Happy hunting...through the archives anyway!By TIM BEELAND,
"What was that," I remember asking the first time as a child I heard the noise from the woods out back of the house. “It’s a panther screaming,” someone — my dad, or my grandfather, or an uncle — answered. And so began the mystery of the big cats in my mind.
I envisioned a huge, long-tailed black beast, like the one I had seen pictures of in The Jungle Book. I saw giant paws, a thick, silky coat, and huge fangs dripping with salvia.
But the experts said the big cats don’t live in Mississippi. The experts said there had never been a proven sighting in Mississippi. The experts said there had never even been a track left behind that could be identified as a panther.
The experts, the experts, the experts!
The experts didn’t see what wife, Danny, and I saw just after dusk on a Sunday evening, up on Highway 15 near Louisville. We had been home for the weekend and after, I’m sure, a fine Sunday dinner of my late mother-in-law’s fried chicken and the fixins we headed back home to Starkville for another week of school and work.
We were cruising up the highway in our old, beat up Toyota Corona when something dashed from the left to the right across the road right in front of us. I think we both hollered “what was that” at the same time and I think we both answered each other “a panther” at the same time as well.
To this day I’m not “certain” it was one of the big cats but it was a huge cat with a long trailing tail and at that time of day it looked to be a dark gray or black. I am — no, we are — so sure of what we saw that today, some 35 years later, we would both swear to the fact in a court of law.
Which brings us to this week’s revelation by Mr. James T. McCafferty of McComb. You can read his Letter to the Editor on the facing page. When I got that letter last week two things immediately popped into my mind. The panther screaming in the woods out back of the house, and the panther crossing the road up near Louisville.
I immediately turned to our newspapers.com archives and searched “black panther” and the story in The Scott County Times from January 8, 1958 appeared on my computer screen.
Sure enough the front page article headlined “6-foot, 350 pound black panther shot to death in Talleybo Swamp,” reports that Otis Chapman shot and killed a panther suspected of killing chickens, calves and hogs just north of Forest.
Chapman said that he “heard a ‘banshee-like’ wail which residents of that area had been hearing on occasion for several months.” He was hunting, had “accumulated a string of rabbits and squirrels,” and when he heard the noise he laid his kill on the ground and ducked behind a tree.
“Cautiously the panther — a sleek six-foot animal — crept foward,” and when it neared his game, Chapman fired four shots from his .410 shotgun killing the big cat.
The story also reports that other residents of the area had reported seeing tracks of the animal and “Constable Wilbur Weems had reported seeing panther tracks on land adjoining the Roosevelt Park Road, south of Morton.”
So there you have it. My story confirmed. Well, kind of.
Anyway, if you hear a banshee-like wail, know that it could be a panther scream and if you see the real thing, like we did, well....run!
In the meantime, Mr. McCafferty’s contact information is with his letter and if you’d like to do research of your own in past editions of The Scott County Times, subscribers have access to our archives via a link on our website at www.sctonline.net. Scroll down on the right hand side until you see “Click here to read our archives.”