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Main > Native American folktales > Fairy tale "The Red Bear"

The Red Bear

On the tundra south of the mouth of the Yukon River an orphan boy once lived with his aunt. They were all alone with no house within sight; but the boy had heard that there were people living farther up the river. One summer day he got into his kayak and rowed up the river hoping to find other human beings. He traveled on until he came to a large village where he saw many people moving about. There he landed and began calling to the people expecting to make friends with them.

But instead of being friendly, they disliked all strangers and, running down to the shore, they seized him, broke his kayak to pieces, tore his clothing off him, and beat him badly. Then they took him up into the village and kept him there all summer, beating and ill-treating him very often. In the fall one of the men took pity on him and made him a kayak, and helped him to escape. He went down the river and arrived at home after a long absence.

During the summer other people had built houses near the home of his aunt and there was a small village instead of the one lone hut. He walked among the buildings until he found his aunt's house; but when he entered, he frightened her very much, for at first glance she thought it was a skeleton, he had been starved and beaten so long.

When his aunt recognized him and had heard his story, she said, "Oh, you poor boy! What you must have suffered! I am full of rage at those cruel villagers. I shall find some way to revenge your wrongs!"

She sat thinking a while and then said to him, "Bring me a piece of a small log."

He brought the piece of wood and she whittled and rubbed it into the form of an animal with long teeth and long, sharp claws, and painted it white on the throat and red on the sides. Then they took the image to the edge of the stream and placed it in the water.

"Go now," she said to it, "and kill everyone you find in the village where my boy was beaten."

The image did not move.

She took it out of the water and cried over it, letting her tears fall upon it; and the warm tears brought it to life and made it feel sorry for her and the boy.

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