Monday, July 20, 2020

Catching Up: Previously Unpublished Black Panther Sightings

While it is true that I have not blogged much over the last year or two, reports of “black panthers” have continued to reach my inbox. I feel the need to catch you all up on a few of the more compelling sighting reports I have received during my “away time.” Following are some of the reports I found the most interesting. 

Before we get into the reports, however, I must – once again – post the disclaimer that I know there is no such thing as a “black panther” according to mainstream science. The panthers of the movies and television (think Jungle Book) are either melanistic leopards or jaguars. Neither of those species is known to inhabit Texas, the American South, or parts farther west or north. Still, the reports of black, large, long-tailed cats have continued. Documenting and charting the location of the most credible reports is part of my ongoing effort to answer one simple question. What are the black panthers of North America?



Reported 1/28/17

“As you can see, this pic was taken by my game camera. I thought you might enjoy seeing it. It was taken on my ranch near Palestine. It’s not a hog, dog, calf, or goat, so if not a black cat, what the heck is it? FYI, the winch on the tri-pod is 42” high.”

-       Ken Broom

TCH Comment: What the heck is it? Is a valid question in this case. Ken’s assertion that the animal is not a hog, dog, calf, or goat may be spot on, but the photo is so dark that a definitive identification simply is not possible. That being the case, I have not added this report to my black panther sightings distribution map. I decided to post here today as photos are always fun to examine and analyze. Let the debate begin…

Reported 2/23/17

Hello, my name is Taylor and I'm writing on behalf of my mother, Amanda. On Feb. 23 2017 at 1:00 a.m., my mother saw a very large black cat matching the description of many other sightings near Oak Leaf Road and Lakeview Drive in Conroe, Texas. This is a residential area with a lot of livestock. I was not in the car with her but she's asked me to tell the story as your website popped up when we were researching these sightings.

They have always been a sort of urban legend in this area for at least the last decade, if not more, and other family members have sworn up and down they've seen something. I didn't quite believe it until my mother called me in shock.

She was driving down Oak Leaf Road and was taking the last sharp curve before her turn when she saw a very large dog in her lane. She slowed down to less than ten miles per hour and drove around it into the left lane. This is a very narrow country road and she didn't have a lot of space because the dog would not move. That is when she realized that it was not a dog. She described it as a black panther (I believe she saw a melanistic black jaguar) that was standing on four paws with its head raised, very alert. She drives a Honda Civic, a small sedan, and said that he was so tall his head was level with her passenger window and they made eye contact. He did not flinch or move to avoid her car - he showed absolutely no fear. She said that he was very muscular and healthy and had long, shiny whiskers and chin whiskers. She described him as having a broad face, short ears, and thick tail.

I think it's an incredible story and I don't think she would have mistaken it for a mountain lion/cougar. We have had close encounters with cougars before and she is positive that she saw what is colloquially referred to as a black panther. Hopefully this account interests you.”

-       Taylor and Amanda

TCH Comment: This one is really very simple; if events unfolded the way they have been reported, there is practically no chance of mistaken identity. I find no reason to doubt the story as it has been related. Yes, most of the time an animal in the road will yield to an oncoming vehicle and move away, but not always. I have had to slowly drive around dogs, cats, and deer on occasion because they would not move. It happens. The area where the sighting took place, while residential, is not your typical suburban neighborhood. There remain a lot of heavily wooded acreage in the area and the east fork of Crystal Creek runs just to the south of the sighting location. The area is just south of the Sam Houston National Forest, an area from which many black panther reports have originated. I find the account plausible and have added it to my black panther distribution map.

Reported 9/10/17

In the early 1960s, two of my uncles worked security at the chemical plant
near Bloomington, TX (in those days it was owned by Dupont). This area
around the Guadalupe River as it reaches the Gulf is swampy and, in those
times, was sparsely inhabited. The plant itself is next to a barge canal on
a large tract of low, wooded land. Its abundant wildlife included deer and
razorbacks, which kept the local black panther that lived on the plant
land well fed.

Company officials speculated that someone must have released an exotic pet
here. Sightings of this big cat were so common that Dupont employees
became nonchalant about having a potentially dangerous predator
on the property. Uncle Al said he once saw the cat with a whitetail in its
mouth, dragging the dead animal like it was no more than rag doll.

In 2005 I went to the plant to see if company newsletters from the 1960s
still exist, hoping to read about Dupont's pet cat. But Union Carbide
bought the plant long ago. Nothing from that era was saved.

In retrospect I concluded the Dupont animal was a melanistic jaguar that
had roamed up the coast from the Rio Grande valley. In colonial Texas,
jags lived all along the Gulf up to the Sabine. Locals called them Mexican
tigers. There is a daguerreotype photo from the 1840s of a saloon in Fort
Bend county that displayed the skin of a spotted jag on its wall.”

-       J.M.

TCH Comment: Bloomington sits in Victoria County and is now considered part of the greater Victoria metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, only 2,459 people lived in Bloomington. In the 1960s there would have been far fewer people in the area. The land is low in elevation and often marshy; typical Texas Coast geography. There would be plenty of game for a big cat to subsist on including hogs, deer, and nutria. I find the story J.M. relates very plausible and know other black cat sightings have come from the area; however, the story is second hand in nature. Therefore, I have to leave it off of my distribution map.


Reported 9/14/2017

“So, I was reading your posts about black panthers.  We got this from our game camera just a few days ago. Unfortunately, it's the back end of the animal, but you are welcome to make your own deductions.  Also sending you a photo of my 6-year-old for size comparison, he is 4 feet tall.  Photos taken in Bonham, TX; a culvert in a feeder creek.

Send us your thoughts.”

- Janene Thomas

TCH Comment: Bonham sits in Fannin County adjacent to the Red River in north Texas. The area has produced black panther reports before. The photo is interesting. The animal is undeniably black and – using Janene’s son as a reference – almost 2 feet high (I chose not to publish the photo of Janene’s young son. You’ll just have to take my word on the size comparison). The tail does not appear as long as what many witnesses report but is thick and has a rounded tip. The tails of most dogs are more pointed at the tip. While the photo is intriguing, ultimately it is inconclusive. The trigger speeds of most game cameras are slower than I would like and result in many photos of the back ends of animals walking by. The curse of the slow trigger speed seems to have struck again with this photo. That being the case, I have to leave it off my distribution map.


Reported 4/22/18

“Greetings Michael!!

This is Tom Riley, your classmate of NHS '85.  I got your book off Amazon for my Kindle Fire and I loved it!  It brought back memories and stories that I never gave much account to until I saw your research.  Fascinating. 

I wanted to relate to you a few anecdotes of my, and my family's, experiences with the famed "Shadow Cats."  As I was relating the content and context of your book to my wife, she reminded me of her father's account with a Shadow Cat.  Back in the early to mid 80's my father-in-law (Donald Richard, now deceased) was a partner in Eelee's restaurant located under the Rainbow Bridge on hwy 73 in Port Arthur.  Donnie was the man who developed the menu and all the recipes - as well as procuring the fresh seafood that was brought directly to the dock adjacent to the restaurant.  They processed their own seafood daily right on the riverfront.  He would tell us about the black cat that would show up around dusk or a little after looking for easy pickings.  I remember I commented that cats running around a seafood place is not a big deal, his response was that the cat was almost a big a me!  He related that the staff and boat owners all knew about the big cat and would drop deformed flounder, crabs and turtles in a pile for it to eat about 50 yards down river of the restaurant.  Many regulars would comment about sightings over the years.  It was just accepted.  No big deal. What was it?  Who knows.  It was big, black and stealthy.  It kept mainly to the marshy area south of the restaurant mostly.  Reading your book reminded us of the encounter.  A Mr. James Lester "JL" Lee was the other partner in the restaurant endeavor and unfortunately he passed away last year.

TCH Comment: I heard some of these same stories as my friend Tom back in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s regarding big black cats roaming the marshes around the Neches and Sabine Rivers. The restaurant my old classmate mentions was well-known and popular back in the day. It sat at the foot of the famed Rainbow Bridge that spans the Neches River between Port Arthur and Bridge City. This is the point where the Neches and Sabine Rivers empty into the brackish waters of Sabine Lake which ultimately pours into the Gulf of Mexico near Sabine Pass. The entire area is one huge marsh and supports much wildlife. The Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area sits on the Bridge City side of the famed bridge that sports a vertical clearance of 177 feet (tall enough to allow the tallest ship in the U.S. Navy at the time it was built to pass under it). Despite Tom’s report being second hand in nature, I am going to make an exception to my rule and add it to my black panther sightings distribution map. I do this for two reasons: I heard some of the same accounts he did as a high schooler and Tom is a man of impeccable character with whom I have enjoyed a long personal relationship. He would not steer me wrong.


Reported 5/26/19

“Hello. My name is Barb. I live in the Texas panhandle, the forgotten part of Texas. I am sending 2 articles from 2000 or 2001 regarding a big black cat seen in the Howardwick/Clarendon area.

My longtime boyfriend, Dennis, says he saw a large black cat about a week after the Brass Lantern restaurant sightings, in a locust grove, near his home on the Britten Ranch, which is 3 miles north of Howardwick.

He and I both know the difference between a mountain lion and bobcat.  We grew up in the country, study wildlife, and have taken the Texas Master Naturalist classes. We used to spend a lot of time on area ranches, arrowhead hunting, and have seen bobcats and a couple of brownish-tan mountain lions. He saw a melanistic bobcat years ago when he was a young man. So, given his background, I assure you his big cat sighting was not a bobcat or an overgrown feral cat. According to him, there were many more sightings than what the newspapers covered.

I have bugged Dennis for a long time to find these old newspaper articles. The author David Stevens contributed regularly to the Amarillo Globe News newspaper. The other article came from the Clarendon Enterprise newspaper.

Thanks.

I have listened to you on a podcast and am reading Shadow Cats. Great book.”

-       Barb Thompson

TCH Comment: Clarendon and Howardwick sit in Donley County in the east-central portion of the Texas Panhandle. The area is sparsely populated and dominated by the oil/natural gas and cattle ranching industries. There is plenty of room for a big cat to roam and plenty of prey species in this wide-open area of Texas. The Salt Fork of the Red River and Carrol Creek run through the area and are dammed to form the Greenbelt Reservoir. These water features, along with Kelly Creek a bit farther south would provide ample water and travel corridors for a predator.The sightings referenced by the newspaper accounts and that of Barb’s boyfriend Dennis would be far from the first to come from this lonesome part of Texas. While Barb’s account is of a second hand nature, I found - after doing a bit of research - the spate of “black panther” sightings in the area was well documented. I have decided to include one “pin” on my black panther sightings distribution map to represent this flap of sightings from the early 2000s.


I have a few other intriguing sighting reports that I need to post but this gets me started on the road to catching up. Please continue to send in your sighting accounts of “black panthers” to Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com. In addition, I am seriously considering starting a new camera-trapping project. If you have seen these cats on your property and would be willing to allow me to place cameras, please let me know.

If you would like to learn more about the black panther phenomenon and my thoughts on it, contact me for a copy of my book, Shadow Cats: The Black Panthers of North America. I would appreciate it.

To peruse my freshly updated black panther sightings distribution map, click here.

More soon.

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