A PANTHER CREATES A SCENE
By S. C. Turnbo
The pioneer settlers and hunters of the Ozarks are no exception to the
generality of their class in their love of telling incidents of early life
and thrilling experiences with the denizens of the forest. It is common
for all people to relate their accounts of the incidents and events in regard
to the occupations they pursue.
The farmer lets the world know how his crops look and what he wants for
his corn, wheat, cotton and other stuff he raises. The merchants speak of
his goods and groceries and his trade. The stockman tells of his horses,
cattle, sheep and hogs. The doctor tells of his medicine and how to cure
diseases. The lawyer tells of his clients and how to work up schemes to
beat the other side, and the hunter enjoys himself in narrating accounts
of killing game and his adventures with wild beasts, and so this is the
way the world goes.
Most everyone tells their yarns relating to the employment they follow
and we are now ready to tell a yarn in the way of a hunt two old timers
took in the long ago. If I mistake not there is six creeks which have their
source at or near the three tall hills known as the Three Brothers. The
names of these creeks are Sister, Howard, Mountain, Gooley, Possum Walk,
and Pigeon. In a rough hollow that leads into Sister Creek some four miles
southwest of the Three Brothers is a noted cave which has a history and
is situated in the northwest part of Baxter County, Ark. Among the numerous
hunting tales I have gathered from the old veteran hunters of the Ozarks
is one narrated to me by Joe Hall who lived near Pontiac, Mo., and who died
in the month of May, 1900. The scene of this story is at this cave.
Mr. Hall stated that there was no question in his mind as to its truthfulness
and in a jocular way he requested me not to add to it for said he, "the
truth is big enough without its being exaggerated." I explained to
the old veteran settler and hunter that in collecting these old time stories
was that I desired only the facts and would write it down as he told it.
"Well" said he "my brother Absalom in company with James McLaughlin, went over on Sister Creek one day to kill a bear. There are two Sister Creeks, both of which enter the river just below Paces Ferry from opposite sides. At the time I speak of we lived on the river some 6 or 7 miles below the mouth of Little North Fork. The Sister Creek on the north side of the river and Mountain Creek, a rough stream that empties into Gooleys Spring Creek, furnished our usual hunting grounds. When the men started that morning with their dogs and rifles they were in gay spirits. They both remarked that they were going to bring back some fresh bear meat and we thought that they would sure bring it. Along in the day as they passed up the rough valley of Sister Creek they discovered a cave which neither had seen before. The cavern showed indication of being inhabited by big game; the hunters thought it a bear. After a short consultation they decided not to send the dogs in until after they had made an investigation. So, procuring a pole ten feet in length, they attached a bunch of pine splinters to the little end; these they had brought with them for a torch in case of need. After lighting the splinters Absalom took the pole in one hand, his rifle in the other and started into the cave leaving McLaughlin on the outside to keep the dogs back and shoot the bear if it attempted to come out. When Absalom got fairly inside he stopped to examine the nature of the opening and the direction in which it led. As he pushed the pole forward to give him light in advance he struck something worse than a nest of angry hornets judging by ferocious growls that he heard just in front of him, and that instant a panther rose up and pitched at him. There was no time to prepare for defense nor even get out of the way when the panther struck against his legs and knocked him sprawling on the rough floor of the cavern. Fortunately the enraged beast did not stop to lacerate the man with its claws and teeth but leaped over the prostrate form and lit among the dogs which were standing around McLaughlin. The appearance of the panther was so sudden and unexpected that the hunter and dogs lost their presence of mind and fled. The panther, to further tantalize them, crouched on the ground and gave vent to several loud growls as if challenging McLaughlin and the dogs to combat. These had all stopped at a safe distance but neither man nor dogs dared to interfere. McLaughlin forgot even that he had a gun. In the meantime Absalom had scrambled to his feet and after picking up his gun came out of the cave. He was not as bad scared as he was angry because of the rough treatment he had received from the panther and he wanted revenge. The appearance of Absalom on the scene was a surprise to the panther and before the man could take aim the fierce creature leaped twice down the side of the mountain, then changing its notion it wheeled and leaped back where it had been before. Absalom was now in the same fix the other man and dogs were and he jumped aside and gave the panther plenty of room. The furious animal then threw out all sorts of dares and proceeded to defy the whole outfit of men and dogs. Both men with guns in hand stood like stumps and all the dogs kept at a safe distance, until finally one of them which was a large yellow cur took courage and made a bold dash for the panther. As the dog sprang forward the ferocious looking beast could not withstand the charge and away it went down the steep hill. The cur pursued it, the men and the other dogs revived from their fright and followed the chase. The woods fairly echoed with the yelp of the dogs and the shouting of the men. The chase was a short one for the cur shoved the panther so close and lively that it went up a tree a few hundred yards below the cave. The men to make sure of its death selected a tree each to rest their guns against and at a given signal from one of them they fired two balls into its body simultaneously and it fell to the ground too nigh dead to frighten anymore hunters or dogs. After it was entirely dead they turned it over and after satisfying their curiosity in an examination of the dead animal they left it and returned to the cave and went in and soon discovered three young panthers lying where the old one was first seen. After giving the little panthers much attention for a few minutes which were too young to bite they went back to the dead panther and removed its hide and returning to the cave again they concluded that they, had all the fun that was due them for one day and they would return home without any fresh bear meat. But they took the little panthers with them and kept them several days for pets, but they gradually pined away and died. The panther had thrown my brother so violently against the stones that he was badly bruised, but otherwise not seriously injured." As Mr. Hall ended his story he remarked that, "the panther had played such a prank on the men that they did not make a practice of telling the story to everyone they met until months after and it was a year or more before the full details of it leaked out."
Springfield-Greene County Library