PUT TO FLIGHT BY WOLVES AND OTHER GOOD STORIES
By S. C. Turnbo
John Mosely was an early settler of Taney County, Mo. His parents, Len
S. and Elizabeth (Whitney) Mosely, located on Little Beaver Creek in 1840,
but during the following year they settled on the south bank of the river
between the mouth of Beaver Creek and Forsyth. On the opposite bank of the
river from where Mosely located the writers father built a cabin and
cleared some land. He and John Mosely were young unmarried men then and
they often visited each other and talked of their prospects of making a
living on White River. John would cross the river in his dugout and keep
father company on many nights while he lived alone on his little claim.
John Mosely was born in Shelby County, Illinois, March 14, 1825, and was
15 years old when he first saw the hills of Taney County. Many years after
he was married he served the people of Taney County as sheriff two terms.
In August, 1896, while he owned a mill on Beaver Creek, the writer had
the pleasure of a long interview with him regarding his experience here
in the early days of Beaver Creek and adjoining territory. It is a pleasure
to listen at his narratives of bygone days. He has a vivid recollection
of the great freshet in White River in May, 1844, which swept over the bottoms
and carried away fencing, washed up the corn crops and drowned some stock.
He said that during the highest stage he and another settler hearing someone
hollow on the north side of the river and thinking that a human being was
in distress they crossed the river in a dugout. It was a dangerous undertaking
for the water reached from hill to hill; and they had great difficulty in
guiding the tottery canoe through the timber. When they landed it was ½
a mile below the starting point. Their trouble was for nothing for they
found no one in distress.
He remembers Sam Nelson who built the first mill where the Keesee mills
and town of the same name now is. A graveyard was begun here soon after
Nelson built his mill where from time to time several old timers of Beaver
Creek were laid to rest. Mr. Mosely says that his parents were buried here.
In speaking of early times in Taney County the customs of the people and
manner of living, Mr. Mosely said that the settlers bought little from the
outside world, but ammunition, salt and coffee. He says he has known salt
to bring eight dollars per sack when it had to be hauled from St. Louis.
The skins of wild animals were manufactured into moccasins and other articles
of apparel. Wild game furnished meat, furs and peltry. The last two were
exchanged for those necessaries that could not be made at home.
"You want my experience with bear and panthers," said Uncle
John. I never had the opportunity to kill a bear. That sounds singular to
you no doubt, for there were plenty of them here. But I did kill a big panther
one day. I was hunting on the crest of a high ridge where my two dogs started
it. They chased it down to the foot of the steep hill. Going down to where
the dogs had it treed I stopped on the hillside on a level with the panther
which was in the top of a tall tree. Being in good range I took aim and
brought him down at the first shot. The animal was dead when it struck the
ground. It had very big claws. I took one off and it was large enough to
hold a full charge of powder for a navy pistol.
"I have a little sketch about a wild animal getting so near me one
night that it whispered to me right on my face. The story of it may interest
someone. One night Bill Teague and I camped on Lower Caney Creek of Beaver.
Along in the night I was aroused from sleep by something smelling and sniffing
on my face. It alarmed me and with a yell I leaped up in terror and my fright
was renewed for I saw a large catamount jump away from the head of our bed
and run off into the dark out of the light of the fire. I and Teague sat
up the remainder of the night and piled wood on the fire and watched for
more catamounts. But they did not come.
"You wanted to know something about the deer here. Well, there was
a time here in Taney County when we could see large numbers of them. Brinkly
Scribner and I were companion hunters for several years. We often hunted
in the hills all along the lower part of Beaver. In the forepart of the
day, during spring or summer, if we did not see from 50 to 75 deer, or from
75 to 100 in the run of a day in winter time, we took it for granted that
the deer were leaving or that we were unlucky. This gives you a good idea
of the number of deer here when Beaver Creek was sparsely settled.
"I will now tell you something about the wolves. Every settler on
Beaver if alive could testify as to the great number that once inhabited
this section. In commencing on the subject of wolves reminds me of my father
and Ben Womack going over on Turkey Creek near where the present town of
Bixbyville stands, on a camp hunt. They stayed over there several days and
killed deer for their hides. At sundown after their days hunt was
over they would collect plenty of wood to replenish the fire during the
night to keep off the wild beasts. One evening they lay down earlier than
common for they felt very tired after the days tramp. They were soon
in the land of dreams and saw a vision of scores of deer all around their
camp fire. How long they had slept they were not able to tell, but they
both were awakened out of sleep by footsteps of animals close to the fire.
They thought it was a bunch of deer sure enough that had walked up so close.
Womack raised up and tossed wood on the fire while father with gun in hand
was waiting for a shot. In a short time there was a dim light of the fire
and they perceived the outlines or forms of several animals standing a few
feet away. Supposing they were deer father shot one down. Dropping the rifle
down on the bed he sprang at the prostrate animal in his night clothes with
knife in hand to cut its throat for fear it might rise and get away. But
by this time the firelight had increased in brightness and Womack saw what
it was, and said in a loud tone, "Look out, Len, it is a wolf,"
and sure enough, father had killed a big gray wolf. At the report of the
gun the others stampeded. If they returned back close to camp again that
night they knew nothing of it. Next morning they found wolf tracks all around
the fire and where they slept and they were not scarce either. How the two
hunters escaped an attack is something not easily solved. They certainly
were not vicious. The men had no dogs with them was all the reason they
could give that the wolves did not attack them while they slumbered and
saw visions of pretty deer looming up before them.
"Now I will tell you a story of my own experience with wolves. I
never thought much about wolf stories that circulated among the hunterstheir
stories were as common and plentiful as the wolves themselves. I would often
hear of settlers being attacked by wolves and hustled up a tree, but I always
had my own opinion about it. If a truthful man told me he had been assailed
by a gang of wolves, I would think the most of his yarn was based on imagination.
"One night I encountered a pack of wolves which put a different belief in my brains. I fell in among them when I least expected it. Here is how it happened. One day while living on Beaver Creek, I went up to Forsyth on business and to meet a few old friends there. We extended our chat too long for it was dark when I left town. I knew there were numerous wolves roaming about but I never apprehended danger from them until that night. The night was very dark and I left it with my horse to follow the road. I had traveled over it many times after night and never got lost nor met with anything serious. I had ascended the hill two miles below town and soon after I had passed the forks of the road on the ridge where the right hand prong leads to Taneyville. The road seemed more lonely than I ever felt it to be before. The clouds appeared to thicken and the dark became darker and my loneliness began to increase. But I shook it off the best I could and rode on towards Keesee mills. To keep from thinking of my solitude as much as possible, I began soliliquizing as to the difference between the upper White River valley and the good old state of Illinois where I came from. I noted all the advantages and disadvantages of the new and old and concluded that Taney County, as it was then, suited me better than my native state. About the moment I got this settled in my mind I was interrupted by the howling of wolves close by. People who are well acquainted with these animals know that a few of them can make a heap of noise. On that occasion they made fuss enough for twenty or more, yet there might have been only four or five of them. I made up my mind to give them a scare to get rid of their noise and commenced hallooing at them in order to make them run. They ran, though not in the direction I wanted them to go, but dashed up and surrounded me and the horse. The night was too dark for me to see them, but I could hear their feet on the ground, and they whined and clashed their teeth together in such away that cold chills played to and fro, up and down, my spinal bone. From their actions I thought they were going to make a supper of me on the spot. I was mounted on a good horse and he was as scared as I was. The horse plunged around so that I could hardly control him. I knew it was not a fit place for a terrified man and horse, so I give the horse the reins and off he went on a wild race, almost splitting the deep darkness in two as he went staving along the road. There was no one more willing to flee from a gang of howling wolves than I was that night. My horse put in his best speed and was carrying me away from there as fast as I wanted to go. I cannot tell you how rapid my horse did run but I knew from the clatter of his feet that he was not losing any time. It seemed that we almost flew along in the dark. I laid low on the pommel of the saddle to escape being knocked off of the horse by the limbs of trees which hung over the road. I am unable to inform you how far the wolves pursued for I had no time to stop and find out. The horse kept up the race without my urging him along, and he continued to move forward at this breakneck speed until I passed out of hearing of the wolves. Whether my horse outrun them or they just stopped to give me a rest is not for me to know. When I thought I was of danger I felt much relieved. "I learned an important lesson that night." continued Mr. Mosely. "It was: that when I heard a pack of wolves howl after that I made no attempt to frighten them. Then again after the terror of that dark night I never disputed the wolf tales my neighbors told me, for I was prepared now to believe almost anything they told me about wolves."
Springfield-Greene County Library