Bear crawls into couple's Ashland area home


By MARLA PRELL                 Star Staff Writer

Jim and Jeannette Lei of the Ashland area had an unwelcome house guest on July 28: a male black bear in the living room.

“For about a month now he’s been around,” Jeannette said of the bear in a telephone interview Tuesday. “He would go out to the corrals, and then he would kinda come around the house, and we watched him. I think he got into the pickup one day and rearranged the garbage in back.”

That wasn’t a big deal, Jeannette said, but the bear got a little more familiar as time wore on.

“He started coming on the patio, and then he came and he ate the cat food right by the door there,” she said. “He would circle the house, and then he wouldn’t come back for a day or two.”

One day the bear came to the house, and Jeannette had the window open. She saw the animal peering in and, a little concerned, went into the bedroom to tell her husband.

“I said, ‘Jim, that bear is looking in the window,’” she said. “I got to the door, and here he came in the house.”

It was difficult to say who was more excited: the Leis or the bear.

“At the time, Jim was just standing there yelling at him, cussing him out, telling him to get out of the house, and he knocked over a few knickknacks,” Jeannette said.

Jeannette didn’t know what to do, so she opened the door and propped the screen door open, thinking the bear would be looking for a way out.

“He got up on the couch and tried to get out a bigger window, and all the others were closed, and he tried another window,“ she said. “Finally he went back out the window he came in.”

It happened so quickly that the Leis really didn’t think about grabbing something to protect themselves.

“He was frightened enough to go back out, but he was brave enough to come back the next day,” Jeannette said.

The bear was looking through the same window.

“Jim tapped on the window, and he didn’t even move, he just stayed right there,” Jeannette recalled. “I told Jim, ‘I’m kinda worried about that, if he’s not afraid of you making motions right in front of him.’”

The Leis live about 100 miles from Miles City, and their closest neighbor is about seven miles away. 

“We decided that we couldn’t very well call somebody because by the time they got here, he’d be gone,” said Jeannette, who is 76. 

So Jim, 82, got out his .30-30 and, struggling with his arthritic hands, took care of the bear.

“As soon as we got through we called the game warden, and he came from Miles City,” Jeannette said. “He said, ‘You did the right thing because he was getting too familiar, and if you guys had been gone and he got in the house, it’s hard telling what kind of mess he would have made.’”

Jim told her, “I never did have that kind of experience, all my life on the ranch, having a bear come into the house.”

The warden determined that the bear was probably about a three-year-old male. He took a picture of Jim with the bear before taking the carcass to skin it out.

“He told Jim he could have the skull, and Jim’s pretty tickled about that,” Jeannette said.

The day wasn’t over yet for the warden, however. Jeannette heard later that while he was on his way home, he was bitten by a rattlesnake. Warden Capt. Jack Austin has since been treated and released.

Jeannette said it’s scary to stop and think what the bear could have done. 

“I’m not gonna leave the windows open anymore,” she said. “We have an older house, so we don’t have air conditioning, so at night I always open the windows up and close them in the morning. But I’m gonna be awful careful with which ones I open and which ones I close.”

One of their grandsons was proud to tell a friend, “My Grandpa shot a bear, and he only took one shot and he killed him.”

It’s been pretty quiet at their place since the bear’s visit, Jeannette said.

“After all that drama, and now we don’t have anything, it’s just a letdown,” she said lightly, adding, “not that I want that experience again.”