A Panther Tale
I am blessed to live in one of the most beautiful areas of Western North Carolina. My Grandparents lived on a small farm where they raised a large family. There were fourteen in all and times were hard in these mountains as they were all over during those years of the Great Depression. Mountain folks are a hardy bunch and they worked hard from sun to sun to exist.
Spring and Summer meant plowing, planting and cultivating crops of beans, cabbage, corn, potatoes and many other vegetables. They knew how to preserve by canning or drying. The family had a few cows, chickens, oxen or a mule to work the fields. So by most standards even though they were poor they survived by their wits and hard work. Extra produce that was grown was either sold or bartered for staples like flour, sugar, salt and coffee.
When day was done oil lamps were lit and the family would sit around a wood heater and talk. Sometimes they told tales which sometimes were pretty scary to the young listeners who would sit there wide eyed and later find it hard to close their eyes in sleep.
As a young boy I spent many of my school years at my Grandparents farm. I was fortunate to have an Uncle who was just eighteen months older than me. We were more like brothers but he was the baby of the family and my dad's youngest brother. The following is a story another Uncle told to us one night as we sat by that old wood heater. Electricity had come to the mountain by then but the old farmhouse seemed darkened even those the lights were still burning.
"Uncle Elias was cutting crossties out on Pinnacle Mountain, about a mile or so from where Cabin Creek intersects with Mount Olivet Road. He had worked until almost dark but darkness had overtaken him as he hitched the team of two horses to pull a load of hewn crossties the three or four miles back to his farm. He would deliver the crossties to the Zirconia Depot where he would sell them to th railroad the next morning.
As the horses began to slowly pull the heavy wagon, the wooden wheels on the wagon now beginning to show age and wear began to creak. The harness of the horses with their chains clanked in a eery non musical sound. The night sky was lit up with a full moon making seeing the old WPA road easily visible to the horses and to Uncle Elias as he held the reins tightly in his hands.
The wagon was moving slowly and the horses didn't seem to mind pulling the heavy load. Suddenly the left horse bolted!! The mare stopped dead in her tracks. Uncle Elias gave her a slap on her withers with the reins but she paid it no mind. After several more attempts he decided to unhitch the team and swap the horses around putting the mare on the right side. Unhitching and changing them about worked and soon they were back to pulling the wagon of crossties.
When the wagon had progressed passed the spot where the lead horse had bolted and stopped, Uncle Elias said he felt something climb aboard the wagon of crossties! He said he had an uneasy feeling and was too scared to turn and look to see what might have climbed aboard the wagon.
The horses had settled down and were pulling the wagon without any difficulty. Uncle Elias said he felt a hot breath down his neck and wondered if the devil himself was hitching a ride. They soon came to the crossroads and as quickly as it had gotten on the wagon, whatever "it" was jumped off and was gone in a flash."
Uncle Elias allowed it had probably been one of them old "Painters." Sure had me worried for a spell!"
My Uncle and I were so taken with the story we did have nightmares about "painters." Some say Panthers are extinct but I know of at least one that was spotted near where I live just over in South Carolina. Strange as it sounds that area is known as Panther Mountain and is now the Cliffs of Glassy a gated community with a pro golf course.
Here where I live on Green River, I have been walking and see the tracks of a large cat which could very well be those of a Panther. There have been other sightings. Stories of Panthers abound and although they may be near extinction, they remain one of God's creations.