JOHN THE BEAR
(Mexican folk story from the Sierra Madre Oriental)
One day, when we were at Don Evaristo’s ranch, we all rode up to the hills on horseback to look for some missing cattle. We spent a whole night in the woods. It was the perfect place to listen to stories, sitting under a starlit sky, eating wild rabbit, roasted slowly over our campfire…
Suddenly, we heard a strange noise. Emily and I immediately reacted and jumped to our feet, but Don Evaristo and the cowboys didn’t seem to pay any attention to the sounds. “I guess it’s a bear,” one of the cowboys commented, quite calmly.
“Yes, it’s a bear,” Don Evaristo replied, “and it’s a pretty big one.”
Emily and I felt really nervous. We have heard hundreds of terrifying stories about dangerous bears and innocent tourists. But Don Evaristo calmed us down, saying the bear would never come near the fire. Sure enough, almost immediately we heard the bear going off into the forest, probably more afraid than we were! Our host was thoughtful for a moment. Then his eyes shone as he remembered a new tale to tell. Folk tale written by Homero Adame.
“Ah, thank you for reminding me, Brother Bear,” he laughed. “It is time to tell the tale of John the Bear, or Juan Oso. It’s one of the most common tales from the Mexican mountains, and it seems that it came to these lands with the Spanish conquest, for the same story is also told in Spain and other parts of Europe.
“Not long ago, there was a rumor that a very big bear was wandering around near a small country town by the foothills somewhere in the State of Nuevo Leon. Very few people saw it. Those who did thought it was very strange, because it was not a time of famine, the rains had been good, and there was plenty of food for all the wild animals up in the mountains. ‘What is the bear doing around here?’ they wondered. Of course, they were a little scared at first. But as the days went by, and the bear showed no form of aggression, they gradually lost interest in it, and went about their business as usual. Folk tale written by Homero Adame.
“One afternoon, however, a rumor that a young girl was missing immediately created a state of alert. ‘Who has kidnapped the girl?’ ‘Where have they taken her?’ ‘Has anyone asked for any money?’ Nobody could give an answer. Finally, the girl’s little brothers, crying desperately, managed to explain: ‘A big bear came and took our sister off to the mountains!’ They cried. Someone saw her going down to the river to do the washing. The boys saw the bear. Later on, when the men searched along the river bank, sure enough, they found the double footprints of a bear and a girl, and a solitary basket full of dirty clothes, still waiting for someone to wash them… The children were telling the truth, it seemed.
“An angry crowd of people noisily followed the footprints well into the mountains, but they found nothing. Not a trace! The trails became hard to follow, and after a couple of river crossings, they finally lost track of the footprints completely.
“Time passed, and after about three years, the sad event became just a vague memory for most of the village. Just imagine everyone’s surprise when one afternoon, a pretty, young woman appeared in town with a baby in her arms. Of course, it was the same girl, a little older and perhaps wiser, too. The neighbors hurried round to hear her story. She said the great bear captured her and took her to his cave, far off in the mountains. He took very good care of her and fed her well. Although he was very kind to her, she was always afraid of him. What she really hated, was being his prisoner, a helpless captive in the dark, smoky cave. Early in the mornings, the bear used to go out hunting, but whenever he left, he always closed the cave entrance with a very large, heavy rock. There was no escape.
“A few months later, the bear and the girl had a healthy baby boy. The girl loved the baby more each day. But then, so did the bear. One fine day, when the bear went off to hunt, for some reason he forgot to block the entrance to the cave. Maybe he trusted his young ‘wife’ at last. Nevertheless, she seized the opportunity at once and escaped back to her town, taking her darling little baby with her, of course.
“It seemed like a real happy ending. The big bear was never seen in the area again, though some hunters said they often heard a bear crying alone in the mountains at night. The baby grew tall and strong, though a little more hairy than the other village boys. No one knows why, but one day, many years later, when he was a man, Juan Oso disappeared. People say he decided to go back to his real home, high up in the mountains. But nobody can tell if he ever found his loving father — the great bear — still crying for his wife and son in his dark and smoky cave…” Folk story found in Homero Adame’s blog at https://adameleyendas.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/myths-and-legends-of-animals-john-the-bear/
Written by Homero Adame and translated by Pat Grounds. Originally published in the English textbook Orbit 3. By Homero Adame, Pat Grounds and Carol Lethaby. Ediciones Castillo, S.A. de C.V. Monterrey, Mexico. 2000. Pp. 67-68.
You can find more Mexican myths and legends on this link: Mexican folk stories.