Predators | when the milkmaid was attacked by a bear | Norway

In 1836, milkmaid Kari Moen from the community of Sauherad in Telemark, Norway, was attacked by a bear. She almost lost her life that day.
Illustration photo. Walking and knitting at the same time - in 1903. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Norsk Folkemuseum DeOldify cc pdm.
Illustration photo. Walking and knitting at the same time - in 1903. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Norsk Folkemuseum DeOldify cc pdm.

On her way to the mountain pasture farm

One early summer’s day in 1836, milkmaid – budeie – Kari Moen was on her way to the Sauherad mountains, to Lake Eiangen, and one of the seasonal summer pasture farms in the area – Eiangsetrene. With her on the journey were the domesticated animals from one of the farms down in the valley, and a young herder boy.

For the next couple of months, the two of them would look after the livestock, and stay in simple mountain abodes. Kari’s job was to milk the cows every morning and evening, and make butter and cheese, getting the most out of every drop. The boy’s job was to guard the livestock all day, as the animals grazed and enjoyed the freedom of summer.

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But there was danger

Kari followed the familiar path through the beautiful terrain, and was lost in her thoughts. She walked and was knitting at the same time, as most women did in those days; never an idle moment. What she didn’t notice was that the herd and the herder boy lagged behind and were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, she heard a snorting sound right behind her and jumped to. And when she turned, she saw a bear standing on its two feet, ready to attack.

The first blow

The first blow hit her on the head and threw her to the ground. Luckily, she did not faint. Kari knew her only salvation was to lie perfectly still and pretend to be dead. She held her breath as the bear leaned towards her face to check if she was still breathing. The blow had hit her hard, and the pain rushed through her body. She must have moved slightly, because suddenly the bear gave her three more blows and bit her across the face. The blood was streaming. With all her willpower, she remained quiet and motionless.

The bear started digging a hole

The bear moved towards a nearby bog-ditch and started to dig a hole to put her in – as bears sometimes do when they are not going to eat their prey right away. Kari half-opened her eyes, and saw the bear looking over to her now and then to make sure that she was not moving. She knew this moment was her only chance of survival, and gathered all her strength. She got up and staggered and run as fast as she could towards where she believed the herder boy and the herd to be.

The boy screamed in terror

When he saw Kari’s bloodied face, the boy screamed in terror and pulled away. But she managed to call him back and calm him down. In a hushed voice, she begged him to run as fast as he could to the nearest summer pasture farm and get help. They should use a boat on Lake Eiangen, so as not to risk meeting the bear. Kari would meet them by the water’s edge. The boy raced through the landscape as swiftly as his legs could carry him, avoiding the place where Kari had told him the bear would be. Kari herself stumbled and crawled through the thicket down towards the lake. She constantly looked over her shoulder, terrified that the bear would find her.

Saved

The people heard the boy screaming from far away. As soon as they had heard his story, they threw themselves into the boat and rowed as fast as they could. When they found Kari by the water’s edge, she was still conscious. But as soon as she knew she was safe, she fainted. Word was quickly sent back home, and Kari’s husband and three more men came and carried her on a makeshift stretcher down to the valley. There they put her in another boat and rowed 40 kilometres on the area’s many waterways to the town of Skien, where there was a hospital. Kari had a lucky escape that day, and the doctor managed to patch her up.

Emigrated to North America

In the mid-1800s, Kari emigrated to North America with her husband and her children. In the olden days, they said that a wound made by a bear never heals. And many years later, another emigrant from Sauherad wrote to the folks back home, telling them that he had met Kari out on the American prairie. At 90, she was still very much alive, but also still wearing a plaster on her nose.

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Illustration photo. Walking and knitting at the same time - in 1903. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Norsk Folkemuseum cc pdm.
Photo: Anders Beer Wilse – Norsk Folkemuseum cc pdm.

Main source: Journalist Bernhard Hansen Telemark Arbeiderblad – story retold in the book «Gjeterbarn» by Magne Engernes – Trysil-forlaget 2000. | Map coordinates to Eiangsetrene – find it on Google Maps: 59.473142 9.445742.

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