Yesteryear’s Memories: Panther!
Our local area was the subject of a book written by William Henry Perrin in 1883. His “History of Jefferson County Illinois” was interesting in not only early events but also gave some glimpses of pioneer life. He wrote about a certain “Mrs. Robinson” who was apparently a strong lady who took care of herself. We don’t know how much of the story may be exaggerated, but perhaps it wasn’t at all. The times in the early 1800’s could be brutal and dangerous, and those early settlers were on their own in surviving the weather, battles with other humans for territory or goods, and the ever-present threat of hungry animals. In his story, he tells how Mrs. Robinson was faced with a marauding wolf in her barnyard trying to get to the livestock. She didn’t even call to her husband for help – she just picked up a piece of firewood and bashed it over the wolf’s head. She proceeded to kill the animal and went on with her day. Shortly afterward, she was carrying her small child and walking to visit a neighbor a few miles away. She was accompanied by her dog who followed them everywhere they went. On the way, she saw a panther lurking in the grass, eyes fixed on her. The dog, protective of his human family, growled and moved between her and the big cat, staying at her feet to defend her and the baby. She may have been scared, but she kept her presence of mind to deal with the situation. She took off her bonnet and tossed it in the brush to distract the beast. Curious, he went over and quickly sniffed the material. He ripped it apart with his sharp fangs, but was obviously disappointed with the tasteless piece of material. He turned back to the lady and her child. She then took off her shawl, throwing it as before to gain some time to get away, but the panther quickly shredded it and turned his attention back to the humans. By this time, she was running to make her escape. She knew the situation was dire but she ran as hard as she could. She was exhausted and the panther came close enough that she could distinctly hear the teeth snapping in the hungry mouth, ready to make a meal of them both. Luckily, just then a neighbor came across the scene. Carrying his shotgun, he shot the panther in his tracks. This was probably not unusual for the people who were settling in early Jefferson County. They were intent on making new lives for themselves in what was then still wilderness, and these people built the farms, villages, and towns that were the beginning of Southern Illinois as we knew it today.