One Panther’s Bad Day by Morgan Gates
The old panther crept quietly along the limb of the huge old oak tree, he was hungry he hadn’t made a significant kill in several days. His world was changing in ways he didn’t understand. He was getting old and he knew it. Younger more aggressive panthers had begun moving into his range, and his hunting grounds were not as large as they once were. This was the balance of nature and on some level, he understood this. Once he had been the young aggressive male, he vaguely remembered the day when he had killed the old cat that used to dominate this range of forest, but he was not that far along yet he still had plenty of fight left in him, and he would likely hold most of his range for several more summers before he was vanquished. His real problem was that the woods themselves were changing, great openings had suddenly appeared in several places around the forest. Last summer he could travel from one end of his range to the other without touching the ground except when he pounced down from above on a young deer or turkey. Game had always been so abundant, deer, turkey, bear, racoon, and possum as well, although he rarely bothered with racoon and possum, unless he was just bored and looking for something to play with, the adult bears were too big and dangerous, but every once in a while, he thought of snatching a young cub and quickly retreating to a high tree -- it would have been quite a challenge. Right now, he would be willing to try just about anything.
It was the noisy one’s fault, they looked like the forest people that occasionally wandered through his range but they did not act or smell like them. He did not bother the forest people and they did not bother him, they did not stay long in his forest and they were really a little too big for him anyway. The noisy ones were the problem, they were cutting down the trees and hunting the deer and turkey with their thundering sticks, and making it harder for him to find a good meal. The noisy ones were too big just as the big deer and bear were, but some of their young were just about the right size. He had been watching the small herd of young ones for several minutes now, biding his time. The adults were far away in the clearing, he had never tasted their flesh, but he was hungry, hungrier than he ever remembered being. Just then a young male broke from the herd and ran out ahead a short distance, the panther made his move. In a blur of motion, he leapt from the tree. He struck at the young male’s throat as was his habit, he sought to crush the windpipe with his mighty jaws and suffocate the creature in the way of his kind. But this was no deer, the throat was short and stubby and the creature’s limbs lashed and flailed about in a way no young deer could, and the herd, it did not silently scatter away as a deer herd would. They made horrible screeching noises and ran toward the adults in the clearing! He began dragging his prey way but had to stop and slash at its limbs that kept flailing at his face. His bite had been clumsy and not well placed, the creature did not quickly lose consciousness, he was unfamiliar with this new prey but he would do better next time. Loud noises came from the clearing, what was this bellowing sound? Then he remembered, he had heard it before, the noisy ones used this sound to call their dogs in from a hunt. He slowed to look back, the prey was nearly still now, soon he heard the sound of the dogs. He knew the dogs, they were like the wolves, they hunted on the ground. The noisy ones used them to run down the deer, if they caught him on the ground they could hurt him, he started looking for a way to get his kill up in the tree. He climbed atop a fallen log dragging his prey. The dogs were closing fast and he could hear the noisy ones running behind them. What sort of prey was this? They were like the bears they defended their young, fear gripped his heart, as hungry as he was he released his grasp on the prey and leap into a tree.
Rebecca, and the other ladies looked up from their quilting as she heard the children screaming and running toward them. The men were out in the field rolling logs in, to build their cabin. Here on the frontier the settlers helped each other out. The new Mississippi Territory was fertile land with great promise. But before corn and cotton could be planted, the primeval forest had to be cleared and proper shelter had to be constructed. For the wilderness was dangerous land full of wild animals, and potentially hostile Indians. ----A big yellow dog jumped out of a tree and dragged John Bedford away, the children cried. Rebecca knew in an instant that this was no dog but a deadly panther, they had heard its unearthly cry in the woods for the last several evenings. She snatched up her husband’s hunting horn and blew and alarm. The men and dogs converged on the camp, in moments. The men experienced woodsmen and hunters all, quickly picked up the trail and they soon found young John Bedford in a pile of leaves covered in blood. Tears welled in the eyes of the father as he lifted the still and bloody body from the forest floor. Then he heard the child draw a ragged breath, John Bedford was somehow still alive. They rushed the child back to the camp where the women cared for him. As the men and dogs went in pursuit of the killer cat, and before the sun had set the hungry panther was dead!
John Bedford had been quite possibly the luckiest, five-year-old boy in the Mississippi Territory that day, his wounds were largely superficial, he would survive, and grow to manhood, as all little boys should do. Lucky indeed, for the cat’s jaws should have closed on his windpipe like a vise quickly bringing unconsciousness and death, yet the cat had almost missed its mark! One of his fangs actually penetrated the boy’s windpipe, effectively performing a tracheotomy, and allowing in just enough air that the boy survived. That old cat was just having a really bad day it seemed, or perhaps God was just not yet through with young John Bedford, he still had work to do it seems. At least that is what I like to think! For you see the little boy was John Bedford Gates my fourth great-grandfather, and if that cat’s aim had been better I would have never been born.
The basic facts of this story was taken out of " A History of Simpson County" By Bee King Compiled by Frances B. Krechel. She gave credit to Collins Gates for telling her the story. He was a grandson of John Bedford Gates.