The Downing Panther Threatens A Community

The following information comes from John D. Scott, Jr. of Comanche County, Texas, who descends from pioneer stock in the Downing area. Photos from Aline Quenon, formerly of Downing.

The Mike Roach family lived in the Buffalo Community, several miles east of Downing. It was always a fun occasion when they went to the place where Rush Creek and the Leon River came together because in the summer, they could swim in the long holes of water that they found there, and in the fall of the year, they gathered pecans along the banks of the Leon.

The bottomland was wild, untamed land in the early 1900s, and there were many types of wild animals that lived along the waterway; however, there seemed to be little danger from any of them.

One evening in the fall of 1920, Mary Ann Roach and a friend were walking up a hill near the Buffalo Cemetery when they heard what they believed was a woman’s screams. It was almost dark, and they turned and hurried toward the little house that was almost a mile away; as they crossed the uplands, they began to run for the safety of the house.

The entire Roach family was alerted, and they all stood on the porch, listening for the screams. From the south side of the house, they again heard the scream, and the family decided that the wild call was not human. Nothing like this had been heard before by any of the family.

As is always the case in small communities, the news of an animal that screamed like a woman spread through Downing and the surrounding area, and soon everyone knew that something strange was roaming along the bottomlands. People began to be wary of being outdoors at night…fearful of the beast they could not see.

Then, it was discovered that a calf had been killed and partially eaten at the Hanson place on the Leon River. The calf bore long, deep scratch marks, and those who saw it determined that the beast, whatever it was, must be killed…and soon.

One of the first people to settle on Rush Creek in Comanche County was a man by the name of Henry Scott. Henry came to Texas as a young man in the early 1860s, and in 1920, his family lived in the upper Rush Creek valley, two miles west of Downing.

The Scott’s were known as hunters; they kept dogs and hunted the river bottoms from just below where the Copperas and Sweetwater Creeks formed Rush Creek to the area where Rush Creek entered the Leon River.

The Scott’s were friends with the Roach families and were related to the Hanson’s, who lived in the Buffalo Community. They asked these families to bring their dogs and track the beast that had killed the calf and whose screams had been heard by the Roach family.

The hunters turned the dogs loose near the Buffalo Graveyard, and they were delighted when they immediately began to bay. Soon, they were chasing something that they flushed from a thick growth of salt cedar.

The dogs circled, moving toward Rush Creek; however, it was not long before the pack of dogs and whatever they were chasing returned to some tall oak trees, just below the graveyard. The dogs barked frantically and seemed to have treed their prey.

Almost due south of the graveyard, the men rushed through the timber and soon came upon the dogs who were barking at something high in an oak tree.

Ben, Tom and Dow Scott, Florence Loudermilk, and Clarence Hazellett were confronted with what they would always call “the panther.” It was snarling and growling at the hounds on the ground as the men began to shoot.

The panther was hit, and it came from the tree, wounded. The dogs chased it into a nearby brush pile as the hunters continued firing, and soon, the mighty cat was dead.

There was a great deal of excitement as others began to arrive at the scene of the kill, and the huge cat was roped and dragged from the brush.

The hunting party took their trophy to show the Roach family, and then on to Downing. At the Loudermilk store, the huge cat created quite a stir as a large crowd gathered to view the animal.

No one present could remember anything like it ever being found in the area. Someone from Dixon’s Kodak in Comanche snapped a picture of the hunters and the cat. The five men who had been in on the kill held the animal for all to see.

It was decided by the hunters that the Scott’s would take the cat home. The Scott family would later recall how scary the animal was as it lay under a wagon sheet in the front yard. Everyone wondered if there was another big cat lurking somewhere in the creek bottom.

It would be years before some people would travel at night in the bottomland, and many tall tales grew out of the killing of the panther. One man even claimed that while he was cutting wood, a huge panther came up behind him and put its paws on his shoulders. He ran away, and the panther was never seen again!

Within a day or two of the killing, the great beast was taken to Comanche where it was stuffed. For many months, it was the star attraction in the Vineyard Grocery store on the Comanche square. The store later burned, and the trophy was destroyed.

No other animals of this type were ever found in the area again, and there was much speculation as to where this one might have come from, but no on ever really knew.

Today, Proctor Lake covers the land and the tree site where the great hunt took place. The old Buffalo Graveyard sits on the hill above the waters as the last silent landmark of that long ago time. However, one can still be very quiet and imagine the chills of terror that must have run up and down the spines of Mary Ann Roach and her friend as they walked along the little woodland trail on the night the panther screamed.

About Fredda Jones

Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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