THE MAIDEN WHO BECAME A BEAR
From the Navaho Age of Gods
In the Age of Gods: When the brothers returned that night they entered the house. Not seeing the Coyote among them their sister went out to look for him; not finding him she asked her eldest brother what they had done with her husband. The eldest brother said: "We sent him back with the meat a long time ago. We thought that you would have the meat cooked for us by now." The woman looked straight at her brothers and told them that they had killed the Coyote. The brothers said: "No, sister, we have told you the truth. We sent him back with the meat early in the day." But she accused them four times of killing her husband. Four times they gave the same answer. Then she went to the rainbow path and there she found the meat. From there she tracked the Coyote to the canyon's edge and she found where he had been killed by the Swallow People.
After the woman left her brothers to go look for the Coyote the eldest brother said: "Listen now to my words: our sister is about to do something still more evil."
When the woman returned to the house she told her brothers that the people in the canyon had killed her husband. She would not sit down in the home. She prepared herself to go against the cliff people. First, she took her sewing awls and sharpened them; then she hid her heart and lungs as the Coyote had taught her, and turned herself into a great bear with sharp teeth and claws, and she went forth against the people of the canyon. When she came among them they shot at her with their arrows, but they did not harm her. When she returned home she turned back into her woman form. But every night she went out in her bear form and killed the cliff people with her teeth and claws; however, she did not eat them as a wolf or bear would have done.
It was then that the people moved into the caves in the cliff walls. The Rainbow's strength was their strength. The people, in those days, used a rainbow for their ladder as well as for their bridge. They used it and it was not difficult for them to carry up their goods and to build houses in the caves. For a long time the people abandoned their homes on the floor of the canyon; but the bear woman followed them. She would dig up through the earth and kill them. After that they built their homes of rock in the caves.
Always when she returned to her brothers she was in her woman form. But her name was now Esdza'shash nadle, the Woman who Became a Bear.
Soon she went out even during the day to kill people. She became so terrible that the Spider People, the Lizard People, and the Swallow People built high in the sides of the canyons where she could not reach them. After a time the brothers became frightened. They did not know what to do. But they knew that their turn would come; that she would kill them too. The eldest brother had a plan. He, together with the other brothers, pushed the ashes of the fire to one side and they dug a hole under the fireplace. They hid the youngest brother in this hole which had four sides to hold back the earth. They covered the hole with a slab over which they put earth; they then raked the ashes over it and built a fire. Then they went to the east of their dwelling.
When the Bear Woman returned no one was in the house. She went to relieve herself and said: "Whichever way the water runs, that is the direction my brothers have taken." It showed east; so she followed in her bear form. She tracked them and she killed the 11 brothers. She saw that the youngest was missing. She returned to the house. Again she went to relieve herself, and she said: "Whichever way it flows there my brother is." But it neither flowed nor fell. So she went into the house and tore the rocks out. She found her youngest brother under the firestone.
The Bear Woman spoke kind words to him. "Come out, my brother," she said, "your hair looks dirty; it needs washing and dressing; let me care for it." The little breeze whispered in the boy's ear: "She has killed your 11 brothers, and now she wants your life." The little breeze stayed on the boy's ear and told him to have weapons ready when she began to comb his hair. It told him also, to loosen the string ties of his loin cloth. "She will place you facing the sun when she starts to comb your hair; but you must sit so that. you can see her shadow." The woman made her brother sit facing the sun; but be said: "Sister, the sun is too bright for my eyes." After four times she agreed to let him sit where he chose. He sat where he could watch her shadow. She got the grass brush, which they used for the hair, and she brushed his hair once or twice; and out grew her lips to the shape of a bear's mouth with long teeth. The boy turned and said: "What is it, sister?" She said: "Oh, I am just sleepy." The breeze was now busy in the boy's ear telling him what would happen and what he should do. He was to be saved; but the price paid was the lives of his 11 brothers.
The boy was told that the fourth time that he caught her changing into the form of a bear he must jump up and run as fast as he could to the place where she had hidden her heart and lungs. "About the moment when she is about to catch you, you will jump over a big cactus. She will have to go around it and you will gain ground. The second time you will jump over a big growth of yucca; the third time, over a log; and the fourth time you will jump over a big boulder."
Now the boy watched her shadow, and each time that he caught her changing into the bear form he turned and looked at her and she became the woman. After the fourth time he had his muscles set, and jumped away from her. Sure enough she grabbed his belt; but the tie loosened. She was near him when he reached the cactus. He jumped over it; she ran around it. The second time she was near him he jumped over the yucca; the third time he jumped over the fallen log; and the fourth time, over the great boulder. Then her heart became nervous, and the chipmunk who was guarding it screamed. The heart and the lungs were beating up and down just ahead of the boy. They were covered with oak leaves. The Bear Woman cried out: "Oh, brother, brother, stop! There are my heart and my lungs. There is my life."
Now when the boy saw the leaves beating up and down in fright he jumped over them, and he shot his arrow into them. The Bear Woman fell, and the blood gushed out of her mouth and nostrils. The boy returned near her, and the little breeze told him to stop the blood. It must not flow, for if it met the blood from her heart she would become whole again. So the boy pulled the Bear Woman's carcass away. He was angry. He spread her legs and cut out her sex organs. He said: "You have the sex organs of a woman, and great trouble has come of it." He tossed it to the top of a tree and said: "The people of the earth shall use you henceforth." It became the pitch that is found on cedar and pinon trees. Then he cut off her breasts and said: "You have a woman's breasts and still you have caused great trouble." He tossed them to the top of a tree and said: "The people of the earth shall use you." And they became pinon nuts.
After these things happened many people planned to leave the mesas. They were afraid of the Woman who became a bear. They buried the Calendar Stone; they wrapped their dead; and leaving their belongings,. they went away. But before they left they drew pictures on the rocks of all the things that trouble came from.
Now only the Swallow People and the Lizard, Snake, and Spider People remained. All the others said that they would never return to make the mesa country their home. They moved into Montezuma Valley and built their homes around Ute Mountain. Their main dwellings were Yucca House and a place near a spring east of Ute Mountain. They multiplied and their homes covered quite a lot of territory. They moved to places where they found good water, good building material, and where their plants would grow. But always they came to where their chief person lived. This was a place west of Dolores called Sage Brush Spring. They moved their chief, or head person of their tribe, there. This person was considered sacred, and kept away from the sun and the light all of the time. Where he lived sacred stones were placed at his feet, at his out-stretched arms and head. Prayer sticks guarded his body. Then bluebird feathers were set around him. Whatever he said was done. They lived for a time at Sage Brush Spring; but corn did not grow well there; living was difficult. They moved to the foot of Elk Mountain.