Here is a tale that has become part of the mythology of Berrien County, GA. It occurred in a swamp along the Alapaha River in 1849, before Berrien County was created from parts of Lowndes County. Although the principals involved where not residents of the Ray City area themselves, their relatives and descendants were. The story illustrates that the early pioneers of Berrien County and Ray City, GA were on the frontier of America. They settled wild lands to create their farms and the towns we know today.
This tale, Adventures With a Panther, was told by the Reverend George White in Historical collections of Georgia: containing the most interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, etc. relating to its history and antiquities, from its first settlement to the present time ; compiled from original records and official documents ; illustrated by nearly one hundred engravings of public buildings, relics of antiquity, historic localities, natural scenery, portraits of distinguished men, etc., etc., published in 1855.
ADVENTURE WITH A PANTHER. — In 1849, a step-son of Thomas B. Stewart and his younger brother were hunting hogs near a swamp, one mile from the Allapaha River, and ten miles above Knight’s Bridge. Their dog had left them and gone into the swamp ; but soon returned at full speed, closely pursued by a huge panther.
Escape was impossible. The panther seized the elder brother, and mangled him most fearfully. Leaving him for dead, it then pursued the younger brother and the dog. It soon, however, returned. The boy finding escape impossible, pretended to be dead. After smelling around him, the animal proceeded to cover him partially with leaves and grass, and again renewed its pursuit of the other party.
The wounded boy had by this time so far recovered from his wounds and fright as to be able to make good his escape, which he did as rapidly as possible. In the mean time, the younger boy had given the alarm and aroused the neighbourhood. William G. Aikin, John H. Guthrie, Alfred Herrin and Jesse Vickery, immediately went in pursuit.
Upon arriving at the spot, they found the pile of leaves and grass, and broken bushes, but the boy and panther were both gone. Having an excellent dog, they soon trailed the panther into the swamp, and in a few hundred yards brought him to bay. The hunters entered the swamp, and proceeded cautiously until they approached within about thirty yards of the huge monster. Here they stopped to consult as to the manner of attack. Not so the panther. He was in their midst at almost a single bound.
Seizing Guthrie, he dashed him violently to the earth, horribly gashing his head and face. Vickery discharged his piece, loaded with buckshot, into the panther’s breast, at a distance of six feet. Herrin’s gun missed fire, when he drew his knife, in real Western style, and cut the panther’s throat. The dog was killed in the fight by the cougar, but Guthrie and the boy escaped with their lives, and still survive to tell the tale.
In this account the victim of the panther attack, “The Boy,” is never fully identified, just that he was the stepson of Thomas B. Stewart. Other accounts of the attack identify the victim as Jim Hightower (aka James Stewart), step-son of Thomas B. Stewart. There are records of Thomas B. Stewart and family in Lowndes County in the census of 1840 (prior to the creation of Berrien County), but the members of his household are not identified by name. Thomas B. Stewart appears in the census of 1850 in that portion of Clinch County that was cut from Lowndes County. His nearest neighbors are Alfred Herrin, William Green Akin, John H. Guthrie, and Jesse Vickery but the census gives no indication as to which of Thomas B. Stewart’s son’s might be step children.
1850 United States Federal Census enumeration of Thomas B Stewart:
Name: Thomas B Stewart
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1798
Birth Place: Virginia
Home in 1850: Clinch County, Georgia (Formerly Lowndes County)
Household Members: Name Age
Thomas B Stewart 52
Elizabeth Stewart 42
James Stewart 18
Nathaniel Stewart 15
Elizabeth Stewart 13
Joshua Stewart 11
Thomas Stewart 9
George Stewart 4
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