Emigrant woman attacked by bear along Yellowstone River

 

Kate Cholewa considers herself “lucky.”

The 53-year-old Emigrant woman was attacked by a bear while walking along the Yellowstone River near the Point of Rocks fishing access Monday afternoon and lived to tell her story.

She’s beat up and bruised, but was otherwise in good spirits during a Tuesday interview with The Livingston Enterprise.

Cholewa, a writer who moved to the area about a year ago, called 911 immediately after the bear attack and was taken by ambulance to Livingston HealthCare in Livingston, where doctors stapled her head and treated injuries to her face, which she said is now black and blue.

“It looks like I was in a bar fight in Anaconda,” Cholewa said.

Cholewa suffered non-life-threatening injuries, which included a bite on her head, according to a news release from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 

Since moving to Emigrant, Cholewa said she and her dog, Carmen, often walk along the river at Point of Rocks, a quiet area they often enjoy alone with few others in the area.

She said Monday’s encounter happened quickly with little time to react. 

Cholewa was singing aloud REM’s 1989 hit song “Stand” when she encountered the bear.

“I thought I was on key — maybe not,” she joked.

Cholewa first noticed the black hair on Carmen’s back stand up. She then looked to her left and was face-to-face with what she believes was an adult grizzly bear.

The next thing she knew, her face was in the dirt and she felt a sharp pain in her head as the beast attacked.

Cholewa remembers hearing Carmen — a black, 90-pound, 12-year old Labrador/Rottweiler mix — bark. Cholewa then looked over her shoulder while still on the ground and saw the bear leaving the area.

 
Kate Cholewa and her dog, Carmen, are pictured recently.
Photo courtesy of Kate Cholewa

 

“It was definitely a case of no bear there, bear there, bear on me,” she said. “It seemed like two seconds. There wasn’t any time to think anything.”

She stood up and scrambled through the brush with one hand covering a bleeding head wound. She dialed 911 on her cell phone as she made the six- to eight-minute walk back to her vehicle.

“It’s so weird to have that feeling of running for your life,” Cholewa said.

At one point she was unsure whether Carmen had survived the incident, but found her following close behind as the two made their way toward their vehicle.

Carmen believes the run-in startled both her and the bear and that the animal was only acting on its instincts. She hopes FWP does not take any action against it.

“I hope they don’t do anything about it,” Cholewa said. “I don’t think the bear was taking out jihad on the human species or anything. I think it was a bear being a bear and it let us off easy, both of us.”

Montana FWP spokeswoman Andrea Jones said the agency continues to investigate the incident, but believes it was a chance encounter.

“While it was an attack, we wouldn’t put the predatory label on this,” Jones said, “as the encounter appeared to be a surprise to both parties.”

Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. Thomas Totland was the first to respond to the scene around 2 p.m. and found Cholewa in the parking lot by her vehicle. 

“She was talking to me,” Totland said. “I thought she was in very good spirits.”  

Cholewa said she spent about four hours being treated at Livingston HealthCare. She praised the emergency responders and hospital staff, as well as the employees at Stafford Animal Shelter who temporarily cared for Carmen.

While it is unknown exactly what type of bear made the attack, local landowners have reported seeing a lone grizzly in the area recently, according to Jones.   

Jones said Cholewa came across the bear in an area of the river that turns into an island during higher stream flows near the older section of the Point of Rocks fishing access on the east side of U.S. Highway 89.

Jones said it’s not uncommon for bears to spend a lot of time wandering along the Yellowstone this time of year in search of food and recommends anyone walking or fishing along the river to carry bear spray. 

The section of the fishing access site where the attack occurred is now closed as a precautionary measure, said Jones.

Cholewa has lived in Montana for 25 years, including Helena and Missoula. She plans to return to the Point of Rocks area to walk.

“I might wait until the bears bed down” for the winter, she said.