IN CLOSE COMPANY WITH A PANTHER
By S. C. Turnbo
As a rule, pioneer settlers delight to relate Incidents of their experiences
during the early days, and are generally willing to give all information
sought. Sometimes "sharper" or "bunko" men will impose
on our people under a guise of being engaged in collecting matter for a
history of other line of work, and then bunko the settler. This is wrong
and everyone ought to give a swindler the cold shoulder. Many people have
been beat out of their money by these soft-talking fellows. It is well for
people to be on their guard. They save money by it. During my experience
while collecting reminiscences I have been well treated with the exception
that I met one man who I wished to interview, that excused himself with
the remark that he had been swindled once by a slick-tongued fellow and
he did not intend to be duped the second time. I tried to convince him that
my intentions were honest and I did not belong to the swindling class, but
my entreaties were without avail, and thus it is often the case that a man
pursuing an honest line of work is compelled to suffer on account of a few
smooth-tongued rascals. This is enough of this at present, and we will go
on with our story.
Mr. John Haggard of Peel, Marion County, Arkansas, (or "Uncle Jackey"
as he is familiarly known) settled on Swan Creek, Taney County, Mo., in
1841. He says when his father first came to Swan that John Handcock then
sold goods at Forsyth. Some years later Mr. Handcock went to Greene County,
Missouri, and engaged in the stock business.
Mr. Haggard also says that John Ray and Jim Cook came to Swan about the
same time that his father did. Jim Cook was the father of Alph Cook. Referring
to the other settlers, Mr. Haggard continues, "Levi Casey was another
pioneer on Swan and was elected as County Judge of Taney County for one
term, when he died and was buried in a graveyard one and one-half miles
above Forsyth on Swan Creek. One of Caseys sons was the first body
buried there. About one-half mile above this cemetery is another graveyard
where Miss Rachel Jackson, daughter of David Jackson, was the first body
interred there. She was a sister of John Jackson who killed Bob Rains at
Forsyth many years ago. Dave Jackson died at Springfield, Mo., during the
war, and John Jackson was killed during General Prices raid in Missouri
in the autumn of 1864."
Mr. Haggard lived a while on James Fork of White River. Like other settlers
he enjoyed hunting for game and to get the furs and pelts to exchange for
groceries, ammunition and necessities. He met the panther as well as the
wolf. He gave the writer an account of his experience one night with a panther
at a deer lick, which was about as follows:
"One late afternoon Henry Clift and myself went to a salt lick on
Panther Creek, a small stream that empties into James, where deer would
occasionally assemble in great numbers in daytime as well as night. We had
usually killed as many as we wanted at any time we visited the spot, but
that evening our luck was not good, for we did not see a deer. We concluded
to remain at the lick until the moon was up, which would be several hours
"A few poles had been constructed as a platform where the hunters
rested and lay in wait for game. The platform was several feet above the
ground and supported by the limbs of the trees. There we rested and listened
for the approach of deer. We did not hear any and wondered why. We remained
comparatively quiet, carrying on our conversation in a whisper. About two
hours after dark we heard footsteps of an animal almost directly beneath
us; from the noise it made we knew it was not a deer and decided it must
be a wolf, catamount or wildcat. Each of us had a good rifle but the night
was intensely dark and we did not care to waste powder and lead by firing
at random. In addition to the rifles, Clift had a large hack knife and I
had a tomahawk. Soon we heard it go to a tree about 20 feet from us and
we heard it clutch the trunk and climb the tree, making a big racket as
it shattered the dry bark off that fell on the dry leaves on the ground.
We now knew it was a panther and was on the same mission we were. It settled
down on a limb and we could now discern its form. We were frightened; our
hearts beat so furiously that it seemed it would thump us off of the platform.
Just imagine a hungry panther lying crouched within 20 feet of you. No doubt
the animal knew of our presence and was ready to pounce on us at the least
provocation. We kept as quiet as possible, but prepared for action. Our
guns were handy and Clift held his hack knife while I was holding my Indian
tomahawk and we awaited an attack. Silence reigned for over half an hour,
when all of a sudden we heard the panther leap to the ground and walk slowly
away. It had gone but a few yards when it gave a frightful cry, then proceeded
down the hollow, screaming every few minutes. We were so well pleased with
its departure that we did not mock its cry. After the moon rose we saw a
deer come to the lick and as it lowered its head to taste of the saline
dirt. I shot at it and it ran a few yards, then dropped dead. We took precaution,
however, not to leave the tree for fear of coming in contact with the panther.
We remained there until daylight, then ventured down to skin the dead deer.
A terrible fright and only one deer did not remunerate us well for our all
nights stay in the tree."
As Mr. Haggard has made mention of Col. John Handcock, the writer will relate a sad incident that happened which was spoken of by the settlers for many years after its occurrence. In the early fifties Handcock, "Jocky" Weaver and the Haydens bought cattle from the settlers in Taney County and over the line in Arkansas. They were all jovial and honorable, paying fair prices in gold and silver. I remember one night while these men were at my fathers house on Elbow Creek they discussed the prospects for mineral in the Ozark hills. They became so deeply interested in the argument that they all decided to go up the creek on the following day and prospect for indications of ore. When day began to break they could not restrain themselves to wait for breakfast before starting and my father and these men took an old axe and grubbing hoe and went off up the creek and was gone till nearly noon before returning back to the house. They had found some nice specimens of lead ore that they had discovered somewhere on Elbow Creek or on one of its tributary branches. This was in the fall of 1851 and was the first time I ever saw lead ore or heard the subject on mineral discussed. Later on jocky Weaver made a business trip down White River and just below where Newport now stands he was taken very sick and died. A steamboat was just starting up the river to Forsyth. Weavers body was placed in a tight casket and put aboard. The remains were to be buried in Greene County, Mo. Unfortunately the boat caught fire and it was destroyed together with all the freight on board. Mr. Weavers body never reached its burying place as it was also burned.
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