The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

In this chapter we relate a few stories of the killing of panther by hunters in the buffalo Mountains in North Arkansas. Among our collection of old time accounts is a story of how two hunters killed a panther one day in these same mountains along the Buffalo River which was told me at Yellville one day in August, 1897, by Frank Wovel, who said when North Arkansas was sparsely settled he and Billy Hurst, a brother of Jack Hurst, who lived and died on Crooked Creek below Yellville, went down to Buffalo River together to hunt after bear. "One day," said he, "our dogs encountered a panther which gave the dogs room by pulling itself up a tree. When I and Hurst reached this tree we both shot the panther, but did not kill or seriously wound it. But the sting of the bullet caused the beast to leap to the ground and a fierce fight commenced at once between it and the dogs. In a short space of time the angry beast had nearly killed a dog. During the excitement of the combat the men neglected to reload their guns, but they did not remain idle and allow a favorite dog to be put to death by the enraged animal through their negligence. They determined to save the life of the dog at all hazards and both men rushed up in the battle and while one man caught the panther by both ears the other caught it by its tail. The one that grabbed it by the ears held to them like the grip of a blacksmith’s vice. The panther now released the dog and struggled to bite the man or tear him with its claws. It was now a mixed battle. The scene was stirring and exciting. The men were hallooing dogs barking and the panther growled. The man with the tail held it fast with one hand and with a stout club in the other beat the panther to death. The dog, which was a favorite, was saved, but it was many weeks before his wounds healed over."

This story shows the daring feats of fearlessness when hunters saw the peril of one of their dogs while engaged in a hard fight with a ferocious wild animal. On many occasions the old timers would risk being maimed or loosing their own life in order to save a good dog.

"Talking about panther," remarked Peter Baughman, "reminds me of shooting one in these same mountains while I was on Buffalo once on a camp hunt. One day while I was passing through a narrow gorge just above the mouth of Big Creek which empties into Buffalo from the south side I heard a noise above me and looking up to the top of a precipice I saw the head of a panther protruding over the edge of a cliff directly over me. The animal looked down at me very saucy. Elevating my rifle straight up I took a steady aim between its eyes and pulled the trigger and the dying beast slid over the edge of the precipice and fell with a thud. As I was standing under it I had to get a quick move on me to prevent it from falling on me. It was a small panther measuring only about 8 feet in length. But this was not all the experience I ever had with a panther on this same stream. Me and Isaac Carter had hunted together frequently on Crooked Creek, but in the course of time Carter moved to Buffalo and lived on Calf Creek. In December, 1851, Carter sent me word to come down and take an old time bear hunt with him. Of course I accepted the invitation for we had always seen a good time hunting together on Crooked Creek and I thought we could enjoy life in killing game on Buffalo. When I reached his cabin he had everything in shape to start and we did not delay anytime but struck right out into the forest with dogs and guns. We were out several days and met with only fair luck in killing game. We returned back to Carter’s on Christmas Eve day. I remained overnight with him intending to start home Christmas morning. We sat up late salting away our bear meat that we had brought in from the forest on our pack horses. Then we had to tell several hunting stories for past time before we retired to bed. That night Carter’s children told that when they would go into the field for corn which was less than ¼ mile from the cabin, "a big thing" would run them out of the field. Carter made sport of their story and said they had got scared at nothing, but the children insisted that they saw something. Next morning he told the children to get up out of bed and take a sack and go to the field and fill it with corn for the horses. The children were slow about starting and Carter, after scolding them and saying he had never knew his children to be disobedient before, ordered them in a humorous way to take the dogs along to frighten the "buggers" away. They were in no hurry about going but finally they took the dogs and went on to the field. When they had time to reach the field we heard the dogs yelping as if they were on a hot chase and we heard the children hallooing and directly they came running back to the house and reported that they saw the same thing in the field and the dogs had run it out. The dogs soon treed it and were now barking furiously. By this time Carter’s wife had breakfast nearly prepared, but me and Carter were still lying in bed. But we both rose in haste now and put on our clothes and with guns in hand went to see what the dogs had treed and found that they were barking in the mouth of a small cave or opening in a cliff. The crevice in the rock was straight up and down. Part of the opening was narrow but large enough to admit a man’s body edgeways. But in one place the opening was big enough for a large animal to enter in. Thinking a lot of coons or foxes were in there we concluded to go in and have some sport. With guns in our hands we scrouged in edgeways. Carter went in ahead of me. After passing into the mouth of the cave a few feet we observed a much larger opening or pocket, but before we had time to enter into it we saw a half grown panther in 8 feet of us. Plenty of daylight penetrated through the opening and crevice and we could see the form of the young animal plain and Carter aimed at it with his rifle and shot it dead. Then he gave me his empty gun with the remark that he would drag it, but at this moment a full grown panther made its appearance and sprang at Carter to force its way out of the cavern. The beast hurled itself against the man’s legs and tore his clothes and flesh with its teeth and claws. Carter did not attempt to back out to the outside, but snatched his knife from the scabbard and went to work stabbing the panther with it. Owing to the narrowness of the passage I was helpless to assist him, but I begged him to back out and give room for the panther to make its exit. This he refused saying that as long as the panther wanted to fight he should have the chance. So I gave him all the encouragement I could. The man was greatly excited and furious and fought the enraged beast desperately. Every stroke with the knife was effective. The panther growled loud and lacerated his flesh with its teeth and claws. Carter grunted and groaned with pain, kicked and struck the panther vigorous blows with the keen pointed hunting knife. How long the struggle between men and wild beast lasted I am not able to say exactly but it was only a few minutes. But it was fierce, bloody and ugly, while it was on. But the knife did its work well for the panther sank down and lay dead. But Carter’s excitement and temper was wrought up at such a pitch that he was not sensible of his victory and refused to quit using the knife on the dead beast and sent the long blade into its lifeless form 20 times more before I could persuade him to let up and quit fighting a dead enemy. After we both got out of the cave I found that Carter’s clothes were nearly torn off of him. His legs were gashed and bleeding and the man groaned out loud. I tried to persuade him to go to the house, but he would not hear to it until we had pulled both dead panthers out of the cave. The grown one was a she and was 9 feet in length, but Carter had cut it almost to pieces with his knife. Carter was too severely wounded for me to leave him and I postponed going home for several days or until the man was better. On the following morning after Carter got into the combat with the panther Enock Vaughn happened along near this same cave with his gun and dogs and the dogs chased something away from the cave and compelled it to climb a tree. When Vaughn reached the tree the dogs were barking up the tree. It proved to be a panther. He yelled for someone to come and help him kill it. Carter was not able to go, but I took my gun and went to where Vaughn and the dogs were. The panther had climbed high up in the tree and looked fierce as he lay crouched on a limb. We both shot at it the same moment. One ball crashed through its head and the other through its body behind the shoulder. The animal turned its hold loose of the limb and was dead when it struck the ground. This one was a he and was 9 feet and 4 inches long. This last killing broke up the nest of panther at the cave and Carter’s children could go to the field now for a sack of corn without being bothered by "some big thing". It was many days before Carters wounds healed sufficiently for him to get around, but he learned one lesson from his encounter with the panther and that was he was careful after this about poking fun at his children when they told him they had seen a "bugger."

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