Volume 2, Number 11, Spring 1967
Dr. Compton an old time physician of Taney County, tells of his experiences, including lonely night rides in the hills, meeting with panthers, bears and other wild animals.
"When I came to the country in June 1872, I located near White River in Taney County near the Taney-Stone County Line.
"Of course at that time the country was thinly settled but as there were not many physicians my territory was large, and my task was not very light, as I had many calls both night and day to visit the sick.
"I crossed the White River many times in the night in a small craft when the water was over flowing its banks and large drifts floated down the current. Sometimes I had lantern, other times in the dark. I encountered many dangers in crossing the river at night.
"At that time farming was not carried on very extensively, except by a few newcomers. Most of the old settlers were not in sympathy with their new neighbors plan of farming, but kept up their old style of living by hunting and fishing. Many times when visiting those have I thought of the boy going to mill horseback with corn in one end of the sack and a rock in the other. He was met by a friend who advised him to take the rock out and divide the corn, as it would make it lighter and easier to carry. "No! he said, my father and grandfather have always followed this plan, and they made a good living, and on he went.
"There were some good old citizens and I had great respect for most of them, but I have often heard it said that the working bees would sting the drones out. You see but few of them now; they have moved out and died out.
"Not long after I came to Taney County I was surprised and greatly delighted when called to go near the mouth of James River in Stone County, to view the beautiful winding stream of the White River and its lovely bluffs. To the newcomers I say if you love beautiful scenery, take the trip spoken of above, and I think you will feel yourself paid for your trouble. But the scenery in Stone County with its beautiful white rock bluff is not all. When you get in Taney County, below the mouth of Long Creek, beautiful bluffs are still in sight and not far below you will come to the Flat Rock bluff, just at the foot of Cow Mountain, and you will find a great deal more beautiful scenery all the way down White River as far as I have been and farther yet I suppose.
"Soon after I came to this country I found a great deal of wild game and many wild beasts. There were more wild deer than sheep; and turkeys, squirrels, geese, ducks, quail in abundance. The panther, black bear, wild cat, catamount and gray and red foxes were most often seen. Many a pair of venison hams and many wild turkeys were taken from this country to Springfield and sold.
"I was somewhat alarmed one night, on my return home from a visit to a patient to find on my right a panther keeping pace with me while riding along the road. The panther was on more elevated ground, and I presuaded my horse to go a little faster just then, but the panther seemed to want company. Not wishing any further acquaintance, and having no firearms with me, I thought I would use my pocket knife if I had to; but I left the beast, which was seen by others that night and also the next day.
"I remember, some year or so after, being called to Judge Shepherds in Stone County to see a patient. As it was late when I started and the distance was eight or nine miles, I returned in the dark. While my horse was walking briskly, all at once he threw up his head and went backward. Well, what was it? A black bear about fifteen steps ahead. I was not much afraid, and thought I would persuade the horse to go the road; but there being quite number of bushes on each side of the bridle way, the horse refused to go, but when about seven or eight steps from the bear he turned to the right and darted around under a bough of a black oak, when a rough limb took my hat off. It fell on the side next to the bear, and I looked at my hat, then at the bear. Not being much afraid of Mr. Bruin, I got my hat, but didnt tarry long on the ground. The bear was seen the next day in one of my fields by one of my nephews.
"Many times I have seen wild beasts while riding in the night, but could not see them plain enough to tell whether they were wolves or panthers. They have nearly all left here now. We seldom hear of one being seen. Some say occasionally one is seen, either a bear or a panther, passing from the bluffs through the pineries.
"Many times I have been called to visit the sick in the night. Had a pilot, of course, to lead me to the domicile, or mud hovel, as I used to call them. Some of the houses were built of round logs or poles, from ten to sixteen feet long, pointed with mud, covered with clapboards split from the oak or pine. They had wooden chimneys,
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with some rock for the hearth and fireplace. No glass windows, some no opening for a window at all. Doors made of the same material as the roof, only longer, call clapboard doors. Others had respectable houses built with hewed timber, pointed with lime, covered with shingles, good doors and glass windows.
"As to their manner of living, I found most of the old citizens very hospitable, and always seemed willing to set before you such food as they had. Some had venison, turkey, fish, and I have had at some places a cup of water and cornbread. I was at one place where they were cooking skunk for dinner, but I had a late breakfast that morning and did not care for dinner.
"I had many experiences in the seventies and eighties with the people described. Their manner of living was as different as their houses.
"My introduction to the Bowman families in the early seventies gave me some idea of the backwoodsmans wild life. I learned that they were Indians, or mixed blood. I soon became acquainted with old Aunt Celuma Bowman. It was her husband, old Gip Bowman, that had the encounter with the panther. One night while out hunting he unexpectedly came up to a mother panther and her kits. In a moment the panther was on him. He was prepared with gun and knife, but had no time to use the gun. He stabbed her with the knife and broke the blade, and then had to fight with his fist. He was a powerful man and killed the panther, but never got over the encounter, and died not long after.
"Aunt Celuma was a very religious woman. She told me she had preached many times in the neighborhood, and in the court house that was at the mouth of Bull Creek at that time.
"I will close by saying that I lived many years at the foot of the ridge called Compton ridge, by Harold Bell Wright in "The Shepherd of the Hills"
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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