COOKE CITY — One man was killed in a bear attack early Wednesday at Soda Butte Campground east of this remote mountain town and two other campers at separate sites were injured in an unusual attack that has left even some veteran residents unsettled because of its ferocity.
“This is not typical bear behavior. It’s odd. It’s not normal,” said Ron Aasheim, Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman.
The Park County Coroner’s Office has not released the name of the fatally injured man, pending notification of family.
Campers Paige and Don Wilhelm, of Aledo, Texas, were camped in site No. 12 of the 10-acre campground when they heard a scream at about 1:30 a.m. At first, they thought it was just teenagers screwing around. They checked on their two boys, ages 12 and 9, and then tried to go back to sleep.
Then they heard another scream, this one closer.
“I heard somebody yell, ‘Stop! No!’ ” said Paige Wilhelm.
And then they heard the woman yell, “A bear’s attacked me!”
As they arose to dress, they heard a bear come by their tent, making a “huffing” sound.
They hustled their sons into their SUV and drove to the woman’s campsite, where they could see her lying in her sleeping bag, her arm bloodied.
Unsure if the animal was still in the area, they were afraid to get out and go to the woman, and their children pleaded with them to stay in the vehicle. They drove through the campground, honking their horn to scare the bear while trying to find help, they said.
That’s when they came across another victim, a young man, who’d been bitten in the calf and managed to scare the animal off by punching it in the head.
They finally found some people to help, including a woman in training to be a nurse who splinted the injured woman’s arm. She had suffered severe lacerations and crushed bones from bites on her arms.
The man killed was in campsite No. 22, about a quarter-mile west of where the other campers were attacked. He was camping alone.
The two injured victims initially were transported to the Super 8 Motel in Cooke City, where they were treated by the Cooke City Hasty Team, local emergency responders. One victim was taken by ambulance to Cody, Wyo. The second victim rode in a private vehicle to Cody. Both were treated and released.
Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Park County Sheriff’s Office and rangers from Yellowstone National Park and the Gallatin National Forest were working to trap the bear or bears at the campground, which was closed to campers. Other nearby campgrounds, Chief Joseph and Colter, also were evacuated and closed.
Five culvert traps were set in the campground Wednesday, including two next to the dead camper’s damaged tent. From nearby Highway 212, only 150 yards from the camper’s site, a large hole could be seen torn in the brown tent’s side. One of the tent’s metal poles was bent. The tent’s rain fly was draped over one of the two culvert traps. The campsite was only a short distance from the old Cooke City cemetery and Soda Butte Creek.
“Our hope is that (the bear) is in the area and will return this evening, and then we’ll have some answers as to why,” said Sam Sheppard, warden captain for FWP’s Bozeman office.
“The odds of the bear coming back to the campground are pretty good, I think,” he said.
Some details of the event were still sketchy Wednesday afternoon. It is unclear if the campers were attacked by a black bear or a grizzly or if more than one bear was involved. Bear hair samples were collected from the scene and were being analyzed at a lab in Wyoming to determine the animal’s sex and species.
If a bear is trapped, DNA samples will be collected to see if they match. If the DNA is a match, the bear will be killed.
Later Wednesday morning, FWP observers tried to pick up a bear collar signal from an airplane but were unsuccessful.
All three campsites where campers were attacked appeared clean, and there did not seem to be any food storage issues or anything else that might have attracted bears, Sheppard said.
Park County dispatchers were alerted to the rampage when a 911 call came in early Wednesday from a male reporting that a bear had bitten his ankle and was tearing up tents, Aasheim said. Dispatchers got two more calls, including one from a man who said a bear bit the leg of his daughter’s boyfriend.
At 3:50 a.m., park officials went through the campground to advise campers to get into their cars. A half-hour later, the dead male was discovered. It was not clear how many people were in the campground at the time.
Forest officials are considering a wider campground closure, depending on FWP’s recommendation.
A Cooke City women’s group, the Mountain Belles, helped displaced campers find new lodging until they could return to pick up their gear on Wednesday afternoon.
In July 2008, an Oregon motorcyclist was bitten on the hand by a bear in the same campground.
His tent was crushed and the bear returned later that morning, crushing another tent.
The Gallatin National Forest closed the Soda Butte and Chief Joseph campgrounds, and five days later, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks trapped a young adult female grizzly at the site of the incident. That bear was sent to a research center in Washington State University.
Associated Press reporter Matthew Brown contributed to this story.
1 dead, 2 injured in bear attack at Gallatin National Forest
Gazette Staff and Associated Press
UPDATED 12:20 p.m.: A bear attack Wednesday in a campground near Yellowstone National Park left one person dead and two injured, Montana wildlife officials said.
A man was killed in the attack at the Soda Butte campground near Cooke City that was reported about 4 a.m., Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said.
A woman suffered severe lacerations from bites on her arms, while another man was bitten on his calf and taken to a hospital in Cody, Wyo.
Wildlife officials did not release the identities of the victims and said they were sending a response team to piece together what happened.
"We don't know if it was one bear, two bears, a black bear or grizzly bear," Aasheim said. "Obviously the bear's gone now. Will it come back tonight? That's the question."
After the attack was reported, authorities cleared the campground, telling campers to go to their cars. The Park County department report said tents in the area were smashed, Aasheim said.
The campground, which is run by the U.S. Forest Service, has been closed while the investigation goes on, Aasheim said.
The Soda Butte campground is in the Gallatin National Forest near the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
UPDATED 10:50 a.m. : Officials of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department are continuing to investigate a bear mauling at Soda Butte campground in the Gallatin National Forest.
Officials say the mauling occurred between midnight and 2 a.m. Wednesday, injuring a number of people.
An unconfirmed report indicates there is also a possible fatality, officials say.
The campground, located east of Cooke City, is closed.
MORNING REPORT: Officials with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department are investigating a bear mauling at Soda Butte campground in the Gallatin National Forest.
Officials said they would have specific information later this morning. A warden captain and a bear specialist are on scene.
Park County Sheriff’s depu-ties also responded to the scene.
This story will be updated as information becomes available.