How the Bear lost his Tail

Title: How the Bear lost his Tail

General information about the item:

  • Myth
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Informant: C.W.
  • Date Collected: 26 May 2020

Informant Data:

C.W. was born in Sioux Saint Marie in the Upper Peninsula Michigan and is a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community and which is a band of Ojibwe people.

Contextual Data: C.W. told me that this is a story she heard through her mom. It was significant to her personally because she is Bear Clan and, in her clan, there is a kinship relationship between humans and bears in her culture. She stated that “Bears are supposed to be like protectors and healers in my culture.” She first learned about the story when she was a teenager. She wasn’t sure about the circumstances for where the story was told but she found about the story by asking her mom questions about her culture. She did mention that her people are very seasonal and so usually stories such as these are told in the winter because different seasons have different activities associated with each season. She stated, “Summer would be for picking berries and fishing, in the fall you would be harvesting maple syrup, the winter you would tell stories and, in the spring there was usually jobs to do and that’s why winter is a good time for stories.”

Item: “Long, long ago there were only creatures on the Earth, and there were birds, bears, deer, and mice everything but people. And this time long ago, all the animals spoke the same language and just like people they play tricks on one another. They also helped each other, so it was with all the animals. One day, in the winter, when the lakes were frozen, but before the winter’s, but before the winter was upon us, Bear was walking along the lakeshore. When he was walking, he came upon the Otter sitting near a fishing hole with a pile of fish. ‘You’ve got a big pile of fish there,’ Bear said. ‘How did you get those fish?’ But instead of telling him how he drove into the water and caught the fish, Otter decided to trick the Bear. You see back then Bear had a very long, bushy tail, and he was proud of his tail and all the animals knew it. ‘The way I catch my fish is by putting my tail in the ice hole.’ Otter explained. ‘I wiggle around once in a while, so the fish see it. When a fish bites into my tail, I quickly pulled out of the water.’ ‘That sure is an easy way to catch fish!’ Bear said. ‘Do you mind if I use your fishing hole?’ Otter, laughing behind the Bear’s back said, ‘I have enough fish. Use my fishing hole, as long as you like.’ Then Otter picked up his fish and walked away. Bear carefully poked his tail into the ice hole and waited. He waited and waited. Once in a while, he’d wiggle his tail so the fish could see it. Bear waited until the sun began to set, but not one fish even nibbled at his tail. At last, he decided to go home, but when he tried to stand up, his tail had frozen into the ice. He couldn’t move. He pulled and pulled at his tail, but it was stuck tight. Finally, he pulled with all his strength, and half his tail ripped off. Now you know why the bear has a short tail. And remember, don’t always believe what people tell you.”

Collector’s name: Rosa Mendoza


  • Myth
  • Bear
  • Ojibwe

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