I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED to smell a New Mexico apple orchard in full bloom, and to see two fright trains in a head-on collision. But even more I want to hear a panther scream. Everybody who has heard one says, “They scream just like a woman.”
How does a woman scream? Loud or shrill or hoarse or like she was scared? You might as well say, like a dog barks, without asking, what kind of a dog? All dogs don't bark alike. Women do not scream alike, either. Would a panther's scream cause shivers to run up and down my spine? Would it be an unearthly shriek? I bet I'll be disappointed when I do hear a panther scream.
J. Frank Dobie's recent feature in the Saturday Evening Post about panther's being friends to man called forth a discussion of the animal at a home in Corpus Christi recently. The question was asked if it were true that the beast screamed just like a woman and if it ate only the heart from its kill.
Harry Lee Adams, banker and rancher of Alice, Texas, said he had seen several panthers at various points between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, but only once had he heard one scream. “It was while I was hunting down on the Santa Rosa Ranch near Sarita three years ago,” he said. “I did not see this panther and the only way I know it was a panther was because it could not have been anything else. It was so terrifying it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up for a half-hour. I went straight to the car and didn't care to hunt any more that day.”
Dever Woods, Safety Director for the Central Power & Light Company, assured Adams he knew exactly how he felt because as a boy he had heard the scream of a panther one night while camping on the Colorado River not far from Marble Falls. “Good thing we did not find it with our lanterns and .22 rifles for it was killed the next week and it measured nine feet from nose to the tip of its tail,” Woods wryly concluded.
Mrs. Gail Moore Joseph, wife of Dr. Joseph of Alice, told a weird tale about an experience of her mother. While living at Melrose, New Mexico, about the turn of the century, her mother, Mrs. Moore, had as a visitor a neighbor named Mrs. Devore. Mrs. Devore delayed going home until dark, but as a full moon was rising she said she was not afraid to walk alone. However, Mrs. Moore went part of the way with her. A few minutes after she had turned back toward her home she heard an agonizing scream which sounded like,
She ran back as fast as she could to her friend whom she met running toward her. Neither had called, but each thought the other had screamed her name. The words Moore and Devore screamed at the top of their lungs could sound alike. They could not solve the mystery, and later they decided it was a panther that had screamed.
The group laughed heartily about the woman's fourteen-year-old daughter who read in the Corpus Christi Caller about the mountain lion sighted with a chicken in its mouth at the edge of a landing field at the Naval base. The land had recently been cleared of brush. As her mother left for work that morning, the girl pulled down all the window shades and locked the door.
“You don't have no need to lock the door,” the woman called in to her. “Ain't no lion going to turn the knob.”
“Yes'm,” said the girl, “But that lion might put his paw on the door knob by accident.”
Gertrude Koch, wife of Attorney Walter Koch, said she has heard that panthers only eat the heart out of their kill. This erroneous idea probably was started because the panther guts his kill.
Few are the authentic instances of a panther's attack on a human being; thus the wide-spread terror of the animal probably is the result of its unearthly scream, according to Miss Ruth Dodson of Mathis, Texas.
The grandsons of Mrs. Henderson Williams, who lived in Liveoak County about 1870, are neighbors of Miss Dodson's today. They told Miss Dodson about an experience of their grandmother. One night Mrs. Williams was sitting out in front of her house with other members of her family when a hen she had setting under the floor of a small house began making a commotion. She got up and went into the dark room of the house to see what was wrong and at once came running out with a panther clinging to her shoulder. Later, Mrs. Williams showed the scars on her shoulders to Miss Dodson's mother, Mrs. Milt Dodson.
Since earliest childhood I have been afraid of panthers. I have heard how their eyes gleamed like coals of fire in the night, how they wait in trees to pounce upon and devour their victims. Once I read a story of how a panther came down a chimney and a woman shot it with a flint-lock gun, threw down the weapon, and climbed high atop the bedstead, while the savage animal clawed the floor in its death throes. Although it has been thirty years ago, I can still see the illustrations in that book. The panther was a fearful looking creature. Perhaps that's one reason I am afraid of a panther.
In a farm wagon one moonlight night a sleepy little girl was lying on a quilt and pillows spread on the floor. She was half awake as the horses plodded along.
“From a tree such as this one over us now, a panther jumped down on—–” came a droning voice.
She instantly awoke. That story I also remember down the years, for I was the little girl. I never, if I can help it, go under a tree that throws a dark shadow in the moonlight, for a panther may be waiting stretched along a limb. And yet, I like the thought of going under the tree. I wonder if the panther would scream as he jumped.
My father came upon a panther while crossing a little creek bed near Springtown in Parker County. The beast was on its haunches near a little clump of bushes twenty-five feet away. Father got out his pocket knife so that he could defend himself if the panther started toward him. But the animal just stayed there. My father doesn't remember walking the rest of the way home. But he was sure he didn't run, for he'd heard a panther was sure to chase anyone running away from it. A person couldn't climb a tree and get away from one, either, for it could climb up after him.
My father-in-law told about a panther that had just killed a colt and was devouring it. He was riding Old Baldy, a man-killing horse that he'd bought from a Wild West show. Old Baldy gave one snort, turned on his haunches, and hit the ground running, making the half-mile back to the ranch house in three full jumps, his rider declared.
Several panthers ranged on his ranch. Not far from the cave, which is in Longhorn Cavern State Park today, there were some fine clear springs which became known as Panther's Springs because of an unusually large animal which ranged that pasture.
Evarts Hendricks, postmaster at Christoval, tells an incredible tale about a panther. Since it was backed up by huge footprints showing in the road, armed men searched the countryside from streak of dawn to shutters of night and carried guns for days afterward, but the animal was not found. It happened on Judge H. G. Hendrick's farm four miles from Wheeler, Texas, where Evarts’ family was spending the summer vacation. Evarts, age 12, Cranston, a cousin, age 10, and John Wright, 19, were sent after two wagon loads of corn. Evarts drove the front wagon and John brought up the rear. Before they reached home with the corn, it became dark, then the moon came up full and bright. There were few clouds in the sky. While five miles from the house, Cranston, who had never seen even a cow before this visit, began to get sleepy and Evarts told him, “Keep one eye open. Any minute we might see that panther the Jones boy saw over on the creek the other night.”
A few minutes later Evarts turned around to say something to John, and between the two wagons he saw what he thought to be a good-sized calf. But the animal had eyes that glowed in the darkness and no calf's eyes do that. It was a cat-animal, too, for it had greenish eyes, and a dog's eyes have a reddish glow.
Evarts was so surprised that he did not have time to be scared. He simply said, “Cranston, here's that panther.” And Cranston was so astonished that at the time he didn't think about being scared either.
John Wright said, “God, what are we a-goin’ to do? It's even bigger than Jonesy said it was.”
“Why don't we chunk corn at it?” Cranston suggested.
They did, and the next day a man could have walked miles on ears of corn thrown at that panther. Occasionally, the animal would disappear around a bush at the side of the road but a moment later he would reappear between the two wagons. Probably the strangest thing about the whole happening was that the horses did not get excited. Other than appearing a little uneasy, they did not seem to mind the presence of the great beast.
The boys began worrying about the gate long before they drove up to it. John Wright thought, because he was the oldest, he should open it. The second the front wagon stopped, with true aim, he threw an ear of corn directly at the panther causing it to back off. Both John and Evarts insisted that by now they were so scared they did not remember how the gate got open, but the next thing they knew they were moving towards the house, and the panther was between the wagons.
Before they got to the house, the panther sneaked off behind a bush and did not reappear. The story got about that the boys were attacked, that he even chewed a bite or two out of Evarts’ leg. But that part isn't true.
When Zachary Taylor landed troops on the Texas Coast prior to the Mexican War, the first boatload pulled ashore at the present town of Rockport and the men walked to the shade of an oak tree. A panther was in that tree to greet them. A trooper saw its tail swishing around. It could have jumped on him, but it didn't. They shot it. Today, the bank at Rockport occupies the space once shaded by that tree.
Mrs. J. A. Ray of Laredo tells a tale which grew out of the folk-saying, “as lithe as a panther.” An uncle of hers, when young, wanted to be a dancer in order to impress a certain young lady. He had heard that panther grease well rubbed into a man's leg muscles would make them nimble and that he would immediately become a lithe dancer. Luck was with the young lad. He had seen tracks of a panther near a water hole on the ranch, so he lay in wait for the animal. After a wait of three days, a panther appeared. He shot the animal and cut into it for fat. There wasn't much, but he thought what he found would do. On the night before the dance he vigorously rubbed the grease into the muscles of his calves. And, for good measure, rubbed some into the long muscles of his thighs.
He went to the dance very much pleased with himself. The fat did have a slight odor, but he had used so little of it he did not think it would be noticed. But when he danced with his friend, she remarked something about a queer odor. But with confidence he continued to dance and danced exceedingly well, too, but in doing so he got hot. The panther fat began to smell worse and worse and worse. It became so unbearable he didn't dare ask the young lady for another dance, so he sneaked outside. Seeing her sought after by other men didn't improve his feelings, so he went home. Although the girl married someone else, he stuck to his theory that there was potency in that panther grease, if he could only have eliminated the smell.
Jenks Currie told my father about an incident which happened fifty years ago on the JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. It was good dusk, and a cowboy was riding into camp for supper. He saw an animal which he thought was a bobcat sticking its head out of a buffalo wallow. He decided to have a lot of fun out of the Chink cook, so he roped the animal. The small head had fooled the cowboy. When the loop dropped over the animal's head and the cowboy gave a jerk, out came a panther, scrapping.
The panther scared the tired horse which began to snort and pitch. The cowboy jerked the rope but the animal was too large to jerk off its feet. Instead, he tried to climb it. The camp was a good quarter-mile away. The cowboy was worried. He quirted the horse and tried to pull the panther after him but had a fight all the way into camp. Part of the time the cowboy could keep the rope tight and part of the time the animal was trying to get at the horse. Finally, he made it to camp. The boys gathered around making remarks:
“Where'd you git your kitty-cat?”
“Who hired you to rope panthers?”
“It's yours. You can have it!”
Worst of all, the Chink cook grinned and grinned. Circling camp with the tired horse blowing hard and the panther trying to climb that rope, the cowboy was getting the worst of the deal while the whole camp was having a rip-roaring good time. One of the men began singing:
Has anybody seen my kitty?
Has anybody seen my cat?
Has anybody seen my kitty,
My kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty cat?
The second and third encirclements of the camp were worse than the first. The boys got more and more hilarious. The fourth time around, the cowboy had an inspiration. He rode straight through the middle of the camp with his knife poised over the rope shouting:
“Shoot or I cut.”
How would you like to eat panther meat? Your ancestors probably did. Here is a statement printed in a Texas newspaper of 1855:
Do you like panther meat? I recollect being asked this question by a young lady on Honey Creek of the Llano. It is much better tasting than many would imagine, and with a cut or two from the haunch we made a fine dinner that day. But then, there is the good cooking—that is half. Cut a forked limb and thrust the forked points in a thick slice of meat, hold it over a hot, glowing fire, so that in five or ten minutes, at most you have cooked both sides, and left it filled with rich juice, which will ooze out on your bread while partaking it.
Here is a panther story printed in an 1854 Texan newspaper which is worth preserving:
Rio Blanco, Hays County
MEXICAN LION.—Mrs. Editress: We wish to inform you of a varmint of awful size, that was taken in camps, or killed, as I should say, at the above named place, on the night of the 15th. It came down in the settlements of Blackwell's Valley, and surprised the natives by taking a two-year-old hog out of the pen, (fat at that) and carrying it off. Its pursuers were Mrs. Stockman, Mrs. Thomas and Miss Winters, who, with the aid of some dogs, caused it to take a tree; after which Mrs. Stockman procured a gun, and made an attempt to shoot it. When in the act of firing, the Mexican Lion—for this is the name of the animal—made a spring at her; she dropped the gun without firing, just in time to save herself from his claws. After this, Mrs. Thomas retreated, to procure assistance. Mr. J. H. Blackwell, with his dogs, came to their aid, and made it take a tree again. When just in the act of shooting, it made a second attempt to spring on its assailants, but Mr. B., more fortunate than Mrs. S., fired and brought the monster to the ground, dead. It measured nine feet in length, three and a half in height, and weighed 220 pounds. Its claws were two inches in length and its teeth about the same. The skin, claws and teeth of this animal can at any time be seen at my residence, on the Blanco, fifteen miles above San Marcos.
G. W. Blackwell.
Here is a story from the old Telegraph and Texas Register of December 31, 1840 which describes a leopard. Whether this refers to a panther is not known:
Texian Leopard.—We were shown a few days since the skin of a Leopard which was killed near Bexar, some weeks since. The animal to which this skin belonged, must have been about ten feet long from the tip of its nose to the end of the tail, and his body of proportional dimensions. The skin is beautifully variegated with black spots, upon a yellowish brown and white ground; and so closely resembles the skin of an African Leopard, that it would be difficult to distinguish it, if found among several skins of that animal. Many persons in the United States have doubted that statements made by travelers that the Leopard exists in Texas; but if they could visit Bexar and its vicinity, their skepticism would soon vanish. It is said that great numbers of those Leopards are found in the vicinity of the Nueces and the Rio Grande. Although they rival the African species in size and beauty of their skins, they are probably much less fierce and rapacious, as they have never been known to attack man; their depredations have generally been confined to the herds of deer that frequent these sections.
But with all of these tales I haven't heard a panther scream. I saw one five years ago while driving between Alice and George West. The animal loped along beside the road for a few yards then bounced over the fence and disappeared. I want to hear one scream.