The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

"The worst trouble I ever got into with wild beasts and the worst seared I ever felt was with a pack of wolves," said Beden Eslick, who settled on Beaver Creek in Taney County, Mo., in 1835. "My encounter with them was during the winter following the close of the Civil War." Mr. Eslick told the balance of the story about this way.

"Their attack on me was so unexpected and desperate that I thought my time had come to die, and I prayed as well as fought. There are but few people who, when facing death, forget to pray. In truth some people never pray in the interest of their souls unless they are staring death in the face. Our prayers then are not uttered in a routine way. It makes our supplications so earnest that we mean what we pray for and do not pray like some does at meeting, the same old thing over and over again which is not much heartfelt. But our prayers go deep down into the heart when we realize that our time is up. One knows what they are praying for when they think they are standing on the edge of eternity. Our call on God then is so fervent, ardent, zealous and devoted. But to the wolves. As remarked above it was the first winter after the war ended. I had taken one of my little boys, whose name was William, and went to Long Creek which flows into Beaver Creek near the John Mosely Mill place. I intended to stay on the creek a few days on a camp hunt, and took the little boy with me for company. The weather, though not very cold, was chilly and a big fire felt comfortable. We pitched camp in an open space in the middle of a thicket which would afford some protection from cold winds. We went prepared with bed clothes and cooking utensils. For provisions we took a supply of corn bread and expected to depend on my rifle for venison and wild turkey meat. When we camped that evening we built a fire and collected a lot of wood in order to keep a big fire and light during the night. The fire would give us warmth from the cool air and the light would encourage the wild beasts to not venture up too close to us. But in this last I was disappointed. I intended starting early the following morning on the day’s hunt. We had no dogs with us except two half grown ones which were worthless as hunting dogs. I thought they and the little boy could take care of camp while I was absent. Soon after night spread its dark mantle over the creek valley we spread our bed quilts down before the fire and lay down and felt comfortable and was soon in the dreamy land of plenty of deer and other game. But my dreams did not pan out like I saw them in my visions as I lay on my couch with my eyes closed. How long I slept, I am unable to say, when my little boy woke and said, "Daddy, do you hear the wolves howling?" I was too drowsy to give the child a sensible answer, and I replied, "All right, William, let’em howl. We are here. They can’t hurt anything." and went to sleep again. I often think how careless I was when the little boy warned me of our danger.

"Shortly afterward I was awakened by some animal whining and smelling over my face, which I at first supposed was one of the pups, but as its cold nose touched my face causing a shudder to run over my entire body I raised up quickly and saw the two pups lying at the foot of the bed, and at the same time I saw a wolf run from the head of my bed into the thicket. Of course my beautiful dreams of the fairyland of game ended at once. I was now fully awake. With gun in hand I leaped to my feet and yelled to William, who was now asleep, to rouse up and help me fight wolves. The wolf I had seen dart into the brush was gone only a few seconds when I saw a bunch of vicious looking wolves come charging into the circle of firelight and ran right up to the bed and began snapping at our legs and feet, and at the pups which were yelling and cowering at our feet. The hungry beasts were dashing around so rapidly that it would be only chance work to hit one with a rifle ball, and I fought them with clubs and stones. I thought it my last moments on earth for I actually believed they would soon overpower me and rend us to pieces. I fought with a will to avoid meeting such a horrible death.

"I well recollect the agonizing thoughts as I realized our perilous position. After a few minutes of this desperate attack on us from the daring animals I was gratified to see them all sneak back into the brush. Then we hastily jerked on our clothes and shoes and snatching up a lot of the wood threw it on the fire. The wood was so dry that it ignited at once and there was a big blaze which illuminated the surrounding thicket for several paces. We had no resting spell for the hungry creatures dashed up again and was all around us in less time than it takes to tell it and snarled and snapped their teeth together. It seemed that our doom was surely sealed.

"In addition to the clubs and stones for defense I used fire brands which I hurled at them but this appeared to irritate and aggravate the animals so that I soon quit this kind of warfare. I would kick one every opportunity, sometimes knocking it sprawling for a moment and up it would rise and at us it would come again. As the fight went on two wolves fell out and engaged in a combat of their own. One, then the other down, while the other stood over him and growled. If our position had not been so critical it might have been amusing to see two wolves lose their friendship for each other and go to war, but as it was I had fight enough on my hands without trying to get time to watch them battle together. So snatching up the rifle which lay on the ground nearby I shot at the one standing, but owing to my excitement and terror I guess I missed. The shot separated them and they both ran into the thicket. They were hardly gone before I saw one of them run back and join the others that were dancing a jubilee around me seemingly in anticipation of devouring my flesh and cracking my bones with their teeth. There were a few trees standing in reach of me, but I was too busy to take refuge in one or take time even to lift my little boy to safety. How long I was forced to defend mine and my child’s life I have not the least idea, but it seemed hours. Life was precious and I struggled in a frenzied desperation to save my life and that of my little son. How long the hungry beasts would have kept the battle going I am not able to answer, but suddenly above all the din of my yelling and direful racket of the wolves I heard a mighty scream close to camp. I knew at once that It was no night hawk or owl but a ferocious panther. The great loud cry almost made my blood curdle worse than I thought the wolves had curdled it. The cry also attracted the attention of those terrible creatures that wanted to end our lives. The wolves seemed to understand that the scream of the panther was a bad omen and began to stop and listen for more of the same kind of noise. Very soon the panther gave vent to another piercing scream which sounded near. The pack of wolves faltered in their vicious work and began to retreat into the thicket in an opposite direction from where the panther made itself known. They were soon all gone and I and my little boy and the terrified pups held the battlefield. I had been kept so busy in trying to beat the ferocious beasts back that I was nearly exhausted, but a new danger threatened us. When I first heard the panther it added to my terror, for I believed I would have both it and the wolves to contend against, but when I perceived that the wolves feared it and when I noticed that the second cry of the panther put them to flight, I welcomed the panther, for even if it attacked me I had rather fight a single panther with my clenched hand as my only weapon as to battle with a hungry gang of wolves with knives, guns and pitchforks; but the panther did not come any closer and went on. It is more than probable," continued Mr. Eslick, "that the near approach and cry of the panther saved our lives. The combat with the wolves broke up the camp hunt, for before the great luminary of the day rose above the horizon we were on our way back home. Since that time I have visited this same spot on a few occasions and took a long view of where the two dogs cowered where we stood on the bed clothes and were frightened almost to death. I well remember how I kicked and struck with clubs and stones and how the wolves dashed around and about us. The night scene formed around the camp fire on that night in December, 1865, is still vivid in my recollections."

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