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The Great Grizzly Bear
"The Indians have unbounded reverence for this bear. When they kill
one, they make exculpating speeches to it, smoke tobacco to it, call
it grandfather, ancestor, etc."
P. MARTIN DUNCAN, M. B., F. R. S., F. G. S.
Kings College, London.
The Indians with whom I once lived in the Californian Sierras held the
grizzly bear in great respect and veneration. Some writers have said
that this was because they were afraid of this terrible king of
beasts. But this is not true. The Indian, notwithstanding his almost
useless bow and arrow in battles with this monster, was not controlled
by fear. He venerated the grizzly bear as his paternal ancestor. And
here I briefly set down the Modoc and Mount Shasta Indians' account of
their own creation.
They, as in the Biblical account of the creation of all things, claim
to have found the woods, wild beasts, birds and all things waiting for
them, as did Adam and Eve.
The Indians say the Great Spirit made this mountain first of all. Can
you not see how it is? they say. He first pushed down snow and ice
from the skies through a hole which he made in the blue heavens by
turning a stone round and round, till he made this great mountain;
then he stepped out of the clouds onto the mountain-top, and descended
and planted the trees all around by putting his finger on the ground.
The sun melted the snow, and the water ran down and nurtured the trees
and made the rivers. After that he made the fish for the rivers out of
the small end of his staff. He made the birds by blowing some leaves,
which he took up from the ground, among the trees. After that he made
the beasts out of the remainder of his stick, but made the grizzly
bear out of the big end, and made him master over all the others. He
made the grizzly so strong that he feared him himself, and would have
to go up on top of the mountain out of sight of the forest to sleep at
night, lest the grizzly, who, as will be seen, was much more strong
and cunning then than now, should assail him in his sleep. Afterwards,
the Great Spirit, wishing to remain on earth and make the sea and some
more land, converted Mount Shasta, by a great deal of labor, into a
wigwam, and built a fire in the center of it and made it a pleasant
home. After that, his family came down, and they all have lived in the
mountain ever since. They say that before the white man came they
could see the fire ascending from the mountain by night and the smoke
by day, every time they chose to look in that direction. They say that
one late and severe springtime, many thousand snows ago, there was a
great storm about the summit of Mount Shasta, and that the Great
Spirit sent his youngest and fairest daughter, of whom he was very
fond, up to the hole in the top, bidding her to speak to the storm
that came up from the sea, and tell it to be more gentle or it would
blow the mountain over. He bade her do this hastily, and not put her
head out, lest the wind should catch her in the hair and blow her
away. He told her she should only thrust out her long red arm and make
a sign, and then speak to the storm without.
The child hastened to the top and did as she was bid, and was about to
return, but having never yet seen the ocean, where the wind was born
and made his home, when it was white with the storm, she stopped,
turned and put her head out to look that way, when lo! the storm
caught in her long red hair, and blew her out and away down and down
the mountain side. Here she could not fix her feet in the hard, smooth
ice and snow, and so slid on and on down to the dark belt of firs
below the snow rim.
Now, the grizzly bears possessed all the wood and all the land down to
the sea at that time, and were very numerous and very powerful. They
were not exactly beasts then, although they were covered with hair,
lived in caves and had sharp claws; but they walked on two feet, and
talked, and used clubs to fight with, instead of their teeth and
claws, as they do now.
At this time, there was a family of grizzlies living close up to the
snows. The mother had lately brought forth, and the father was out in
quest of food for the young, when, as he returned with his club on his
shoulder and a young elk in his left hand, under his arm, he saw this
little child, red like fire, hid under a fir-bush, with her long hair
trailing in the snows, and shivering with fright and cold. Not knowing
what to make of her, he took her to the old mother, who was very
learned in all things, and asked her what this fair and frail thing
was that he had found shivering under a fir-bush in the snow. The old
mother grizzly, who had things pretty much her own way, bade him
leave the child with her, but never mention it to anyone, and she
would share her breast with her, and bring her up with the other
children, and maybe some great good would come of it.
The old mother reared her as she promised to do, and the old hairy
father went out every day, with his club on his shoulder, to get food
for his family, till they were all grown up and able to do for
"Now," said the old mother Grizzly to the old father Grizzly, as he
stood his club by the door and sat down one day, "our oldest son is
quite grown up and must have a wife. Now, who shall it be but the
little red creature you found in the snow under the black fir-bush."
So the old father Grizzly kissed her, said she was very wise, then
took up his club on his shoulder and went out and killed some meat for
the marriage feast.
They married and were very happy, and many children were born to
them. But, being part of the Great Spirit and part of the grizzly
bear, these children did not exactly resemble either of their parents,
but partook somewhat of the nature and likeness of both. Thus was the
red man created; for these children were the first Indians.
All the other grizzlies throughout the black forests, even down to the
sea, were very proud and very kind, and met together, and, with their
united strength, built for the lovely little red princess a wigwam
close to that of her father, the Great Spirit. This is what is now
called "Little Mount Shasta."
After many years, the old mother Grizzly felt that she soon must die,
and, fearing that she had done wrong in detaining the child of the
Great Spirit, she could not rest till she had seen him and restored to
him his long-lost treasure and asked his forgiveness.
With this object in view, she gathered together all the grizzlies at
the new and magnificent lodge built for the princess and her children,
and then sent her eldest grandson to the summit of Mount Shasta in a
cloud, to speak to the Great Spirit and tell him where he could find
his long-lost daughter.
When the Great Spirit heard this, he was so glad that he ran down the
mountain side on the south so fast and strong that the snow was melted
off in places, and the tokens of his steps remain to this day. The
grizzlies went out to meet him by thousands; and as he approached they
stood apart in two great lines, with their clubs under their arms, and
so opened a lane through which he passed in great state to the lodge
where his daughter sat with her children.
But when he saw the children, and learned how the grizzlies that he
had created had betrayed him into the creation of a new race, he was
very wroth, and frowned on the old mother Grizzly till she died on
the spot. At this, the grizzlies all set up a dreadful howl; but he
took his daughter on his shoulder and, turning to all the grizzlies,
bade them hold their tongues, get down on their hands and knees and so
remain till he returned. They did as they were bid, and he closed the
door of the lodge after him, drove all the children out into the
world, passed out and up the mountain and never returned to the timber
So the grizzlies could not rise up any more, or make a noise, or use
their clubs, but ever since have had to go on all-fours, much like
other beasts, except when they have to fight for their lives; then the
Great Spirit permits them to stand up and fight with their fists like
That is why the Indians about Mount Shasta will never kill or
interfere in any way with a grizzly. Whenever one of their number is
killed by one of these kings of the forest, he is burned on the spot,
and all who pass that way for years cast a stone on the place till a
great pile is thrown up. Fortunately, however, grizzlies are not now
plentiful about the mountain.
In proof of the story that the grizzly once stood and walked erect and
was much like a man, they show that he has scarcely any tail, and that
his arms are a great deal shorter than his legs, and that they are
more like a man than any other animal.
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