What do the Big Dipper and a giant bear have to do with the changing color of the leaves? Find out with this Haudenosaunee legend.
Many years ago, a hunter discovered the tracks of a great bear. Soon more and more tracks were discovered, often surrounding the entire village. The other animals, which the villagers relied upon for their food, began to disappear and it was apparent that the great bear was responsible for their loss.
The people of the village were hungry with their main source of food depleted. A party of warriors was sent out to kill the bear. After following the tracks for many days, the warriors came upon the bear and took aim with their arrows, but to no avail. The great bear’s skin was too thick and the arrows could not pierce it. The assault angered the bear, and he turned on the warriors, killing most of them.
The surviving warriors returned to the village and told their story. Party after party of warriors went out to try to slay the great bear, but all failed. The people were starving and afraid to leave their village, which the great bear would circle each night.
One night three brothers had the same dream. The dream recurred for three nights. In the dream the brothers saw a vision of themselves tracking and killing the great bear. Believing the dream to hold the truth, the brothers set off to find and kill the bear.
They continued to follow the bear’s tracks for many days until they came to the end of the earth. The great bear leapt from the earth into the heavens and the three brothers followed the great bear into the sky. The three hunters can still be seen chasing the bear in the winter nights’ sky.
In the fall, as the bear readies for its winter’s sleep, the three hunters are able to get close enough to the bear to shoot their arrows into his body. His blood drips from the skies onto the autumn leaves painting them red and yellow.
The arrows do not kill the great bear however; he always escapes. His wounds cause him to become invisible for a time, but he eventually reappears once again in the skies as the Big Dipper, with the three brothers still chasing after him.