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LARRY JACOBSEN/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Night of the Grizzlies

How one summer night changed the way we care for wild places

By Lauren Tarshis
From the March/April 2021 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify the cause and effect of two grizzly bear attacks in Glacier National Park as they read this narrative nonfiction article about how human behavior can affect the natural world.

Lexiles: Starter, 500L-600L, 600L-700L, 800L-900L
Guided Reading Level: Q
DRA Level: 40
Think and Read: Cause and Effect

As you read, look for what caused the grizzly bear attacks and what changed as a result. 

It was July 1967. Steve Ashlock and John Cook were enjoying a fishing trip. They were in Montana’s Glacier National Park. The 14-year-old boys hiked up to Trout Lake. It’s one of the glittering lakes set among Glacier’s forests and mountains.

There, the boys spotted a group of bears. At least two were grizzlies. What luck! They are among North America’s biggest and most powerful animals.

Steve and John understood that grizzlies could be dangerous. So the boys kept their distance. But they weren’t scared. Grizzlies usually stayed away from humans. There had never been a deadly grizzly bear attack in Glacier’s 57-year history.

That was about to change. And ideas about grizzlies—and how humans treat them—would never be the same. 

It was July 1967. Steve Ashlock and John Cook were on a fishing trip in Glacier National Park. The boys saw a group of bears. At least two of the bears were grizzly bears. Grizzlies are some of the most powerful animals in North America.

Steve and John kept far away from the bears. They knew that grizzlies could be unsafe. But a grizzly bear had never killed anyone in Glacier. So they weren’t scared.They felt lucky to see the bears.

But that was all about to change. Ideas about grizzlies would change too. The way humans treated grizzly bears would never be the same.

It was July 1967. Steve Ashlock and John Cook were on a fishing trip. They were in Montana’s Glacier National Park. The 14-year-old boys hiked up to Trout Lake. It’s one of the lakes next to Glacier’s forests and mountains.

The boys saw a group of bears there. At least two were grizzly bears. What luck! Grizzlies are some of North America’s biggest and strongest animals.

Steve and John knew that grizzlies could be dangerous. So the boys kept far away from the bears. But they weren’t scared. Grizzlies usually stayed away from people. There had never been a deadly grizzly bear attack in Glacier National Park.

That was about to change. And ideas about grizzlies, and how humans should treat them, would never be the same.

It was July 1967. Two 14-year-old boys, Steve Ashlock and John Cook, were enjoying a fishing trip in Montana’s Glacier National Park. They’d arrived the day before, excited for three days of cooking over a campfire and sleeping under the stars.

Glacier had been packed with visitors all summer. But Steve and John quickly escaped the honking cars, crowds of hikers, and trash-covered trails. They hiked several miles up to Trout Lake, one of the glittering lakes set among Glacier’s thick forests and rugged mountains.

The boys’ first day was perfect. They set up their campsite and feasted on the trout they caught in the lake. Best of all: They spotted a group of bears that came to the lake for a drink. Some were the smaller and more common black bears. But at least two were grizzlies. The boys recognized their lighter-colored fur and the hump between their shoulders.

What luck!

Glacier was filled with marvelous creatures. Hawks peered down from trees. Bighorn sheep perched on rocky cliffs. Mountain lions snuck through the trees. But few creatures inspired awe like the grizzly, North America’s biggest and most powerful animal.

Steve and John understood that grizzlies could be dangerous, and the boys kept their distance. But they weren’t frightened. They knew that grizzlies usually stayed away from humans. In Glacier’s 57-year history, there had never been a single deadly grizzly bear attack.

That was about to change.

Terror was just ahead. Two horrific grizzly attacks would soon shatter the peaceful beauty of Glacier National Park. And ideas about grizzlies—and humans—would never be the same.

JIM MCMAHON/MAPMAN ® (MAP)

Where in the World: Glacier National Park

Chased From Home 


Chased From Home 


Grizzlies have lived in North America for about 50,000 years. Tens of thousands of grizzly bears once roamed the Western United States.

In the 1800s, settlers began to build homes and farms on land where the bears lived. Grizzlies were chased from their habitats. 

Stories spread that grizzlies liked to eat humans. This led many hunters to shoot or poison the bears.

By the 1970s, grizzlies had nearly vanished from the U.S. Fewer than 1,000 grizzlies remained in the lower 48 states. The safest places for the bears were in the area’s two national parks: Glacier and Yellowstone. In these parks, hunting wasn’t allowed. 


Grizzlies have lived in North America for about 50,000 years. Tens of thousands of grizzly bears once roamed the Western United States.

In the 1800s, settlers began to build homes and farms. They built them on land where the bears lived. Grizzlies were chased away.

Stories spread that grizzlies liked to eat humans. This led many hunters to shoot or poison the bears.

By the 1970s, grizzlies had nearly vanished. Fewer than 1,000 grizzlies were left in the lower 48 states. The safest places for the bears were in two national parks: Glacier and Yellowstone. Hunting wasn’t allowed in these parks.

Powerful and Sacred

Grizzlies have lived in North America for about 50,000 years—far longer than humans have. When the first people arrived, more than 12,000 years ago, tens of thousands of grizzlies lived up and down the western part of the continent.

America’s first people formed dozens of nations and tribes. Each group had its own languages, customs, and beliefs. But many of these groups shared a deep respect for bears. In Cheyenne legends, powerful bears tested the strength and bravery of warriors. To the Hopi people, bears were sacred creatures with amazing powers of healing.

Unlike black bears, which could once be found all across America, grizzlies lived only in the West. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that stories of these larger, more powerful bears began to reach the East. Some of these stories made grizzlies seem like monsters— mindless killers with a taste for human flesh.

In the coming decades, as thousands of people moved out West, many killed grizzlies whenever possible. Tens of thousands of the bears were shot and poisoned. Nearly all the rest were chased from the habitats where they had lived for thousands of years.

By the time John and Steve were growing up in Montana, fewer than 1,000 grizzlies remained in the lower 48 states. Most lived in the northern wilderness of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The only truly safe place for a grizzly was in one of the area’s two national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone. In these parks, hunting wasn’t allowed and all animals were protected by law.

NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION (THEN); ACCENT ALASKA.COM/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (NOW);

HOLGER LEUE/GETTY IMAGES

Powerful but Shy 

Powerful but Shy

Powerful but Shy 


By the mid-1900s, scientists had learned more about grizzlies. They understood that grizzlies aren’t monsters that like to eat humans. In fact, the bears are shy. They usually avoid humans.

Grizzlies do have fearsome features. They have knife-like claws that can grow to be 4 inches long. But they mostly use them to catch fish or dig for food. It’s unusual for grizzlies to attack humans. Normally, grizzly bears attack only if taken by surprise or if they feel threatened.

And so Steve and John didn’t feel afraid when they saw grizzly bears. They felt lucky. They got to see one of Earth’s most amazing creatures in the wild.

But what happened the next evening filled them with terror. The boys were out on Trout Lake. Suddenly, they heard a strange sound. They turned and saw a grizzly bear at their campsite. It was devouring their food!

The boys snuck to shore. Then they put on their boots and ran. After a terrifying 4-mile hike in the darkness, they arrived at a ranger station. They told their story to the ranger there. The man wasn’t surprised. He and other rangers had been hearing about that strange grizzly all summer.

When the boys returned to their campsite the next morning, the grizzly bear was gone. But before it left, it had ripped apart their tent—and eaten all of their food. 

Grizzlies have lived in North America for thousands of years. In the 1800s, people built homes where the bears lived.  Grizzlies were chased away or killed.

By the 1970s, grizzlies had nearly vanished from the U.S. The safest places for the bears were in two national parks: Glacier and Yellowstone. People weren’t allowed to hunt in these parks.

Scientists learned more about grizzlies over time. Grizzlies have long claws and look scary. They are powerful but shy. They mostly stay away from humans. Usually, they attack only if they feel scared or surprised.

The night after Steve and John saw the bears, something happened. And it filled the boys with fear. They heard a strange sound at their campsite. A grizzly bear was eating their food! The boys ran away. They finally arrived at a ranger station. The boys told the ranger what had happened. The ranger wasn’t surprised by their story. He had heard about that strange grizzly.

By the mid-1900s, scientists had learned more about grizzlies. Grizzly bears aren’t beasts that like to eat humans. The bears are actually shy. They usually avoid humans.

Grizzlies are fearsome. They have claws like knives. The claws can grow to be 4 inches long. But grizzlies mostly use them to catch fish or dig for food. It’s unusual for grizzlies to attack humans. Normally, grizzly bears attack only if they feel surprised or scared.

And so Steve and John didn’t feel afraid when they saw grizzly bears. They felt lucky. They got to see one of Earth’s most amazing animals.

But what happened the next evening filled them with fear. The boys were out on Trout Lake. Suddenly, they heard a strange sound. They turned and saw a grizzly bear at their campsite. It was devouring their food!

The boys snuck to shore. They put on their boots and ran. Then they hiked 4 miles in the dark. They arrived at a ranger station. The boys told their story to the ranger there. The man wasn’t surprised. He and other rangers had heard about that strange grizzly all summer.

The boys returned to their campsite the next morning. The grizzly bear was gone. It had ripped apart their tent. It had eaten all of their food.

Highly Intelligent

By the mid-1900s, scientists had come to understand that grizzlies were not mindless monsters. In fact, the bears are highly intelligent, with excellent memories. They are shy and usually avoid humans. They will eat almost anything but prefer roots and berries. In Glacier, their favorite treats are chubby little squirrels called marmots.

Grizzlies do have fearsome powers. Their front paws can crack a skull in one swipe. Their knife-sharp claws can tear apart tree stumps. Their jaws can chomp through metal and bone.

But it is unusual for a grizzly to use its deadly powers on a human. Normally, a grizzly attacks only if taken by surprise or if it feels threatened. And so John and Steve didn’t feel afraid on that July evening when they spotted grizzly bears sipping cool water from Trout Lake. In fact, they felt lucky to see one of Earth’s most amazing creatures in the wild.

It was what happened the next evening that filled them with terror.

The boys were out on the lake, horsing around on a big pile of floating logs. Suddenly, a strange sound caught their attention. They looked over at their campsite. A skinny grizzly was devouring a loaf of their bread. They hoped the bear would leave. But then it started to tear apart their backpacks.

The boys shouted at the bear, hoping that their voices would scare it off. But no amount of yelling could chase it away.

The boys weren’t grizzly experts, but something about this bear seemed unusual— and dangerous. They waited until the bear was distracted by a pan of trout they had prepared for dinner. Then they snuck to shore. They threw on their boots and ran, praying the grizzly wouldn’t chase after them.

What John and Steve didn’t know was that Glacier was in the middle of a grizzly crisis. Some grizzlies had lost their natural fear of humans and were behaving aggressively. But the real problem wasn’t the bears.

It was people.

It Was People 


It Was People 


What Steve and John didn’t know was that Glacier was in the middle of a grizzly crisis. Some grizzlies were behaving strangely. They had lost their natural fear of humans. But the real problem wasn’t the bears.

It was people. More specifically, it was the garbage that people were leaving all over the park.

Glacier was filled with litter. Food was left at campsites. Wrappers and broken bottles were left on trails. Some people in the park were even using garbage to lure grizzlies closer to humans on purpose. 

Feeding human food to a wild animal is unhealthy for the animal. It can also change the animal’s habits and relationship to its natural environment.

In Glacier, some grizzlies started to depend on garbage to survive. They began losing their natural shyness toward humans. They moved into busier parts of the park. For these bears, humans were now providing their food. 


Glacier was having a grizzly crisis. Some grizzlies were behaving strangely. They had lost their natural fear of humans. But the real problem wasn’t the bears.

It was people. Specifically, it was the garbage that people were leaving all over the park.

Glacier was filled with trash. Food was left at campsites. Wrappers and broken bottles were left on trails. Some people in the park would put garbage out for bears to eat. These people were trying to lure grizzlies close to humans.

Human food is unhealthy for wild animals. It can also change how the animals behave.

In Glacier, some grizzlies started to count on garbage to live. They were losing their shyness toward humans. They moved into parts of the park that had more people. Humans were now providing food for these bears.

"Grizzly Show"

More specifically, it was the garbage that people were leaving all over the park—leftover food at campsites, wrappers and broken bottles on trails. Glacier was filled with litter. Some people in the park were even using garbage to lure grizzlies closer to humans on purpose.

Each evening at a hotel called the Granite Park Chalet, workers would dump leftover food from the dining room into an outdoor pit. Guests would then crowd onto a balcony, clapping and shouting as they watched grizzlies fight over leftover hot dogs and chili. Some were disgusted by this cruel event. But night after night, the show went on.

Feeding human food to a wild animal isn’t just unhealthy for the animal. It can also permanently change the animal’s habits and relationship to the natural environment. In Glacier, some grizzlies started to depend on garbage for survival. They began losing their natural shyness toward humans and moved into busier parts of the park. For these bears, humans had become a source of food.

ACCENT ALASKA.COM/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

DON’T FEED THE BEARS:

Bears that eat human food and garbage can lose their natural fear of humans. This puts bears—and humans—at risk.

Shocking News 

Shocking News

Shocking News 


One month later, on August 13, there was shocking news from Glacier. Two 19-year-old women had been killed by two different grizzly bears. The bears had attacked the women as they slept in their tents. Nothing had frightened or surprised the bears into attacking.

There had never been a deadly grizzly attack in Glacier before. How was it possible that in a single night, two grizzlies had become killers?

Glacier’s leaders finally had to face the truth. Garbage had caused the grizzlies to turn violent.

For years, rangers and park leaders had known trash was a problem. All summer they had been getting complaints about grizzlies spotted near campgrounds, threatening humans. But no action was taken. 

Glacier had a grizzly problem. The bears had lost their fear of humans. People had caused this problem. People had been leaving garbage all over the park. Some people even used garbage to lure grizzlies close to humans. This changed how the bears acted. Some bears now depended on garbage for their food.

On August 13, there was shocking news. Two women had been killed by grizzly bears. Nothing had scared the bears into attacking. People finally accepted the truth. Garbage had turned the grizzlies violent.

That night became known as “the night of the grizzlies.” The night led to big changes in America’s national parks. Rangers cleaned up trails and campgrounds. They also added special bear-proof trash cans. Now grizzly bears couldn’t eat the garbage.

All these changes made the parks better. Glacier is a cleaner and safer place for its 300 grizzlies. And for humans.

It was August 13, about one month after Steve and John’s grizzly scare. There was shocking news from Glacier. Two 19-year-old women had been killed. They had been killed by two different grizzly bears. The bears had attacked the women as they slept in their tents. Nothing had frightened or surprised the bears into attacking.

Grizzly bears had never killed a human in Glacier before. How was it possible that two grizzlies had become killers in the same night?

Glacier’s leaders finally had to accept the truth. Garbage had made the grizzlies turn violent.

For years, rangers and park leaders had known about the trash problem. They had been getting complaints all summer: Grizzlies had been near campgrounds. The bears had threatened people. But no one had done anything to solve the problem.

A Terrifying Hike

John and Steve made it out of the wilderness that night. After a terrifying 4-mile hike through the darkness, they arrived at a ranger station. They told their story to the ranger on duty.

The man was not surprised. He and other rangers had been hearing about that strange grizzly all summer. But the rangers had bigger problems to deal with, like the wildfires that were burning in some areas of the park.

The boys spent the night in a cabin. When they returned to their campsite the next morning, the grizzly was gone. But before it left, it had ripped apart their tent, smashed their lantern, and eaten all their food. Cans of spaghetti and chili were torn apart.

The boys left Glacier with what little camping gear they could save. Two weeks later, they’d realize that they had been lucky to escape with their lives.

NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION (THEN); ACCENT ALASKA.COM/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (NOW);

THEN AND NOW:

Yellowstone National Park had “lunch counters” from the early 1900s through the 1940s. The lunch counters attracted bears with giant piles of trash. Tourists would then watch the bears eat. Today, this is no longer allowed. Instead, bear-proof trash cans stop bears from getting into garbage left by humans. And signs remind tourists not to feed wildlife.

A Lasting Change 


A Lasting Change