CATCHING WOLVES IN STEEL TRAPS AND HOW A SETTLER KILLED A PANTHER
By S. C. Turnbo

The early settlers of Ozark County, Mo., were bothered by hundreds of wolves and many of these animals were caught in steel traps. Among some of the expert trappers and hunters after wolves was Jimmie Forrest who lived on Little North Fork near the mouth of Barren Fork. Mr. Fielden E. Holt, who settled in the same neighborhood where Forrest lived in 1839, relates a brief sketch of how a wolf was caught one night in one of Mr. Forrest’s steel traps. "One evening," said Mr, Holt, "Jimmie Forrest set a steel trap for a wolf on the point of the bluff in the fork of Barren Fork and North Fork. The trap was placed under a tree which stood near the water’s edge, and the bait was fastened to a limb of the tree which was about five feet above the trap. The chain which was attached to the trap and which was a heavy one was not tied to anything. On the following morning the trap was gone. A wolf had got in it and the beast had got into the water and no place was found where it had gone out. It was evident that the wolf had drowned. There was a big "hole" of water here and it was too deep for one to see the bottom and Forrest was unable to locate the part of the creek’s bed where the wolf had sunk and being desirous to recover his trap he sent forme and Jimmie Jones, son of old man "Sugar" Jones, a Methodist preacher, to come and assist him to drag the bed of the creek for the dead wolf. I and Jones made hooks out of long saplings by cutting them down and cutting off the limbs a foot from the body of the poles which we could use by holding the top end of them while pulling them through the water. Then we got into a canoe and began dragging the poles through the water. It was a long tedious job but we finally fished up the dead animal and towed it to shore. It was a large gray wolf and the trap had caught him by one of his forefeet and in his efforts to rid himself of the trap he had either leaped into the water or fell in and after struggling in the water had sunk and the weight of the trap and chain held the drowned beast on the bottom."

Mr. Fie Snow, who was among the earliest residents of Little North Fork and who was a stepson of Jimmie Forrest, tells this about wolves in this section during the easy days. "Jimmie Forrest caught great numbers of wolves in steel traps and pen traps. Wolves were noisy and troublesome all over Ozark County. I recollect on one occasion in 1844 I and Bob Forrest rode to Pine Creek which flows into Bryant Fork and stopped at sunset and camped in a rough hollow. We tied our horses to trees. The weather was cold and we soon made a rousing fire and began preparing our supper and while we were broiling meat wolves collected all around us and did some terrible howling. A few of them approached in 100 yards of camp. We had no dog with us or no doubt they would have given us a closer interview. In a few yards of our fire was a small sink hole in the ground that had been caused by a forest fire burning down a dead tree and burning out the roots of it and we had our fire built against this log. After supper we fed our horses and spread our bearskin down in the sink hole and covered our bodies with our home woven blankets made of sheeps wool, but the wolves annoyed us so that we could only catch a few short naps. Some of them crept up during the night to where we had eaten our supper and stole the remnants we had left. On the following morning I and Bob reached the conclusion that there were too many wolves on Pine Creek for our comfort and we returned back home without killing a deer. Going back to the time when we caught so many wolves in traps I want to tell you of an incident of how a single wolf became so famous," said Mr. Snow. "One night in 1834 my stepfather set a steel trap on Barren Fork ½ of a mile above the mouth of the creek. Sometime during the night a wolf got in to it and was caught by the middle toe of one forefoot. The wolf was gone but the toe was found in the jaws of the trap. The toe was either pinched off by the trap or the wolf had jerked it off. This wolf’s tracks were afterward seen here and there all over the country between Little North Fork and Beaver Creeks and from the former named stream to Bryants Fork. The imprint of its feet in the mud or snow showed that the middle toe of the right forefoot was missing. No other wolf’s track as far as known suited this description. The animal was of common size but it was an uncommon mean wolf and killed large numbers of hogs and sheep, but it was several years after it had lost its toe before it began to prove so destructive to domesticated animals. Almost every settler made some effort to kill it but failed so far. Then someone wrote a contract that if anyone succeeded in destroying the life of this wolf after the date of this writing to a certain date in the future and all who signed their names to the document. It was so worded that each man agreed to pay the slayer of the wolf one dollar in silver or gold. Provided he produced unquestionable evidence that it was the identical wolf sought for, but the tormenting beast remained monarch of the forest and survived the expiration of the writing several years. But he finally had to give in which came about in this way. One day in 1857 while Bill Lord was hunting in a valley known then as Bryants Fork Hollow that leads into Barrent Fork he saw a big black wolf standing in range of his rifle and he shot and killed it. The animal proved to be the hated wolf. At least the middle toe of the right foot was missing and no more wolf tracks of this description was seen after the death of this wolf. Mr. Lord did not receive any reward except the scalp which he sold for a good price. The wolf met his death in a few miles of where he had lost his toe 23 years previous. "

In some cases the ravages of panther among stock were equal to the destruction by wolves which gives rise to as many panther stories as there are tales about wolves. Here is an account of the killing of a panther on Barren Fork ¾ of a mile above the mouth of this stream. The story was told by Fie Snow and Sammie Stone and runs about this way.

"Mose Craft, whose wife was named Hettie, was the first settler on Barren Fork and after he had lived here a few years a wild beast entered into his field one night and killed a fine sow for Jimmie Forrest that was in Craft’s field at the time. The beast after slaying the sow put it over the fence and dragged the dead hog 300 yards and covered it up with leaves where there was a ledge of rock. As soon as it was daylight Mr. Craft sent for Jimmie Forrest and they followed the trail where the dead sow had been pulled along to the place mentioned. Both men did not understand the nature of a panther in concealing its prey and they concluded that the sow had been killed by a bear and would return to devour the hog sometime during the day and they kept up a vigilant watch for bruin but not a bear made its appearance. Late in the afternoon both men went back home for supper and to meet here again at sunset which they did. Mr. Forrest brought his big steel trap with him to set for the supposed bear and he also brought along his two favorite dogs he called Ring and Cola. They were young dogs but they were gritty and tackled anything they were told to. Forrest also owned a small rifle that was a little out of order, but thinking it might be some advantage he brought it with him. Mr. Craft had no gun but he brought his two dogs with him. When the two men had approached near the ledge of rock where the dead sow was covered up they found an enormous panther in possession of the carcass of the hog devouring it. Forrest’s two dogs darted forward and rushed the huge creature up a tree which stood nearby and while Forrest was trying to shoot it with his tricky gun the beast jumped to the ground and the same dogs rushed it up another tree and the panther sprang down to the ground again. This time the dogs caught it and a lively fight followed. Craft’s dogs were too cowardly to take part in the combat and Forrest’s two dogs were compelled to fight the ferocious beast alone. They were game but the big panther was too much for them. Forrest did his best to shoot the panther but the rifle refused to discharge the load. Then the man punched the beast with the muzzle of the gun to assist the dogs. The battle was desperate and the young dogs were both soon covered with wounds, yet they stayed with their antagonist. Craft and his dogs stood off at a safe distance and Craft would call out "Uncle Jim, get away from there or that beast will kill you." But Forrest was too busy at work in trying to kill the panther to heed the advice offered by Craft. As the battle between man and his dogs on the one side and the stealthy beast on the other progressed, the panther caught the Cola dog with its teeth in such a manner that the suffering dog could do nothing but howl with pain. The piteous cries of his faithful dog exasperated the anger of Forrest to a high pitch and he cried out "My God, Cola, this won’t do. You are a good dog and I won’t stand here idle and see you die." And with a quick motion he rammed the muzzle of his rifle into the panther’s mouth and throat and succeeded in firing the contents of the rifle into the animal. The dose of powder and lead so suddenly poured into the panther’s throat proved more than it was able to bear and it reeled over in its death struggle. The animal was a monster and measured 11 feet and 9 inches from the tip of its nose to the end of the tail. The dog was severely wounded yet he recovered his usual strength in a few weeks and retained his bravery and usefulness as long as he lived."

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