In the spring of 1860 life changed completely for Daniel Folkeson Oddeskar from Setesdal, Norway. A tough life in a small homestead would within a few seconds be even tougher.

Daniel Folkeson Oddeskar was born in Valle parish in Setesdal, 1804. He was a son of Folke Åsmundsen and Gunhild Halvorsdatter.

His father was a tenant farmer and as the youngest of the many siblings, Daniel had not the best starting point in life.

As a grown up Daniel eventually settled on the homestead Oddeskar. Here he lived with his wife Ingeborg Åsmundsdatter, who was ten years younger than him. The couple had several children.

However, life on the little homestead would take a dramatic turn a day in the spring of 1860.

Different versions

There are several reports of the incident that took place this day. The text below is based on the account of Torgeir Bjørnaraa from 1916.

Torgeir was born 4 years after the incident and must therefore have been told the story from Daniel himself or from another fellow townsman. Torgeir worked as a teacher in the village. This is probably contributing to his account being one of the best preserved for posterity.

According to Torgeir, Daniel and Ingeborg had two cows. The bear attack occurred early in the spring and the cows were still grazing very close to the small farm.

The bear attacks

Night was falling and Ingeborg was on her way to milk the cows. In the dusk she saw a bear that looked emaciated after a winter in it’s den. The bear seemed to target one of the precious cows and Ingeborg screamed when she saw what was about to happen.

Daniel Folkeson Oddeskar without the mask. Photo: Aust-Agder Archives

When Daniel discovered the fateful scenario, he became so angry that he ran out to save the cow without thinking. He did not have any weapons or anything else to protect himself, except a stick that he grabbed on his way towards the bear.

When he arrived he hit the stick against the bear’s skull as hard as he could, but it wasn’t hard enough. The bear who already had a good grip on the cow turned to Daniel and knocked him to the ground.

Daniel tried to play dead, but the animal wasn’t fooled. In a flash, the bear hacked off half of his face and began to slap and toy around with the poor man.

At the same time, the terrified Ingeborg saw her husband about to be killed by the bear. She screamed so fiercely that it scared the bear and probably saved Daniel’s life.

Barely survived

Daniel Folkeson was on the ground, so badly injured that people did not think he would survive. But after 8 weeks of medical treatment, lying in a bed at home in the farmhouse of Oddeskar, Daniel was again able to do most things on his own.

The life he so slowly returned to was not the same as before. He was physically bothered by the fact that the inner parts of his head was exposed to air and, not the least, he could not be around people without arousing their horror.

To protect against the pain of air exposure and to cover up the terrible damage to his face, he first tried wrapping a towel around his head. Eventually he had to undertake the hazardous trip to the city of Kristiansand to seek help.

He was admitted to the City Hospital, with the best treatment by the most distinguished doctors. But all sorts of healing arts, meticulousness and good care was not able to give him a human appearance.

The dentist made a mask

A dentist named Halvor Georg Theodor Moe would eventually hear about the tragedy of the poor farmer from Setesdal. Moe had established himself as the city of Arendal’s first dentist just four years before the bear attack.

Dentist Halvor Georg Theodor Moe (1826-1877) who made the mask for Daniel Folkeson

Without remuneration, Moe made a mask that:

… both protects against the impact of air and allows him to pass his fellow human beings without them recoiling from him in horror.

Halvor Georg Theodor Moe later made a copy of the mask that was sent to the World Expo in Vienna in 1873.

Life afterwards

Despite the extensive damage, and not at least that the incident took place in the mid-1800s, Daniel was able to experience life until he was 73 years of age. For 17 years he lived with his disfigured face, but with a slightly better quality of life thanks to a dentist from Arendal.

Daniel died on November 2, 1877.