How the Bear Lost His Tail
A retelling of an Iroquois tale
In a time long ago, Bear was very proud of his tail. It was a beautiful tail—thick and long, full of shiny black hair. Bear loved to show his tail to all his animal friends.
“Isn’t my tail beautiful?” he would say as he waved his tail in front of the animals. They all agreed.
Bear went up to Fox, waving his tail at him. “Look, here is my beautiful tail! Don’t you just love it?” Bear grabbed his tail, stroking it gently with admiration.
Fox, being the trickster that he is, got an idea. He would have some fun with Bear and his beautiful tail.
The cold weather of winter had set in, and the lake where the animals lived was frozen solid. Fox went to the lake, cut a hole in the ice, and stacked some fish next to it. He waited for Bear to come to the lake to fish.
Bear walked up to the lake. He saw the hole with so many fish stacked beside it.
“Look at all the fish you’ve caught,” he said to Fox. “I would love to have that many fish to eat. How did you catch them?” Bear licked his mouth with hungry anticipation.
Fox said, “I’ll be happy to show you, but we must move to a different spot on the lake.” So, he took Bear around the lake to a different location. Fox cut a hole in the ice.
“Now, to catch fish, you must put your tail into the hole, down into the water, and sit very still,” Fox told the hungry Bear. “And, it is very important that you do not think about the fish. They can read your mind, and if you think too much about them, or move around, they will leave.”
Bear was so excited to catch fish. He put his tail in the water, and sat down. “I won’t move and I won’t think,” he told Fox.
“Good,” said Fox. “I will go hide along the shore. When it is time to pull your tail out, I will come out and tell you.”
Fox ran off to the shoreline, laughing and smiling at his trick. Bear sat motionless, with his tail and in the icy water. He concentrated hard on not thinking. Fox watched him from the shoreline, laughing at the sight of Bear so sitting so still.
Soon snow began to fall. Bear still sat with his tail in the water, not thinking and waiting for Fox to tell him it was time to pull his tail out. But Fox had grown sleepy and tired of watching Bear. The snow kept falling, and Fox went home for the night.
That night, it snowed all night long. In the morning, Fox ran back to the lake to see if Bear had gone home to sleep, too. But when he walked up to the lake, he saw a huge mound of snow right where Bear was sitting. He walked up to it, and discovered it was Bear. He had sat still and thoughtless all night long. Now Bear was covered with snow.
Fox chuckled and laughed as he shouted, “Now, Bear, now! It’s time to pull out your tail!
Bear, startled by the shouting, woke up. He started to get up, but his tail had frozen into the water overnight. He gave it a mighty yank. SNAP! His beautiful, long, bushy tail broke off.
“Look what happened to my tail,” he yelled. “You tricked me, Fox.” Bear was very angry, and he lunged at the Fox.
“Ha, ha, you can’t catch me,” said Fox as he leaped across the ice, and disappeared into the woods.
Even today, Bear has a short, stubby tail, and Fox has a long, bushy tail. And Bear is still very angry about it.
If you are in the woods, sometimes you will hear a bear groaning as he remembers his beautiful bushy tail and the trick Fox played on him many years ago.
Pick an animal that has a tail. Make up your own story about how the animal got its tail. Write the story and draw an image to go with it. Have fun!