The den was usually dug about two hundred yards from the camp, on some conspicuous plain. It was about two feet deep and six feet square and over it was constructed an arbor of boughs with four openings. When the bear man sang, all the men and boys would gather and dance about the den; and when he came out and pursued them there was a hasty retreat. It was supposed that whoever touched the bear without being touched by him would overcome a foe in the field. If one was touched, the reverse was to be expected. The thing which caused most anxiety among the dancers was the superstition that if one of them should accidentally trip and fall while pursued by the bear, a sudden death would visit him or his nearest relative.
Boys of my age were disposed to run some risk in this dance; they would take every opportunity to strike at the bear man with a short switch, while the older men shot him with powder. It may as well be admitted that one reason for my declining the honor offered me by my friend Redhorn was that I was afraid of powder, and I much preferred to be one of the dancers and take my chances of touching the bear man without being touched.
It was a beautiful summer's day. The forest behind our camp was sweet with the breath of blossoming flowers. The teepees faced a large lake, which we called Bedatanka. Its gentle waves cooled the atmosphere. The water-fowl disported themselves over its surface, and the birds of pass- age overhead noisily expressed their surprise at the excitement and confusion in our midst.
The herald, with his brassy voice, again went the rounds, announcing the day's event and the tardy fulfillment of the boy's commission. Then came the bustle of preparation. The out-door toilet of the people was performed with care. I cannot describe just how I was attired or painted, but I am under the impression that there was but little of my brown skin that was not uncovered. The others were similarly dressed in feathers, paint and tinkling ornaments.
I soon heard the tom-tom's doleful sound from the direction of the bear's den, and a few war- whoops from the throats of the youthful warriors. As I joined the motley assembly, I noticed that the bear man's drum was going in earnest, and soon after he began to sing. This was the invitation to the dance.
An old warrior gave the signal and we all started for the den, very much like a group of dogs at- tacking a stranger. Frantically we yelled and whooped, running around the sheltering arbor in a hop, skip and jump fashion. In spite of the apparent confusion, however, every participant was on the alert for the slightest movement of the bear man.
All of a sudden, a brave gave the warning, and we scattered in an instant over the little plain be- tween the den and our village. Everybody seemed to be running for dear life, and I soon found my- self some yards behind the rest. I had gone in boldly, partly because of conversations with cer- tain boys who proposed to participate, and whom I usually outdistanced in foot races. But it seemed that they had not carried out their intentions and I was left alone. I looked back once or twice, al- though I was pretty busy with my legs, and I im- agined that my pursuer, the bear man, looked twice as fearful as a real bear. He was dressed and painted up with a view to terrify the crowd. I did not want the others to guess that I was at all dismayed, so I tried to give the war-whoop; but my throat was so dry at the moment that I am sure I must have given it very poorly.
Just as it seemed that I was about to be over- taken, the dancers who had deserted me suddenly slackened their speed, and entered upon the amusement of tormenting the bear man with gun- powder and switches, with which they touched him far from gently upon his naked body. They now chased him in turn, and he again retreated to his den.