TOBY SMALL’S PANTHER HUNT. AN ORIGINAL ARKANSAS STORY.

[The amusing story annexed was written for the “Arkansas Intelligencer,” by a correspondent of that capital paper, yclept “TOBY SMALL,” who has figured more than once in the “Spirit of the Times,” with infinite credit to himself. The gist of the story is, that the “fog whistle” of a steamboat—the first which ever navigated Grand River—was mistaken by the settlers for the scream of a panther!]

You know Jim W——, who hangs out in “our Neck?” He is hatched-faced and hawk-billed, which spoils his looks, that’s a fact, but doesn’t prevent him from being a clever fellow. I met him last summer at the “Pint.” “Said I, how do you do, Jim?”

Howdy?” said he. He was tolerably shy, and looked uneasy ; I knew what ailed, but let on as though I didn’t.

“Why, what’s the matter? You look depressed. I hope nothing unfortunate [1] has happened ; you are not hipped, are you?”

“No,” says he, raising his head to suit the word. “Nothing unfortunate, aint happened—aint hipped nother, but I’m moughty bad plagued.”

“Why, how now, come, come, untwist!”

“Now, you know as well as I do! You’re just letting on you don’t.”

I assured him to the contrary, and urged him to acquaint me with the cause which had produced so powerful an effect.

“Well,” says he, “I have been fooled, that’s the truth ; every body knows it, and if you don’t, I had as well tell it to you myself, as any one else, for hear it you will, before you have ridden three miles on this trail.”

I kept my face and he went on. “One evening last harvest, I was a field with my hands—in the prairie field ; it were gitting late, and I was pushing to get all my wheat in before night. I had heard occasionally during the afternoon a very strange, unfamiliar noise, but had’nt paid much attention to it. The last wheat was on the wagon, and the team was about to move homewards, when the shrillest, keenest noise broke upon us that you ever——it was just like nothing ever I hearn afore! My boys, one and all, declared it was a painter, and a mad one at that. Now, I had never seed a painter, nor never heard one neither, and as I always hearn tell, they make the d—dest noise of all varmints, I just concluded it mought be a stray one, and no mistake. Well, while we was thar settling what it was, and what we should do, the varmint let loose again several times, one straight after tother! Then broke up our cogitation ; we hurried to the house! There we found everything in a uproar ; dogs barking, and the cattle gathered about bellowing for dear life. It was very alarmin, I tell you, and I began to feel pretty considerably skeerd myself, and I aint ashamed to own it. What to do I did’nt well know, but I mustered up my force, and off I started, followed by four niggers, six Injuns, and nine curdogs, that was as good as ever treed a varmint, but warnt much for painters, as I soon diskivered ; for we beat through the whole of that d—m bottom, without making the least diskivery. The night was sorter darkish, and the briars sorter thickish in the bottom, and I reckon I found out what green briars war afore I got home, which was long about a late roosting time, and if I did’nt d—m that painter some, when I came to find my face and hands striped like Tus-te-nug-gee’s legs about “ball playing time,” it was just because I could’nt. I went to bed in a bad humour, and as usual, had bad dreams. I thought my grey mare was running a thousand yards, agin Ike A——s’ sorrel, “The Major,” and he abeating her just as easy! I felt like I wanted to get away, but could’nt budge a peg! Just then some one said ‘Mas Jim, the painter bin in de garden last night, and played old scratch with the fixings.’ I didn’t start and jump like skeered people do! I just rolled over and over, out o’bed, and didn’t I raise a fuss in the family? You know I all’ers sleep behind, and I had circumgyrated over the old woman and the baby, and such a squalling as that young’un kept up, would have bin distracting to an old bachelor. When I came to my senses, which was purty soon under circumstances, I found it was broad day light, and a grinning nigger standing in the door, declaring the painter had bin in the garden the night before, case he’d seen his signs. Well, I reckon it war’nt long afore I was out, with niggers, dogs and Injins, and if we did’nt beat up the swamp the night afore, we did it then. Every rod of ground from Grand river, to the Verdigris was ransacked, and if a painter had been in thar, I am keen to swear we’d a found it certain. Long about nine o’clock we fetched up at the Ferry, and thar I seed a genius in a Georgy dress, sitting on a log “a catting.”

“Hellow,” says I.

“Hellow yourself,” says he.

“Have you seen, or heard any thing of the painter.”

“Well,” says he, “that’s nice! Hear any thing of that painter! Why I reckon we did ; and that’s just the biggest painter that ever was whelped.”

“How do you know—did you see it?”

“Oh, we did’nt see it—but reckon as how we hearn it, and it made the all-screamenest kind of a noise!”

“Was you much skeered over here?”

“Well, want we? Mammy nearly went into fits they say, when she first hearn it ; and I thought I should a ---- ! I was at least a quarter from the house, and two fences between! The stock was skeered some too—thar was no gitting in the house for ‘em, but I ‘low thar aint much danger now, for I guess you’ve run him off to taller timber."

“I rayther guess it’s off, myself, so I’ll go home. Here Bringer! here Turk—here! here!! here!!! And I turned to ride up the bank, followed by my motley crew, when just then sch-r-r-r-r-r! I looked round wild!—the “catter” was mizzling about the fastest, with his shirt-tail standing out the straightest! The cry was right out of the swamp, not three hundred yards off! In we bulged, but it war’nt no use, we could’nt diskiver any painter, high nor low. When we got back to the Ferry I hearn a steamboat coming, so I determined to wait and stand treat. We got down and hitched our critturs ; the boat come puffing slowly up—stuck her nose in the bank, made fast, and then that durn’d painter agin! Snap went the bridles [2]!—away went our critturs!—wo!—wo!—wo!—no use! Human ears could’nt stand it, no more could brutes. I stared some, but I didn’t star as much as I swore, and I didn’t swear nigh as much as I was wrothy! Yes! by the living thunder, the painter I had been hunting all night, all the morning, the painter I had got my face, hands, and legs barked and scratched for, was nothing more nor less, than some new fangled fixin of the steam boat “Guide,” which her durned ingineer had been ‘musing himself with, to the terrification of the folks, stock, and varmints of the Pint.

“I seed how I’d been fooled, and in course felt awfully riled, and when the durn’d noise sorter slacked enough to let a feller hear himself think, I just told that Captain if he did’nt treat me and my crew, I take his dugout and turn her wrong-side-out. He did what was genteel, and we footed it home for want of nags.

“Now was’nt I monstrously bad fooled? But that war’nt what plagued me most, for just as certain as I met any one arter that, I was just as certain to be axed if I had treed that painter yet? And they got in the way of taking me out, just as if they had a secret to tell, and then whisper, loud enough though, for all to hear, “have you treed that painter yet?” Durn ‘em, I say! I stood it as long as I could, and then took the house, and this is the first time I’ve been abroad for three weeks.”

In explanation, it is only necessary to state, that the “Guide” was the first steamer that ever navigated our waters with a fog-whistle attached to her engine.

S.


Notes:

Source: New York Spirit of the Times 15.39 (22 November 1845): 458. University of Virginia Alderman Library.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Original reads “nothingunfortunate.”
[2] Original reads “bridle’s.”

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