ES Independent Column – Panthers

For years, there has been accumulating evidence of mountain lions (or cougars or panthers) residing in Arkansas. The Fish and Game Commission officially denied it, apparently because it was a can of worms that they wanted to avoid opening. Then, last November, a hunter in a deer stand shot one, the first killed in the state since 1975. The cat was out of the bag, as they say.

It’s always a pleasure to hear from readers and I recently had a letter from Genevieve Bowman. In it, she told me of a panther scare in Eureka Springs in the 1940s. It all started with people hearing the trademark shrill scream of a panther. Soon there were reports of sightings of the big cat and men organizing to hunt it. Armed with a shotgun, one local man would walk his grandson home from the night shift at the Basin Movie Theater.

Cora Pinkley Call wrote of the panthers seen and heard by the pioneers of this area and the fear they caused. She wrote in Pioneer Tales that she only knew of one actual attack, though. It was by a female cat emaciated by hunger and  suckling young. A local man was returning home late one night and the panther leapt from a tree onto his back and nearly killed him.

The local panther scare of the 1940s, however, was not what it first appeared to be. Genevieve knows the true story behind the scare. It starts with John Bowman (her future husband) and Wayne Farwell. She wrote that they “got hold of a wooden contraption that slid in and out like a match box. When worked correctly it emitted a shrill yell. They thought how funny it would be to go over to East Mountain and try it out.” When the prank got out of hand and touched off widespread fear, they swore to keep it a secret. Years later, John told Genevieve and she said that “what they meant as a joke turned out to be not so funny.”

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