Oregon Fire Tower Bear Attack in 1958

Black Bear Black-Bear iStock-648818154
Fire Tower Bear Attack, 1958 Black-Bear iStock-648818154

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- It was dark outside the little cabin near the fire tower in the Oregon mountains in 1958. Eight-year-old David Conner and his two younger sisters had gone to bed. He had not yet fallen asleep. It was quiet.

His mother's screams sundered the peaceful night.  Time and memories would be divided into two parts. Before the night of the bear, and after.

He jumped from the bed and scrambled toward the kitchen. The kitchen light was on. On his left was his mother. On the right was the kitchen window over the sink, with a black bear pushing its head through the window screen.

David's Father going to a fire, 1958, Photo courtesy David Conner, cropped and scaled by Dean Weingarten

David's father had been in the army in World War II. In 1958 he took a job working fire watch in the mountains near the Rock Creek area, outside of Baker City, Oregon. The Forest Service supplied a surplus WWII Dodge Power Wagon, which was used to get in and out of the fire tower. The previous day, David's father had spotted smoke, probably from a lightning strike the night before. Triangulation with other towers had pinpointed the location. It was closest to their tower, so David's father and older brother had left the cabin, in the Power Wagon, to put out the fire.

There was electricity in the cabin. Water had to be hauled up to it. Indoor plumbing was limited to the sink. There were two outhouses and a woodshed. The fire tower was about 50 yards away from the cabin.

David loved living there. His father allowed him to help watch for fires from the fire tower, and feed the half-tamed chipmunks that shared the tower. A couple of mule deer does hung around the cabin and sometimes clattered on the porch.

In the cabin, there was a gun rack. David's father left four guns hanging on it when he went to fight the fire. There was a double-barreled LC Smith 12 gauge shotgun; a surplus O3-A3 Springfield .30-06, sporterized by Sedgely; a Remington model 721 .300 H&H Magnum; and a Winchester model 61 pump-action .22 rifle. David's father kept the .22 loaded for when it was necessary to dispatch a porcupine (porcupines do enormous damage to timber) or to harvest a grouse for the pot.

Fire Tower guns in Oregon. The 61 Winchester is the lowest long gun. David did not remember the Remington bolt action .22 or the H&R revolver at the cabin the night of the bear. Photo courtesy David Conner, cropped and scaled by Dean Weingarten. All of the guns, except the Remington .22 bolt action, are still owned by family members.

David's mother had put the children to bed when she heard a noise outside the cabin. She was a petite woman about five feet tall. She was in the master bedroom of the two bedrooms in the cabin. She thought one of the mule deer does was responsible for the noise.

She took a look into the kitchen.  A bear was trying to get in through the window over the sink!

She screamed at the bear, to get out and grabbed the little Winchester .22 pump from the gun rack. She knew it was loaded.

David looked at his mother. She had the .22 rifle in her hands. She screamed at the bear again. Get Out!

The bear ignored the screams and started working its way in through the window.

David's mother stopped screaming. She brought the rifle to her shoulder and started shooting.

Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!

The little rifle was unusually loud inside the kitchen. The shots only took a couple of seconds. The bear dropped back out the window. David's little sisters had joined David at the doorway.

Eventually, David and his sisters went back to bed. Somehow, they went back to sleep.

David's mother stayed up the rest of the night. She kept the rifle handy.

In July, near Baker City, it starts getting light by 5 a.m. David and his mother looked out the window to see if the bear was nearby. There was blood on the sink, on the window sill, and on the porch outside.

After a careful visual search, David and his mother went out onto the porch. The blood trail lead toward the woodshed.

David's mother made an executive decision. They would wait inside until David's father and brother returned.

Two hours later, the older men in the family returned in the Dodge Power Wagon.

David's mother explained what had happened. The two men loaded the .30-06 and the .300 H&H Magnum and followed the blood trail.

There, behind the woodshed, was the bear, dead, only 30 yards from the kitchen window.

David watched his father and brother skin out the bear. As he watched, his father pointed to the wounds his mother had inflicted on the bear with the .22 Winchester model 61 pump-gun.

One shot went into the upper left jaw. Another shot went through the left eye. A third shot was just above the left eye. A fourth shot was in the nose, and a fifth shot was just below the right side of the jaw, in the neck, cutting the carotid artery on the right side. That shot was fatal. Blood had squirted from the artery, spraying the kitchen sink, the window frame, and on to the porch. The blood trail was heavy, and lead to the dead bear behind the woodshed.

A bear's brain is located low, between and behind the eyes. A shot to or above the eye will often miss the brain.

David's mother had gathered four empty .22 cartridges off the kitchen floor and put them on the table. David's father went to the Winchester model 61. He worked the slide. Out popped another empty .22 cartridge. David's mother had shot five shots. She had hit the bear five times.

David's father and brother tacked the hide to the side of the woodshed and put the skull inside.  Word spread around the mountains. A couple of days later, a ranger showed up to visit. David's father explained what had happened. They examined the bear hide and the bear skull. David's father went inside and retrieved the .22 Winchester.

He and the ranger expended a couple of boxes of .22 cartridges plinking near the cabin.

There never was a newspaper article or an official report. David's father and the ranger agreed the bear was a young male.

David's account fits the profile of a predatory attack. Most predatory attacks are by young male black bears. The bear was persistent, and would not leave.

Bears have extraordinary noses. Its nose told the bear the big males of the strange animal group were not present. Only the small female and her young were in the nest with the delicious odors coming out the window. Small females and young of prey species are often eaten by black bears.

Once wounded, the young male bear realized the strange animals were too dangerous to be prey. It was too late.

There were only two fatal black bear attacks in the 1940s and 1950s in the lower 48 states. Carol Ann Poveranky, 3 years old, was taken in Michigan, in 1948, outside her home. A bear was implicated in the death of a hunter, Carl Herrick, 37, in Vermont, in 1943.

Bears were considered pests. Bear populations were low. People tended to be armed in the woods, and bears were shot on sight.

How many predatory attacks simply ended as did the one at the Oregon fire tower? The bear underestimated its unfamiliar prey and was killed before any person was injured. It might have been different without the little .22 rifle.

David's family talked about the attack and the bear for years.

David says he must have heard it or told it hundreds of times. He was there, and he will never forget his mother shooting the black bear with the .22 as it tried to force its way into the little cabin.

.22 rimfire cartridges are often underestimated.Bella Twin, a small, 63 year old Cree woman, shot and killed a world record grizzly bear with a single-shot .22 rifle, a Cooey Ace 1.



About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Deplorable Bill
Deplorable Bill
8 months ago

Good job Dean. That lady stood her ground and defended her children and herself like anybody should do in situations like this when you meet up with four and two legged predators. She kept throwing slugs at that predator until he changed his mind and left. Just to point something out, I wonder how much time it would have taken if she had called the police for help. There was no such thing as 911 back then, you actually had to call them yourself and that takes time. Time was something she did not have and it’s a rare day… Read more »

KevinC
KevinC
8 months ago

Dean,
Thank you for all the articles on bear attacks. It’s good to know that most people who have defended themselves with a firearm have survived, even intermediate and smaller cartridges.

Bluemax
Bluemax
8 months ago

A Great article Dean. My wife and I live in the blue mountains of Washington State where the bear population is quite high. On our mile walk of a main road we have encountered two bears on the same day. We had one bear come out of the woods 100 feet in front of us walk out in the road then turned and looked at us. We just stood there while the bear continued on its way. A very intimidating sight. After researching and reading articles about bear attacks I have loaded some very potent and accurate ammo for my… Read more »

Grigori
Grigori
8 months ago

Was it really necessary to mention that the bear was a “black” bear? Is this part of some kind of agenda or something? I bet if it had been a white bear no mention of its color would have been made.

j/k

Seriously, good story, Dean! When I started reading it, I had a bad feeling this was going to be a tragic loss of family tale.

Ansel Hazen
Ansel Hazen
8 months ago

Excellent tale Dean

Sisu
Sisu
8 months ago

Dean, Thanks. Would you consider writing an article from your collection of “experiences” discussing the “areas to target” should one be unfortunate and find themselves the “object” of an aggressive bear ? “… areas to target” as there are many different scenarios and momentary positions a “bear” might leave itself “more vulnerable”.

Grigori
Grigori
8 months ago
Reply to  Sisu

It sounds like that little lady, with a .22 rifle, did excellent work targeting the head area of the offending bear!

Grigori
Grigori
8 months ago
Reply to  Grigori

When I started reading the story, that was my fear, that this was going to have a very tragic ending. Very well written!

Finnky
Finnky
8 months ago
Reply to  Grigori

@Grigori – I’m sure the fact that the bear was trying to squeeze through a window helped considerably. Short range, relatively little motion and bear was not charging. Damn brave woman, but situation was quite different from having a bear charging at full speed. Had she managed the same hits on a charging bear, it is not entirely clear that bear wouldn’t have killed them before succumbing to its wounds. This story should NOT be seen as choosing a 22LR for bear defense, but as an anecdote proving that 22 is better than nothing. Keep at least one loaded and… Read more »