The weathered trapper cautiously peered over the top of the ridge. It had been a few days since he'd had any fresh meat for the pot and he was hoping there might be a deer at the stream just beyond the ridge. He was a pretty good hunter, but with winter coming on game was beginning to get scarce. A couple of good sized deer salted away would keep him feed until spring. Besides, he was working on a new winter coat for himself and he didn't have enough deer hides to finish it. Down at the stream he saw tracks, but nothing more.
The tracks headed off to the northeast. Just his luck. That way was Ojibwa country. The Ojibwa's were friendly enough, as Indians go. He'd traded with them before. Nice folk, always happy to share a meal and a warm fire with him. But he wasn't too sure how they'd feel about him hunting on their land. And, with them being his only neighbors for about two days walk in any direction, he figured it would be best to stay on friendly terms with them. He just have to find some game somewhere else.
Just about then, he heard a bear bellow off to his left. From the sound of it, it was probably a pretty good sized one too. The bear bellowed again. Common sense told him to go the other way. But curiosity stopped him. He was curious to see what would make a bear bellow like that. Normally, that sound was reserved for when a buck bear was staking out his territory during mating season. But, since it wasn't mating season, that sound could only mean an intruder.
The Ojibwa revered the bear as a symbol of strength and power, so they wouldn't intrude on them. And he doubted it would be another buck bear this time of year. It could be a wolf pack. Or maybe another trapper trying to move in on his beaver ponds. Neither prospect thrilled him. Against his better judgement, he headed towards the sound. The grunting and bellowing from the bear was loud enough that he had no trouble tracking it to it's source. He moved cautiously, although he was sure the bear was too intent on it's quarry to notice him. He peered through the underbrush and spied the bear. He'd been right, it was a good sized bear. A grizzly too. It must have been at least five or six hundred pounds
The bear had something, or someone, treed. He couldn't tell what for sure because of the thick foliage. But whatever it was, the bear would soon have it. The tree was a tall but thin pine tree, no bigger around than his arm. That bear was standing up with both front feet on the trunk. And he was shaking that tree something fierce. He could hear the cracking sound the trunk was making and he knew it wouldn't be standing too much longer. He decided to wait and see how it came out.
Then he started thinking about his empty larder and his half finished coat. And he started thinking that a bearskin coat would be even warmer than a deerskin one would be. Bear meat this time of year tended to be a little greasy and it didn't take salt too well. But it did smoke up good and he'd been meaning to build a smokehouse anyway. He didn't hunt bear as a rule because of something his Grandfather had always told him. "Eddie," his Grandad would say "the problem with bear hunting is that sometimes you eat the bear, but sometimes the bear eats you!"
He looked down at his fifty Kentuck, wishing it was something bigger. Fifty was big enough for deer, but for bear you should have at least a fifty-eight. And a smart man would have a double drill, or at least a second gun. He checked the wind and moved to a better position. With the bear leaning on the tree like that he'd have a clear shot at the chest. He could only hope that his aim was true and his luck held out. He brought the Kentuck to his shoulder and took careful aim on where the bear's heart should be. Slowly he drew back the hammer to full cock. He pulled the first trigger to set the lock. He drew a breath and held it as he touched the hair trigger. The Kentuck belched smoke and flame as it sent a half inch diameter lead ball flying straight and true, deep into the bear's innards.
Quick as he could he began to load another shot. He knew that a wounded bear tended to charge in the direction it had been shot from. And he prayed he'd have enough time to load and get off a second shot before the bear got to him. As soon as he was loaded, he brought the Kentuck up to take the shot. But he was surprised to see that the bear wasn't charging. In fact it had just sat down at the base of the tree. Blood was spurting out from a hole in it's chest. It kept touching the hole, then looking at the blood on it's paws. It had a very confused and sad look on it's face.
Slowly it leaned over to one side and lay down. Then it closed it's eyes, looking for all the world as if it had just decided to take a nap. The trapper stood at the ready and watched as the hole stopped spurting. The chest rose then fell a few more times and then stopped moving altogether. The silence was deafening as the trapper waited for the bear to move again. After several minutes had passed, the trapper slowly began to move towards the bear, never taking the muzzle of the Kentuck off of it. About fifteen feet from the bear he stooped and picked up a big rock. He threw the rock at the bear, bouncing it right off the bear's snout. Nothing, no reaction at all. Deciding it was safe, the trapper let the Kentuck down to half cock and went up to check his kill. The bear was stone dead.
Looking up into the tree he saw a moccasined foot. "It's safe!" he hollered up into the tree "You can come on down now!" A young Ojibwa boy, not more than eight summers old, dropped down. In his arms he clutched the biggest trout the trapper had ever seen. And the trapper realized that the bear was probably only chasing the boy because the boy had stolen his lunch. The boy was still scared out of his wits. He looked at the bear, then at the trapper, then at a the bear again. Then, without a word, he ran off in the direction of his village. The trapper hollered after him "Even if you couldn't say Thank You, you could've at least helped me drag this thing back to my cabin!" The trapper nudged the bear with his foot, then shook his head. Shouldering his Kentuck, he headed back down towards his cabin to get his old mule and some rope.
It was a week or so later and he was just putting the finishing touches on his new coat. Some coyotes had gotten back to the bear before he did and they had torn up the chest and belly. But the meat was still good and the fur on the back and shoulders was untouched. The coat wasn't all bearskin, like he had hoped. But there was enough to cover his back and shoulders just about down to the ground. He used his deer hide for the front and the sleeves. He used his old, red blanket capote for the liner. He let the bear's front paws, claws and all, dangle over his shoulders onto his chest for looks. The back paws he had made into mittens, using those claws to make a necklace. And he had made a hat out of the bears head. When he put the whole rig on, it looked as if he was carrying a small bear piggy-back. All in all, in was a pretty good looking coat. And it promised to be warm too.
It was about then that he heard a tapping on his cabin door. He opened it to find an Ojibwa brave. He motioned the brave in. Most Ojibwa's knew a little French. Some of them even knew a little English. The trapper knew a little French and a little Ojibwa. Between the three languages he was able to puzzle out that the Ojibwa Chief wanted the trapper to come to the village for some kind of feast. The trapper indicated that he would come with the brave. It was starting to snow, so the trapper decided to wear his new coat. The brave took a step back when he first saw it, then smiled and made signs of admiration to the trapper. The trapper hooked the door of his cabin and the two of them headed off to the Ojibwa village.
When they got to the village, the trapper saw that there was some type of feast or celebration going on. The moon was just beginning to rise and the trapper realized that it was going to be full tonight. He was pretty sure it was the second full moon of the month, the one that some folks call a "Hunters Moon". The brave led the trapper to the lodge of the chief of the tribe. When the tribal elders saw the trappers coat, the began to whisper among themselves. The trapper's Ojibwa was not good enough to catch what they were saying, but he knew they were talking about him and his coat. After a few moments, the chief hushed them, then motioned the trapper to an empty place to the right of himself. As the trapper seated himself, the chief made a sign and an ornate buckskin bag was brought to him.
The chief looked at the trapper for a minute or two, then he spoke "My Englis is not so good, but I will speak it in your honor. What are you called?" The trapper answered simply "I am called Eddie." The chief thought about this for a moment "I do not mean to offend, but it seems a short name with little flavor. In you tongue I am called 'He who races the wind'. This is because, as a young brave, I was the fastest runner in the tribe. What does this Eddie stand for?" The trapper didn't really know how to answer the question. "Eddie was my Grandfather's name and his Grandfather before him." It was the truth, but it seemed hardly to be a proper answer to the question. The chief spoke briefly to the other elders in Ojibwa. The only word the trapper was able to catch, though, was Eddie. The elders all nodded. "I have told them your name and that it is an ancestral name. This is a good thing, a thing of remembrance."
With that, the chief opened up his bag and removed the stem of a pipe, followed by an ornately carved stone bowl. The pipe was shaped like a bear, sitting in front of a tree stump which was the bowl itself. "Eddie, do you know what is the ceremony of the pipe?" Eddie shook his head "Not very much, just that it is a thing of peace and friendship." The chief nodded "It is that and more. You see the pipe is separate. It is only put together for the ceremony. It is like man and woman coming together, in marriage. The pipe remains together until the gathering is ended. And again, like a man and a woman, once joined they are forever married, even when separated. All who smoke of the pipe are married to all the others who have smoked of it. Do you understand?" The trapper nodded "I think I do." The chief smiled and clapped the trapper on the back "I knew you would!"
The chief then held up the stem and the bowl and sang something in Ojibwa. The elders answered him in kind. Then he put the parts together and again the elders sang. Then he set the pipe before him and turned back to the trapper. "This is the night when we celebrate the bravest among us. We honor those who have shown their ability as warriors or hunters. We have gathered tonight to honor you, Eddie." The trapper was taken by surprise "I don't understand? Why are you honoring me?" The chief smiled "You wear the answer upon your back. Ten days ago you saved the life of a young boy. That boy is my son. I must repay you for that life by giving you a life in return. I now ask you to be as my brother, to become a member of my tribe. Will you smoke the pipe with me and my other brothers and become one with the Ojibwa?"
The trapper was stunned, but not so stunned as to failed to understand the nature of the boon which he was being offered. "I would be honored to call the Ojibwa my people and proud to call 'He who races the wind' my brother." The chief repeated his answer to the elders. Then they conferred for a few minutes. Finally the chief announced "It is decided. From this day forward you shall be an Ojibwa and you shall be called 'Eddie who is like a little bear'." With that the chief lit the pipe and began the ceremony.
I will not detail the pipe ceremony in this journal, for it is a religious right which should not be told to outsiders. Suffice to say it was easily as moving and powerful to me as the ceremony performed by the preacher the day I married my wife. When the ceremony was complete, the chief presented me with the pipe. I will cherish that pipe and keep it sacred until my dying day.
And, from that day forward, I have proudly called myself Eddie Little Bear!