Most anywhere you go in North America, you hear stories of large cats, sometimes reaching a length of 6 feet (not counting the tail), and weighing as much as 200 pounds. Depending on the area you’re in, they may be called pumas, catamounts, mountain lions, painters, or cougars. In Florida we call them panthers. They generally live in the woods, or anyplace as far from humans as possible. There used to be a lot of them, all over the state except way out in the sparsely-wooded Everglades. There isn’t much prey of a decent size out there, except gators, and even though panthers are good swimmers, and pretty well ruled the animal world in the southern areas of America, they didn’t rule the ‘gators.
When those big cats are looking for other panthers, and want to be heard, they make an incredibly loud noise that sounds like a woman screaming in terror. It’s real spooky, and if you don’t know what it is, it’ll scare your heart right up into your throat, especially at night. Folks who lived in Florida back then talked about “hearin’ a panther scream,” because scream was the only name that fit the noise. Back in the 1930s and ’40s we heard panthers scream fairly often, as our farm was located in the heart of panther and black bear country.
We had no electricity until the late 40’s, and even after we got power to the house our clothes were hung outdoors to dry. On the north side of the house was a large side yard where we had the clothes lines. That yard was next to the chicken and duck pen, and beyond the pen was a narrow strip of grass and two or three large persimmon trees. After that was open field for about a hundred and fifty feet out to some deep woods.
One afternoon, Mom was taking down clothes from the lines when she heard the chickens begin to make a racket. She looked toward the chicken yard just in time to see a panther jump the six-foot fence on the far side of the chicken yard, grab a full grown duck, then turn and clear the fence again with the duck in its mouth. The last she saw of the panther — and the duck — was a cloud of dust streaking across the field to the edge of the woods.
What’s a mother to do? Just keep on taking down clothes, I reckon.