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 domestic animals from one of the farms down in the valley, and a young herder boy – gjetergutt.
For the next couple of months, she and the herder boy 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.
But there was danger
Lost in thought, Kari followed the familiar path through the beautiful terrain. She walked and knitted at the same time, as most women did in those days, never an idle moment.
She hadn’t noticed that the herd and the herder boy had lagged behind – and were nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, she heard a strange snorting sound right behind her and jumped to. And when she turned, she saw a bear standing on its two hind legs, ready to attack.
The first blow
The first blow of the bear’s paw hit Kari on the head and threw her to the ground. Luckily, she did not faint, and knew that her only hope of salvation was to lie perfectly still and pretend to be dead.
She closed her eyes and held her breath as the bear leaned over her face to check if she was still breathing. Pangs of pain rushed through her body.
Kari 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, Kari remained quiet and motionless.
The bear started digging a hole
The bear moved slowly towards a nearby bog-ditch and started to dig a hole to put her body in – as bears sometimes do when they do not intend to eat their prey right away.
Kari half-opened her eyes, and saw that the bear occasionally looked towards her, to make sure that she was not moving. She knew that this very moment was her only chance of survival.
She gathered all her strength, got up, and staggered and run as fast as she could towards where she believed the herder boy and the herd would be.
The boy screamed in terror
When the herder boy saw Kari’s bloodied face, he 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. He should instruct the people there to use a boat on Lake Eiangen, so as not to risk meeting the bear when moving through the forest. 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, constantly looking over her shoulder.
The people heard the boy screaming from far away. As soon as he had told them what had happened, they rowed as fast as they could towards Kari’s expected location.
Kari was still conscious when they found her by the water’s edge. But as soon as she knew that 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 yet another boat – and rowed 40 kilometres down the region’s many waterways towards the town of Skien – where there was a doctor and a hospital.
Kari Moen had a lucky escape that day, and the doctor managed to save her life.
Emigrated to North America
In the mid-1800s, Kari emigrated to North America with her husband and her children.
An old saying says that a wound made by a bear never heals. 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.
Sources: Journalist Bernhard Hansen, Telemark Arbeiderblad. The story was retold in the book «Gjeterbarn» by Magne Engernes – Trysil-forlaget 2000. | Map coordinates to Eiangsetrene – find it on Google Maps: 59.473142 9.445742.