Bear Story

by Elsie Eide Kelly

I’d like to tell you a little story about a bear situation that was not only unusual, but had potentially devastating results. Fortunately, things turned out OK but it was serious enough to bring in the Wildlife people and a professional hunter.

I had a small farm off Hwy 2 between Sultan and Monroe in Washington State. I was also a foster parent and at the time had a 14 y/o girl and 12 y/o boy living with me and enjoying the horses, being involved in FFA (Future Farmers of America), and just generally liking the country life.

We were out fixing a fence one day and after a few hours I suggested we take a break for lunch and I gathered up the tools and headed for the house. The kids took their time, dilly dallying along the tree line while I went into the house to prepare the food.

The kids didn’t come in the house directly behind me and I went outside to call them. Within a few minutes the young boy came running down the hill leaving his shoes behind as they flew off his feet. Surprised, I watched and he ran up to me frantically trying to tell me what happened. I wondered where the girl was. He finally blurted out that a bear had attacked them, he had fallen backward over a log and huddled there to stay out of sight. He thought the bear had killed his friend and finally, when he didn’t hear any more growling, he stood up, saw her curled in a ball, and ran for the house. The poor kid was out of his mind with fear.

black bear

I told him to get into the house and stay there, grabbed my .45 and headed up the hill. Half way up I spotted the girl limping toward me with blood running down her leg. She was very frightened and I helped her into the house where I assessed the situation. The bear had attacked them without warning and bit the girl on the thigh. She curled up in a fetal position and played dead as I had taught them. The bear finally let go and wandered off. She waited a few minutes then dragged herself down the hill and over to meet me. I took her into the house

I called 911 and the police and wildlife people arrived to find out what happened. We called an ambulance and the girl was taken to the hospital where it was discovered that her thigh had been bitten completely through one side and out the other. She was treated, bandaged and sent back home. By the time she arrived home a professional hunter had been called and brought his dogs to find the bear. He was still on the property when the dogs found him.

When the hunter arrived where the dogs were holding him, the bear broke through the dogs and attacked him. It took six shots to bring the bear down and it shook the hunter up that the bear had actually gone after him. It was determined that the bear must have been in pain from the broken teeth and apparently was in a mood to argue with everything in his path. The bite marks on the girl’s thigh matched the broken mouth of the bear. It was a common black bear which normally is afraid of people but this one wasn’t. We were all shook up that this had happened and felt bad for both the young girl and the old bear, who just couldn’t help himself. The bear was taken to the game department for a necropsy to see if anything else was wrong with him.

Television crews arrived and spent some time interviewing us. As a result of the publicity, we received several invitations to fly to New York so that the young girl could share her story with the rest of the country. Each time we went, there were a few other young people who had been attacked by various wild creatures and each told their stories to a live audience and the television cameras. At one of the shows she was asked to tell what she was thinking as she was attacked and I nearly died when she told them that all she could think of was if she didn’t play dead like I had told her that I would “kill her.” I guess that thought kept her going through the ordeal. Not exactly what I wanted to hear but at least it helped her to understand how serious the situation was. I was also very happy that my advice to my young people was taken very seriously and remembered at a time when they could have panicked and not known what to do. This is something neither of those young people will ever forget and I only hope they came out of their nightmares caused by this incident. It goes to show that it’s important to educate our children in the dangers that might be out there to ensure they have a real chance to survive such an ordeal.

The incident left a lasting impression on all of us and seemed to prove to those two that it was vital that they listen to advice from adults and keep their heads about them to survive dangerous encounters. I hope this story will encourage folks to be aware and to educate others in how to act around wildlife. I had taught them to back away from bears facing them always and to never run from a cougar but to grab a stick and make themselves as large as possible while backing away while always facing it. There are many other ways to interact with wildlife. People from any of the wildlife agencies would be able to educate anyone interested in learning to be safe. Even a Canada Goose can do some serious damage to an unwary hiker or bird watcher. It’s important to know what you’re doing out in the wilds.

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