The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

Many were the stories told by the old pioneer settlers who lived along White River in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas of encountering wild beasts and occasionally they would witness a fight between two wild animals. As we have said elsewhere in these sketches John Ford settled on the north bank of White River just above the mouth of Little North Fork in the year 1818 and followed the same occupation that nearly all the other pioneers did during that period of time and that was the pursuit of hunting. Elijah Ford, son of John Ford, gives an interesting account of an encounter between a bear and a panther that his father witnessed one day in the woods which occurred in 1822 or six years before Elijah Ford was born. In giving the narrative of the battle between the two enraged animals Mr. Elijah Ford said that his father informed him that the locality where the fight took place was near the river and near two miles and a half above the mouth of Little North Fork and on the north side of the river and in what is now Marion County, Ark. "My father told me that he had witnessed combats between bear and panther before this but this one was the fiercest and the bloodiest encounter he ever saw. "While I was passing along in a rough hollow," said my father, "my attention was called by loud growls by some wild animals mixed with a whining noise. The sound eminated from behind the point of a hill up the hollow from me. The noise they made sounded awful and it indicated that there was a fight on hand between them. I was not thinking of a bear and panther at the time I was hearing the disturbance. I supposed that two catamounts had met together and was going to settle an old grudge between them, but when I had made my way to the top of the point where I could obtain a fair view of the place where the two beasts had met I was astonished at the sight of an enormous bear sitting on the end of a big log and at the same moment I observed a ferocious panther advancing toward the other end of the log, and when it reached the log it sprang upon it and went creeping along toward where the bear was sitting. The growls of the panther was so fierce and the loud snarls of the bear caused me to tremble with fear, but as I was anxious to view the fight I made an effort to do away with my dread and kept my ground. When the panther got in reach the bear struck it a terrific blow at the burr of the ear with its paw and knocked it off of the log. But apparently the panther was not discouraged for it rose up instantly and ran back to the end of the log and leaped upon it again and approached bruin the second time. The bear braced himself for another knock off and when his fierce enemy advanced up near enough he sent the panther headlong to the ground again. So far the panther had received rough treatment from the bear without returning any back and was evidently tired of being handled so rude and when the stealthy beast got back on the log he used more caution and crept toward the bear in a slow and sly way which resembled a house cat creeping on a mouse. Bruin offered to be ready and waiting to send his adversary off of the log one more time, but the panther changed his tactics for instead of allowing his antagonist another opportunity to repeat the strokes at the burr of his ear he when he had crept up in 10 feet of the bear sprang on him and knocked his bearship from the log and both animals fell to the ground and instantly clinched together in a deadly struggle. They struck with their paws and sank their teeth into each other’s flesh, clawed, rolled and tumbled together and growled and snarled loud enough to be heard a mile. My blood seemed to chill and my hair appeared to raise my coonskin cap. The battle between the two angered beasts went on and was so desperate and ferocious that it is impossible for me to describe all the details of it, but it proved to be so awful that at the end of a half an hour from the time the bear knocked the panther from the log the latter sank down and lay still and the bear left him and walked off five or six yards and sat down like a dog and give vent to a cry of pain. I waited awhile to see if the panther was dead or had only sulled, and as it showed no sign of life I shot the bear and killed it and as soon as I could reload my rifle again I approached the scene of combat and found that the panther was entirely dead. The bear had inflicted a number of severe wounds on its body but I am of the opinion that the hard blows the bear dealt it on the head was the principal cause of its death or disabled it so that it was not able to cope with the bear’s great strength. A portion of the bear’s entrails were torn out by the panther and it was not possible for it to have lived many hours. I let the combatants lay where they fell and went home to procure assistance, and went back and removed the hide of both animals and took the hides and meat of the bear home. The panther was of unusual size and measured 12 feet in length from tip to tip."

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