An Excerpt from
My Fifty Years in Alaska
My Fifty Years In Alaska was written by my Grandfather Hardy Trefzger who had a
very adventurous life in the wilds of Alaska. I recommend this book for reading it has some very important
historical references to the history of Alaska and the Yakutat Tlingit uprising against the Russians
BROWN BEAR are interesting creatures, and I made quite a study of them and their habits over the years.
An old brownie, for example, cannot climb a tree, because his claws are not suited to tree climbing, while a cub's are. The old ones use their claws for digging up roots, mice and groundhogs. Almost everyone will tell you that a bear does things that he actually doesn't do. Take fishing. A bear doesn't catch fish with his claws; he uses his mouth. If the water is shallow, he will dash around and sometimes slap a fish with his paws. But if you look closely, you will notice that it is with his mouth that he gets his fish. I often watched bears fishing in a small, deep pool in the river a few hundred yards above my cabin. I would establish myself in a small cottonwood tree and watch them slowly approach the river pool, get in and submerge themselves. It was surprising how long they could stay under water. If they caught a fish they would come up splashing, but if not they would come up slow and easy, then submerge again. Sometimes when one bear would be fishing, another one would come along, but would not enter the pool. There seemed to be an unwritten law among them that prohibited one from disturbing another's prior rights. The bears also had a certain place where they cross the river, and it was always where the current was swiftest. Bears have very poor eyesight, but their senses of hearing and smell are very keen. I have come to the conclusion that cubs have better vision; they seem to be able to tell Mama when something out of the ordinary is about. Nothing is more playful than bear cubs, and I have watched them by the hour; their antics are really something. Often there would be a fight, but Mamma never interfered. But when she did call them and one or the other did not come, there was a spanking due. I have seen her give a cub a swat that would send him twenty or thirty feet through the air. Mamma is a fine mother and will never let her cubs out of her sight. I will tell you what happened to me on Father's Day, June 19, 1949. That spring I had had three hunters. The last one had left at 2 P.m. on a chartered plane that memorable day, and the plane returned two hours later to pick up the trophies. After it had taken off the second time, the weather being so fine and plenty of good light, I thought I would take my camera and go about three quarters of a mile to see if wolves were feeding at a bear carcass left there two days before. I took my rifle along, hoping to get a wolf, on which there was a bounty of fifty dollars. Not far from my lodge there was a good lookout, and it was not long before I spotted two bears. They were about five hundred yards away, toward the Alsek River. They were feeding on wild parsnip, and I knew they would not move far. Taking a little slide on the mountain as a guide post, so as not to get between them, I was able to stalk the off-colored one and at about forty yards I took his picture. My gun was leaning against a willow, handy, so I yelled at him, "Hi, there!" He stood on his hind legs at once, and I was able to get a movie of him also.
I waited for the inevitable, but she never came. Naturally a lot of questions went through my head: Had that shot killed her? Could I use my leg? Had she left me for dead? All I knew at the moment was that my left arm was all right, although my hand was bitten badly. My face was covered with blood and when I wiped it away with my left hand, I was relieved to know I could see again. My spirits rose and I knew then I could make it for help. I looked around, but there was no sight or sound of bear, dead or alive. The rifle was about two feet away, lying on the ground. I pulled it toward me to put in a shell, but was unable to pull the bolt because my right hand was useless. I got to my knees and putting the butt of the gun between them, I was able to load it. I stood up, hung the rifle over my injured shoulder, and left the camera where it had fallen. Just then I noticed the blood running out of my right arm, and I knew something must be done about that. I got out my handkerchief and with my teeth and left hand knotted it around my arm and inserted a piece of willow limb, and twisted until the blood stopped flowing. At the lodge, I found a few live coals in the stove, enabling me to have a good fire in no time. Also there was hot water in the tea kettle, and I set about cleaning myself up. First, I washed my right arm as well as I could. Then I got out my first-aid kit for antiseptics, but even though I had two kits, there was no iodine or Mercurochrome in either kit, although there should have been. I thought of the bottle of 151-proof Hudson's Bay Rum which I had cached among the roots of a tree outside. I got it but I had quite a time getting it opened. I stood at the table and poured that rum over my lacerated wrist. It was then I was sure that I was going to faint. I grasped the edge of the table to keep from falling, and slowly the terrible pain subsided. I bandaged the arm as well as I could; then I looked in a mirror one of my hunters had left hanging by the window. How shocked I was. All I could see were two little blue eyes, looking out through a mess of blood and dirt, and a big piece of scalp hanging down over one ear. I went for more hot water, washed up as well as possible, put the piece of scalp back in place, grabbed the bottle of rum and poured it over my head, gritting my teeth to control the pain. I then wound plenty of gauze around my head, and to be sure it stayed in place, I managed to put a stocking cap on the back of my head and, pressing my head against the wall, pulled it down over my forehead. While doing all this I worried about my leg, fearing it would stiffen up on me before I could reach help. My pant leg was stiff from the bleeding of my lacerated leg while lying on the ground, and now I knew I had some blood in my shoe pack. But I did not dare to take time to care for it. I left a note on the table, saying I had started to walk to East River, and had been badly mauled by a bear; then I started out on my painful trek to East River. When I arrived there I sat on a log, fired two shots, counted ten, and fired two more, which was the prearranged signal, when I had let them have the half-track, to come at once. Before long I heard what I thought was a plane overhead. Since I was sure that the half-track could not have traveled three and a half miles in that short a time, I went looking for something to wave at the plane, but the half-track came around a bend in the river with the engine wide open. They said she had made forty miles an hour, and even though the river was big they had made it across without difficulty. I must have been a sight: my arm in a sling, and blood all over my face and clothes. They took me back to my lodge; then one of the men went with the half-track to Dry Bay, where the cannery tender lay, to radio-phone a wire for a plane to come after me. But they could raise no one. Finally the man was told that Bob Welch would be in Dry Bay with his seaplane at nine thirty the next morning, and to bring me down. In the meantime, another fisherman had helped me change into clean clothes. At 2 A.M. I did go into shock and had to be given rum to quiet down. When we got to Dry Bay the fog was so thick that no plane could land. Captain Louis Peterson on the tender told me that if the tide when high would lift the boat enough to get out of the bay, and into the gulf, he would take me into Yakutat. That he did, getting me there in six hours. They took me to the government dispensary presided over by Mrs. Simons, a very capable nurse. When I told her what had happened she said she would do what she could to sew me up, but she had only a large needle and wondered if I could stand it. I told her I had stood what the bear had done to me and she could do no worse. After a while she said she had done all she could to the arm and I lifted it up with my other hand and noticed there were some pieces of bone sticking out. But she said that would have to be taken care of in the hospital. Then she went at my head, took but three stitches to hold the scalp in place, and left the ear to the surgeon in the hospital. Then came my left hand, in which she put three stitches. She said my shoulder was not bad, only two slashes, made no doubt by the bear's lower fangs, each about five inches long. My leg was something else, too deep for her to do more than put in kodofoam gauze for a drain. She gave me three pills, telling me to take one when I reached the home of my daughter, Mrs. Roy Pelkey, who at that time was living in Yakutat, one when I boarded the plane and the last two hours later. After repeated calls to the Mount McKinley Airline in Cordova, the airport was able to contact the pilot, who said that if it were at all possible he would pick me up. He knew me. I had at times given him freshly cooked dungeness crabs, which were very plentiful in the Yakutat area. Because of the thick fog, nobody thought he could make a landing, but at ten o'clock that night, still daylight, in he came, right over the treetops, and landed. He took me aboard and in seven hours I was in the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle in the capable hands of my old friend and one-time hunter, Dr. Huckabay, surgeon and bone specialist. I have the greatest feeling of gratitude for all those who were so kind to me at the time of my terrible experience, especially Captain Peterson of the Bellingham Packing Company; Mrs. Simons, who did all she could to patch me up and ease my pain; Mr. Piers of the C.A.A.; the airplane pilot; and last but not least, George Nelson and Jake Molen for the speed with which they got me started on my way toward treatment.
Then he let out a snort and was off. But at about a hundred yards he went behind a spruce tree and peeked around, just like a kid, then lumbered away. I turned back toward the lookout where I had left my Pack board. It was then that I saw a sow with two cubs step out of the alders, walking rather fast and looking back twice. All at once she charged back into the alders, but came right back out again. I think I said out loud, "What's the matter with you, girl?" I am sure now that a wolf was after the cubs and she had spotted him. This sow changed course and came at an angle toward the river, which would bring her in front of me, and I thought, "Here is a chance for a good picture!" I laid the rifle down and raised my camera from behind a little brush, and aimed it at her. When I brought, the camera down for a rewind she spotted me and I heard her call the cubs, which rushed under her. I kept the camera running until I heard a cub squealing, and she let out a grunt and charged me at once. I dropped the camera and reached for the rifle, about eight feet away. By the time I had the safety off and had straightened up, she was in front of me on her hind legs, her mouth open to let out a terrific roar, her hair standing on end. I held the gun against her and pulled the trigger. The shot moved her about two feet to one side and a little behind me, luckily, as she hit me on the right shoulder before I could get another shell in, knocking me on my face. She was on me at once, tearing at my left leg. I thought she would turn me over. I had my elbows spread and my hands alongside my face. She ripped open my shoulder, then grabbed my left hand, which still held my rifle. Her mouth was over my face. I did not move. I knew what would happen if I did. She would never leave me as long as I represented danger to her cubs. She let go of my left hand and grabbed my right forearm, the bones breaking as if they were sticks snapping. I was sure she had bitten my arm off. But the worst was yet to come. I knew she was standing over me. I smelled her breath and body that close. She set her upper teeth on the top of my head and brought her lower jaw up, ripping my left ear in half and almost scalping me. The pain was terrific and the noise those teeth made on my skull was indescribable, something like the sound of a big file rasping over a rusty old washboard. Blood was running down my face, whether hers or mine I did not know. Then all was suddenly quiet. She had left me for dead. I heard her talking to her cubs. She let out a roar and I heard her teeth snapping, and I knew now she was coming in to finish me off.
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Fifty Years In Alaska
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