A MIDNIGHT ATTACK OF A PANTHER ON A SETTLERS CABIN
IN TANEY COUNTY, MISSOURI
By S. C. Turnbo
We have already given a brief history of the meteorological phenomena which occurred on the dividing ridge between the heads of Brushy Pond Fork and Big Creek in July, 1867, which resulted in a big overflow in these streams. On the first day of September, 1906, I stood on a high point of land and took a view of the valley of Brushy Creek as it winds its way among the rough hills and empties into Beaver Creek some six miles below Bradleyville. The creek valley is thickly settled now with well cultivated little farms and comfortable residences and we find homes and small farms scattered here and there in the hollows and on the hilltops. The little hamlet of Hercules is situated on Brushy Creek and here at this place is a good school house that was built by the enterprising citizens. The spot of land where this building now stands was once occupied by a log house that was known as the Brushy Creek Schoolhouse where many revival meetings were held. On the morning of the date named as I stood on the high hill and enjoyed a look at the hilly region of Brushy Creek and vicinity my thoughts wandered back to the time when there was no schoolhouse on Brushy Creek which reminded me of the pioneer days when a panther one night made an attack on a settlers cabin and which was stoutly resisted by the brave wife of the hunter. Lewis Herrean had a son named John who married Miss Polly Tabor, daughter of Jimmie Tabor, who was one of the original settlers on Big Creek. In 1835 Uncle Jimmie lived a short while on Brushy Creek and he was said to be the first white man who lived on this stream. Away back in the latter forties John Herrean built a small log hut on Brushy Creek where he lived some time among the ferocious beasts and the beautiful deer. He and wife subsisted on wild meat and a little bread once and a while. They had plenty of visitors in the shape of big timber wolves that would howl on every hillside of nights and the big panther screamed to let John know that he was a neighbor as well as the wolves were. This was then a wild region with all kinds of animals that were natives here roaming around over the hills both day and night. I am told that Herreans cabin stood one-half of a mile above where Hercules now stands. A short time after John and his wife settled there a little babe was born to them. This was their first child and when the infant was three months old John went off one day expecting to return before nightfall. He owned a gun and a fice dog which were all his worldly possessions except his wife and child. It was a lonely forenoon to the woman, and it seemed many hours before the sun rose to the zenith. The hours in the afternoon appeared to drag along much slower than during the morning. When the time arrived for the coming of John he failed to put in an appearance. The cabin was smaller than the average sized huts of the day and was built after the fashion of the primitive hunter. The boards of the roof rested on rib logs and were held in place by heavy weight poles. The door shutter was made of boards. The top of the chimney just reached the mantle piece. The floor of the hut was composed of mother earth. A few small sticks of wood crowded with jerked venison rested on the top of the jam rocks and reached across the fireplace. As night approached the anxious woman walked to and fro in the yard in front of the door and cast her eyes frequently in the direction she expected her man to return. But she looked in vain. The sun went down, the dusk of night set in and Brushy Creek appeared to be now a dismal place of abode. She had now lost all hope of seeing John come home that night and she made preparations to resist an attack of wild beasts. She brought in the axe and hoe and then she shut the door to and barricaded it and sat down with her infant in her arms and waited for she did not know what. Night settled around the hut and the rough hollows and high hills were enveloped in darkness. No dog to give warning of the approach of wolves, bear or other animal. Oh, thought the lonely woman, if John would come back home. How lonely and lonesome the night seems. For sometime not a sound was heard, not even the noise of a night bird reached her ears. All was as silent as death. Had the wild animals retired to their dens? She hoped in her heart that they had gone into a cave and would not molest her. She listened attentively but no sound was heard to break the stillness. As the hours passed slowly by the little babe became restless and moaned and cried. The uneasy mother did all she could to alleviate its suffering. She succeeded in keeping it quiet only a minute at a time. Poor little baby, it was sick and growing worse. The wife and mother was in trouble. She was afraid the child would die, and she also feared that the cries of the baby would attract a wild beast to the cabin and she caressed and fondled her infant to her bosom; but the little thing was too restless to remain quiet only at short intervals. She whiled away the time in tears and sorrow until near midnight when she was startled by the dreadful cry of a panther close to the house. There was no lamp but there was a little fire in the fireplace which cast a dim light in the room. When she heard the panther she rose up with the infant in her arms and went to the fireplace and renewed the fire by stirring it up and put on more wood and soon had a bright light. Then she heard the footsteps of some animal near the door. This was followed by a fierce scream from the dreaded beast. The terrified woman laid the child down in its cradle and picking up the axe she stood over the infant ready to defend its life if necessary. Directly she heard the panther spring up on the corner of the house and climb up on the roof and then she heard it walking all over it and then it stopped. At this moment the Infant was quiet, but in a short while it began to cry again and the terrible beast uttered scream after scream until the shanty seemed to tremble with the noise of the cry and coarse growls of the panther. Very soon she heard it clawing at the boards to remove them in order to make an opening between the boards to crawl through, but after it had scratched at the boards a little while it quit work and moved to another position and began to scratch again. The womans blood seemed to curdle in the blood vessels. It was a trying time on her strength and senses, but she never lost her presence of mind. She was greatly frightened, yet she was alarmed more for the safety of her precious little babe than for herself and with axe in hand she stood over the child determined to protect it with her life. If the animal succeeded in entering the cabin she would defend herself and offspring to the last moment. "Yes," she thought, "I will fight to the death or save my baby." The panther failed to get into the cabin through the roof and it leaped down to the ground and passed around to the back of the chimney where it climbed up and attempted to enter into the house by way of the chimney, but the desperate resistance made by the brave woman drove it back and it jumped down on the ground again and screamed repeatedly for a half a minute. Then it sprang back up on the chimney and snatched out a stick of dried venison and leaped down again and devoured the jerked meat. The woman could hear it snarl and growl while it was partaking of its late supper. When it had finished eating what venison was on the stick it went up on the chimney again and pulled out another stick and leaped back to the ground and growled and ate until its hunger was appeased. The panther seemed to be satisfied now and did not go up on the chimney anymore and after it had walked around the house twice and screamed a few more times it left the cabin and as it went on into the forest she could hear its piercing cry at a distance. There was no sleep for her during the remainder of the night for she fully believed the beast would come back again before daylight and she stayed awake to watch over her sick child and to listen for the expected approach of the panther. But the animal as far as she was aware of did not come back. But the suspense of waiting until daybreak was awful. But at last she discerned the faint light in the east and as it grew lighter her heart was greatly relieved and the dreadful burden of fear for herself and child was passing away for her darling babe was better and the ferocious beast was gone. Later on when the sun showed itself above the hilltops and lit up the narrow valley with its bright beams the sad cares and troubles of the previous night were almost gone. Near the middle of the forenoon she saw John and her aged father coming which gave her more comfort and as soon as the two men arrived she recited to them her dreadful experience of the night before. John and his father-in-law lost no time in making an effort to find the panther and with the fice dog began searching the vicinity of the hut and when about one-fourth of a mile from the cabin the little dog met a panther and darted at it and barked with all its might and the beast went up a tree and Mr. Tabor shot and killed it and they dragged it to the house and found that it measured nine feet and a half in length from the tip of the nose to the end of its tail. To prove whether it was the same one that attacked the house or not the men after removing the hide cut the panther open and found its stomach full of jerked venison which settled it at once. As long as Mrs. Herrean lived she never forgot that midnight attack on her cabin by the panther.
Springfield-Greene County Library