I eagerly interrupted him by shouting: "And can she cure you now, Redhorn?"
"Of course," he replied, "she cannot until I have fulfilled the commandment. I have confessed to her that two years ago I received my commis- sion, and I should have made a Bear Dance and proclaimed myself a medicine man last spring, when I had seen thirteen winters. You see, I was ashamed to proclaim myself a medicine man, being so young; and for this I am punished. However, my grandmother says it is not yet too late. But, Ohiyesa, I am as weak now as a rheumatic old man. I can scarcely stand up. They say that I can ap- point some one else to act for me. He will be the active bear--I shall have to remain in the hole. Would you, Ohiyesa, be willing to act the bear for me? You know he has to chase the dancers away from his den."
"Redhorn," I replied with much embarrass- ment," I should be happy to do anything that I could for you, but I cannot be a bear. I feel that I am not fit. I am not large enough; I am not strong enough; and I don't understand the habits of the animal well enough. I do not think you would be pleased with me as your substitute."
Redhorn finally decided that he would engage a larger boy to perform for him. A few days later, it was announced by the herald that my friend would give a Bear Dance, at which he was to be publicly proclaimed a medicine man. It would be the great event of his short existence, for the dis- ease had already exhausted his strength and vital- ity. Of course, we all understood that there would be an active youth to exhibit the ferocious nature of the beast after which the dance is named.
The Bear Dance was an entertainment, a relig- ious rite, a method of treating disease--all in one. A strange thing about it was that no woman was allowed to participate in the orgies, unless she was herself the bear.
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.