November 30, 2003 by

Papa-Bear Whitmore


Categories: Education

papabear.jpgPapa-Bear Whitmore, a survival expert and instructor, died on Oct. 22. Cause of death was not released. He was 76.
Born Robert Whitmore, the former Marine first became interested in survival skills in the early 1950s during the search for a missing girl. When he found her body, Whitmore dedicated his life to teaching hikers and campers how to survive outdoors.
For more than 40 years, Whitmore taught outdoor skills and hunter safety classes for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He served with the Civil Defense Search and Rescue, and wrote the 14-page pamphlet, “The Art of Survival,” which is distributed at the state’s wildlife agency.
The proprietor of the Wilderness Institute of Survival Education in Loveland, Colo., and the co-author of the book, “The W.I.S.E. Guide to Wilderness Survival,” Whitmore taught thousands of students how to start fires and build shelters.
“You know, the majority of people who die in the wilderness die needlessly. With a little education, most of those lives could be saved,” Whitmore once said.
Whitmore was also adopted into the Choctaw Nation in 1952.

16 Responses to Papa-Bear Whitmore

  1. C. Max Queen

    I arranged for Papa Bear to teach class to a group of Paramedics and Firefighters in Asheville NC in the late 80’s. He was a wonderful speaker and it was a privilege to know him.

  2. Nancy Barkofske

    I had been to two different class of this wonderful man. One in Oak Grove Missouri and the other in Witchita Kansas. I took my daughter to the second. I learn alot from this man and still pass on the information to others. He will be missed by anyone who met him.

  3. Jerry Forman

    I first attended a winter survival workshop that Papa Bear put on in Helena, MT in the early 90’s. In the mid 90’s, I arranged for him to teach a group in Miles City, MT. What a wonderful man with a life saving message. His knowledge and experience has truely touched and saved countless lives. I have in turn taught some of my fellow snowmobile riders, some of the technics learned from Papa Bear. His legacy will live on, and he will be missed.

  4. Robert Williams

    I studied wilderness survival with Papa Bear way back in 1977 and my life was immeasurably touched by him. Several times over the years in my outdoor experiences, I depended on knowledge that he imparted to me and know that in one case I owe my life to the skills and knowledge he shared. I have taught all my children the same skills and plan to pass on that same knowledge to my grandchildren as well. I can’t think of a more appropriate legacy than that. All who knew him, miss him greatly and know that our lives were made better by knowing him.

  5. Ed Wade

    Papa Bear taught many classes to the youth of Civial Air Patrol and Explorer Posts for us for many years. His unique combination of wit and knowledge touched so many. I still proudly use one of his survival knives, as sharp as the day I got it. Much of his material has been adapted into many other organizations and the training program of volunteer groups. His words are still spreading out across this world like ripples on a pond. I salute the passing of a great man into the great void. Farwell, Bob. You will will always be remembered.

  6. Riley Relfe

    When I was a teenager I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and had the great fortune to take a wilderness survival class and outdoor training from Papa Bear. He was such a kind, wise and great soul. I remember his joy of making all the participants in the training his stew and telling us wonderful stories in his trailer. He was fascinating and forever touched my heart. He will be deeply missed.

  7. gerald mangus

    I attened several of Papa Bear’s classes as a boy scout in troop 264. I knew both of his step sons and he will be sorely missed.

  8. Eric Berg

    I taught survival at Philmont after training for a week with him and using Bob’s format. Later that year(1974) a couple of us stayed with him
    for some of his Denver area classes. The man was filled with energy. I’m sorry I never took the time to look him up again. I’m still using his lesson plans for Colorado SAR/BSA/anyone that wants it classes. Water, fire, shelter, signaling, personal safety. He did write the book and indirectly reached tens of thousands.

  9. Bill Prohs

    My son and I were just talking about a class we took from PaPa Bear Whitmore and decided to Google him up. We were sad to read about his passing. What a great teacher and man he was!

  10. John Long

    I had the previlege to go through outdoor instructor training under the ever watchful eye of Papa Bear (I knew him then as Bob) back in 1977-78. Even since that time I have taught Papa Bear’s principles to many a boy scout and to many others through adult education classes at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs Colorado and elsewhere.
    I still remember the very first time I met “Bob”, at an adult outdoor education class he was teaching in the Denver area in 1977. The very first thing he did in introducing himself was to spear a spider running across the table and then sticking his finger in his mouth he mumbled some comment such as, “Great, a little protein to start things off”.
    Papa Bear was a kind gentle giant of a man. I remember the wild Bobcat he kept as a pet in his old house in Westminster Colorado. I relive the teepee ceremonies he held outside in the yard. I helped remodel the old house and I appreciate the extra time this gave me to get to know the man personally.
    Papa Bear Whitmore forever lives on through all of us who continue to teach his principles and who love the outdoors as much as he did.

  11. Phil

    I was bored at work today, cleaning my wallet I found my wilderness survival card I got for completing Papa Bear’s class from the late 90’s. I decided to Google him and found he passed. I learned a lot from his classes and used the knowledge to go out and backpack in the wilds of the Rockies with no fear and a lot of confidence. I remember at his first class when he ate a spider. He was a class act all the way and the world is a sadder place without him.

  12. Paul

    I was trained by PAPA BEAR back in the early 80s, I was a flight medic and Papa Bear came in as part of our training. He was a really great guy, everyone that went through the class realy became attached to him. He not only was our teacher but our friend.
    Paul, Erie PA

  13. John Leybounre

    I took several classes from him while i was a Cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, and still use and remember all of the skills he imparted upon his students and myself. I plan on passing his teachings to my son, and in doing that, hope is teachings and memory will live forever.

  14. Ted

    I participated in one of Papa Bear’s classes in the early ’80s. I have always remembered his powerful stories about hypothermia – how little it takes to get into trouble and how irrational the mind becomes.
    I just finished reading about the NFL players who lost their lives (apparently) after their fishing boat capsized off the Florida coast. The lone survivor experienced hypothermia. Safe to assume the others suffered as well but poor judgement told them, one by one, to discard their life preservers and swim to safety. Each made worst possible decision and lost his life.
    Papa Bear showed a film that depicted a fly fisherman out on a sunny fall day in Colorado, as I remember. He fell into the stream at one point an unknowingly triggered the process of hypothermia. As his body temperature fell throughout the day, he wandered farther and farther from his car. Through the night, he became disoriented, panicked and somehow just lost all sensibility. He died from exposure and rescuers said they found him in a bear hug position, arms wrapped around a tree trunk and fingernails buried in the bark.
    Well, those are sober stories and perhaps it’s an injustice that we should think about Papa Bear whenever one of these incidents hits the news. But 25 years after my classroom experience with Papa Bear, I can honestly say there have been times when I gave a second though to getting cold and wet up in the high country. I’ve watched my friends and family more closely to make sure they’re not slipping into that hypothermic trap. I put winter gear and food in my trunk just in case I slide into some remote snow bank and can’t get help. I can’t guarantee I’m here today because of Papa Bear, but I can promise you I’ve played the odds a lot smarter because of him.
    Thanks Papa Bear for making an impact.

  15. Jennifer Oscar

    I made several trips with him while also a cadet in C.A.P. Now that I have a 10 year old son, I hope to teach him those same skills that I will never forget. He was a wonderful man…

  16. Bill Blackburn

    I was another Civil Air Patrol cadet taught by Papa Bear in the early 90’s. (I even see a couple of familiar names above.) His courses were excellent, and I still use the skills I learned to this day. Papa Bear, you will be missed.

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