BEMIDJI - Noah Graham, after waking up to find his skull in the jaws of a wolf, fought off the animal and lived to tell the tale.
Read that sentence again.
Graham is 16-years-old and he has a story to tell the rest of his life; thankfully, a story about an incident that Chris Niskanen of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources called “extremely rare and unusual.”
Despite an 11-centimeter wide gash on his scalp, 17 staples to close the wound and “the worst pain of his life,” the Solway teen was nonchalant about the attack, which occurred Saturday morning.
“I had to reach behind me and jerk my head out of its mouth,” he said, mimicking the life-saving and meal-spoiling act. “After I got up, I was kicking at it and screaming at it and it wouldn’t leave. But then after awhile I got it to run away.”
Graham was camping at the West Winnie Campground at Lake Winnibigoshish with five of his friends that night. The attack, and subsequent defeat, of the wolf came just before 4 a.m. Saturday.
The ordeal may be the first documented wolf attack on a human in Minnesota, according to Tom Provost, a DNR regional manager.
“It’s the first one that I’m aware of,” he said. There have been two wolf attack fatalities in North America in the last decade, according to the DNR. One was in northern Canada and another was in Alaska.
The wolf suspected of carrying out the attack was captured and killed Monday, Provost said. A necropsy and DNA testing should prove whether the animal authorities have in their possession is the same one that took a bite out of Graham’s scalp.The campground is closed until further notice, and traps will remain set up in the area Monday night. When the DNR and officers with Leech Lake Tribal Police arrived after the attack they set up a perimeter in an attempt to capture the creature. At one point, a DNR officer blasted a pistol shot at the wolf, but missed. Traps were set and in one, Graham’s alleged attacker was found.
There are a few possible explanations for the wolf’s attack on a human: It occurred at a campground, where wild animals may be used to retrieving food from lazy campers; the wolf had a misaligned jaw and was missing a K9 tooth, making it harder to go after larger prey, Provost said; and finally, Graham’s head, with his straight auburn hair, may have resembled smaller prey.
“I won’t be sleeping outside again any time soon,” he said.
Graham was talking with his girlfriend just before the wolf chomped. The bite came without warning.
“There was no sound at all. Didn’t hear it. It was just all of a sudden there,” he said.
Graham defeated the wolf alone. His girlfriend fled (“she ran and got in her Jeep right away,” he said), and two members of the camping party “slept through” the screaming, kicking and fighting.
Then, the 16-year-old called his dad, Scott Graham. All parents dread the 4 a.m. phone call, but very seldom does a conversation go like it did Saturday morning.
“Dad, I just got attacked by a wolf.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Just make sure you call 911 cause you need to alert the authorities.”
Graham is skinny and tall, and didn’t seemed phased by his encounter with the animal. Nor did he seem shaken by the needle that pierced his wound to deliver a rabies shot following the attack.
When Scott and his wife, Amy, reached the hospital in Bemidji, their son asked if his parents were alright. Scott laughed Monday afternoon, remembering the absurd question.
“I thought it was a big coyote, but I guess it’s a wolf. Not a full size wolf, but...”
But nothing. The wolf weighed 75 lbs.
In a land of tall tales involving massive bear, 12-point bucks and 100-pound fish, Graham just fought of an animal that had his brain folds dead to rights.
Take some credit, kid.