|Do black panthers roam the woods of Wilcox County?|
I read an interesting story last week about an Iowa farmer who claims that a pair of adult panthers and two kittens have been prowling around his property and have killed a cow, a litter of piglets and his dog. The farmer went to his local newspaper with the story in hopes of warning his neighbors and other farmers. However, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says that the farmer’s animals were probably killed by a bear or a coyote.
Like many people in the reading audience, I have always been interested in black panther reports, and the recent situation in Iowa reminded me of a conversation that I had not long ago with Larry Ryland, a retired college professor. Years ago, Larry was in a hunting club in southwestern Wilcox County, not far from Gullett’s Landing. Larry described the area as a “sportsman’s paradise,” and he has many fond memories of hunting in that area, including a tale of a large black panther he saw there over 40 years ago.
Larry said that he was hunting near Gravel Creek, not far from the fire tower on State Highway 265, in the early 1970s when he saw a large black panther that he will never forget. He wasn’t sure of the exact year but felt certain that he saw the panther in either November or December. He described the panther as “large” because it was so long that, from the tip of its nose to the end of its long tail, it stretched all the way across the road.
Larry noted that in his years of hunting in the southwestern part of Wilcox County, he saw many unusual things. On one occasion, he and his friends found a freshly-killed deer that had apparently been buried by a large cat. When found, the deer was covered in dirt and leaves in a place deep in the woods, well off the beaten path. Larry and his friends believed that a large cat had buried this fresh kill with plans to come back for it later.
At times, Larry also encountered older, local residents in that part of the county who collected dirt from clay banks in buckets. He said that they would consume the dirt in small amounts or put it between their cheeks and gums like tobacco, for medicinal purposes. Larry said he also found old railroad beds and cuts, and it was common to find shark teeth and arrowheads in that area.
Larry said that backwoods explorers in that part of the county have also found petrified logs, that is, wood that has become fossilized over millions of years. He said that folks back in the 70s used them to make desk placards and name plates.
On other occasions, he and his friends found hoes and other farming tools left in trees. He later learned that it was once common for logging crews and their families to live deep in the woods while logging, and they often raised their own vegetables in small gardens. They’d live in the woods during the week and go home on the weekends, he said. It’s believed that they’d hang their tools in trees to keep them off the ground, and apparently some of them never came back for their tools.
In the end, I am sure that others in the reading audience have also seen black panthers in Wilcox County over the years. If so, I’d be interested in hearing from you, so please get up with me if you’ve got a black panther story to share. Also, if you can shed more light on some of the other unusual things that Larry mentioned, please let me hear from you.