Editor's note: The information for this column comes with permission from the book "Bear Man of Admiralty Island," by John R. Howe, published in 1996 by the University of Alaska Press. All passages, exerpts and quotes come courtesy of the author.
In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge’s nephew, Harold Coolidge, along with his Harvard classmate Charles Day, secured an assignment from the U.S. Biological Survey to collect bear specimens on Admiralty Island. They stayed for a season with Allen Hasselborg. During that time they named two peaks behind Mole Harbor; Botany Peak and Yellow Bear Mountain. The result proved to be a turning point in Coolidge’s life. That fall at Harvard, he changed his major to zoology and went on to a long and distinguished career as a zoologist and wildlife conservationist.
For the last seven or eight years Hasselborg had been trying to get a patent on his homestead without much luck. In fact, the Forest Service tried to evict him but a shot fired across the bow of the USFS boat ran them off. Harold Coolidge, with the help of his uncle (the President), was able to get the homestead patented. It was just in time because Hasselborg found out that the reason the Forest Service wanted him off the property was that they wanted to negotiate a deal with a large California company that would log Admiralty Island. Lake Alexander would be dammed and water sent down a tunnel to a hydroelectric plant and pulp mill at Mole Harbor. It wasn’t long before land speculators were knocking at his door. Many people in Juneau had high hopes for the timber sale as the economy had taken a serious downturn because of the closing of the big Alaska-Gastineau gold mine. The Forest Service never forgave Hasselborg and even after his death refused to acknowledge what Hasselborg had accomplished.
Many of the hunting parties during 1925 to 1935 that Hasselborg guided were photographers and conservationists who were working on films and magazine stories. Camera hunting bears was often more difficult and riskier than hunting bears with a rifle.
One photographer recalled, “You had to get close to get good shots. No doubt about it, Hasselborg got me close! I was terrified, but I tried not to show it.”
During that time, Hasselborg was a guide for a New Yorker named John Holzworth. It turned out he had friends in high places; some of which were Al Smith (elected Governor of New York five times and lost to Herbert Hoover in the 1928 Presidential elections), the Woodrow Wilson family and J.P. Morgan. Hasselborg took John Holzworth, and friends, out several times. Although Hasselborg did not get along with Holzworth and considered him a bum; he did enjoy the company of Holzworth’s friends. Holzworth became involved in the writing of several books concerning Admiralty Island and/or the bears in which he described Hasselborg. Hasselborg was infuriated with the books as he believed the books were ill conceived, inaccurate and filled with misinformation and lies.
A young Forest Service employee named Jack Thayer who was on the planning team for the Admiralty Island timber sale was killed by a brown bear on Admiralty Island. The press in Juneau and other Southeast Alaska towns sensationalized it, causing public fury with demands for more government control of brown bears. A headline in an editorial of a Juneau newspaper read “Exterminate Brown Bears.”
Following this, the Alaska Game Commission reacted with a liberalization of Alaska’s game laws; specifically saying that Alaskans could now hunt brown bears wherever and whenever they wished. Shortly thereafter, the press for extermination of brown bears in Alaska and the liberalization of the Alaska game laws caught the attention of conservationists and wealthy sportsmen in the states. By 1931, several dozen national conservation and sportsmen’s organizations had endorsed the “Save-the-bear Campaign.” Articles were written in Nature (the American Nature Association’s magazine), The Saturday Evening Post, American Forests, and a movie was made called “The Great Bear of Alaska,” which featured many shots of Hasselborg. All of which gained broad support for the conservationists’ cause. Not only was the whole idea of eliminating the brown bear protested but the idea of logging Admiralty Island brought under attack.
At the center of the storm of protest was none other than Holzworth.
• This is part three of a multi-part series about Allen Hasselborg, The Bear Man of Admiralty Island. Parts one and two ran previous Sundays in Neighbors and the fourth and final part will run next Sunday, Feb. 31.
1. Bear Man of Admiralty island by John R. Howe
2. Expeditions: In fortress of the Bear by Terry Wieland
3. Papers of Allen E. Hasselborg, 1899-1955 by Alaska State Library, Historical Collections
4. The Wild Grizzlies of Admiralty Island by John Holzworth