SI Vault
Jack Olsen
May 26, 1969
When the suspected killer bears of Glacier Park were hunted down, the immediate problem was solved. But an ominous question still loomed: Where and when would the next attack come?
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May 26, 1969

End—or Beginning?

When the suspected killer bears of Glacier Park were hunted down, the immediate problem was solved. But an ominous question still loomed: Where and when would the next attack come?

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By 10:45 on the morning after the bear attacks at Granite Park Chalet the last guest had been fed, and Joan Devereaux, the young ranger-naturalist who had directed rescue operations, asked those who were going out of the park with her to assemble at the back of the chalet. Sixty people gathered for the trek. The mass exodus had hardly begun before the hikers encountered four park personnel coming up the trail toward them. Three were carrying rifles. Joan recognized the fourth as Francis Elmore, the park's chief naturalist and her boss. He was breathing hard but staying abreast of his juniors. Before anyone else could speak, two men in the departing group ran up to the four and begged them not to hurt the bears. "They were only acting naturally," one of the men said. "It was the kids who were at fault." The park officials brushed by without comment and disappeared up the trail, and the others continued their long downhill hike under a relentless summer sun.

It was almost 2 in the afternoon before the 60 hikers, stopping often for the benefit of the older members, reached the trail head at Going to the Sun Highway and found a newly strung sign: "Trail Closed by Order of Park Superintendent. Dangerous bear. August 13, 1967." Another hour passed before the last guests had been shuttled back and forth to their cars, most of which were parked five miles away at Logan Pass, and at last a semistuporous Joan Devereaux found herself seated alongside a park employee and on the way to her trailer near the St. Mary entrance on the east side. "What did you say?" she asked, dimly aware that the driver had made a comment.

"I said there's been another bear incident," the man said. "They're checking on it now."

Joan Devereaux told herself that he must be talking about the Granite Park incident; he must have heard about it on the radio and become confused. The man would find out soon enough and she was too tired to explain to him.

About an hour after they passed the motley group of hikers headed down the Loop Trail, the search-and-destroy mission of park service personnel reached Granite Park Chalet. Each of the four men had his own attitude about the assignment ahead, which was to kill every grizzly that frequented the Granite Park area. Francis Elmore was relieved that his part would consist only of tape recording the reports and measuring distances and describing the various venues of the attack. The other three carried high-powered rifles, and there was no doubt in any of their minds that they were to use them. Robert Wasem, an experienced park biologist, was more or less in charge of the killing group, and the assignment did not sit comfortably on him. A mild, soft-spoken Ohioan, Wasem had the dedicated biologist's tendency to think of the park as a closed receptacle full of life forms which must be allowed to live as normally as possible. In such a setting man could be the only disruptive influence. Although Wasem had hunted grouse a few times, he did not enjoy killing.

Cliff Martinka was a newly hired research biologist. He had just completed 2� years with the Montana Fish and Game Department and had come to his new post in Glacier Park only two weeks before. Martinka had no compunctions about eliminating bears, provided, of course, that there were no alternatives. As he explained later, "I preferred to be involved. I felt competent enough with a rifle, and perhaps other less experienced people might not have been able to handle the situation." The fourth member of the execution team was a seasonal ranger and wintertime high school teacher named Kerel Hagen, a short, wiry Montanan. Still in his 30s, Hagen was able to hike nonstop from one end of the park to the other and he handled horses and rifles like a typical Montanan.

The four men arrived at the chalet just before noon and sat down for a quick lunch. The atmosphere was uneasy in the big stone and log building; usually there were dozens of giddy dudes milling around and occupying space at the tables, but now there was only the chalet staff.

Wasem asked Tom Walton, the chalet resident manager, to describe the bear situation, and the young man from Idaho said that as far as he knew there were only two bears: a big silvertip that came around 9 or 9:30 at night and a smaller brownish bear that arrived later and chased the silvertip away. The rangers told Walton that both bears would have to be killed.

While Francis Elmore went to work with his measuring tapes and his camera and his recorder, the other three men took their rifles and reconnoitered the area around the chalet. For several hours they saw nothing out of the ordinary, but at about 4 o'clock a grizzly and a single cub were picked up in the binoculars at a range of almost two miles. Tom Walton took a look and said that he had never seen this pair before. The hunters glassed the animals off and on until 6:30, when they disappeared into the scrub.

By 8:30 that night the three hunters were staked out under the clotheslines behind the chalet waiting for the silvertip, which was known as Bear No. 1. The garbage dump had been baited with a gallon glob of bread dough laced with half a pound of bacon. Walton and Ross Luding, the concessionaire, stood by with powerful flashlights, and several times they focused the beams on the dump so the hunters could twist their scopes in. The range was about 50 yards; the men had comfortable shooting stances in canvas chairs and no one doubted what was going to happen to each bear that appeared.

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