The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

It is said that Taney County, Mo., was organized in 1837. As late as the early forties there were only a few settlements along White River, Beaver, Swan and Big Creeks. The country was so sparsely settled then that one could travel all day without seeing a settler’s cabin. There were only a few roads then, the majority of which were trails made by Indians in former years, and as the howling wolf and stealthy panther were kings of the forest at that date, traveling after night was occasionally attended with danger, and more than one man has passed a sleepless night alone in the wild woods of Taney County. But what a contrast now; cast your eyes over some of the hills that once were so numerously inhabited by wild beasts, and then take a glance into the creek valleys, and you can observe little farms, comfortable dwellings and every now and then a thriving town will meet your eyes. The change is as surprising as it is wonderful for the principal part of the settlements have been made within the last few years. But I started out to write a story, not a fictitious one, but a true one—at least my informant so stated. As has been said in another part of these stories Mr. Arch Anderson’s grandparents brought him to White River in the year 1822 and that at the time of his arrival he was but four years old, and he has been a continuous resident of Taney or Ozark Counties, Mo., or Marion County, Ark., ever since, until his death near Dodd City in 1897. During his lifetime, after his hair grew frosty with age he often referred to bygone days of adventure. One of these was an account of an encounter with a panther one evening after dark which is about as follows in his own words.

"When I was 24 years old," said he, "together with a young man by the name of George Cook, rode to Springfield, Mo., on horseback. This was in 1842. I had been acquainted with the wilds of White River for 20 years and when I made that journey to Springfield I was living with my Uncle Abe Anderson in what is known as Blanket Bottom, just below the mouth of Music Creek. A horseback ride to Springfield now does not amount to much, but it was then something worth talking about to view the scenes as found in the wild woods at that early date. I rode a fine little mare and Cook was mounted on a splendid horse. We carried our provision with us, and to supply our horses with provender we took two bells with us, and when we stopped to camp at night we would hobble them with dressed buckskin thongs and put the bells on them and allow them to graze until morning. As our trip was a business one and not a hunting expedition we did not carry our guns and left them at home and had not even the protection of a dog; but for protection against wild beasts, we took the precaution to carry our hack knives with us. The river was past fording and we swam our horses across at the side of a dugout canoe. Then we rode across rough hills and deep hollows until we reached Big Creek at the mouth of Big Cedar Creek where we found a dim trailway that lead up Big Creek. Up near the head of the creek we passed a settlement or two. We passed on over the divide to the head of Brushy Creek, then down that watercourse to Beaver, and then across the hills to Swan Creek and up a small rough valley which was afterwards called Barber Creek and by where Chadwick now stands and on across Finley and James to Springfield. We traveled slowly, allowing our horses an occasional stop during the day to fill up on grass. It was in the early part of the month of June. The trees of the forest had donned their summer dress more than a month previous. The grass and all vegetation was putting on a luxuriant growth. The hills and valleys were adorned with the various colored wild flowers. The scenery was picturesque and our ride through the hills was a pleasant one. Every now and then we caught sight of a bear shambling along through the timber or over a bald hill or across a prairie hollow, but the prettiest sight was the small groups of deer, which we saw that ranged in numbers from two to ten; most of them were very gentle to be wild, and would allow us to approach close to them before they ran. On our arrival at Springfield we did not find it to be a large, beautiful and flourishing city, as it is now. It was then only the size of an ordinary country town. That was my first trip, and I often think how small the town was at that time and what a populous and commercial metropolis it is today. But I am digressing, and like to have forgot about the panther. When we started on the return trip from Springfield, Cook’s horse kicked my mare on the stifle joint, which lamed her badly. This mishap caused our progress to be very slow, but we contrived to reach Swan Creek on the third day after leaving town. Here we remained overnight with a settler. The man proved to be a relative of Cook’s. Acquaintance and friendship was renewed and the young man decided to remain there a few days, so I was left to continue the journey alone. By the time we got back to Swan our provision had run short but the settlers wife who was a kind, generous woman prepared for me a lot of provision sufficient for a king to feast on. The bill of fare consisted of a whole chicken nicely dressed and cooked, dried venison, bear meat, wild honey, and good old fashioned corn pone bread baked in a skillet. The honey was carried in a deer hide cased up for the purpose. Next morning early, I bid adieu to George and the kind family and struck out into the wilderness again. My mare was some better able to travel; but the improvement was so little I was compelled to travel very slow. It was shortly after noon when I reached Beaver at the mouth of Brushy Creek. Here on this noble stream of clear running water I stopped for dinner, and let my mare rest and graze, after which I continued up Brushy Creek. The trail up this stream was so narrow that it was a hard task to push my way through the tall grass and weeds, and it was night when I left Brushy and started up the hill over which the Bradleyville and Protem road now passes. As I desired to pass the night on top of the hill I had stopped at a spring of water on the side of the creek below the foot of the hill and quenched my thirst and let my mare have water. Following the trail up the hill I reached a narrow wooded flat of land and passed over it and up another rise to a long narrow level glade where I stopped to remain until morning. I took off my pack saddle and after putting the bell on the mare, turned her loose to graze without hobbles, as I thought she was too lame to get far away, and as I had walked and lead the mare the entire distance during the day, I was sore and weary and needed rest. There was no moon but the skies were clear and the stars seemed to shine with more luster than usual. The narrow prairie ridge that I had stopped on had a deep gulch-like hollow on each side. The scenery here is composed of mound-like bald hills with scattering timber on them and rough bald hills capped with scrub timber, steep hollows and rough wooded hills. I concluded not to strike a light and eat my supper in the dark. I spread my bearskin on the grass, and with my saddle for a pillow, I laid myself down to sleep. Soon afterward a fox began barking near me; then I heard a wolf howl In another direction, but much farther off than the fox was. I knew if it was alone it would not bother me and I was too tired to give its noise much attention. The bark of the fox and the howl of the wolf was nothing strange to be heard in the wild forest in those early days. It was my intention to go to sleep and let the wolf howl and the fox bark until they got ready to quit, but somehow I was not able to close my eyes in sleep for a feeling of loneliness began to creep over me, and I commenced thinking how many wild animals were then prowling around in my near vicinity, when suddenly I was startled by a distressing cry and a piercing scream, as of someone in distress. But a moment’s reflection told me it was the cry of a panther. The beast was coming over the same trail I had followed, and was less than 300 yards distant. Probably it had followed me several miles and never let itself be known until now. Although greatly frightened the cry of the panther put new life in me; it also put a quietus to the bark of the fox and the howl of the wolf. For a moment or two the night seemed still as death; then another loud scream rang out in the gloomy darkness—it was nearer, and the sound was dreadful. My mare gave a snort and off she went in a run toward Big Creek—seemingly the cry of the beast had cured her lame joint; but she stopped near 100 yards distant, gave another snort and galloped further away. I made no effort to follow and catch here, as I fully realized there was hard work before me, and prepared for my defense against the expected attack from the panther. Arising on my feet I took my hack knife from the scabbard and held it with a firm grip. The panther continued to approach me and uttered another loud cry which was followed now by a scream every few seconds. When within about 50 yards of me It stopped and began to growl. I knew It was a warning signal for attack; I did not give up for lost, but I was well aware that I had something to do. I needed help and I glanced up at the beautiful shining stars as if expecting aid from them; then I asked the good Lord of heaven to protect me from the teeth and claws of the savage animal. Knowing that a prayer rendered for the preservation of life without an effort to save it was useless, I braced myself to battle for life. I felt a cold clammy sweat start out all over me and seemingly my hair was raising straight up. After the panther had stood still for a minute or more, he began approaching in a circle and cried out at short intervals, accompanying the terrific screams with deep bass blood-curdling growls. As it continued the circle its panting presence was growing nearer and nearer to me. I could plainly discern its form through the grass. I remained as quiet as the grave; it came within a few yards of me, stopped, crouched down and ceased its hideous cries and growled. I could hear it lashing its tail against the ground. I knew it was preparing for a leap on me. It was desperate to have to fight a panther in daytime, but more terrible was the thought to have to encounter one in the night. I had prepared for the worst and was waiting for the attack when all at once I remembered how a fice dog would scare a panther much quicker than a large dog, and on the impulse of the moment I determined to risk the possible chance of frightening the enemy by trying to imitate the bark of a fice, and instantly I sprang forward, yelling with all my might and trying to bark like a dog. The ruse was successful, and the ferocious beast darted away, and screamed at every jump until it ran a quarter of a mile or more, when it ceased. I was not molested again that night, but you can rest assured that there was no sleep for me, but sat up expecting its return. But it did not appear again, not even the noise of a small animal was heard during the remainder of the night. The night hawk was silent and the owl seemed to be at rest, but the lightning bugs were some comfort and company to me. just as the day was breaking I picked up the bearskin, pack saddle and provision and loaded them on my back and started in pursuit of my mare, for the tinkle of the bell had passed beyond hearing, but fortunately her lame joint had prevented her from getting entirely away and I found her just over the head breaks of Big Creek and reached home safely that day. I have passed over that same bald hill several times since and never have forgotten about the awful scare I received that night on the head of Brushy Creek."

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