The Fifth Moon – A Bear Legend

The following is an excerpt from a book written by Eagle Walking Turtle called “Full Moon Stories”. It is a tale told to him from his Grandparents who were Northern Arapaho Indians living on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He starts off each story with a little background story of life on the reservation which gives some insight you may not otherwise have. Enjoy!

“In the moon when the ponies shed their shaggy hair [May], we kids were all playing down by the Little Big Wind River, which ran by the big log building that was our community hall. Grandpa Iron had been born many years before in a tipi not too far from the community hall. Of course no one lived in tipis anymore. They were used only for Native American Church meetings or for powwows or the Sundance.

Uncle Kail came by, stopping his old beat-up car just off the road. His yell brought us running. He said that there would soon be a full moon rising and that Grandpa Iron was getting ready to tell us a story about bears. We all piled in the car and rode to the small log house.

Grandma was out by the clothesline, taking down some wash that had dried in the warm May sunshine. Magpies had stolen some of the clothespins, and she was complaining to Grandpa when we walked up. He just laughed. Grandma glared at him.

Inside the cabin, we helped Grandma fold the wash and stack it on a shelf near the beds. Then Grandma started a stew of boiled dry meat with onions and potatoes. Baking-powder biscuits with butter and coffee made the meal complete. It was more food than usual for one meal, but I guess Grandpa had sold some scrap iron in town that day. After supper we did the dishes and Grandpa Iron smudged us off with cedar smoke. Then we sat on the floor, and he began his full-moon story.

A long time ago, when our people still lived in caves and walked everywhere, there was a medicine man called Moves Walking. Moves Walking had bear medicine power.

At that time, food was getting hard to find, so our people split into smaller bands, each band going in a different direction. Moves Walking was the leader of one band. He went into the wilderness to meditate and seek wisdom so he could take his people in the right direction. While seeking his vision he saw a family of bears gather in a grove of trees below the hill he
was on. Moves Walking watched them for days. He watched the cubs play with each other and with their mother and father. He saw the mother bear discipline her young by cuffing their ears, and the father bear ignore them when he was tired or had other things on his mind. Moves Walking saw the roots, plants, and insects that the bears ate, many of which his people had thought inedible. He learned the roots and plants they ate when they were ill. After the bears left. Moves Walking went down the hill into their camp and found the remains of their food and medicine.

When Moves Walking went back to his people, he had a vision for the direction they should go, and he had the wisdom that the bears had taught him.

From that time on, his name was Medicine Bear. Grandpa Iron said that the bear medicine is good for people, too. A bear society was formed whose members have a great knowledge of healing. They know not only about roots and herbs for physical healing but also about healing mental conditions.

Grandpa took his hat from the bed and hung it on the wall. Uncle Kail laughed and waved good-bye as he went out the door and headed for home. The roar from his old car faded away as Grandma passed water around to each of us and turned back the covers on the iron beds. Grandpa blew out the coal-oil lamp after we were all tucked in bed, and the moonlight streamed through the cracks in the logs.

We slept and dreamed of the bear cubs playing in the trees.

And the Earth stayed young.”

[“When I was a boy I lived with my grandparents on the Northern Arapahoe Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Grandpa Iron was always happy and full of life’s joy. Grandma Iron was much more serious. They both taught me, along with my brothers and sisters, that all of nature should be listened to, loved, and respected. Each time a full moon came, Grandpa Iron would tell us a story. First he’d burn cedar needles, and we would fan the sweet-smelling smoke over our heads to purify our bodies before Grandpa’s story. He always took his hat from the wall and placed it on the bed before he began his telling. I suppose this goes back to the time when warriors hung their medicine bags on the tipi pole behind them before speaking. This story is among those that Grandpa told us about the love and respect our people have for our animal brothers and sisters – the four-leggeds, the ones that fly, the ones that slither in the grasses, and the ones that swim in the waters.” — Eagle Walking Turtle]

For the full book by Eagle Walking Turtle, follow this link to Amazon. Its geared towards 3rd-4th graders but anyone interested in our Arapaho legends would like it.

http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Walking-Turtle/e/B001K8WX38

Hohou! (Thank you)