History From America's Most Famous Valleys
STORIES OF THE REVOLUTION
With an account of the lost child of the Delaware: Wheaton and the Panther, &c.
Thanks to Willis Barshied Jr. for the donation.
Printed by Hoffman and White,
No. 71 State Street 1836.
WHEATON AMD THE PANTHER.
Ben Wheaton was one of the first settlers on the waters of the Susqnehannah, immediately after the war, a rough, uncultivated and primitive man. As many others of the same stamp and character, he subsisted chiefly by hunting, cultivating the laud but sparingly, and in this way raised a numerous family amid the woods, in a half starved condition, and comparative nakedness. But as the Susquehannah country, rapidly increased in population, the hunting grounds of Wheaton were encroached upon ; so that a chance with his smooth bore, among the deers and bears, was greatly lessened. On this account Wheaton removed from the Susquehannah Country, in Otsego County, to the more unsettled wilds of the Delaware, near a place yet known by the appellation of Waif's Settlement, where game was more plenty. The distance from where he made his home in the woods, through to the Susquehannah, was about fifteen miles and was one continued wilderness at that time. Through these woods this almost aboriginal hunter was often compelled to pass to the Susquehannah, for various necessaries, and among the rest no small quantity of whiskey, as he was of very intemperate habits. On one of these visits, in the midst of summer, with his smooth bore always on his shoulder, knife, hatchet, &c. in their proper place, he had nearly penetrated the distance, when he became weary, and having come to the summit of a ridge some time in the afternoon which overlooks the vale "f the Susquehannah, he selected a convenient place in the shade, as it was hot, for the rays of the sun from the west poured his sultry influence through all the forest, where lay down to rest awhile among the leaves, after having first took a drink from his pint bottle of green glass, and a mouthful of cold Johnney cake from his pocket.
In this situation he was soothed to drowsiness by the hum of insects, and the monotony of the passing winds among the foliage around him, when he soon unwarily fell asleep with his gun folded in his arms. But after a while he awoke from his sleep, and for a moment or two still lay in the same position, as it happened, without stirring, when he found that something had taken place while lie had slept, which had situated him somewhat differently from the manner in which he first went to sleep. On reflecting a moment, he found he was entirely covered over, head and ears, with leaves and light stuff, occasioned as he now suspected, either by the sudden blowing of the wind, or by some wild animal. On which account he became a little disturbed in his mind, as he well knew the manners of the panther at that season of the year, when it hunts to support its young, and will often cover its prey with leaves and bring its whelps to the banquet. He therefore continued to lie perfectly still, as when he first awoke; he thought he heard the step of some kind of heavy animal near him ; and knowing that if it were a Panther, the distance between himself and death could not be far, if he should attempt to rise up. Accordingly, as he suspected, after having lain a a full minute, he now distinctly heard the retireing tread of the stealthy Panther, of which he had no doubt, from his knowledge of the creatures ways. It had taken but a few steps however, when it again stopped a longer time ; still Wheaton continued his silent position, knowing his safety depended much on this. Soon the tread was again heard, farther and farther off, till it entirely died away in the distance-but he still lay motionless a few minutes longer, when he ventured gently and cautiously to raise his head and cast an eye in the direction ; the creature, whatever it was had gone, but could see nothing. He now rose up with a spring, for his blood had been running from his heart to the extremities, and back again, with uncommon velocity ; all the while his ears had listened to the steps of the animal on the leaves and brush. He now saw plainly the marks of design among the leaves, and that he had been covered over, and that the paws of some creature had done it.
And as he suspected the Panther was the animal, he knew it would soon return to kill him, on which account he made haste to deceive it, and to put himself in a situation to give it a taste of the contents of old smooth bore. He now seized upon some pieces of old wood which lay all about, and placed as much as was was equal to his own bulk, exactly where he had slept and covered it over with leaves in the same manner the panther had done, and then sprang to a tree near by, into which he ascended, from whence he had a view a good distance about him, and especially in the direction the creature had gone. Here in the crotch of the tree he stood, with his gun resting across a limb, in the direction of the place where he had been left by the panther, looking sharply as far among the woods as possible, in the direction he expected the creatures return. But he had remained in this condition but a short time, and had barely thrust the ram-rod down the barrel of his piece, to be sure the charge was in her, and to examine her priming, and shut down the pan, slowly so that it should not snap, and thus make a noise, when his keen Indian eye, for such he had, caught a glimpse of a monstrous panther, leading warily two panther kittens toward her intended supper.
Now matters were hastening to a climax rapidly, when Wheaton or the panther must finish their hunting on the mountains of the Susquehannah, for if old smooth bore should flash in the pan, or miss her aim, the die would be cast, as a second load would be impossible ere her claws would have sundered his heart strings in the tree where he was, or if he should but partially wound her the same must have been his fate. During these thoughts the panther had hid her young under some brush, and had come within some thirty feet of the spot where she supposed her victim was still sleeping , and seeing all as she left it, she dropped down to a couching position, precisely as a cat, when about to spring on its prey. Now was seen the soul of the panther in its perfection ; merging from the recesses of nature, hidden by the creator, along the whole nervous system, but resting chiefly in the brain, from whence it glared, in bright horror, from its burning eyes, curled in its strong and vibrating tail, pushed out its sharp white and eliptlcal fangs, from its broad and powerful paws, ready for rending, glittered on the points of its uncovered teeth, and smoked in rapid tissues of steam from its red and open jaws, while every hair of its long dun back stood erect in savage joy, denoting that the fatal and decisive moment of its leap had come.
Now the horrid nestling of its hinder claws, drawn under its belly was heard, and the bent ham-strings were seen but a half instant by Wheaton, from where he sat in his tree, when the tremendous leap was made. It rose on a long curve into the air, of about ten feet in the highest place, and from thence descending, it struck exactly where the breast head and bowels of its prey had lain, with a scream too horrible for description, when it tore to atoms the rotten wood, filling for several feet above it, the air with the leaves and light brush, the covering of the deception. But instantly the panther found herself cheated, and seemed to droop a little with disappointment, when however it resumed an erect posture, and surveyed quite around on every side on a horizontal line, in search of its prey, but not discovering it, she cast a furious look aloft among the tops of the trees, when in a moment or two the eyes of Wheaton and the panther had met. Now for another leap; when she dropped for that purpose, but the bullet and two buck shot of old smooth bore, were too quick ; as he lodged them all exactly in the brain of the savage monster, and stretched her dead on the spot where the hunter had slept but a short time before, in the soundness of a mountain dream.
He had marked the spot where her young were hidden, which, at the report of the gun were heightened and ran up a tree. Wheaton now came down and found the panther to measure, from the end of its nose to the point of its tail, eight feet six inches in length ; a creature sufficiently strong to have carried him oft on a full run, had he had fallen into its power. He now reloaded and went to the tree where her kittens, or the young panthers were, and soon brought them down from their grapple among the limbs, companions for their conquered and slain parent.
Wheaton dismantled them of their hides, and hastened away, lest some other encounter, before the night should set in, might overtake him, of a similar character, when the disadvantage of darkness might decide the victory in a way more advantageously to the roamers of the forest. Of this feat Ben Wheaton never ceased to boast; reciting it as the most appalling passage of his hunting life. The animal had scented him while asleep, and had found him as she supposed ; intending to give her young a specimen of the manner of their future life, or if this is too much for the mind of a dumb animal, she intended at least to give them a supper.
This circumstance was all that saved his life, or the panther would have leapt upon him at first, and have tore him to pieces, instead of covering him with leaves, as it did, for the sake of her young. The panther is a ferocious and almost untameable animal, whose nature and habits are the same as the cat; except that the nature and powers of this domestic creature, are, in the panther, immensely magnified, in strength and voracity. It is in the American forest, what the tiger is in Africa and India, a dangerous and savage animal ; the terror of all other creatures, as well as of the Indian and the white man.
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