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Some Panther Stories by Various Writers

 

The pages of literature devoted to sport and the hunting of wild game teem with stories and instances of occasions when the hunted, driven to desperation and enraged to ferocity by wounds, turns, and itself becomes the hunter and the avenger of its own hurts.

Of all wild animals perhaps the most vindictive, the most cunning, and the most dangerous to hunt is the panther; indeed, nine out of ten who have had experience of shooting in all parts of the world will concede that the pursuit of these animals is really more fraught with danger and hazard than that of even the tiger, lion, and elephant; and the following is one of many instances, of yearly occurrence, of the man behind the rifle not having it all his own way when drawn in actual combat against the denizens of the jungles.

It was drawing on towards the hot weather when my friend Blake, who had been very seedy, thought that I might try to get a few days' leave and join him in a small shooting expedition into the jungles of southern India, where he was sure he would recover his lost strength and vitality, and so face the coming hot weather with a fair amount of equanimity.

The necessary leave being forthcoming, we consulted maps, arranged ways and means for a fortnight's camp—always a considerable thing in India—and, accompanied by two Sikhs and a Rajput orderly, with horses, guns, rifles, and dogs galore, after a day's journey in the train reached the place from whence the remainder of our journey was to be done by road.

Our destination was a place called Bokeir, and constituted what is known in India as a jargir, that is a tract of land which, together with the rent roll and tribute of the villages therein comprised, is given to men whose services have deserved well of their State. Such are known as jargirdars, and enjoy almost sovereign state in their little domains, receiving absolutely feudal devotion from their tenantry and dependants.

We pitched our camp in the midst of a magnificent grove of mango-trees, which at the time of the year were covered with the green fruit. I was told that before the famine of 1898-99 the grove comprised over two thousand trees; but at present there are about half that number.

We then received and returned visits with the jargirdar, a Mahratta, and an exceedingly courteous and dignified man. We asked for and received permission to shoot in his country, and in addition everything possible was done for our comfort, supplies of every description being at once forthcoming. So tenacious were the people of the villages in their devotion to their chief that not a hand would have been raised to help us nor a blade of grass given without an order from the head of this tiny State.

Then we commenced our jungle campaign. The footmarks of a tiger and tigress, of a very large panther, of bear, sambar, and blue bull abounded in a wooded valley some six miles from the camp. We tied up young buffalo-calves, to attract the large Felidæ, and ultimately met with success, for one morning we were having breakfast early when in trotted one of our Sikhs who had gone before the peep of dawn to look at the "kills." He reported that one of the calves had been killed at five that morning; so, putting a hasty conclusion to our breakfast, we called for horses, saw to our rifles and cartridges, and rode away to the scene of the early morning tragedy.

Arrived at a village called Sirpali, we left our horses and proceeded on foot up a lovely wooded valley filled with the bastard teak, the strong-smelling moha-tree (from which the bears of these parts receive their chief sustenance), the giant mango, pipal and banyan.

The awesome silence of the dense forest reigned supreme in the noonday heat. The whispered consultations and the occasional footfall of some one of the party on a dry teak-leaf seemed to echo for miles and to break rudely the well-nigh appalling quiet of the jungle. Here and there, sometimes crossing our path, were the fresh footprints of deer and of antelope, of pig and the lordly sambar stag that had passed this way last night to drink at a time when the presence of man does not disturb the domain of the beasts of the forest. Here was a tree with deep, clean marks all the way up its trunk, from which the sap was still oozing, showing us that for some purpose a bear had climbed up it in the early morning, though why we could not tell, as there was neither fruit nor leaf on its bare branches.

And then a turn in the path brought us to the kill, to the tragedy of a few hours ago. Surely this is the work of a tiger—the broken neck, the tail bitten off and flung aside, the hind-quarters partly consumed? No, for there are only the marks of a panther's pads and none of any tiger. They lead away into some dense jungle in front, and from here we decide to work.

Leaving the beaters here, we went by a circuitous way until we arrived two or three hundred yards ahead of the direction the beat would take. Here we were nonplussed, for the jungle was so dense and the configuration of the ground such that there were many chances in favour of any animal that might be before the beat being able to make a very good bid for eluding the enemy.

However, we came to a place which appeared as good as any, and, as both of us seemed to think that it would suit himself exceedingly well, we drew lots, and, contrary to my usual luck, I drew the longer of the two pieces of grass and decided to remain, while Blake took up his position about fifty yards to my left.

When shooting in the jungle, it is the practice of most to shoot from a tree, not so much from a sense of added security—as both bears and panthers think little of running up a tree and mauling you there—but from the better field of view you get. Accordingly, as there was a small tree near, I ascended, and, because the footing was precarious and the position unfavourable for a good shot, I buckled myself to a bough by means of one of my stirrup-leathers. This is a device, by the way, which I can most thoroughly recommend to all, for it as often as not gives you free use of your arms, and even enables you to swing right round to score a shot at a running object.

I had not long disposed myself thus, when the beat sprang into life with a suddenness and intensity which made me pretty sure that they had disturbed some animal. The shouting, cat-calling, and tom-tomming increased in violence, when all at once I heard a quick and rather hurried tread, tread, tread over the dry teak-leaves, and, looking that way, out of the dense jungle into the sunlit glade before me came a large panther.

I put up my rifle. It saw me, and crouched head on in some long, dry grass. It was a difficult shot, but I hazarded it.

The beast turned and went up the bank to my right. "Missed," thought I, and let it have my left barrel as it was moving past. "Missed again," I thought, and growled inwardly.

I caught another glimpse of the brute as it went behind me, and to my relief a crimson patch had appeared on its right side. I howled to the beaters, who had now approached, to be careful, as a wounded panther was in front of them, and, Blake joining me, we made them all sit down to keep them out of harm's way.

Accompanied by the two Sikhs, Blake and I began to stalk the wounded animal. Where had it gone? Into that dense bit of jungle in front, apparently. So we began to cast around among the leaves. They at first yielded no betraying footmarks, but at last a leaf was found with a large spot of frothy blood, showing the animal's injury to have been through the lungs.

"Put a man up that tree," I said; "the animal is badly hit and cannot have gone far." But my advice was ignored.

Then from a spot over which I had walked not a minute before there came a rush and a roar. Swinging round, I saw ten paces off Blake raise his rifle and fire two barrels, but, alas! apparently without result. Down he went before the savage rush of the beast, which began to worry him.

Blake had fallen back on his elbows, and in the curve of his neck and right shoulder I could just see, though so near, the dark-spotted body of the panther. There was no time to lose. "Can I hit it without killing Blake?" I thought in an agony of uncertainty, but the hazard followed quick upon the thought, and bang, bang, went my two barrels. At the same time the Sikh dafadar, Gopal Singh, with all the characteristic bravery of this magnificent race, ran in and beat the animal about the head with the butt-end of Blake's shot-gun, which he was carrying at the time.

All this was too much for the panther, who then left Blake and shambled away. I threw down my own rifle and ran to Blake's assistance, when the panther stopped and half turned towards us.

"He's coming at me again," Blake cried, and covered his face with his hands. We were all unarmed; like a fool I had left my rifle ten paces behind me, the Sikh's shot-gun was smashed to splinters, and Blake's rifle had fallen nobody knew where during the mêlée. But, fortunately for us, and more especially for me, who was then nearest her, the panther seemed to think better of it, and tumbled off into the jungle, as far as I could see very badly knocked about.

Then we attended to Blake's injuries, which consisted of a large piece torn from his left forearm, three great teeth-marks in his left thigh, and claw-marks all over his left calf. He was very brave, though bleeding a lot, and walked with our assistance towards the village until one of the orderlies galloped up with the "charpai," or native bed, I had sent for immediately the accident had occurred. Then on to camp, where I re-dressed his wounds, sprinkling them with boracic acid, which was, foolishly, all we had provided in the way of antiseptics.

Then a "palki" or palankin arrived, lent by the jargirdar, who had also sent his ten private carriers, and, accompanied by the dafadar, we started for the railway, the nearest point of which was forty miles away, and reached it at five the next morning, having experienced thirteen hours of anxiety, dead weariness, exhausted palankin men, bad and in some places non-existent roads, and, to crown all, one river to ford.

Blake has happily survived his injuries—always severe when inflicted by panthers, as these animals' teeth and claws, from their habit of killing their prey and leaving it exposed for a day to the Indian sun, seldom fails to induce blood-poisoning, which few, if any, have been known to survive.

The panther was found next day, quite dead, with three bullet-wounds in her—one in the chest, one through the ribs, and one through the body from the front left ribs to the left haunch; and that she was able to do all the damage she did testifies to the proverbial tenacity of life and ferocity of these animals. The native of India will tell you, "The tiger is a janwár (animal), but the panther he is a shaitán (devil)."

 

Mr. Dickson Price, who had a narrow escape from a panther in 1905, thus described the occurrence—

Owing to the stricter preservation of the jungles round Marpha, beasts of prey appear to have greatly increased in number the last year or so.

Last November a travelling pedlar was killed on a path close by; while this year more than twenty head of cattle have been killed by tigers and panthers at Marpha and near by. This is a very serious loss to the people, who depend entirely upon their cattle for ploughing, etc.

On February 22, just after the mela, some villagers from Kareli—a village close to us—came to me asking me to shoot a tiger that had killed a fine plough-ox, and was causing great havoc.

On arriving at the spot where the kill was, an examination of the marks on the bullock showed that it was a panther and not a tiger that had been at work. The place was in sight of the village and on the skirt of a forest. We had a "machan" (platform) in a tree made, and at three o'clock in the afternoon I climbed up with my native shikari or hunter and watched and waited until dark.

About 8 p.m. it was pitch dark, and the animal could be heard munching beneath. I fired at a black object twice with no result, for we still heard the beast going on with his dinner. I found later I had fired at a bush, mistaking it for a panther in the darkness. The animal was either too hungry to notice the shot, or had mistaken the sound for thunder. Later on the moon rose, and at half-past three in the morning a third shot took effect, for the animal went off badly wounded. Some time before that a heavy thunderstorm had come on, but, sheltered beneath our rugs, we did not get really wet. We now slept, feeling our work was done. At sunrise the native hunter and I got down and examined the spot.

While we were looking at the blood-marks a tremendous roar was heard close by, and my native shikari calling out, "Tiger! tiger! tiger!" bolted and ran off to the village as fast as his heels could carry him. I climbed back into the machan, to watch the development of events. After some time about sixteen villagers came out to help, and we slowly followed up the blood-trail.

After piercing the thick jungle for about two hundred yards, at times having to creep under the brushwood, we came to a narrow nala, or shallow watercourse with sandy bed, and we found out the cause of the constant growling we had heard. A tiger also was tracking the panther, who every now and then stood at bay and attacked it. After some time the tiger, no doubt hearing us, turned aside. Suddenly I saw the wounded animal scaling a tall and almost branchless tree, which appeared as though it must have been at some time struck by lightning. The panther, no doubt, hoped to escape all its enemies in that way. It went to the tip-top, about forty feet or fifty feet from the ground.

I fired, but the range was too long for my shot and ball gun. The firing frightened the panther, which fell in descending when some fifteen feet from the ground. We all tracked on, hoping to get a chance of a further shot.

At last we came to a deep and thickly wooded nala, or watercourse, which curved like a horseshoe. The panther entered the watercourse at the centre and turned along the bed to the left. We turned to the right and skirted along the outside of the course, as it was not safe to go nearer. We all advanced until we nearly reached the right limit of the horseshoe bend, and then, leaving the trackers, I approached the watercourse, hearing the beast at the other end about two hundred yards away.

After waiting about twenty minutes looking for a spot to cross the deep nala it appears that the wounded animal slowly and silently doubled back along the densely wooded watercourse and suddenly sprang out at me. I fired and stepped back, falling, as I did so, into the watercourse. The next thing I remember was the panther seizing me by the arm and pulling me down as I arose, and beginning to claw my head.

Then I saw on top of the panther my little fox-terrier Toby, tearing hard at the neck of the beast. The panther then left mauling me to attack the dog. I somehow jumped up, leaped out of the watercourse, ran towards the villagers, and fell down. They placed me on a charpoi, or native bed, and carried me to my bungalow three miles away. Express messengers were at once despatched through the jungle and across the hills to Mandla, sixty miles away, for a doctor, who arrived on the fourth day after the accident.

Meanwhile, all that could be done was done, and my wounds, of which there were fourteen, were dressed. Our good Dr. Hogan had me carried into Mandla, the journey taking two and a half days, and since then, I am glad to say, I have been making a wonderful recovery. It is a great mercy that my arm had not to be amputated, as I feared at first I should certainly lose it. But though it is still much swollen, and so stiff that I can only bend it a few inches, all is progressing well.

My little dog escaped with a few scratches, having saved my life. The panther has either been eaten by the tiger, or has died of its wounds. The villagers were far too scared to follow it up after my fall. Its bones, if not devoured by tigers or porcupines, will most likely be found higher up the nala than where we last saw it.

 

A Panther-hunt, which had a somewhat unexpected conclusion, is narrated by the Rev. T. Fuller Bryant:—

At the outset I may explain that strictly it was not a panther that figures in this story, but that is the name—or more commonly "painter"—given to the puma, or cougar, of North America. At one time this animal was as common all the country over as the fox is in England at present, and even more so, but as the result of the increase and spread of population it is now found only in remote parts, and is becoming increasingly rare.

Thirty years ago, however, when I resided in America, and when the incident happened which I am about to relate, there were considerable numbers to be found in parts of the Alleghany Mountains, and not infrequently an odd one would travel farther afield on a marauding expedition.

At the time of which I write I was residing at Brookfield, about thirty miles north of Utica. It was near the end of October, when, according to custom, all were busy banking up the sides of their houses, and in other ways preparing for winter, when complaints began to be made by the farmers of depredations among their sheep, by, as was supposed, some dog or dogs unknown. Hardly a morning came but some farmer or other found his flock reduced in this way, until the whole neighbourhood was roused to excited indignation against the whole dog tribe. Suspicion fell in turn upon almost every poor cur of the neighbourhood, and many a poor canine innocent was done to death, some by drowning, others by poison, and more by shooting; until it seemed as if all the sheep and dogs of the countryside would be wiped out.

What served only to deepen the mystery was the fact that here and there a calf was killed and partly eaten, indicating that if it were the work of a dog it must be one of unusual size, strength, and ferocity. So exasperated did the farmers become at length, that a meeting was held at Brookfield, at which it was resolved to offer a reward of two hundred dollars, "to any one killing the dog, or other animal, or giving such information as would lead to its discovery." The words "or other animal" had been inserted at the suggestion of a man who had heard unusual noises at night proceeding from the Oneida Swamp, a desolate, densely wooded tract of country, extending to within a mile or so of his dwelling. This circumstance had created in his mind the suspicion that the cause of all the trouble might not, after all, be a dog, but this he kept to himself.

One morning my brother and I, with three others, started early for a day's shooting and hunting in some woods three or four miles north of the village; but having an engagement at home in the afternoon, I left the party soon after one o'clock. When within about two miles of the village I left the main road to take a short cut across the land of a man named John Vidler, an Englishman.

During the early morning there had been a slight fall of snow, barely sufficient to cover the ground, but as it was so early in the season Vidler had not taken his few sheep into winter quarters. These I found apparently in a state of alarm, huddled together in a corner of a "lot" through which I had to pass.

As I was about to climb the fence and leave the "lot," I observed blood on the ground, which probably would not have attracted my further attention but for recent events. On looking more closely, I could distinctly trace in the snow the footmarks of an animal resembling those of a dog, and which enabled me to follow the direction in which he had gone. It occurred to me at once that this was probably the work of the mysterious marauder. I knew of the reward of two hundred dollars, and my finances were not such as to render me indifferent to the chance of winning it, so, with the spirit of the hunter strong within me, I started off upon the trail, which quickly led me to the edge of the wood, where it disappeared.

It was clear that the animal had entered the wood. I suddenly reflected upon the extraordinary size of the animal's foot, and when I coupled that fact with the words in the offer of reward—"or other animal"—it occurred to me that I might be hunting bigger and more formidable game than a dog.

I confess to a strange feeling which made me pause. True, I had my trusty gun with me, and a good supply of ammunition, but after a moment or two of reflection I decided to suspend the pursuit and go and tell John Vidler, and seek to associate him with me in further proceedings.

In this I had no difficulty, for though Vidler, whose farm and abode were remote and lonely, had heard only rumours of the events which had so stirred the surrounding neighbourhood, it was enough for him that he was now among the victims, so he quickly went to the stables, or "barn," and brought out his old mare, and, throwing a buffalo skin, or "robe," as such are called, across her back, he mounted, and away we went.

I travelled afoot by his side. We picked up the trail where I had left it—at the edge of the wood; but here our difficulty began, it being broken and indistinct, owing to the leaves which the snow was not thick enough to cover.

We proceeded with great caution, and the trees being fairly wide apart, and the brush not very thick, Vidler remained mounted, whilst I continued at his side. It was evident from the tremulous excitement and frequent sniffing of the mare that she was aware that something unusual was up, and from this we inferred the need of a keen look-out.

We had thus proceeded some three hundred yards, when we suddenly came upon a dip in the ground. We each lifted our eyes from the land, which we had continued to closely scan for traces of the trail, when we were startled by a snarl, and just ahead, lying under the trunk of a big tree which had fallen across the dip, was a huge panther, apparently just awakened from its sleep by our approach. The brute was lashing its tail and quivering with rage, and was evidently preparing to spring upon us.

Here, then, undoubtedly was the cause of all the recent trouble. For a moment the mare stood trembling with alarm, and the next she swung round, almost hurling Vidler from her back, and flew like the wind along the way by which we had come. Though it all took place in much less time than it takes to record, every detail is indelibly registered on my mind till this day.

There was no time, even had I had the necessary self-possession, for me to take aim and fire, and had I done so it would almost certainly have increased the danger, for my gun was loaded only with a charge for a partridge or woodchuck.

As the mare swung round away from me, I seized Vidler's foot, which was most fortunate both for him and myself, for it was my weight that prevented him from being thrown, and, holding on for dear life, I was dragged clear of danger. The suddenness of the movement jerked my gun from my grasp, and as Vidler possessed no weapon we were defenceless, and it would have been madness to think of returning for mine.

It seemed but a moment before we reached the open "lot," where with difficulty we reined the mare in. After a brief deliberation we decided to make our way to the village and organise a hunting-party. We made our way to the store of Wack Stillman, a favourite rendezvous for the loafers and off-works. Here we found Orson Clark, one of the best hunters in all the countryside, with two others with a large strain of the swashbuckler in their characters, who were always ready for excitement and adventure.

As we agreed to divide the reward should we win, and believing that we five were equal to it, we decided to keep the information and to confine operations to ourselves.

It was not long before we were off, each of us now armed either with his own or a borrowed weapon. Reaching the wood, we agreed that, after we had indicated the direction of the trail, Orson Clark, as the most experienced, should lead the way, the rest of us following at his heels.

As we approached the tree under which we had left the panther lying, the tension became so oppressive that each felt that he could hardly breathe, nor were we much relieved to find our quarry gone, as we could not tell at what step we might come across him. "Keep close, men," whispered Orson, as we continued to creep on, each with his finger on the trigger of his gun.

He had scarcely spoken the words when a most terrific roar, which seemed to come from the tree-tops near by, rent the air, and at the same time a shot rang out. As neither of our band had fired, we were puzzled to know what it all meant, when a shrill, boyish voice shouted, from a little distance ahead, "I've got him, father. He's dead!"

Rushing to the spot whence the shout proceeded, we were astonished to find the thirteen-year-old son of Orson Clark standing, with an old blunderbuss in his hands, in a triumphant attitude by the panther, which lay as dead as a door-nail on the ground before him!

"What on earth does this mean?" exclaimed his father, as he took in the scene.

It transpired that when Orson went home to get his rifle he told his wife of the projected adventure, and the boy, who was in an adjoining room, overheard. The spirit of adventure inherited from his father was immediately aroused, and he determined to seek a share in the enterprise. Unobserved he took the old blunderbuss from its resting-place and slipped out of the house, but, fearing that his father might forbid should his intentions be known, he made his way to the wood, keeping the hunting-party within his view whilst concealing himself from theirs.

Entering the wood, the daring youngster hunted on his own account. Keeping a little ahead and wide of the party, he came across the panther up in a tree. He had no difficulty in attracting its attention, and, after contemplating each other for some moments, the savage brute was about to spring upon the boy as it gave the tremendous roar referred to. At the same moment the boy fired, the charge landing full in the heart, and bringing the great beast tumbling dead at his feet.

When the father realised the situation, his feelings may be imagined. His first look at the boy indicated vexation at his recklessness, followed by admiration at his pluck and thankfulness for his escape from almost certain death had the shot failed to reach a vital part. However, matters were soon arranged. A rail from a snake-fence was procured, the panther's legs were tied to it, and in this way he was borne to the village.

The news quickly spread, and all the population, apparently, of the village assembled to see the sight and to hear the story. When the question came to be considered as to who was entitled to the reward of two hundred dollars, the verdict was unanimous that no one deserved it so much as Orson Clark's boy, and to him it was awarded.

The skin of the panther was presented to the landlord of the hotel in the village. He had it stuffed and placed in a large room in his house. For all I know, it remains there till this day.