trees, etc After he had been a bear for a while, he lay down and became a man calling for Chief-Old-Man to come down again. The tests were now finished. Bear-Moccasin told Chief-Old-Man that if at any time he should be killed, and a piece of his body, however small, could be found, he could be brought to life again. So they went home.

After a time they went out with a party of their people to hunt buffalo. While hey were chasing buffalo, some white men came along with a party of Snake Indians. They pursued the Piegan. Now Bear-Moccasin had a gun and arrows. The others were not well armed. So he told them to run. All this time he was butchering a buffalo, and said, "I will finish this before I run. He was soon surrounded by the enemy, all of whom were shooting at him. But he kept on with his butchering and paid no attention to them. Then a white man came up with a sword and thrust it into Bear-Moccasin but he rose up and killed the white man, and then went on with his butchering. Now there was a Piegan woman with the Snakes who explained to them who this man was. Then they realized that it was useless to attack such a man, and went their way. Now the party that was with Bear-Moccasin went home, because they thought he must have been killed. After a while they went back, and, while they could see nothing of their enemies, they could see Bear-Moccasin still at his butchering. When they went up to him, they saw that he had no wounds, and the only thing he said was, "Here, I have killed this white man."

Now Bear-Moccasin had great power, and he could take a woman from any man. No one dared to talk against it, and every one was afraid of him. So he raped and seduced at will. One day he saw a very nice woman in camp, and decided to try her. Now his friend, Chief-Old-Man, said, "Do not bother with that woman, for she is the wife of our chief." Bear-Moccasin replied, "I must have her." To this Chief-OId-Man said nothing, but he was not pleased. Now, when this woman went out for wood, Bear-Moccasin met her. There was an old woman with her. Bear-Moccasin took hold of the young woman and asked her to go with him. As he was pulling and coaxing her, the old woman said, "Now you ought not to do this. This is a terrible thing for you to do, because she is the wife of the chief. You are a very powerful man, but this you ought not to do. If you must do this, you can have me for the sake of letting her go." "No," said Bear-Moccasin. Then the young woman spoke up and said, "Well, I suppose he must have his way, but first let me tie this horse up." Then, with Bear-Moccasin standing by, she began as if to hobble her horse, talking to the other woman, telling her to get some wood ready to take to camp, but not to mention to any one what had happened, because of the disgrace. Then she said to Bear-Moccasin, ''You go on into the brush and I will follow." As soon as Bear-Moccasin started into the brush, the young woman sprang upon her horse and rode away. Now Bear-Moccasin was very quick. He caught hold of the travois; but the horse had a good start, and he was not able to hold on. The woman galloped to the camp, and told her husband, the chief, what had happened.

Now, after a while the men in the camp went out to hunt, and the chief saw Bear-Moccasin go with them. Then the chief went out also, and as he was coming home he saw Bear-Moccasin butchering. He rode up quietly, shot Bear-Moccasin full of arrows, then shot him with a gun, and finally cut him to pieces. Now no one in the camp was angry. In a short time, Bear-Moccasin walked into the chief's lodge, saying, "Here, I bring you some of your arrows." Then the chief thought him a great medicine-man indeed.

Bear-Moccasin had another friend, whom he also advised what to do in case he was killed. However, this friend went to the chief and said, "If you ever kill Bear-Moccasin again, take out his canine-teeth and bum them."

One day the same two women were out again for wood when they saw Bear-Moccasin coming. As he came up to them, he said to the young woman, "You got away once, but I shall lie with you just the same." Now everything happened as before, and the young woman agreed to go with Bear-Moccasin. He took hold of her sleeve to lead her along; but she took out her knife, quickly cut the sleeve and ran away. As she ran, she called out that she would tell the chief. Bear-Moccasin said that he would wait there for him. So she told her husband, the chief. Now the chief was very angry. He began to make medicine for loading his gun, and when he got it ready he set out, the woman carrying an axe and a hatchet. Soon they came up to the place. Bear-Moccasin was lying down by the brush as if asleep. The chief shot him, then took out his canine-teeth, and cut his body into small pieces. Then he burned up the canine-teeth. Now the friend of Bear-Moccasin came to restore him to life, but, when he saw that the canine-teeth were gone, he said, "I will not try to bring him to life again. He may do much harm. He has done much harm already, and the blame must rest with him." Now Bear-Moccasin was dead for good.

There is another story which seems to be a version of this, or the reverse. Once a young man had a dream that he came to life again after being dead. He explained the dream to his chum, and requested him to try it in case he should die. Then, to test his power, he tried to rape the wife of the chief in full view of the camp. The people called out, the chief ran out with his knife, and killed him. His body was cut up and burned. The people took care to bum up everything. So, when the fire was out, the chief ordered them to move camp, and everybody to march over the ashes, so that every trace of the young man might be wiped out. Now, after the camp had moved some distance, the chum of the dead man hid in the brush. The chief, however, watched the place to see if any one should come; but, as no one came all day, in the evening he went away. As soon as the chief was gone, the chum came put of the brush and hunted through the ashes. At last he found a very small piece of bone. He painted the bone, put the robe over it, and put a pipe there. Then taking four arrows, he shot an arrow up so that it would fall on the robe. Each time he did this, he shouted, "Look out! the arrow will hit you;" and each time the robe would move to one side. As he shot the last arrow, he ran away, but the dead man rose up and chased him. Then the young man who had been dead went on to the camp. It was now night. He went into the lodge of his mother. He sent her over to the lodge of the chief to get some food. She was to ask the chief for some of the food that was for him only. This puzzled the chief, for all the food he sent over was refused. At last he understood that it was the woman that was asked for. This he refused. Then the young man went over, killed the chief, cut up his body and burned it, and matched the people over the ashes. After that he took the chief's wives, and became the chief himself.

In still another version, the chief was forced to go around kissing all the dogs in camp, and, as it was very cold, he froze to death

Clark Wissler. Anthropological Papers American Museum of Natural History, Vol. II, 1908. Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians, New York, The Trustees, 1908 and is now in the public domain.