Legend of the Black Panther

One hot summer night after church service, David, Lee, and I decided to go fishing. The summer of the 60’s was hot! It was best to fish after dark, and quieter.

We fished along the banks of Shoal Creek with anticipation. We settled down with our fishing rods in hand, hoping to catch the big one that always seemed to get away.

The moonless night was dark as pitch. The water as black and glassy as oil. There wasn’t a breeze stirring. We gripped our poles and watched for the fish to take our bait. It was peaceful setting on the river bank, watching the water flow quietly as the night air cooled. We were enjoying our time together, but cautious and alert.

Shoal Creek was more like a river in some area as it flowed along the fields and meadows through southern Missouri. Brush and timber grew thick beside deep water. Large bluffs and hills sheltered its banks in Newton County.

Our home was over into Newton County. For a while, when my neighbor had grandkids growing up and visiting her, they loved coming to our house to visit. They lived south of Joplin and spent a lot of summer days along the Shoal Creek water. They had a story to tell me one day about a mysterious black panther they had seen. They also said their dad had seen it too. Well, I listened to their wild exciting tales, never believing all they told, but not letting them think I had a doubt. The boy could tell some wild and thrilling stories about their hunting along the river with their dad and hearing the panther scream, and how black it was which made it more exciting. However, there is always a half truth that one needs to be alert to.

I’ve heard many stories about Bigfoot and visited the Redwood forest in California. We stopped at a rest area when traveling through that forest. As I was looking around all of a sudden the hair on my head and neck started standing up. I walked over to the office where a lady was working and asked her if, by chance, this was one of the areas where the hairy, reddish Bigfoot had been seen. She told me it was. I looked at my husband and said, “Let’s get out of here!”

Back to the black panther. We didn’t get to finish our peaceful evening of fishing. Our quiet time came to an abrupt end. Out of the blackness of the night came a sound we had never heard before in our lifetime. The scream came. It was blood curdling, and we nearly came out of our skin. It was close by to where we were fishing. I almost froze to the ground. My husband spoke softly to me and David, telling us to ease up and get to the car quickly.

It was our last time to fish along the banks of Old Shoal Creek River, but since then I’ve heard that cougars roam the hills of Missouri and have been seen by fishermen.

One morning a few years ago, a friend called me and said, “There is some kind of large cat on top of my chicken coop.” “What is it?”, I said,“If it is big, tan, and has a long tail, it’s a cougar. You go to the phone and call the conservationist.” 

Many years ago, when the early settlers first came to the Ozark country of Missouri, the wildlife was plentiful. The buffalo, deer, and elk lived where new land had grass to eat as they grazed the wild meadows along clean, clear streams. 

If the night was clear and the moon full, a wolf would howl and echo across the hills.

I am reminded of an old song, “Home on the Range”: “Where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the sky is not cloudy all day.”

I once sang that song to my little cowboy. In those days there never was a cloud for us. My little cowboy and I rode the range together and never worried about black panther screams in the night.

We never knew if the story was true, but we heard it scream, and we never went back. We did go fishing in other water and had good-times cooking out early of the mornings before the sun came over the banks of “Roaring River”, with the trout hungry for bait and a cool mist like fog rising over the cold water.

Don’t forget to take your little boys and girls fishing and make a few memories, breathe the fresh air, and be thankful for our Ozark Hills and the paths that lead us home.