IN CLOSE COMPANY WITH A PANTHER
By S. C. Turnbo

As a rule, pioneer settlers delight to relate Incidents of their experiences during the early days, and are generally willing to give all information sought. Sometimes "sharper" or "bunko" men will impose on our people under a guise of being engaged in collecting matter for a history of other line of work, and then bunko the settler. This is wrong and everyone ought to give a swindler the cold shoulder. Many people have been beat out of their money by these soft-talking fellows. It is well for people to be on their guard. They save money by it. During my experience while collecting reminiscences I have been well treated with the exception that I met one man who I wished to interview, that excused himself with the remark that he had been swindled once by a slick-tongued fellow and he did not intend to be duped the second time. I tried to convince him that my intentions were honest and I did not belong to the swindling class, but my entreaties were without avail, and thus it is often the case that a man pursuing an honest line of work is compelled to suffer on account of a few smooth-tongued rascals. This is enough of this at present, and we will go on with our story.

Mr. John Haggard of Peel, Marion County, Arkansas, (or "Uncle Jackey" as he is familiarly known) settled on Swan Creek, Taney County, Mo., in 1841. He says when his father first came to Swan that John Handcock then sold goods at Forsyth. Some years later Mr. Handcock went to Greene County, Missouri, and engaged in the stock business.

Mr. Haggard also says that John Ray and Jim Cook came to Swan about the same time that his father did. Jim Cook was the father of Alph Cook. Referring to the other settlers, Mr. Haggard continues, "Levi Casey was another pioneer on Swan and was elected as County Judge of Taney County for one term, when he died and was buried in a graveyard one and one-half miles above Forsyth on Swan Creek. One of Casey’s sons was the first body buried there. About one-half mile above this cemetery is another graveyard where Miss Rachel Jackson, daughter of David Jackson, was the first body interred there. She was a sister of John Jackson who killed Bob Rains at Forsyth many years ago. Dave Jackson died at Springfield, Mo., during the war, and John Jackson was killed during General Price’s raid in Missouri in the autumn of 1864."

Mr. Haggard lived a while on James Fork of White River. Like other settlers he enjoyed hunting for game and to get the furs and pelts to exchange for groceries, ammunition and necessities. He met the panther as well as the wolf. He gave the writer an account of his experience one night with a panther at a deer lick, which was about as follows:

"One late afternoon Henry Clift and myself went to a salt lick on Panther Creek, a small stream that empties into James, where deer would occasionally assemble in great numbers in daytime as well as night. We had usually killed as many as we wanted at any time we visited the spot, but that evening our luck was not good, for we did not see a deer. We concluded to remain at the lick until the moon was up, which would be several hours after nightfall.

"A few poles had been constructed as a platform where the hunters rested and lay in wait for game. The platform was several feet above the ground and supported by the limbs of the trees. There we rested and listened for the approach of deer. We did not hear any and wondered why. We remained comparatively quiet, carrying on our conversation in a whisper. About two hours after dark we heard footsteps of an animal almost directly beneath us; from the noise it made we knew it was not a deer and decided it must be a wolf, catamount or wildcat. Each of us had a good rifle but the night was intensely dark and we did not care to waste powder and lead by firing at random. In addition to the rifles, Clift had a large hack knife and I had a tomahawk. Soon we heard it go to a tree about 20 feet from us and we heard it clutch the trunk and climb the tree, making a big racket as it shattered the dry bark off that fell on the dry leaves on the ground. We now knew it was a panther and was on the same mission we were. It settled down on a limb and we could now discern its form. We were frightened; our hearts beat so furiously that it seemed it would thump us off of the platform. Just imagine a hungry panther lying crouched within 20 feet of you. No doubt the animal knew of our presence and was ready to pounce on us at the least provocation. We kept as quiet as possible, but prepared for action. Our guns were handy and Clift held his hack knife while I was holding my Indian tomahawk and we awaited an attack. Silence reigned for over half an hour, when all of a sudden we heard the panther leap to the ground and walk slowly away. It had gone but a few yards when it gave a frightful cry, then proceeded down the hollow, screaming every few minutes. We were so well pleased with its departure that we did not mock its cry. After the moon rose we saw a deer come to the lick and as it lowered its head to taste of the saline dirt. I shot at it and it ran a few yards, then dropped dead. We took precaution, however, not to leave the tree for fear of coming in contact with the panther. We remained there until daylight, then ventured down to skin the dead deer. A terrible fright and only one deer did not remunerate us well for our all night’s stay in the tree."

As Mr. Haggard has made mention of Col. John Handcock, the writer will relate a sad incident that happened which was spoken of by the settlers for many years after its occurrence. In the early fifties Handcock, "Jocky" Weaver and the Haydens bought cattle from the settlers in Taney County and over the line in Arkansas. They were all jovial and honorable, paying fair prices in gold and silver. I remember one night while these men were at my father’s house on Elbow Creek they discussed the prospects for mineral in the Ozark hills. They became so deeply interested in the argument that they all decided to go up the creek on the following day and prospect for indications of ore. When day began to break they could not restrain themselves to wait for breakfast before starting and my father and these men took an old axe and grubbing hoe and went off up the creek and was gone till nearly noon before returning back to the house. They had found some nice specimens of lead ore that they had discovered somewhere on Elbow Creek or on one of its tributary branches. This was in the fall of 1851 and was the first time I ever saw lead ore or heard the subject on mineral discussed. Later on jocky Weaver made a business trip down White River and just below where Newport now stands he was taken very sick and died. A steamboat was just starting up the river to Forsyth. Weaver’s body was placed in a tight casket and put aboard. The remains were to be buried in Greene County, Mo. Unfortunately the boat caught fire and it was destroyed together with all the freight on board. Mr. Weaver’s body never reached its burying place as it was also burned.

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