Big Bear was born in 1825. His father was Chief of a band of Cree which hunted buffalo on the plains during the summer, and then spend the winter in the woodlands where they could hunt and trap.
When Big Bear was young, he learned how to ride, to use the bow and arrow, to hunt and fish, and to stalk buffalo on the open plains. At 12 years of age, he came down with the deadly disease of smallpox. Although he was able to survive, the disease left his face pitted with smallpox scars.
As Big Bear got older, he became a good hunter and horse thief. In the Native culture at that time, taking horses from others was seen as a valued skill even though it tended to create enemies. One time, Big Bear spent the entire summer out steeling horses from other tribes. When he returned home, he gave all his horses away to the people in his band.
A number of years later, a group of Blackfoot attacked a Cree camp and killed four. Next spring, about ninety Cree lodges, including Big Bear and his father gathered together. They camped, and had plans to get revenge. Unfortunately, they were not aware that 500 Blackfoot were nearby, looking for Crees. The Blackfoot also wanted to get revenge.
The Blackfoot attacked and surprised the Cree camp. The Cree were not prepared for battle, so many died. When the fighting was over the Blackfoot withdrew, leaving the bodies behind. While the Cree had killed ten, the Blackfoot had killed 19 and wounded 40. This was one experience which taught Big Bear about the impact of war.
Big Bear grew up to become a very plain looking man, short and stocky. He only stood four feet five inches. But he was admired as an experienced warrior, and was known for his visions. Big Bear also gained a lot of charisma and respect because he was kind, generous, and good natured, with a good sense of humor. In his mid-twenties, he married and so turned his energy towards looking after a family.
Big Bear in 1885.
Big Bear was only forty when his father died. Big Bear took over as chief of the band, and during the next ten years, his band grew from 100 to about 520 men, women, and children. He had become the leading chief of a band of Cree which was known as the Prairie River People.
Unfortunately, Big Bear was taking over as Chief at a time when the Natives on the plains were experiencing a major disaster. Most of the millions of buffalo that had roamed the plains had been killed off.
As a result, the Natives became hungry and many were starving. They had no choice, they had to sign treaties with the White man in exchange for help.
A year before the gathering to negotiate Treaty Six, a missionary was sent by the government to tell the various Native bands about plans for the treaty meeting. Along with his message, the missionary brought presents. A number of Chiefs accepted the presents and expressed thanks.
But when the missionary arrived at Big Bear's camp, Big Bear declared, "We want none of the Queen's presents! When we set a fox trap, we scatter pieces of meat all around but when the fox gets into the trap we knock him on the head. We want no baits! Let your Chiefs come like men and talk to us."
to next part: Poundmaker.