The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

The following account of an exciting adventure with a panther is given by Mrs. Dora Ross, wife of John C. Ross whose present residence is Harrison, Ark. The incident occurred when she was a small girl. The recollections of the attack of the ugly creature are so vivid in her mind that she remembers every incident. Mrs. Ross is a daughter of Billy James who was so well known in the northwestern part of Marion County, Ark., in the years gone by. He died a few years after the close of the Civil War. Many years ago he served as justice of the peace in the Sugar Loaf country.

Mrs. Ross is a sister of Cyrus A. James of near Protem, Mo. Here is how Mrs. Ross told the story of her dreadful experience with the ugly beast.

"My parents came to Arkansas in 1853, and located in Newton County, where the town of Western Grove is now. I was just five years old when we arrived there. After living here nearly one year we removed to East Sugar Loaf Creek and settled a short distance above the present site of Lead Hill. Here we made our home a number of years and enjoyed ourselves in the then seemingly wild forest of hills and dales. Father owned 150 head of sheep for the use of the wool, mutton and to sell to other parties. Mother like other housewives in the early days, manufactured our wearing apparel from sheep’s wool and cotton. This she did by the use of the spinning wheel and hand loom. She also taught we girls when we were old enough how to make our own clothes. People at this late day in buying all their clothing in the stores may think it strange, but women in those days made themselves nice dresses from beginning to finish. When there was a gathering of the settlers and their families in the neighborhood such as meeting and so on, men, women and children wore their homemade clothes. The cloth as a rule proved to be durable and generally of pretty colors.

"Owing to the hungry wolves which infested Sugar Loaf in great numbers, we were compelled to keep a constant watch over the sheep to prevent the ravenous animals from destroying them. In this way father required us children to herd them during daytime and drive them into the lot at night, as there was plenty of good stock range near the house it was not necessary to leave our cabin far, and it was seldom that we were bothered with a wild beast approaching the house in daytime. One day in 1857 I and my sister Florence and brother Ernest while having charge of the sheep, wandered off nearly one half a mile. I was nine years old, Florence seven and Ernest five. We were happy little folks and tripped along through the grass as gayly as larks in an old waste field. We had commenced to round up the flock to drive them back to the house. Childlike I stopped by the way to gather some blooms from a cluster of spice wood bushes. When I got as many blossoms as I wanted, the sheep and other children had gone on near 100 yards in advance of me.

"I now started in a hurry to catch up with the other children to help them with the sheep. I had gone only a few steps when I saw as I supposed at the time, a yellow dog cross the path a few yards in front of me. But a moment’s thought told me it was no dog and I knew I was in the presence of a panther. My heart seemed to sink. I stopped and for a short while I felt like my feet were glued to the ground. In a moment or two the animal sprang for a tree that stood nearby and dodged behind it, then raised on its hind feet and put its forepaws against the tree and peeped at me. I did nothing then but stand and scream, and the stealthy creature kept looking at me from behind the tree. In a little while I thought of my little sister and brother and I recollect hallooing, "Run home, for a panther was going to catch me." When I hallooed I seemed to revive from a stupor and my feet seemed to come loose from the ground and I started to run, but the ferocious looking beast left the tree and sprang before me. I stopped and walked backward until I reached a tree which was only a few yards away. I leaned my back against the tree. The dreaded beast followed and stopped just a few feet in front and glared at me steadily a minute or more. I waited in awful suspense for I expected it would spring on me and rend me to pieces. As these agonizing thoughts rushed through my mind in the presence of it, I made another effort to escape, but the moment I tried to run around it in order to get to the children, It sprang in front of me again. Then I ran in an opposite direction, but it ran around me and stopped just ahead of me. Though badly frightened and screaming, I kept my presence of mind and watched and hoped for a chance to escape. When the panther cut me off the last time I did my best to run away from it, but it would dash in front of me, and when I would turn in another direction, it would spring ahead of me in a moment. I ran and dodged here and there over a small space for fifteen minutes or more, beating down the grass and weeds. It was certainly a desperate peril for a child to be in. The panther would raise its upper lip and show its long, sharp pointed teeth. I could hear its teeth ring when it would clash them together. It would sway its tail and strike it against the ground, The end of its tail struck me twice. This ordeal was so horrifying to me and the work and worry to keep out of its way had nearly exhausted my strength. I gave up for lost and resigned myself for as I supposed my impending fate. Then it was that curious thoughts rose into my mind. I wondered whether it would kill me and eat me on the spot, or conceal my body with grass and leaves after I was dead. These were almost unbearable thoughts as they flashed into my mind. I waited. It was an awful wait. I could see the other children where they had stopped and were looking on, but I only glanced at them for I kept my eyes on the panther all the time, except an instant when I looked at the other children.

"Though as great as my danger was, I kept my thoughts on the safety of the children, and believed when it killed me it would slay them also. Then I screamed to them again to run home for the panther would kill them, too, if they did not get out of the way. I do not know how it happened— but I knew there was a great ruler in heaven and I was old enough to understand that he loved children and all those that love him. I was too young to believe that he would intercede and save me from the ferocious beast. As I screamed at the other children I thought of the beautiful heavens and the great power of God, and at the instant I hallooed at the children the panther sprang away and left me.

"Though rejoicing at its sudden departure I was greatly surprised at seeing it leave. As soon as it darted off I made my way to the other children, but I was so weak from exhaustion that I would tremble and almost fall as I made my way there in such a feeble manner. We left the sheep and went on toward the house. Just as we were leaving I saw the panther again. It attacked the sheep and caught and killed a lamb. When we reached the field fence I was not able to climb over alone, and Florence and Ernest helped me over. After crossing the field and arriving at the yard fence I scrambled to the top, but my strength was so near give out that I fell off into the yard and could not get up.

"Bettie, another sister who was 13 years old, took me up in her arms and carried me into the house. Father was at Yellville that day and mother was bedfast with paralysis. Florence and Ernest were too young and too scared to tell mother what was the matter and mother and Bettie were frightened. It was an hour before I recovered sufficiently to talk and tell them of my awful peril. It was several days before I was fully at myself again from the effects of that terrible fright in encountering that ugly creature. When I grew older I could not help but believe and realize that the good Lord saved me from the teeth and claws of that frightful animal."

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