Momma’s older brother had a lot of cowboy in him.
He worked for a large rancher east of Tahlequah, and I can still remember him riding up to the house at Briggs. I remember the stories that he used to tell us kids also, especially when he got in his cups. That seemed pretty often in those days.
He also owned the only .10 gauge double-barreled shotgun I ever saw. The .10 gauge is a very serious weapon indeed.
Speaking of serious weapons, I received an invitation to the Illinois River Militia and Garden Club meeting later this month at the club’s heavy weapons and bomb range on a deserted gravel road on the upper Illinois river.
Membership in the club is so secretive that no list of members is believed to exist, and the club’s president is not known. Members communicate with each other by using code names, like Mr. Green, Mr. Black, Mr. White, just like in the movie “Reservoir Dogs.” Meetings are shrouded in secrecy and conducted in total darkness. Many of the members are prominent women around town that are known for their beauty. “Loose lips will be dealt with accordingly,” says a club member. “Privacy is our dominant domain. That is all you need to know and all you will ever need to know….”
But I digress.
As a boy I heard many stories designed to scare the bejesus out of a young boy. None scared me the way that the panther’s scream did. The panther, or “paint her” always stood ready to leap upon the back of a man carrying meat, or upon a woman entering a shed or just a kid out late in the evening. I know now that the panther was just a plain cougar or mountain lion. There probably weren’t even any left in this country during the early ’50s. Anyway this story has no date—just a long time ago.
My uncle located a turkey roost one day while riding fence in the Copeland bottoms. Knowing that his family needed meat, he decided to injun up on the roost about sundown.
He rode up to the fence and tied his horse about a half mile away so that the horse would not frighten the birds, and went on foot the rest of the way. About dark, he heard the turkeys coming in to their sleeping place. He waited for the moon to rise so that he could skylight the birds against the moon. The birds took a long time getting settled and they were blending into the foliage when my uncle got the birds lined up and emptied both barrels. Six turkeys fell groundward.
The turkeys probably weighed 12 to 15 pounds each, and the gun was big and cumbersome, so it took him a while to make it back to his horse. That’s when he heard the panther scream. It sounded as if it were coming from the brush right behind him. The scream has been described as a woman in fright or pain and to say that it curdled the blood of my uncle would be an understatement. Right away he knew what the panther was after so he dropped one of the turkeys.
He had gone but a short distance when he heard the panther scream once again. Another turkey was dropped and my uncle was able to pick up a little speed because of his lightened load. The next time the panther squalled it was off to one side of him and so another turkey was dropped.
The man had no more shells for the gun, and the gun’s weight would make it a poor choice of a weapon, even as a club and the panther’s screams were getting closer all the time.
And now the screams became louder, more pronounced, nearer as he dropped the last turkey just a few feet from where his horse was tied. The horse was plunging and rearing against the reins, but thank goodness by now he was mounted and the horse was tearing a hole in the wind as my uncle whipped him into a flat-out run getting home.
After hearing this story—and it always seemed to be told after dark—-I lay in bed and wondered what would have happened if the man had a mile to walk instead of a half mile, or what would have happened if he had shot four or five turkeys instead of six.
I can never look at a mounted cougar in a museum without thinking of this story. It’s too bad the taxidermist couldn’t have captured the scream also. The mere thought of it lent wings to my feet many times on some of my late night forays.
story by R.L. Briggs 1943-2011