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Tonk the grizzly hazing horse a celeb at Western Montana Fair

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Trail ride wrangler Erin Bolster and her famous steed, Tonk, were greeting fans at the Western Montana Fair in Missoula last week to celebrate the 1st anniversary of their heroic encounter with a grizzly bear.

Bolster and Tonk rode into the national spotlight after repeatedly charging a grizzly that had burst into a trail ride Bolster was leading near Glacier National Park. As the bear chased a horse carrying a terrified 8-year-old boy through the timber, Bolster was able to get Tonk to overcome fleeing instincts and charge the grizzly into submission. 

My story about the encounter last summer swept across the nation and landed Bolster — Tonk, too! — in New York for Late Night with David Letterman.

Bolster said she's met a lot of people and had many career opportunities because of the favorable response to the fame she and Tonk have garnered.

This summer, however, she's been living mostly in a tent near the Flathead National Forest, leading trail rides for the flood of people young and old who've booked trips in anticipation of touching the horse flesh of a hero. 

Griz Wrangler Adusts To New Normal

A few weeks ago, she was just a wrangler who led dudes on trail rides near Glacier National Park. This week, Erin Bolster is trying to deal with a thousand email messages a day, not to mention book proposals and tempting job offers. The wrangler who rode her horse to the rescue of a young boy being threatened by a grizzly bear this summer is trying to settle back into her Montana lifestyle. That’s easier said than done after a Sept. 18 feature in The Spokesman-Review trotted Erin Bolster and her horse, Tonk, into the national spotlight. The ride peaked with an Oct. 11 appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman.” “I’m not sure I’ve landed yet,” said the 25-year-old Virginia native after returning from New York City to her home in Whitefish, Mont./Rich Landers, SR. More here. (CBS photo: Horse hauler Randy Siemsen and Erin Bolster with Tonk on Letterman stage)

Question: What would you do if you were in Erin Bolster's shoes?

Wrangler, Tonk Wow Letterman Crowd

SR buddy Rich Landers/Outdoors blog posted this video of wrangler Erin Bolster's appearance last night on the "David Letterman Show." You can read Rich's story here.

Letterman Features Brave Wrangler

The horse Tonk and Erin Bolster receive warm applause after being introduced by Late Show host David Letterman. At the end of July, the Whitefish, Montana native and saved the life of an 8-year-old Illinois boy when Bolster, riding astride Tonk, helped scare a charging grizzly bear away from the boy as she was leading a group of eight people on a trail ride near Glacier National Park. (Photo: John P. Filo/CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

Fans of heroes, horses, wranglers and grizzly bears got it all in one package Tuesday night on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Trail riding guide Erin Bolster and her horse from Whitefish, Mont., were featured on the CBS show after a Sept. 18 Spokesman-Review feature trotted the duo into the national spotlight. “How can you not love this story?” Letterman said as he introduced Bolster. The host praised the 25-year-old wrangler who leveraged her own bravery as she persuaded the horse to save a child by charging a grizzly bear head on. She’d been acquainted with the leased horse from the Swan Mountain Outfitters stock pool for only two months/Rich Landers, SR. More here. (AP file photo, inset: Ian Turner, of northern California, who is the boy Bolster protected)

Question: Have you ever done something worthy of David Letterman?

Video: Erin Bolster, Tonk wow crowd on The Late Show with David Letterman

Watch the video clip of Erin Bolster and Tonk on Late Night with David Letterman. The full segment will be broadcast tonight on CBS:

Fans of heroes, horses, wranglers and grizzly bears will get it all in one package tonight on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Trail riding guide Erin Bolster and her horse from Whitefish, Mont., are being featured on the CBS talk show after a Sept. 18 Spokesman-Review feature trotted the duo into the national spotlight.

“How can you not love this story?” Letterman says as he introduces Bolster in a show taped earlier today. The host praised the 25-year-old wrangler who leveraged her own bravery as she convinced the horse to save a child by charging a grizzly bear head on.

Bolster had been acquainted with the leased horse from the Swan Mountain Outfitters stock pool for only two months.

“Our first guest showed remarkable courage when she and her horse, Tonk, rescued a young boy from a 750-pound grizzly bear – 750 pound grizzly bear: that’s like (all the people in) Row 2,” Letterman says, pointing to the audience.

In the interview, Bolster says Tonk initially “didn’t want to be there” when the grizzly ran into her group of eight trail riders.

The bear was chasing a deer. But when the deer escaped in the pandemonium of panicking horses, the grizzly continued its pursuit – bearing down on a fleeing horse carrying Ian Turner, an 8-year-old guest from northern California.

Horse experts have marveled at Bolster’s ability to get Tonk to overcome his natural instinct to run away from the danger. With Bolster’s heels in his ribs, the large Percheron (draft horse) mix, wheeled around and charged the bear three times before driving it away from the boy and the other horse.

“Erin was just awesome,” said Greg Turner, the boy’s father. “I can't say enough good things about her.”

Tonk reacts similarly when Letterman introduces him to the nation on tonight's show. That is, when the studio audience roars with applause, Tonk initially wants to head for the barn.

“Must be a bear on 53rd Street,” Letterman says as the huge white horse pivots and moons the crowd.

But Bolster composes the horse, holds his head tight to her shoulder and confirms that she bought Tonk after his heroic performance against the bear.

“He’s my boy now,” she says, to the crowd’s approval.

“Lovely story,” Letterman says. “And take good care of this guy.”

“Wow. That was awesome,” Bolster said in a Facebook post after taping the show this afternoon. “Tonk tried his very hardest to be a good boy. He was so cute… love him.”

Dad praises wrangler who saved son from grizzly

Ian Turner, 8, of northern California is pictured here on a horse named Scout on July 30, 2011, shortly before they were chased by a grizzly bear on a trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters near Glacier National Park. Wrangler Erin Bolster and her horse, Tonk, rode to his rescue, challenging the bear until it ran off. 

Here's what Ian's dad has to say, as posted on the Swan Mountain Outfitters Facebook page:

My name is Greg. My son Ian is the unnamed 8 year old. Erin was just awesome. I can't say enough good things about her. Even aside from her chasing down Ian and Scout, you could not do better by having Erin as your guide. Although, could someone tell Scout not to be chasing bears? :-). Thank you again Erin, you are awesome. Someone was watching out for us all that day.

Gutsy wrangler and horse that took on grizzly taping Letterman Show

GREAT STORIES — If you like heroes, horses, blonde horse wranglers and grizzly bears, tune in to the Late Show with David Letterman tonight.

My Outdoors feature story last month, "Gutsy wrangler, huge horse, save boy from charging grizzly" struck a chord with Spokesman-Review readers –and then spread to readers across the continent like jet-propelled stallions.

The news didn't escape Letterman, who owns a Montana ranch near Choteau. Letterman's handlers shipped both the wrangler and the horse from Whitefish to New York. Tonk was chauffeured on a five-day expedition in a comfort-controlled van with breaks every three hours or so.

The 25-year-old wrangler and her horse are scheduled to be taping two segments today for the show that airs tonight. Bolster and her huge Percheron mix horse will be sharing the show with actor Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off).   

The story of Erin Bolster and Tonk riding herd on a grizzly bear near Glacier National Park went viral on the Internet, capturing the hearts of a country with an appetite for heroes, horses and potential tragedies with happy endings – for both the people and the bear.

The family of the 8-year-old California boy Erin rescued from the bear posted high praise for the Virginia-born wrangler on the Swan Mountain Outfitters Facebook page:

My name is Greg (Turner). My son Ian is the unnamed 8 year old. Erin was just awesome. I can't say enough good things about her. Even aside from her chasing down Ian and Scout, you could not do better by having Erin as your guide. Although, could someone tell Scout not to be chasing bears? :-). Thank you again Erin, you are awesome. Someone was watching out for us all that day.

Nearly 100,000 people a day were viewing the story on The Spokesman-Review site alone in the few days after it was published after Google added the link to its News Spotlight list. Now the story has all over North America and readership is in the millions.

Click here for the follow up story after her appearance with Letterman.

Notes from previous blog posts:

"It’s been crazy," said Bolster from her home in Whitefish, Mont., noting that she’s been interviewed by numerous publications, TV and radio since the S-R story went wild.

She’s also received marriage proposals, job offers and made a lot of new Facebook friends.

She’s set up an account for the many people who’ve offered to chip in for Tonk’s winter boarding, since there’s no bigger hero in this story than the burly white Percheron mix. I've attached it to my Sunday story.

At first, she said she was going out and giving Tonk a carrot every time something new and good came back as more people read the story.

But at the rate it's been going, Tonk was goingto get fat and the pasture was going to be full of orange muffins if she didn't scale back.

Spotlight Finds Gutsy Wrangler, Horse

Rich Landers’ story, “Gutsy wrangler, huge horse, save boy from charging grizzly” (Sept. 18) struck a chord with Spokesman-Review readers – and then spread across the continent like jet-propelled stallions. The story of Erin Bolster and her horse, Tonk, went viral on the Internet, capturing the hearts of a country with an appetite for heroes, horses and potential tragedies with happy endings – for both the people and the bear. On the average, 35,000 people a day were viewing the story, a number that jumped to 97,000 a day on Wednesday when Google added it to it’s News Spotlight list. “It’s been crazy,” said Bolster from her home in Whitefish, Mont., noting that she’s been interviewed by numerous publications, TV and radio since the S-R story went wild. The David Letterman Show has tentatively booked her for Oct. 4 or 5/SR Outdoors. More here.

Question: What elements are needed for a story to go viral?

Wrangler Saves Boy From Grizzly

Grizzlies are high profile this year. A lingering winter and late berry crop kept bears in proximity to humans longer than normal, perhaps contributing to a stream of headlines about grizzlies killing people and people killing grizzlies. Meanwhile, a young lady on a big horse charged out of the pack of grizzly stories near Glacier National Park. In a cloud of dust, the 25-year-old wrangler likely saved a boy’s life while demonstrating that skill, quick-thinking and guts sometimes are the best weapons against a head-on charging grizzly. On July 30, Erin Bolster of Swan Mountain Outfitters was guiding eight clients on a horse ride on the Flathead National Forest between West Glacier and Hungry Horse, Mont./Rich Landers, SR. More here. (Courtesy photo: Erin Bolster, a wrangler for Swan Mountain Outfitters near Glacier Park, poses with her horse, Tonk.)

Question: Do you hike, camp, or trail ride much in grizzly country? What do you take along to protect yourself?