Tom suffers from a profound loneliness following his mother's death. To overcome this sense of solitude, he befriends the female bear, watching her as she plays with her two young cubs. Tom also befriends the squirrels, the chipmunks, and the bluejays. Interacting with these creatures much as he would with human friends, he talks with them and tells them of himself and the events in his life. One day, while fishing, Tom spots a man panning for gold in the river. The following morning Tom hears a gunshot from the area of the man's camp. Running to the scene, he finds that the bear has wounded the man in protection of her cubs. The man wraps the wound in a cloth and mounts his burro. The man has shot and killed the she-bear and one of her cubs, and he appears very frightened of her despite her immobility. Tom sings a mournful song to pay his respects to the dead bears. Searching for the remaining bear cub, he discovers he has hidden in the brush nearby. Establishing the cub's trust and comforting him, Tom leads the bear to his lodge. Thus man and cub become brothers and friends, and Tom feels less alone.
When Tom decides he will venture into Pagosa to trade some of his baskets for a new blanket, his bear cub accompanies him. The townspeople react with shock and fright, and a great commotion ensues. Inside the store, Jim Thatcher quickly discovers the boy's inability to speak or understand English, summoning Blue Elk to translate in Ute. Unaware of the consequences of divulging such information, Tom informs Blue Elk that his mother has passed away. When the preacher arrives on the scene, he urges Blue Elk to bring Tom to live in Pagosa, where he can become civilized and attend the local school. The preacher claims that he feels responsible for the boy, as he has baptized him, and will pay Blue Elk to bring him to Pagosa. Thatcher assists the boys in preventing the townspeople from hurting the bear. When Tom finally succeeds in escaping and fleeing the town, Blue Elk covertly follows him for the remainder of his return journey to the lodge.
The lodge and its environment remind Blue Elk of his own Ute childhood, and he becomes overwhelmed by nostalgia for this lost lifestyle. When Tom becomes aware of Blue Elk's presence at the lodge, he reacts with hostility and refuses to answer many of his questions. Blue Elk attempts to advise Tom on his life path, but the boy refuses to listen. He does, however, recount the events that have taken place since his father's death. Blue Elk reminisces and tearfully sings a song of mourning for the old people and traditions. However, he emphasizes to Tom that the old days have died, and he must seek to adapt to civilization as well as to teach the people of Pagosa about the old ways that they have forgotten. Tom finally agrees to go with him, on the condition that he may bring the bear cub.
Tom befriends the animals of the wilderness because they provide comfort and companionship during a painful time in his life. In addition, as a Ute raised in the traditional ways, Tom has significant respect for the creatures of the natural world. Even as he relies on them to provide food for him, and even as he must kill them, he reveres their beauty and strength. His treatment of animals contrasts sharply to that of the man he spots panning for gold in the river. This man's fear of the she-bear outweighs any sense of respect he might have for the animal. His ignorance about animal life also becomes apparent; Tom knows never to come between a she-bear and her cub, but the man makes that obvious mistake. Unfortunately the bears suffer the consequences of the man's actions.
Tom feels a connection to bears as early as in Chapter 7, when Tom shares his venison with a nearby bear and concludes that he will call himself "Bear's Brother." In Chapter 10, however, this name adopts even more meaning as he establishes this second, more profound connection. After the cub's mother dies, Tom cares for him and grieves with him. Because Tom's parents have both died, leaving him alone at quite a young age, he feels a sense of communion with the cub and a sense of empathy for his situation. Tom and the bear thus establish a certain fraternity.
This section of the novel best reveals the complexity of Blue Elk's personality and the conflicts that his character represents. Blue Elk's tendencies toward deceit, trickery, and greediness persist in these chapters, but Blue Elk's visit to his lodge invokes a complex set of emotions within him. His internal struggles speak to difficulties of many Native Americans, who must attempt to strike a balance between an embracing of their cultural heritage and an adaptation to the modern world. Borland writes, "They sang the mourning songs, and tears came to Blue Elk's eyes. It was a song not only for Bessie Black Bull and George Black Bull, but for Blue Elk's own mother, and his own grandmother, and all the grandmothers. It was a song for the old people and the old days Blue Elk was a boy again as he heard. This was the story of his own people."
In this passage the author recognizes Blue Elk's sense of connection to the traditions of his culture. However, rather than submitting to his emotions, Blue Elk consistently suppresses them and attempts to convince himself not only that he has made the correct choice by rejecting the Ute life but that he is also performing an admirable deed by convincing Tom to return to Pagosa. Of Blue Elk, Borland writes, "I came for the boy's good, he told himself, for the good of my people." Tom has an equally complex reaction to Blue Elk's visit. He fails to understand Blue Elk's rejection of the Ute lifestyle and its beliefs. While Tom believes in the sense of continuity his mother has invested in him, Blue Elk forces him to consider that the old ways might come to an end. Borland writes, "The boy shook his head. 'How can there be an end?' he asked. 'There is the roundness.' He made the gesture for the circle, the no-end."