By Justin Glawe
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.
Graham, 16, has a story to tell the rest of his life; 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 at a campground along Lake Winnibigoshish, between Bemidji and Grand Rapids.
“I had to reach behind me and jerk my head out of its mouth,” he said after being treated at a Bemidji hospital. “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 with five of his friends that night. The attack, and subsequent defeat, of the wolf came just before 4 a.m. Saturday.
The wolf suspected of carrying out the attack was captured and killed Monday, said Tom Provost, DNR regional enforcement supervisor at Grand Rapids. A necropsy and DNA testing should prove whether the 75-pound animal authorities have in their possession is the same one that took a bite out of Graham’s scalp.
The campground was closed and traps remained set up in the area until Monday night.
When DNR staff 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 canine 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.
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.
Reporter Sam Cook contributed to this article.