T-House Bear

One winter a wounded bear moved in to the space under our house.

I grew up in Southeast Alaska from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. We moved a few times and found ourselves living at Orton Ranch just outside of Ketchikan in 1974. By outside I mean a 15 mile car ride followed by a 15 mile boat ride ending with a 2.5 mile hike. Yes, I lived in the middle of nowhere.

Orton Ranch is a church camp owned and operated by the First Baptist Church of Ketchikan. My parents and their friends, the Harmons, were hired as the caretakers of the ranch. All together we totaled 13 people.

One of the first tasks undertaken was to build a new building we called the T-house due to the shape. Like most buildings in that part of Alaska the structure stood on pilings which leaves room underneath for storage or maybe bears. The top left of the T was the kitchen and the top right was housing for the kitchen staff during camp operation. The long part of the T was the dining hall. The Harmon couple stayed in the kitchen staff area while my parents made the end of the T a temporary location for their living quarters. The kids all stayed in the attic of the building which had plenty of room.

The bear knew the space was warm and easier then creating and inhabiting a normal hibernation den due to his wounded foot. As you can imagine having a bear living under your house can create additional problems for normal living activity. My dad placed two rifles each at the two main entrances to the T-house. One rifle was filled with blanks and the other with live ammunition.

When the children wanted to go out and play we needed to insure the bear was not near for safety. The process was for one child to lay on the porch, with the rifle holding blanks, and shoot under the house while the balance watched out windows on both sides to insure the bear ran away. Once confirmed we were allowed to go outside and play, always wary of the bears return.

At that same time the church had informed the dads that they could no longer support the families as caretakers. New jobs would need to be found. One weekend when both dads were away a couple from church came to support the moms and provide an adult male presence for the possibility of bear related issues. Robert, the husband, was an avid photographer and enjoyed visiting the ranch to take pictures.

One evening, after the kids had gone to bed, Robert was going to the refrigerator, which we also call the back porch, for a snack. When he opened the door the bear was sitting on the porch eating cherry tomatoes out of the green plastic basket of the time. Robert asked for his camera and my mom handed him the loaded rifle. Robert fired the rifle from inside the house and obviously in close range of the bear. The kids snapped awake and ran to the attic opening to try and discover the source of the loud noise. The women were yelling for us to stay put.

The bear ran off the porch and up a small rise behind the T-house, out of sight. Now we have a twice wounded bear. Situation getting worse. Robert knew he had not missed and chased the bear over the rise, out of sight. The women followed but stayed just off the back porch. Robert discovered the bear lying just over the rise fatally wounded. He decided it might be fun to scare the women so he laid down with the bear and proceeded to roll down the snow covered hill. The contrast from the snow made it quite easy for the women to see the situation in all it’s horrible detail. The women reacted, screaming at the top of their lungs. The children, still in the attic, were assuming the worse and starting to get very emotional. Minutes seemed like hours before all the adults returned.

The women, still emotional, and Robert, still chuckling under his breath, arrived inside the house to see the children’s heads still looking through the attic opening trying to discover the details of the events that had just occurred. Moments later, after emotions calmed, my mom explained the entire story to the children who enjoyed the tale immensely.

Just another story of Growing up Alaska.