IT WAS NOT A COON THOUGH
By S. C. Turnbo
The old timer Ezekiel Eslick, a few years before his death, gave me an account of finding other game in a tree instead of a coon which they expected to find. Mr. Eslick said that when he was a small plow boy his father lived on Cowskin, a tributary stream of Beaver Creek. "The land on which we lived lies in now what is know as Douglas County, Mo. Our corn was large enough to run around with the old fashioned bull tongue plow, and in the early days of May when the foliage on the trees was half grown father one morning put me and brother Sam to plowing in the young corn. We boys did most of the farming while father killed deer for the pelts and venison. On the days of our first days work in the corn that year happened the little incident I am going to relate to you. The little field was near the house. In the middle of the forenoon while we were busy at work our two dogs came into the field and frolicked and played in a lively way on the fresh plowed ground. The canine seemed in an unusually playful mood and remained in the field until nearly noon, when all at once there seemed something wrong and with fierce growls and hair standing straight out they both leaped over the fence to the outside and started on a hot trail of some animal which had approached near the fence, but owing to the foliage on the small timber and tall grass we were not able to see what sort of creature it was. We conjectured that it was a big coon and wondered what caused the dogs to make such a big to-do about a coon. After a sharp chase of a half a mile down the creek they hustled Mr. Coon as we supposed it was up a tree and we heard the dogs barking furiously and thought from the great noise the dogs were making that it must be an uncommon sized coon. As it was now near turning out time for dinner we took the harness off of our horses and hitched them and went down to where the dogs were treed to enjoy a little fun with the coon. The dogs were barking up a big post oak tree that stood on the side of a low bluff near the edge of the creek. A large limb of the tree which branched out 8 feet above the foot of the tree hung over a shallow pool of water. The main stem of the limb was about 12 feet above the surface of the water. A few feet above where this limb put out from the body of the tree was a dead snag with a hole in it large enough to admit the body of a large coon and we believed the coon had sought safety from the dogs by running into the cavity of this snag. We were so overanxious to rout out the supposed coon from the snag that we never thought once to examine the limbs of the tree carefully for game except the snag. We wanted to catch Mr. Coon to save a few ears of corn next autumn. Sam was an expert boy at climbing trees and I says, "Sam, climb up there and scare the coon out." Up the boy went with the agility of a fox. On reaching the fork of the tree where the big limb put out he got up in the fork of the tree and stood erect and while trying to peep into the hole in the dead snag I happened to glance my eyes along the big limb that hung over the water and was nearly struck dumb for a moment at sight of a ferocious looking panther lying flat down on the main body of the limb. But before I could make my tongue work to give my brother warning of his dangerous proximity to the dreaded animal, the beast partly raised up and growled coarse and loud. Of course this was all the warning the boy needed and turning his head quickly and seeing what it was he was struck with terror at the sight of the monster. Though it was not a proper place for me to laugh but it was so amusing to see my frightened brother descending that tree. He just turned loose and fell down and nearly rolled into the water before he was able to stop rolling. I laughed outright. The fright from the panther hurt him much worse than the fall did. The boys exit from the tree scared the panther and it leaped into the water and ran out on the opposite side of the creek and turned downstream and with long leaps it soon passed from view. As soon as the animal struck the water the two dogs rushed across the stream and followed the panther in close pursuit and according to the way the dogs yelped as they ran down the creek indicated that the stealthy beast was leading the way, but a few yards in advance. Before the dogs were out of hearing distance we started back to the house and told our story of the panther to father. Roland Scribnor chanced to come to our house on horseback while we were in the midst of our tale and after listening to all we had to tell both men agreed to follow the dogs and after eating dinner and allowing their horses to graze awhile they took their rifles and mounted the horses and rode off down the creek to hunt the dogs. The latter after a chase of a mile had compelled the panther to go up another tree. When the men got up in view of the tree the panther was in, the ugly creature showed indications of jumping out and did before they got to shoot at it. But the dogs soon pushed it up another tree, but it was to shy to allow the hunters to approach in rifle range before it would leap to the ground again and rush on down the creek. This was repeated several times before reaching Beaver Creek and it kept on down this latter stream. By this time it was night, but they followed the dogs down Beaver until they would tree and when the men would ride up in hearing the panther would leap down and run with the dogs in hot pursuit until it went up another tree. Finally before midnight clouds obscured the stars and sky and the night was too dark to follow the dogs through the heavy growth of timber and the men abandoned the chase and got part of the way back home and slept in the forest till morning and came in home for late breakfast. One of the dogs reached home about the time father did. The other one came in on the afternoon of the following day. We learned a few days afterward that the dog which stayed away the longest was discovered baying the panther early one morning in some willows at Lazarus Wrights mill pond on Beaver Creek where the Lawrence mill was afterward built. Mr. Wright shot and killed the panther. The dog was nearly worn out with hunger and exhaustion and after Wright shot the panther he fed the dog and it took several hours rest before starting back home."
Springfield-Greene County Library