FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The discovery of Dick Cook's body Monday closes the final chapter for the Bush rat made famous in John McPhee's classic book about Alaska, ''Coming Into the Country.''
The 70-year-old Cook lived for more than three decades in remote cabins on the Tatonduk and Yukon rivers near Eagle. His body was found near the mouth of the Tatonduk.
Troopers say he drowned accidentally in the remote wilderness where he lived for so many years. But when and how that happened will likely remain a mystery.
Cook swamped his canoe in the Tatonduk River, about 20 miles downstream from Eagle. But he appears to have returned to his cabin after that misfortune.
Searchers located his canoe and some personal items about 3 1/2 miles downstream from his cabin on June 19. That was the same day he was reported missing by friends who were supposed to take care of his dogs and chickens while he made a trip to Fairbanks.
The discovery of the canoe led searchers to believe that Cook drowned when he flipped the boat.
But two days later, Kevin Fox, the chief of operations for the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, found an entry in a log book at Cook's cabin dated June 18. It said he had swamped his canoe en route to Eagle. There was no mention of what he planned to do next.
''That gave us renewed hope,'' said Fox, who helped with the search.
Just how Cook drowned is still a mystery, based on the entry in his log book and the fact that his body was found about a mile and a half from the swamped canoe.
Fox said Cook may have tried to retrieve his canoe, an old, silver square-stern Grumman with a nine-horse motor.
Cook's hardscrabble, subsistence life was chronicled in McPhee's 1977 book. The Alaska-coming-of-age account featuring the sleepy river town of Eagle at the edge of the Last Frontier, and its surrounding ''river people.''
As part of his research for ''Coming Into the Country,'' McPhee spent several months living with Cook. McPhee dubbed him ''the most emblematic'' of the river people.
''He is their exemplar -- the one who has done it and stuck. So the newcomers turn to him, when he is in town, as sage and mentor. He tells them it's a big but hungry country out there, good enough for trapping but not for too much trapping, and they are to stay the hell off his trap lines,'' McPhee wrote.
Cook lived on the Yukon and Tatonduk rivers for more than 30 years, ever since arriving in Eagle in the mid-1960s.
''He was kind of a fixture, he'd been here so long,'' said Mike Sager, a former ''neighbor'' of Cook's who lived 15 miles down the Yukon River. ''He did his thing. He lived his life. He did what he wanted.
''I'm sure it's preferable for him to die this way than dying in a hospital,'' Sager said.
Fox of the Yukon-Charley preserve last talked with Cook on June 12 when the trapper stopped by his office. He seemed to be in good spirits and health, Fox said.
''I was impressed with how sharp he was and how he was getting around,'' Fox recalled. ''I remember thinking, 'Boy, I hope I'm in that kind of shape when I'm 70.'''
Cook was small and taut. His body was like his life: hard and efficient.
''He was real tough for his age,'' Sager said.
''Tough'' was the word friends used most often to describe Cook in interviews this week.
''He was pretty tough,'' said John Borg, another longtime Eagle resident who was also featured in McPhee's book. ''He had a wealth of information on how to survive and get along in the wilderness.''
Cook endured several setbacks in recent years, said Borg. One of his cabins burned, and another was flooded. But Cook kept on, happy with his place in life.
''It was a tough existence, but he was ever optimistic,'' Borg said.
Cook was a staunch defender of the Bush life and firmly believed there was a place in Alaska for people willing to live with what the land and river provided.
''You can go out here and live on very little, or you can sit in Anchorage 10 years trying to earn enough money to live out here,'' Cook said in a 1997 interview.
When the search for Cook began, residents in Eagle responded in force. ''You can tell he had a lot of friends in the community,'' Fox said.
Pat Sanders, an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service, knew Cook for all of the 21 years she has lived in Eagle. She met him about a month after moving to Eagle.
''I was running the general store at the time and he came off the river and said, 'Welcome to Eagle' and gave me a cabbage,'' she said. ''It was a big cabbage. He was a good gardener.''
In all the years she knew him, Sanders said Cook didn't change much.
''The only difference was he got a little grayer,'' Sanders said. ''He was quite a wonderful man.''
Cook was noted for his lush gardens and voracious reading appetite, as well as his backcountry ways.
''He did a lot of reading and research,'' Sager recalled. ''He was well versed in a lot of things.''
Cook only went into town a few times a year, preferring his cabins on the river, away from people. Over the years, Cook had several close calls in his canoe on the Tatonduk River, Sager said.
''He's flipped his canoe many, many times,'' Sager said. ''At some point it's going to catch up to you.
Borg said much the same thing.
''If you're going to spend any time on the Tatonduk River, sooner or later you're going to run into a mishap,'' he said.
Just hours before Cook's body was found, Sanders said residents in Eagle were still holding out hope for the wily old trapper.
''We're just waiting for Dick to pop out of the bushes on the other side of the river and ask for a ride to town,'' she said.
Cook's presence and spirit will be missed in the small town, Eagle residents said.
''He was a real character,'' Sager said. ''There's no way you can be out there that long and not be a character.''
Said Fox, ''He was part of the country here.''
Distributed by The Associated Press
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