Book Review and Black Bear Attack Excerpt: Handloggers by W. H. Jackson

Grizzly Bear mother with cub marking cabin iStock-Mark Kostich 1342117510
Grizzly Bear mother with cub marking cabin iStock-Mark Kostich 1342117510

U.S.A.-( is the biography of Alaskan pioneer W. H. (Handlogger) Jackson and his wife Ruth Jackson, nee Ruth Johnstone. 251 pages, 1974, softcover.

Jackson moved into Alaska about 1917-18, prospecting, handlogging, and trapping. He was born about 1883-84 in California when the fastest transport was a steam engine train. Most of his travels before 1920 were on foot, horseback, or by steamship. He married in 1927 and died in 1970. During his long outdoors career, he developed an outstanding reputation for skill and fair dealing. On page 225, Handlogger writes of the unprovoked black bear attack he foiled with a stout walking stick. It was in 1960, near Kegan Cove. He was about 76 years old.

Book Review and Black Bear Attack Excerpt: Handloggers by W. H. Jackson

He called the stick his “snozzle stick”, claiming if he ever needed it, he could hit a bear on the “snozzle” with it. One day, while hiking, he saw a large animal moving the thick brush, coming directly at him. He could not determine what it was. He was standing on top of a log. From Handloggers:

At twenty yards, I still could not see what it was. I hollered some more, but it didn’t turn. It was something big, coming deliberately at me. There were no grizzlys around, nothing I’d seen that would bother me in all the years I’d worked there. My snozzle stick looked awfully inadequate, but trying to run would be useless.

At thirty feet it broke into the open, a black bear in full charge. No mistaking its intention. Ears flattened, eyes blazing, teeth bared, huffing and snorting, it lacked only the size, speed, and volume of a big grizzly or Kodiak on the warpath. 

My snozzle stick was water-soaked and heavy from lying in the rain water in the bottom of the boat. I grasped it in a two-handed swing like a ball player and brought it down across the bears nose just as its teeth were snapping half a yard from my shins.  

I must have hit hard. The bear shut its eyes tight, ducked its head, and ran back to the top of the knoll. There it sat down to watch me. When I was sure it was not coming again, I backed off the log and headed for the beach.

I was mad. For more than fifty years I’d been prowling through the brush where black bears were as thick as rabbits, and I’d thought no more of meeting a black empty handed than I’d thought of meeting people on the street. Now to have this fool bear destroy all my trust in the blacks, all my respect for them!

Handlogger Jackson had spent a lifetime as an expert ax man. His livelihood depended on being able to place an ax blade to within a small fraction of an inch where he wanted it to go, while standing on a tiny platform, and expending a full power stroke. It is plausible he could do the same thing with a walking stick while standing on a log.

Jackson went back to where he had left a rifle. He had thought it was unnecessary in an area where only black bears were common. He returned and killed the black bear, a big sow. He considered it a threat to any human it came across.

The book is an excellent account of pioneering in Alaska during territorial days, and the transition to a state.

During Jackson’s long career, he wrote articles for the Alaskan Sportsman magazine. Some articles were assigned by the editor, who was a friend of Jackson’s.  His first article appeared in the fourth edition of Alaskan Sportsman, in April of 1935.

Jackson’s most popular article in the Alaskan Sportsman, was a rewrite of the “Old Groaner” story, in 1953, 17 years after the original article. The original article was written only a few weeks after the event, which occurred in November of 1935.

The original story was published in the eighth edition of Alaskan Sportsman in February of 1936, written by F.W. Gabler.

This correspondent came across “Handloggers” while doing research on the “Old Groaner” mythology, in order to understand the person who wrote the 1953 re-write of the original story. The 1953 re-write was re-published in the book “Blood in the Arctic Snow” in 1956. The re-write was re-published in 1986, in Alaskan Sportsman.  The 1953 re-write was re-written in Larry Kanuit’s book, Bear Tales for the Ages, published in 2001. The 1953 re-write has been the source of several articles and much myth-making on the Internet.

Aside from the connection of being written by the same author, there is no mention of Old Groaner in Handlogger Jackson’s biography. Handlogger spent considerable time with his in-laws over the 26 years he was married before 1953. There were several mentions of Bruce Johnstone, Ruth’s younger brother, in “Handloggers”. Bruce Johnstone is the man who shot and killed the bear known as “Old Groaner” in November of 1935.

It is likely Jackson heard the story from Bruce Johnstone more than once.

There are many close calls and adventures in Jackson’s lives. Most of them involved boats and the weather. Some involve animals. Jackson has a flair for storytelling. Some of his stories include his opinions; some probably contain a bit of literary license. If you enjoy reading well-written, real-life, adventure stories, read “Handloggers”. You won’t regret it.

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.

Dean Weingarten

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it took bigger than life people to live beyond the edge of the map, here there be monsters


Bears have sensitive noses and it does not take a hit as hard as Handlogger dealt to discourage one. Many decades ago I was chopping wood at a campsite in the U.P. and was approached by a black bear looking for a tasty dessert after ransacking nearby campsites. With the axe still in one hand I picked up a long thin stick and gave the bear a sharp wack on the nose. I was lucky to hit it so precisely but the bear turned tail and ran.


Great book. I’ve always admired talented writers. I’ve always had problems with writing texts. That’s why I decided to try it now to find out about examples for my assignments at the university. Thanks to additional resources I was able to write a meaningful essay.

Last edited 7 months ago by JeffThorsen777
Robert B. Lenoir

If you enjoy reading well-written, real-life, adventure stories, read “Handloggers”. You won’t regret it.

Totally agree.

Robert B. Lenoir

Also want to add that Handloggers are a great book by W. H. Jackson. I first found that reference to his book online when I read essays on integrity as an excellent example of it here at that site. I also love how events were well detailed described and that all events in the book were from the real life of the real person. It would be a great example and source to the younger generation about Alaska events in general.

Last edited 10 months ago by Robert B. Lenoir