Black Panthers’ Existence Confirmed in the Press of the Past

Original Artwork By Curtis Copeland

This article is a continuation of an article that I co-authored with Joshua Heston for State of the Ozarks online magazine which was titled “Black Panthers’ Existence Denied” Which stated , in part:

“There are no black panthers in Missouri. It is a myth like Bigfoot.” — Michael Flaten

Years ago at my grandmother’s house, I discovered an old high school yearbook. Thumbing through the pages, I found my uncle’s senior photo with the usual details of titles, predictions and nicknames.

Panther,” said the entry. Uncle Phil’s nickname was Panther.

“Your uncle once saw a black panther on your great-grandfather’s farm but nobody believed him,” explained my father when I asked him.

Uncle Phil’s panther sighting took place in Stoddard County, Missouri, in the 1960s. Back then his biggest skeptics were his peers. A brief internet search on the topic of black panther sightings in Missouri will turn up the occasional news story, blog post or photo of the elusive cat.

With today’s new technology, citizens are no longer dependent on the “gate keepers” of old media. Convincing one’s peers of a black panther sighting isn’t nearly as difficult as it was when Uncle Phil was in high school.

Today, if a resident spots a black panther, his biggest critic will be the Missouri Department of Conservation. Officially the MDC has this to say about black panthers in Missouri:

“Black panthers” are not native to North America, but they do exist as melanistic (black color) phases of the leopard (Panthera pardus) found in Africa and Asia and the jaguar (Panthera onca) of Mexico and Central and South America. Throughout its range, no melanistic (black) mountain lion has ever been documented by science….In 1996 MDC established a Mountain Lion Response Team (MLRT) with specially trained staff to investigate reports and evidence of mountain lions.

“The MLRT has investigated hundreds of mountain lion reports. Animals reported as mountain lions include house cats, bobcats, red foxes, coyotes, black and yellow Labrador retrievers, great Danes and white-tailed deer. Almost all reported tracks have been those of bobcats or large dogs.”

The article included other recent eyewitness reports and accounts I found in newspaper articles from the past. I thought I would revisit the archives blow the dust off some old papers (figuratively) and see what I could find.

I decided to explore the archives of Van Buren , Missouri’s Current Local newspaper, I found the following accounts:

From the Thursday February 4, 1926 issue of The Current Local. The headline reads: “Kills Large Panther.”

“A large panther was killed one day last week in the western part of Pemiscot county by Homer Weaver , according to the Dunklin County News. The hide of the animal measured a little over ten feet from tip to tip and is the first of its kind in that section for many years past . The hunter shot the big cat out of a tree from where it had taken refuge from a pack of dogs and when it hit the ground , though mortally wounded, it killed one of the dogs before expiring.”

From the Thursday December 9, 1926 edition of The Current Local under the heading of “This Day in Missouri History:

“Late in 1816 there was approved an act to encourage the killing of wolves, panthers and wildcats. It authorized a payment of $2 for each wolf or panther and fifty cents for the scalp of each wildcat.”

From the Thursday July 17, 1930 Current Local under the headline “Hauled Freight to Pilot Knob with Oxen”:

This particular article featured a pioneer of Carter County, Missouri by the name of C.G. Bunn who moved to the area in 1866 and stated:

“When I first moved to Carter County, 14 votes would elect any county officer. Few people resided in the county. An old log shanty was used as the courthouse in Van Buren. There were all kinds of deer, panther, wild turkey and some bear in the Ozark region in my day. Once I thought I was going to get a panther but he saw me and ran just as I was getting ready to shoot.”

The January 8, 1953 edition of The Current Local contains an article bearing the title “Chilton Notes” by Lucile Masnor who writes:

“Well, ever since I saw that big cat-like animal run across the field and leap into the woods , I’ve been I’ve been scared to go very far from the house. If I should meet it face to face, even if I had Pa along, I’ll bet I’d be the last one in the kitchen door. The hunter in me declares that I didn’t see anything, but I still maintain it was a panther.”

My final example (for this article) comes from The Current Local dated March 1, 1973 which includes the article “The Current River Cat” written by Lucile Masnor:

“Some people say there is no such thing as a panther. But we Carter Countians call our big cat a panther.

The first I knew there was a panther in these hills was many years ago. I was preparing supper one evening. My step-father had walked up the valley road. Mother and I heard what sounded like a woman scream up the hill behind the house. My step-father heard it and came running to the house thinking we were in trouble and screaming for him. When it wasn’t us he decided it was a panther.

Later one bright summer morning I saw the big cat crossing the valley field. He was black, about the size of a young calf but longer and slimmer with shorter legs. He did not run but bounded along with cat-like leaps…”