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The Legend of How the Bear Lost Its Tail

The legend of How the Bear Lost Its Tail is one of many traditional Haudenosaunee stories told from generation to generation.

In the beginning, bear had a long, bushy tail of which he was quite proud. Bear loved to show off his tail to all the other animals, including fox. Now fox loved to play tricks, and one day decided to have some fun at bear’s expense.

It was winter, and the lake had frozen. Fox knew the path bear took by the lake and decided to lure bear with some fish. Fox cut a hole in the ice and stacked many fish next to it. Fox knew bear loved to eat fish, but so did fox. Fox didn’t want bear to fish in this spot, fearing bear would eat all the fish up.

When bear saw all the fish he was excited. He asked fox to teach him how to catch so many fish. Bear swore he would do everything fox told him, so fox agreed. Fox took bear to another spot in the lake and cut a hole in the ice.

Fox turned to bear and told him he must put his bushy tail into the water to catch the fish. Fox told bear he must sit very still. Fox warned bear that bear should not think of anything because fish can read thoughts. Fox went off into the bushes, and said he would tell bear when to pull his tail out of the water.

Bear did as he was told. He did not move, and he did not think. Fox watched bear sitting so still and laughed and laughed, rolling upon the ground. But, soon fox grew tired and went home.

The next morning, fox went back to the lake, wondering if bear had gone home. It had snowed during the night. When fox approached the lake he saw a mound on the ice covered with snow. The mound was bear, who had fallen asleep. Fox burst out laughing.

Quietly, fox crept up to bear, and began to shout: “Now bear! Now! Pull your tail up now!’

Hearing the commands, bear woke up and immediately tried to pull his tail out of the water. As he pulled, a loud snap was heard. Bear turned to look, thinking he had caught a lot of fish. But there were no fish. Bear’s beautiful tail had frozen in the water and broken off when he tried to pull it out.

Groaning, bear yelled at fox. Bear was angry because he lost his tail through fox’s trick. Bear swore he would get even with fox. Fox just laughed and laughed at bear and his missing tail. Bear became more angry and leapt at fox. But, fox was too fast and ran away laughing.

To this day, bear continues to have a short tail, and still does not like fox. Sometimes in the woods a bear’s groaning can be heard. Bear groans because he is remembering the trick fox played long ago and continues to mourn the loss of his beautiful tail.

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