Rightful Owners Of Confiscated Polar Bear Share Its Storied History

Friday, August 5th 2016, 7:36 pm
By: Tess Maune

It was the 1960s and Nancy Gilstrap Barber and her husband Bill Gilstrap were living their dream in Alaska.

“I was 25 and he was 28,” Nancy said. “We went on vacation and we fell in love with Alaska, so we stayed there for five years.”

Their time in The Last Frontier was an adventure, much of it spent out hunting in the bush.

“He hunted moose, caribou, brown bear, black bear and he always wanted to go polar bear hunting,” she said.

And in 1969 Gilstrap got the rare opportunity to legally hunt a polar bear.

Grainy video showed the tundra where Gilstrap harvested the bear and a camera captured some of the moments after the hunt.

“He was real excited. It's an adventure of a lifetime,” Nancy said.

It was a storied adventure the hunter loved to share with his family and friends.

“I heard his stories many times,” Gilstrap’s son and namesake, Bill Jr., said. “He just loved getting a crowd of people and showing his Alaska videos and people loved to watch it.”

The family let an Alaskan bank display the polar bear for several years. But when the Gilstraps moved back to Oklahoma, their trophy came with them. It then went on display in several Pryor businesses.

The polar bear was famous in the small town and even made the local paper. The family says it never had a name.

“I don't know why we never named... it was just ‘The Bear,’” Nancy said.

Nancy kept the bear for 10 years after her husband passed away in 1986. When she moved to a small home, it went to a hangar Bill's brother owned at Jones-Riverside airport. Years later, the brother sold the hangar and drew up a contract for the bear to stay. But then the hangar changed hands again and the family says the bear just disappeared.

8/4/2016 Related Story: Game Wardens Confiscate Stuffed Polar Bear At Jones Airport

“We've been looking for like three years trying to find this polar bear,” Nancy said.

After a yearlong investigation, Oklahoma game wardens seized the polar bear from a different airport hangar Thursday night.

“It kind of put tears in my eyes,” Nancy said.

And it also put a lifetime of memories back in motion.

“He loved that polar bear,” she said laughing.

A love the Gilstraps hope to share with Pryor again...as soon as they get their beloved bear back.

“Hopefully we can put it someplace real close that people can see it and enjoy it like we do,” Nancy said.  

Game warden Carlos Gomez said the man most recently in possession of the polar bear faces a felony charge of possessing lost property. Gomez said the man also faces wildlife charges because the man didn't have the special permits to own a mounted polar bear.

"It's kinda like the title to a car, you can take a car and say it's now my car, but if you don't have the title to the car it's not your car," Gomez said.

The game warden said the man most recently in possession of the bear told the family they could have the animal back for a $7,500 storage fee.

The bear is being kept at a secure location until the legal process runs its course.

It's estimated worth is $50,000. The family says they wouldn't sell for triple that price.