The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

The foot of Clinton Mountain on the north side rises a short distance below the mouth of Wiley’s Cave. This mountain was once the scene of thrilling adventures among wild beasts and is the seat of several exciting stories. In the long time ago it was a lonely region for travelers to pass over. The mountain is about 20 miles in length. The southern limit terminates near Clinton, the county seat of Van Buren County, Ark. Among other matters relating to this mountain we have a war time story which we give to show how in some cases a few men perpetrate inhuman acts by having no regard for mercy or laws of war.

W. A. Pumphrey, formerly of Lead Hill, Ark., now of Fall River, Kansas, was a soldier in the 15th Ark. Regiment. This command, after Port Hudson on the Mississippi River was captured in July, 1863, were paroled to return to their respective homes. Mr. Pumphrey said that he and a comrade while on their way back to Marion County, Ark., passed over Clinton Mountain. "Here," said he, "while we were a few miles south of the north foot of the mountain we saw five men near the roadside ahead of us viewing something lying on the ground. They did not see us when we first saw them, but when we approached nearer they saw us and fled out of sight. This to reach its subscribers who lived in the rock-ribbed hills of north Ark. Love letters moved along so slow that lovers got almost out of patience before they were able to hear from their sweethearts. Others had to wait as long to learn tidings of their distant relatives and friends. John B. Hudson who lives 6 ½ miles north of Yellville says that Jonathon Parker was among the first who carried the mail over Clinton Mountain. On one occasion a panther hurried the mail along this route as it was going north one day faster than schedule time, which happened in this way. Parker had traveled 15 miles from Clinton. The road on the mountain lead through a wild country. It was 20 miles from Clinton to the first settlement which was Page Hatchet’s, who lived at the foot of the mountain, and Parker’s ride along the mountain was a lonely one. On this occasion a ferocious panther suddenly made its appearance at the roadside which terrified the horse and rider. Parker was 20 years old and had never met any serious trouble on the road before. The young man urged his horse into a swift run. The beast gave pursuit and at times was running close up at the frightened horse’s heels. Then it would spring forward in front of the horse; then it would drop back and leap along the road at the horse’s side. Once and awhile it would fall behind 50 or 60 yards and spring up on the side of a tree and utter an unearthly scream, then leap down and soon overtake the horse and rider. The race was kept up by the pursued and pursuer for five miles, when looked auspicious that something was wrong. The men did not speak to us, neither did we speak to them. When we reached the spot where the five men had ran from we discovered the dead bodies of two men lying on the ground. They were in a nude condition and had just been killed. We had no way of identifying them, but we believed that they were either confederate or federal soldiers and that the party who shot them to death and stripped them of their garments were bushwhackers. As we had no arms to defend ourselves with we feared the same party would return and kill us and we left the sad scene and hurried on. I made diligent inquiry several months afterward before I learned who the murdered men were. They proved to be federal soldiers. The poor fellows had been cruelly put to death by merciless foes."

This is only one instance among hundreds of such cases that occurred in north Arkansas; but such is the horrors of war. Let us turn from this horrible war incident and relate stories of a different character. Many years before the war broke out a weekly mail line was established between Yellville and Clinton which had its connection with other lines running from north and south. The route lay over Clinton Mountain. There were no big bundles of letters and sacks full of daily and weekly newspapers and monthly and Sunday magazines to carry. Only a few letters and a very limited number of newspapers to take along at each trip. The transportation of mail matter was slow and it took many days for a city paper Parker was nearing Hatchet’s residence. Here the panther stopped, which was greatly appreciated by the terribly frightened young fellow. He was excited as well as scared, and his horse was nearly wearied down running so far. After this day’s adventure Parker, as long as he carried the mail over this mountain, dreaded to pass the spot where the panther attacked him, and urged him along on fast time.

Another panther story of this same mountain is told as follows:

One cold evening while a deep snow covered the ground one of Page Hatchet’s neighbors who lived on Georges Creek which empties into Little Red River informed him that he heard a panther scream near his house. Hatchet was in for the fun of following the panther and killing it. Next morning Page Hatchet and King Hatchet, his brother, William Wilson and James Rumley got on the trail of the panther near the neighbor’s house which was only ½ mile from Page Hatchet’s. It was no trouble to follow the panther’s trail in the snow. The man thinking they would not have to follow it far went afoot. They also concluded to follow it up without dogs. But the beast went much farther than they expected. The panther traveled a long distance on the west side of the road on Clinton Mountain, then it crossed the road to the east side and went in the direction of Cellar Creek. The weather like the day previous was cold and the men grew tired and cold in following the animal so far in the snow; but they did not stop. At sunset the hunters came to a big rock five feet high. This the panther had climbed over and took shelter in a cave, the mouth of which was just on the opposite side of the boulder. Page Hatchet climbed up on the rock and took a peep into the cavern which apparently reached only 25 feet into the earth. Though Hatchet could not see the panther, but it had went in there and had not come out. While the man was surveying the interior of the shallow cave the panther began to growl. Then he saw the shine of its eyes at the back part of the cave. Raising his rifle, Hatchet aimed between its eyes at random and fired. After waiting a short while and hearing nothing nothing of the beast, Hatchet requested Rumley to go in the cave and see if the animal was dead. Rumley replied that the cave was too small for him and the panther both and declined the invitation; but handing Hatchet his rifle, said, "Use this if necessary." Hatchet took the rifle and handed Rumley his own with the request to reload it and waited until the smoke dissipated, when he saw the shine of the panther’s eyes in eight feet of him. Hatchet could also discern the outlines of the panther’s form. Hatchet now made use of Rumley’s gun quicker than he did his own. After Hatchet shot the second time he jumped off of the rock and yelled that the panther was coming out and the excited man fled at once and did not halt until more than a mile lay between them and the cave. They saw nothing more of the beast and decided that it was not pursuing them. It was now growing dark and they had followed the trail of the panther about 16 miles. The men were tired, cold and hungry and the weather growing colder. They did not know how far it was to a house, neither did they know whether anybody lived in that section or not. Without fire and shelter they would freeze to death. They could not retrace their steps back home through the dark hours of night and they certainly would succumb to the piercing cold if forced to remain in the forest all night. While the four men were consulting as to the best plan to pursue to prevent them from freezing to death they heard the tingle of a bell and with joyful hearts they all started in the direction of the sound of the bell, for they believed relief from the piercing cold was at hand. Sure enough after wading through the unbroken snow ½ mile they found a small hut where a settler and his wife with several children lived. The cold and wearied hunters asked permission to share their hospitality the remainder of the night. The kind-hearted settler informed them if they could put up with the fare that him and family prolonged life with they were welcome. Then he told them he could furnish them a good fire to warm by and bear skins for bedding, "but we have not a dust of meal in the house for bread and no meat except venison." The hungry men gladly accepted the comforts of the settler’s hut. There were a bushel or two of unshelled corn in the cabin and the good-hearted woman put several of the ears of corn into a hot vessel filled with water and boiled them until the grains were softened enough to grate and the man grated meal for the four men’s supper and the woman prepared and cooked the bread in an old-fashioned skillet and placing the bread on a clabboard table with plenty of boiled venison and the wearied panther hunters did ample justice to the simple fare. After supper they retired among bear skins and deer hides and were soon in the dreamy land and felt greatly refreshed when they arose at daylight the following morning and after thanking their host and hostess for their kindness they took their departure and returned to the cave and found the panther lying dead in the mouth of the cavern. Both bullets had entered the animal’s breast about an inch apart. it was a very large beast measuring 11 feet from tip to tip. Though bitter cold they took time and endured the cold long enough to take off the hide and carried it home with them and ate a late breakfast. Their families had become very uneasy about them before they made their appearance.

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