THE BIG COON NEARLY COST HIM HIS LIFE
By S. C. Turnbo
Among a few accounts I have gathered from settlers concerning narrow
escapes from death while in the pursuit of hunting is one given me by Jim
Griffin which may be of some interest to the reader.
"I never followed the occupation as a hunter but very little,"
said Mr. Griffin, "except for coons, possoms and squirrels. I never
met with but one mishap that endangered my life and that was on Slagle Creek
in Polk County, Mo., shortly after the Civil War ended. There lived in our
neighborhood a man of the name of John Mitchell who had fought in the southern
army and had surrendered and was paroled and we had always been good friends
before the war and when the war began I took my stand with the north and
he went south and after we both got back home we retained our friendship
for each other as usual. In fact our opposing each other in war did not
interfere with our friendship in peace. A number of us passed the time off
of nights hunting possoms and coons and we had plenty of fun chasing coons
out of the fields and along the water courses. There was a big coon on Slagle
Creek that had out witted hunters and dogs for 8 years and the settlers
were getting anxious to capture the gentleman. He could not climb a tree
but would take refuge in deep caves in the ground or in the face of a bluff.
The settlers claimed that he was the biggest coon they ever saw, but so
far they had failed to catch him. One cold night I and my friend, John Mitchell,
and my brother John Griffin and my uncle Jack Daniel decided to try our
luck at hunting after the monster coon that had been so much talked of.
We took three dogs with us, one of which belonged to me I called Danger.
The other two belonged to Mitchell which he called Clabe and Big. It was
not long before we hit the trail of that coon. We knew it was him by the
way he ran after a hot chase. Mr. Coon took refuge under a large rock that
lay in the face of the bluff 20 feet above the water. The boulder was about
10 feet in width and 16 feet in length. It lay near a ledge of rock with
a crevice of only a few inches wide between them. This boulder was well
known to every hunter on Slagle Creek but no one so far had attempted to
push it off down the bluff, When we got to the rock I cut a stout pole with
the axe we had with us and told the boys I was going to pry it off its foundation
and let it go into the water which would break up one of the roosting places
of Mr. Coon and Mitchell says, "Thunderation, Jim, what are you talking
about. Forty yoke of cattle could not pull that rock from its foundation,"
and without making John an answer I put the large end of the pole down into
the crevice and foolish like I placed one foot on the edge of the boulder
and the other on the ledge and with a hard surge I unexpectedly wrenched
the boulder off and it started. I succeeded in drawing my weight from the
boulder by raising my foot off of it, but I was not able to hold myself
back and as the big rook shot down the face of the bluff it turned over
and fell flat upside down in the bed of the creek where the water was waist
deep. As the rock went I followed just behind it and rolled and tumbled
down the face of the bluff to the rock, the edge of which was lying against
the foot of the bluff and I landed on top of the edge of the rock in the
din of noise of the splashing of the water which was thrown all over me.
My companions supposed I was killed and one of them exclaimed in distress,
"Jim, are you dead." When I caught my breath, for the water had
strangled me some, and when I could say anything I answered "No, but
both my knees got the bark knocked off of them." Mr. Coon was surprised
also and did not seem at first to realize what had happened and when I had
lodged on the rock and found that I was not killed I observed the coon start
to make his escape, but the dogs ran down the bluff and the coon jumped
into the creek and the dogs leaped into water in pursuit of it and caught
the coon before it could swim across the creek. The three dogs were game
and so was the coon and while they were fighting in the cold water it was
a mighty noise of splashing, the dogs whining and the coon squalling. In
a few minutes I noticed that the coon was going to whip the dogs and I plunged
into the water to help the dogs out in the fight. I kept moving them toward
the bank of the creek opposite from where the rock rolled down where I managed
to cut the coons throat with my knife. Mr. Coon had got under the
wrong rock that time and I just happened to push the big rock in the right
place to start it down hill. Though I had a narrow escape from death, but
I had the pleasure of knowing that we had succeeded in ending the career
of that famous coon."
The foregoing story was told me by Mr. Griffin in the Indian Territory, Creek Nation.
Springfield-Greene County Library