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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fatal Bear Attack in New Hampshire prompts search

This summer I’ve been on a frustrating search for a source describing the last fatal, unprovoked black bear attack in New Hampshire . “Why”, you ask? Well, back in July, I was vacationing with the family on New Hampshire’s Tuftonboro Neck. I went for a jog one morning, rounded a bend in the dirt road and came upon what I initially thought was a very large dog. I got a tad closer and realized that enormous dog was actually a black bear. The bear lumbered off into the woods toward Lake Winnipesaukee. I took off in the other direction. After I told my family about the encounter, my brother-in-law (a Granite State resident) said, "Don’t worry; the state’s last fatal bear attack happened way back in the 1700s."

 Being a skeptic, I wanted proof. Being a reference librarian, I wanted a primary source that provided me with all the details. While I could find plenty of contemporary references to New Hampshire’s last fatal bear attack occurring in 1784, I couldn’t find any primary source describing the incident. Frustrating! It seemed to be one of those pieces of information I describe to students I work with as “very gettable”.

And it was, indeed, gettable. I just needed some uninterrupted search time. When I returned to work from summer break this week, I spent some time on this quest. I looked in various Library of Congress resources, perused collections of New Hampshire historical material, poked around in the Internet Archive and browsed historical newspapers. My search ultimately ended with Google books. There, a simple search for bear attack new hampshire 1784 brought me to a digitized copy of the second edition of Jeremy Belknap’s The History of New Hampshire: comprehending the events of one complete century and seventy-five years from the discovery of the River Pascataqua to the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety. That monograph contained the following account of the grisly attack on an 8-year old Moultonborough boy in the summer of 1784.

A boy of eight years old, son of a Mr. Leach, was sent to a pasture toward the close of the day, to put out a horse and bring home the cows. His father being in a neighbouring field, heard a cry of distress, and running to the fence, saw his child lying on the ground and a bear standing by him. He seized a stake, and crept along, with a view to get between the bear and the child . The bear took the child by the throat and drew him into the bushes. The father pursued till he came up and, aiming a stroke at the bear, the stake broke in his hand; and the bear, leaving his prey, turned upon the parent, who, in the anguish of his soul, was obliged to retreat and call for help. Before any sufficient help could be obtained, the evening was so far advanced, that a search was impracticable. The night was passed by the family in the utmost distress. The neighbours assembled and, at break of day, renewed the pursuit. The child's hat, and the bridle, which he had dropped, were found, and they tracked his blood about forty rods, when they discovered the mangled corpse. The throat was torn and one thigh devoured.

The photo of the black bear, above at top, comes from the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension. The map of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, showing the proximity of Moultonborough to Tuftonboro, comes from New Hampshire’s Lakes Region Association.

1 comment:

  1. Thank goodness your encounter had a less grizzly outcome.