Monday, May 20, 2013

Panthers in Texas?

 
Cougar (panther, painter)
Fort Worth, Texas, where I live, is often called the Panther City. This nickname traces back to the Civil War. When army troops were called away to fight in the war, settlers became vulnerable to attack by Comanche and Kiowa raiders. As a result, many Fort Worth residents fled eastward. In their absence, panthers supposedly slept in the deserted streets. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a good yarn.

When I say panthers, I don’t mean the big black cats native to South American jungles. I mean cougars, also known as pumas, mountain lions or catamounts. In the old days they were often called panthers or painters, and they roamed all over Texas. Now, they’re found mainly in the mountainous deserts, including Big Ben National Park, and on the brushy Rio Grande Planes bordering the southwestern part of the state.

Leopard (el tigre)
In centuries past, Texas was home to the jaguar, the third largest cat in the world. Called el tigre in Mexico, this beautiful spotted cat inhabited the southern and eastern portions of Texas, but there have been no proven sightings since the turn of the 20th century.

Ocelots also once ranged all over the dense brush thickets of south Texas and were occasionally seen in the north and central parts of the state. Now they’re found only in a few brushy patches on the Rio Grande Plains. Likewise the small, dark gray or brown jaguarundi. Margays, small spotted cats, are extinct in Texas, but fossil evidence shows they once roamed within our southern borders. They’re now found only in tropical forests.
 

Bobcat
Bobcats are the most common wild felines in Texas. Short-tailed, rusty-brown or gray, with dark splotches and bars, they are as large as a medium-sized dog. Preferring rocky areas or brushy thickets for cover, bobcats have adapted to human intrusion in their habitat and still range all over the state. Like most cats, they are shy of humans and do their hunting mainly at night. They eat mostly ground squirrels, wood rats, mice and rabbits, but will sometimes prey upon domestic sheep, goats and poultry. Bobcats are occasionally seen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where I live, mainly on the outskirts. My daughter has a cat that's an offspring of a bobcat and a domestic cat. He's very shy and eats like a little pig!

Now, let’s get back to cougars, aka panthers. These shy, solitary cats are nocturnal hunters of deer, wild hogs, rabbits and other small prey. However, they do occasionally kill livestock. In Dashing Irish, book two in my Texas Devlins series, Tye Devlin tangles with an angry panther while on a cattle drive to Kansas. Delayed by the flooded Red River, the herd is being held, waiting for the river to go down before crossing into Indian Territory (Oklahoma.) Nearby flows a small stream called Panther Creek (a real place) where panthers are said to lurk. Tye is riding night guard.
 
 Here’s an excerpt from his encounter:

The panther had screamed a couple times earlier, but he’d sounded farther away. He was getting too close for comfort now. Along with the other night guards, Tye attempted to calm the cattle, not an easy task when he was on edge himself.

Glancing at the stars, he judged it nearly time to head for his bedroll. Three nights of double guard duty had left him dog tired, but the panther’s presence overrode his need for sleep.

He stiffened in his saddle when another blood-curdling cry rang out, sounding dangerously close. Dozens of cattle scrambled to their feet, almost ready to run.

“Stop your racket, ye devil,” Tye muttered. Figuring he was closer to the troublemaker than anyone else, he made a quick decision. Not giving himself time to reconsider, he swung the grulla toward where he thought the shriek had come from, certain the panther wouldn’t attack him. He’d seen the creatures down along the Nueces and back in Colorado. They must roam all over the West. Lions, some miners called them. Despite their fearsome cry, they usually ran off when a man approached.

He’d drawn near to a rocky outcrop when a long, shadowy shape detached itself from the rocks and took off running with a snarl. Startled for a second, Tye kneed his horse after the predator to make sure it kept going. Oddly, the cat appeared to limp, but it still outran them for a good ways. Then it stumbled to a halt, whirled around and shrieked.

The grulla stopped so short, Tye nearly catapulted over its head. Before he could regain his balance, the horse neighed in terror and reared. Losing his grip, Tye tumbled from the saddle and hit the ground hard, knocking the breath out of him. He lay there for a few seconds, fighting to breathe while the horse galloped off. Then he started to sit up . . . and froze.

Not ten feet away, he saw the dark form of the panther. Ears laid back, fangs bared and eyes glittering in the moonlight, the cat crouched, ready to spring. Tye grabbed for his gun, but stopped, remembering the nearby herd. A gunshot might start a stampede. Reaching for his knife instead, he barely had time to draw it from his boot before the panther was on him.

The snarling brute instantly went for his throat. Tye clamped his free hand around the beast’s own throat to hold it off. As he did, razor-sharp claws raked his shoulders. Hissing in pain, he attempted to plunge his knife into the cat’s heart, but oaken ribs deflected the blow. All he did was make the demon madder.

Growling, the panther tried to twist free of his hold on its neck. A hind foot clawed his right thigh; front talons flayed his chest. Crying out, Tye shifted his grip and desperately forced the animal’s head back.

Learn how this life and death battle ends in Dashing Irish.


Amazon: Dashing Irish                                Barnes & Noble: Dashing Irish

Other books in this series available on Amazon and B&N:

Darlin' Irish -- Texas Devlins, Jessie's Story
Dearest Irish -- Texas Devlins, Rose's Story

White Witch -- Texas Devlins Origins (a prequel novella)

6 comments:

  1. Lyn, where I live just west of Fort Worth, we have several cougars that come by on their regular trails. One drinks at the tank at the back of our property. We had a black panther two years ago, which supposedly had come up from Mexico due to climate changes. He or she got our neighbors elderly dog. My brother's girlfriend also saw one of these black Mexican leopards near Brenham when she was hunting. I used her experience in HIGH STAKES BRIDE, changed to fit my heroine, of course. The black leopards look black until you are close and see that there are spots showing under the general dark coat. These cats are one reason I use a treadmill for my walking exercise. I don't think they would attack a human, but a friend saw one take down a deer. You know how I walk. I figure if I fell, which is likely, I'd be prey.

    You know that the Paschal High School are called the Panthers, don't you? There's something else about Panther City that has slipped my mind.

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  2. That's very interesting, Caroline, and kind of scary. I guess the sites where I found my information aren't as accurate as they should be.

    Yes, I know about the Paschal Panthers. My daughter took an SAT prep course there one summer when she was in high school. It's a fairly old school as I recall.

    Panther Creek, the place I mentioned, is up near Nacona, Tx. A friend of mine went with me on a research trip up there when I was writing Dashing Irish. We met with an elderly gentleman whose father lived during the trail drive days. He guided us to the Red River Station cattle crossing where so many herds crossed in the old days, and to Panther Creek. It's a small, overgrown creek, with lots of trees and shrubbery, a perfect hiding place for the big cats who sometimes attacked cattle.

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  3. In our area, bobcats are still around but I don't think we've had any of the larger cats make it this far south. Could be wrong, though. Loved the excerpt and the info.

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  4. Lyn--I've heard all my life about bobcats, and yes, they are the most prominent. The others...I've heard of panthers, but never have seen one, nor heard of anyone seeing one.
    In our part of Texas--the Hill Country, we are concerned more about coyotes.
    I think the bigger cats are just beautiful, don't you? Lands, I'd hate to come upon ons, and like Caroline, I don't think I'd go walking where I live.
    Very interesing, especially if you use one in a book. You definitely need to know what you're talking about.
    I like your new cover and title!

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  5. Thanks, Ciara. Glad you enjoyed the post. I haven't seen any bobcats but did see a dead coyote by the side of the highway near us several years ago. I felt sorry for the poor thing.

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  6. Celia, yes I do think the big cats are beautiful. Especially tigers. I've seen on TV where zoo handlers walked tigers on a leash. Must be a thrill, but I wouldn't want to try it.

    I'm so glad you like the new covers and titles. It's a job changing the front matter of the books and re-posting them on various sites. I'm about to tear my hair out over Barnes & Noble. they really need to improve some of their Nook Press features.

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