Nature Notes

Vol. III March 1, 1926 No. 16


Since the first settlers came into the wilderness their children have gone to bed at night with the vision of a terrible beast that might pounce upon them from any dark corner and with a blood-curdeling scream tear them to bits. Although it had been a quarter of a century since the last panther had been seen in the middle western state where I was born, stories were still told of how these great cats had followed children as they brought the cows home in the evening and how their horrible screams like the wail of a woman in distress they said, were often heard on dark nights. To me as to other children all over the country the panther was, in our vivid imaginations, a more terrible beast than any that had ever roamed the earth.

Since the cougar has given way to civilization in the eastern and middle states the name "panther" is not often heard for in other sections of the country - he is known by other names. In the Southwest where the big cats are still numerous they are "pumas", in the Southeast, where within the memory of local residents the cougar was still fairly common in the back country, they were known as "Panthers" or "catamounts". In the Rocky Mountain region and in the Northwest we still have to contend with this blood-thirsty marauder but here he is known as a "cougar" or "mountain lion" and we have learned that he is only about one-fourth as fierce as we supposed him to be when we were children.

Without doubt cougars have under certain conditions attacked and killed human beings and no one seeing even the track of one of the power beasts would doubt their ability to do considerable damage to any man or beast but even so their fierceness has been tremendously over-rated.


There are any number of stories current of mountain lion attacking people and most of them are good stories but only a very small percentage of them have any basis of fact and those that have are usually very greatly over-drawn. In most cases where it has been proven that the cougar made a wanton attack on man it has been proven that the animal was suffering from some injury or had been driven to desperation by hunger or abuse. The same is true of the larger cats. Neither the African lion or "Stripes" the tiger of India who slays thousands of natives each year are normally man-killers. It is only the occasional animal that has by accident acquired a taste for human flesh or those that have become too feeble from age to capture wild game that have turned to the easier game of capturing human animals.

As to the wild screams that sent the early settlers scurrying for their muzzle-loaders and started tales that have made two generations of younger "settlers" pull their bed covers over their heads at the merest thought, there are a great many naturalists and woodsmen who will swear that the cougar does not scream at all and although there are other equally-reliable naturalists who state that they have both seen and heard them scream, they all agree that the terrifying wails usually attributed to a "painter" are made by some other animal, usually a bob cat or an owl.

Personally I am like Roosevelt, "they may scream but I have never heard one" and I have lived in a country inhabited by mountain lions for a good many years. We have found the great five inch "pugs" in the snow within a few yards of our house. I have found where they had struck down and eaten deer within a short distance from my camp. They have followed my tracks to the very edge of camp and have passed within a few feet of me as I fished in Reflection Lake but I have never yet heard a sound made by them. Certain it is that the most frightful noises heard in the woods are made by owls, wildcats, coyotes and other such harmless animals and equally certain is it that the average camper on hearing such cries will report a cougar.

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