• When was last fatal cougar attack in the Northwest? See details of past attacks

    By: Casey McNerthney

    Updated:

    A cougar attacked two mountain bikers May 19 near North Bend in the Cascade Mountain foothills, about 30 miles east of Seattle.

    It was the first confirmed fatal cougar attack in Washington state since 1924. Department of Fish and Wildlife Capt. Alan Myers identified the deceased victim, a 32-year-old Seattle resident, as S.J. Brooks. (Follow this link to read details about the fatal cougar attack.)

    What happened in the 1924 attack, and have there been cougar sightings in Seattle?

    14-year-old boy attacked, dragged

    According to archived news reports, the victim in the 1924 case was 14-year-old James Fehlhaber and the fatal attack occurred on Dec. 17 – though some accounts give different dates and ages for Fehlhaber. He was walking near the town of Malott along the Okanogan River – a roughly 220-mile drive east from Seattle. 

    “The boy was walking along a trail in a wooded draw,” Seattle Times reporter Enos Bradner wrote in a 1966 recap of cougar attacks. “The cougar jumped onto the back of the boy, who fought for his life but was finally killed. The cat then dragged the lad about 50 yards to a clump of rocks.” 

    The cougar was fat and well-fed when it attacked Fehlhaber, State Game Department Superintendent M.M. (Buck) Fruit told the Times in a 1942 account of the attack. 

    The boy’s death led to a weeks-long hunt that ended on Jan. 8, 1925, when two Kentucky fox hounds overtook the cougar after trailing it for four hours. Hunters killed the cougar east of Winthrop, about 20 miles northwest of where Fehlhaber was attacked, according to an archived news report from the time. 

    Earlier in 1924, on July 18, a cougar attack was reported in the Olympic National Forest. 

    Glen Merchant, a former forest guard, “said the cougar sprang from some brush and tore off a trousers leg and severely scratched him,” according to an Associated Press account at the time. “He hit the cougar with a fishing rod and ran. The animal did not follow.”

    The AP account at the time said the attack on a human was “one of very few on record.”

    Washington residents were paid for killing cougars

    Washington residents used to get paid by the state for hunting cougars. The bounty was $25 from 1935 to 1937, when it increased to $50. The bounty was increased to $75 in 1949, and stayed there until 1966 when the State Game Commission removed cougars from the predator list. 

    The $75 bounty is roughly $780 today with inflation.

    After removing cougars from the predator list in 1966, the state allowed hunters to shoot one cougar per year. Cougars are still classified as game animals and can be hunted with a license. 

    A property owner in Washington or family of the property owner can kill a cougar without a permit on private property if it’s damaging domestic animals, according to state law.

    Bradner’s 1967 story in The Seattle Times, which gave the bounty details, said that between 1935 and 1961 there were 3,140 state payments for cougar kills. The highest year was 1946 when 275 cougars were killed and the lowest was 1960 when 39 were killed for the state-paid bounty, according to Bradner’s report.

    A 1942 account in the Times quoted a trapper who had captured at least 100 cougars. 

    That trapper, Josh Allen, said that cougars don’t attack humans unless driven by starvation.

    Other reported cougar attacks on humans

    Archived newspaper reports describe nonfatal cougar attack sightings from decades ago in Thurston County, and a case in Whatcom County where a group of children were approached by an emaciated cougar. But none of them were attacked. 

    In June 1977, a cougar was shot after it attacked a South Seattle woman and her daughter near Enumclaw. The cougar’s body was taken to Woodland Park Zoo for tests, and a State Game Department Supervisor told The Seattle Times the attack came on an empty stomach. 

    A cougar was shot and killed in January 1993 in Mukilteo after it was seen wandering Mukilteo, Edmonds, Brier and Everett for six months. No humans were hurt, but a goat was killed and another was missing, the Times reported.  

    In May 1996, a 28-year-old former college wrestler also survived a cougar attack on a hiking trail in Olympic National Park “by locking his legs around the animal and squeezing its throat with his hands,” according to a Seattle Times report.

    “My muscles were cramping up,” that man, Spokane native Phil Anderson, told The Seattle Times. “I was yelling, but the people in the parking lot must have thought it was kids playing. I wanted someone to come knock him in the head.” 

    In 1998, 5-year-old Carmen Schrock was attacked by a cougar while camping with her family at Noisy Creek Campground, about 32 miles from the Canadian border in northeast Washington. 

    Carmen was walking to a restroom at near Sullivan Lake when the cougar clamped it's jaws on her head and began dragging the child into the brush, according to the Spokesman-Review. Her mother heard her screams and frightened off the cougar, which tore apart part of Carmen's skull, the Spokesman-Review reported.

    The lion was later killed by a game warden. Carmen survived, but died seven years later with four of her siblings in a head-on crash in Spokane.

    In August 1999, 4-year-old Jacob Walsh of Kettle Falls was dragged by a cougar until a screaming adult prompted the cougar to drop him, the Spokesman-Review reported. Walsh, who was at his grandparents' rural home, was serious injured, according to the report.

    History of cougar sightings in Seattle 

    Cougar sightings are rare in Seattle, with the last coming in 2009 when a Cougar was in Discovery Park – the city’s largest park at 534 acres. Cougar attacks in Seattle were most common in the 1870s, though animals were the reported targets.

    Here is a recap of cougar sightings and attacks in Seattle:  

    Sept. 3, 2009: Discovery Park was closed again after a cougar sighting there. There were three suspected cougar sightings in Seattle that month: One in Magnolia, another in Greenwood and a third in a Discovery Park field.

    1981: A cougar was seen in Discovery Park again, and the park was closed for multiple days during a search. Mike Krenz, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, tranquilized that cougar about 1:30 a.m. on the last day of the search, and officials used hounds to capture the male cougar. "I was sitting in my vehicle on top of the bluff listening to the dogs work down below and I heard some rustling in the brush," Krenz told seattlepi.com in 2009, when he was part of another cougar search in Discovery Park. "I turned on my headlights and it was sitting in the tree right in front of my car. That's how lucky it was."

    Sept. 26, 1974: There was no attack, but Magnolia resident Elizabeth Ghent made headlines for having a pet cougar, Loki La Puma. Neighbors weren’t pleased. “It’s been imprinted with humans,” Ghent told Seattle Times columnist Eric Lacitis of the animal from Thailand. “If it was separated from me it would die.” 

    1972: A cougar was spotted in Seattle’s Discovery Park, and the park was closed during a search. 

    Sept. 20, 1890: At about 9:30 a.m., a cougar wandered along Pine Street between 4th and 5th avenues and "for a few minutes owned the street,” according to a HistoryLink.org essay. Read the recap from historian Greg Lange here.

    June 10, 1872: A mare and a colt were attacked by a cougar near the Duwamish River, and the colt died the following day. The incident, which is detailed by HistoryLink.org’s Greg Lange, near 45th Avenue South and South Leo Street. 

    Jan. 1, 1870: A cougar was shot a killed near Lake Union after killing a steer and a heifer. The cougar was 8 feet 9 inches long and weighed 300 pounds. Follow this link to read about the incident from HistoryLink.org author Greg Lange

    Feb. 23, 1870: A cougar was captured on a farm near Lake Washington. After it was captured, the Cougar was sold to a Seattle resident who moved to what’s now First Avenue South and showed it for a fee. Follow this to read about that cougar in a HistoryLink.org essay from Greg Lange.


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