Alpha Williams was relaxing on her porch, sipping some water, perhaps thinking that today was going to be just like any other day. But then a big black bear clambered up next to her and attacked. The animal was clearly not happy about Alpha being anywhere near the three cubs it had alongside it, so it reared up and got in the elderly woman’s face. Alpha was left with little choice; she had to act or suffer the deadly consequences.
The one thing going in Alpha’s favor was that she’d seen many bears in her yard before. She had lived for the past 45 years in her home in Wares Valley, a short stretch from the Great Smoky Mountains. So, by this point, the 90-year-old woman had gotten comfortable with the sight of these majestic animals. But this bear was different.
What was particularly strange about the encounter in June 2022 was that Alpha had seen this bear, or one just like it, before. By all accounts, Alpha had been behaving in the same way when she had seen it and had been perfectly safe. The Tennessee resident was also aware that she had to be careful around the animals. This meant doing simple things such as making sure her birdseed was out of reach from any unwanted guests.
Alpha also knew that she shouldn’t discard food waste in her yard in case it invited bears to get closer to her home. Although she has, on the odd occasion, let this important rule slip, possibly at her own risk. Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) spokesperson Matt Cameron told WVLT News that leaving out food is one of the worst things you can do for bears. The problem is that this simple act is teaching the bears to link humans and food in their minds, and that’s when dangerous encounters, such as Alpha’s terrifying experience, can happen more often.
If you’re going to heed these warnings anywhere, then Wares Valley is the place. There are an estimated 1,500 black bears in the surrounding area, and these guys are not to be messed with. Black bears can be as long as six feet and as tall as three feet in height. A female can also weigh more than 100 pounds in the summer.
When Alpha was attacked, the TWRA issued advice explaining how to avoid getting into close encounters with black bears. First and foremost, you shouldn’t give the animals food or get anywhere near them.
But if you do get too close, the official advice is surprisingly to stand up for yourself and don’t run. This is because bears are thought to be more scared of us than we are of them. In fact, when Alpha had encountered bears in the past, she had found that the bears usually ran away from her. She believed, as the experts tell us, that the bears were frightened to be around humans, and so she had very little to actually be worried about.
And during her June 2022 encounter, the 90-year-old perhaps thought that her previous interaction with a similar bear would keep her from harm. That previous encounter was back in 2021. Alpha had been in her yard on that occasion too. The bear had also had three cubs, just like the aggressive one she encountered in 2022 when it had ambled into her sightline. But that animal hadn’t so much as given her a second glance.
Alpha had another compelling reason not to have been worried about bear encounters. After 45 years of living in Wares Valley, Alpha had been acutely aware that bear visits were getting more and more frequent. Yet she’d had uneventful experiences. Whenever she’d had a sighting of any other bears on her property in the past, she’d even been relaxing on her porch swing before without any trouble from the animals. But not this time.
The attack on Alpha was all the more shocking because it happened so quickly. Alpha was reclining on her porch, relaxing with her water, for no more than three minutes when the bear appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Alpha’s first instinct was to get to her feet, of course. But by the time she had stood up, the bear was already in her face.
The bear then apparently made a lunge at Alpha. It’s thought that the animal had heard Alpha on her porch and perhaps had felt the need to respond. But whatever was going on in the bear’s mind, it must have been terrifying for Alpha. After all, these animals could easily kill a human with one strike of their powerful paws.
Fortunately for Alpha, the bear didn’t batter her with a deadly blow, but it did cause her a nasty injury. The bear’s swipe caught her and tore the skin along one of her arms. But the bear didn’t just strike her and run away. The animal continued to crowd her porch and approach her. Alpha had to have her wits about her if she was going to survive.
But it wasn’t like the 90-year-old woman had a spare weapon to hand. So, perhaps heeding the advice from the TWRA to use anything you can find to defend yourself, Alpha grabbed the closest thing to her. The only problem was that this wasn’t pepper spray or a rock or even a stick. It was a lawn chair. But needs must when the devil drives.
Alpha took hold of the chair and pushed it towards the bear. She managed to get herself positioned behind the chair with the bear on the other side. Then she just well kept on sliding the chair backward and forward toward the aggressive animal. And amazingly, it worked. The bear at last scampered off.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. It turned out that the bear didn’t run very far away. According to the TWRA’s Matt Cameron, the animal only made it as far as Alpha’s neighbor’s property. And it seemed that the bear, unfortunately, had not had its fill of human
interaction. Cameron told WVLT that it actually charged at Alpha’s neighbor and later met a tragic end.
The person the bear chose to charge this time around must not have been an unarmed 90-year-old woman. The potential victim in this second incident managed to shoot the animal before any further damage could be done. And after the bear had had a second encounter with humans in this neighborhood, the authorities sadly knew what they had to do.
Cameron explained to WVLT that the state of Tennessee has a set of rules that dictate what happens to a bear under these circumstances. He said that because the bear had interacted aggressively with people, the state was forced to euthanize the animal. “We don’t just euthanize bears based on personal feelings,” he said. However, animals such as this can’t be relocated, according to Cameron.
But Cameron was quick to praise 90-year-old Alpha for her actions on this day. “The way she responded was exactly what we tell people to do,” he said. “To get big, yell at them, make noise to intimidate them. Pat on the back for how she responded. It very well could have saved her life.”
Alpha seemed pretty relieved that it was finally all over too. Alpha even became overcome with emotion when she expressed her feelings to WVLT. “I’ve been praising the Lord ever since then because I may not be here,” she said, fighting back tears.
But Alpha should be proud of herself too. In fact, there are a few things you could learn from Alpha should you ever encounter a wild bear.