John Guthrie Tells Story of Berrien Tiger

John Guthrie, folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA relates the story of the Berrien Tiger.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

The legendary Berrien Tiger was a large panther that attacked two Wiregrass victims in 1849, before the creation of Berrien county, GA.  Guthrie was a nephew of Hamp Guthrie, who was mauled by the big cat, and grandson of Martha Newbern Guthrie, who was an eyewitness.

John Elwood Guthrie was a son of Arren H. Guthrie and Elizabeth Lucinda “Lucy” Newbern Guthrie.  He moved with his family to Ray City in 1922 and attended the Ray City School. He and his parents and siblings resided on the the farm of his sister, Effie Guthrie Knight on Park Street.  As a boy he attended the Primitive Baptist Church but later attended the Ray City Methodist Church.  He married Madge Sellers and they made their home on North Street in Ray City.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985)
Ray City, Georgia,
August 20, 1977

I was borned out on the Alapaha River.

You want me to tell you a little story about the Alapaha River?

OK. Now, believe it or not, now…if you want do a little research you can go back and find this story.

Now my grandmother…she was about ninety year old when she first began to come to our house. She’d sit in a rockin’ chair and all of us kids would gather up around her, and she would begin to tell us stories about the Civil War and things that happened back during that time.

Here’s a story…now you can believe it or not. Now, it did appear in the Valdosta paper, the Valdosta Times, and also in the Berrien Press. If you want to do a little research you can look it up. But, it happened.

A young boy back in those days, he went down on the Alapaha River a lookin’ for some hogs down there at was lost. And whiles he was down there they was some animal. Now, they said it was a tiger – now you can believe it or not – they said it was a tiger. But it appeared, now, in both these papers. They said it was a tiger.

He jumped on this boy’s back, and he clawed him up, and bit ‘im, and he thought he had killed ‘im. And he tried to drag ‘im back in the river swamps down there. But he’s too heavy. He couldn’t carry ‘im. Instead, he covered ‘im up with leaves. Covered ‘im up with leaves.

So this boy, when he came concious again, he was almost dead, but he got back ta house an he told his brothers and sisters and his parents an’ everything about it. Well, they formed a search party and they went down there lookin’ for this animal. They had their dogs, and their guns, and everything. That’s on Alapaha River, now, right over here.

When they got down to the swamp, the dogs, the first thing, they began to bark, you know, and run all down the river swamps. Well, it wasn’t very long before all them dogs came back, and their hair was standin’ right straight up on their backs, up there, and they just whimperin’, the dogs.

So, the men decided they’d go down there an’ see what had happened. Well, they went down there, and an ol’ uncle o’ mine, his name was Hamp -now, this is history, now if you don’t believe it you can go back and search. His name was Hamp.  And, he was a little bit behind all the rest. Well, this animal, whatever it was, jumped on his back. Jumped on his back and he began to claw ‘im an’ bite ‘im, an’ almost killed ‘im.

Some of the rest of the fellas in the search party looked around back there, and they saw what was happenin’ and they had a gun and they just shot whatever it was, if it was a tiger or whatever it was. They shot ‘im and killed ‘im. And when they killed ‘im, they had to pull his claws out of Uncle Hamp’s back, back there.

Now, this is history, now if you won’t believe it, all right. If you don’t, you can go back an’ search the records, and that’s part of the history.

Adler, T. A. & Guthrie, J. (1977) John Guthrie tells stories and plays guitar, Ray City, Georgia. Ray City, Georgia. [Audio] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1982010_afs20900/ .

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Year of the Tiger

In Wiregrass Georgia, 1849 may have been the Year of the Tiger.  Several previous posts have related the story of the Berrien Tiger, a large panther which attacked Jim Hightower (aka James Stewart, step-son of Thomas B. Stewart) near the Alapaha River in 1849 (see Eyewitness Accounts of the Berrien Tiger).

Here is a family story shared by reader Lloyd Harris, of another “Tiger”  encounter which occurred that same year near Argyle, GA, about 35 miles east of Ray City.

When I was young my grandfather related a long ago memory of his grandfather’s encounter with a panther or panthers in the south Georgia wilderness. Our family story coincides with the Berrien Tiger accounts as they happened at approximately the same time. My great great grandfather, James Harris, told this story of his own childhood to my grandad when he was young.

James Harris, 1880s

James Harris, 1880s. Image courtesy of Lloyd Harris.

The  incident happened when James Harris was about five years old, and coincides with the 1849 date of the Berrien Tiger.

Family of James Harris

James Harris was the first of eleven children born to George Harris and Julia Ann Westberry. He was born near Quitman, Georgia, February 16, 1844. 

His father, George Harris, was the son of Thompson Harris (1784-1870) and Nancy Ursery (1784-  )   A Confederate Widow’s Indigent Pension application for Julia Ann (Westberry) Harris in 1908 reflects George Harris’ birth in 1817 in South Carolina. Another source relates that he was born in Appling County, Georgia between 1817 and 1822, after which the family lived in Clinch County.  George was a blacksmith and in addition assisted his father Thompson Harris in constructing covered bridges. His father’s work was known throughout Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. A trademark of their bridges was the integrated use of iron and bored wooden pegs to hold the timbers together.

George was a blacksmith and wheelwright. Family tradition relates that he assisted his father Thompson Harris in constructing covered bridges throughout Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.

The church records of Union Church show that George and Julia Harris were received and baptized into its membership August 7, 1841, and were dismissed by letter March 12,1842. They became members of Providence Primitive Baptist Church near their home soon after that church was constituted in 1844. Their subsequent records cannot be traced due to the loss of church records.

The Harris home and farm in Clinch County, Georgia was on lot 325 in the 7th District which lot was traversed by the county line between Clinch and Ware Counties when Clinch was created in 1850 from Ware County. This property is situated about three miles north of the present village of Argyle. George Harris was granted this lot from the state on June 3, 1849; also granted the adjoining lot 324 on October 3, 1848. He sold lot 324 to his brother, William Harris, November 2, 1849, and then lived on lot 325 until he sold that parcel of land to Richard Bennett on August 12, 1852.

Tale of the Panthers

There is a family tale handed down through many generations relating to frontier life. The event happened in 1849 during the time the Harris family was residing in Clinch County. George Harris was away leaving his wife Julia and the children home alone in a pioneer homestead. Speculation would be that he was away with his father building bridges or hunting. During one night panthers roaming from the nearby Okefenokee swamp menaced the home ranging closer and closer to the cabin. To keep the predators from entering the home the frantic family prayed through the night and burned their beds, and chairs keeping a large fire going. The tactic flushed the space with light and served to repel an attack by the curious cats.

The Harris family story of a young pioneer family praying, hanging blankets over windows, and burning the bed, tables and chairs was passed down serving to entertain several generations with a true historical drama of frontier Georgia living in the nineteenth century.

George and James Harris in the Civil War

George Harris  and his son James both served in the War Between the States. George  Harris enlisted as a Private in the fall of 1862 as a member of the 3rd Cavalry Battalion which was formed during the winter of 1861-1862 with six companies. He along with his unit served on the Georgia coast, scouting and patrolling, until a reorganization of troops occurred on January 1, 1863.  George Harris’ unit was merged into the 4th (Clinch’s) Georgia Cavalry Regiment , and he was placed in Company I. Lieutenant Colonel Duncan L. Clinch and Major John L. Harris were in command.

At the reorganization,  James Harris joined his father’s unit, Company I, 4th Georgia Cavalry as a private.  He participated in the Battle of Olustee, Florida and in the battles around Atlanta. Family tradition relates he contracted measles during the siege of Atlanta and was in the city when it fell to the Union armies under General William T. Sherman. His unit apparently left him outside of the city but in the line of the advancing enemy soldiers. James was convalescing on a farm (place unknown) when “Yankees” were seen approaching. He was hidden by the host family in the stump of a huge oak tree that had “bushed” up. James remained concealed in the oak bush throughout the hot summer day until the Yankees left. Though suffering from sickness, and within a stones throw of the Union soldiers, he remained quite and motionless evading capture! Records also indicate he participated in battle at John’s Island, South Carolina. He surrendered at Thomasville, Georgia and was paroled at Tallahassee, Florida on May 15, 1865.

After the war James Harris married Mary Alice Stone.  She was born February 16, 1842, the daughter of George W. R. Stone and Nancy Howell. The Harris and Stone families are listed in the 1850 Census of Ware County.  James and Alice raised a family and engaged in farming near Adel, GA in present Cook County. He was a skilled blacksmith and wheelwright, as well. James Harris is listed in the 1880 and 1900 census of Berrien County, Georgia.

For James Harris, 1897 was a particularly trying year.  That summer a hailstorm hit the Harris farm, damaging his house and property.

James Harris' plantation hit by storm, 1897.

James Harris’ plantation hit by storm, 1897.

Tifton Gazette
June 18, 1897

Storm Near Cecil.

Cicil, Ga., June 12. – A heavy and damaging hail storm passed three miles north of Cecil late yesterday afternoon.  The cloud traveled in a southeasterly direction, touching the plantation of Mr. James Harris, three miles northeast of this place.  The storm was accompanied by a terrific wind, which destroyed a large amount of Mr. Harris’ fencing and a portion of the roof of his dwelling.  No deaths or personal injuries have been reported.

In November, 1897,  Harris took another blow when his gin was burned down.

James Harris' gin house hit by fire, 1897.

James Harris’ gin house hit by fire, 1897.

Tifton Gazette
November 19, 1897

Gin House Burned

Cecil, Ga., Nov. 17 – At a late hour last night the gin house and contents of Mr. James Harris living two miles northeast of this place, was destroyed by fire. The origin of which is unknown, but is thought to be an incendiary’s work. The amount of the damage could not be learned to-day, but it is thought that it may exceed $1,000. SHEBA.

James’ father, George Harris,  died between 1892 and 1894 in Echols County, Georgia. His mother, Julia Ann Harris, applied for a Confederate Widows pension in 1908 and 1909 in Berrien County, Georgia. George Harris and his wife are buried in Union Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Lanier County, Georgia in unmarked graves.

In 1919, James Harris sold his farm near Cecil, GA.

James Harris sells out in Cecil District, Georgia, 1919.

James Harris sells out in Cecil District, Georgia, 1919.

Tifton Gazette
August 29, 1919

    Adel News.  There has been a good deal of activity in the sale of farm lands in Cook county this week.  Mr. W. S. Kirkland sold his farm to Mr. Jim Buck Whiddon and later bought Mr. John Taylor’s place which he also sold.  It is understood that the first brought $15,00.  Both of the places are in the Brushy creek neighborhood.  Mr. James Harris sold his place in the Cecil district to Mr. General Taylor for $15,000 also.

James Harris was a resident of Cecil, Georgia in Berrien/Cook County until his death. He died in Adel, Georgia December 12, 1928.   Alice died October 28, 1928, in Adel Georgia.  They are both buried at the Fellowship Baptist Church Cemetery in Cook County near Cecil, Georgia.

Rjames-harris-gravesite

Special thanks to Lloyd Harris for the contribution of images and content for this post.

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Dicey Guthrie Watson

Dicey Guthrie was a Berrien native who lived in the county all of her life. And apparently all her life there was disagreement over the spelling of her first name, which appears variously as Dicey, Dicy, Dicie, or Disy.

Dicey Guthrie Watson. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Dicey Guthrie Watson. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

She was born January 16, 1867, a daughter of Martha Newbern and Samuel Guthrie, and grew up in the 1144 Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill district.  Her father was one of the men who hunted down the Berrien Tiger in 1849. He was a veteran of the Civil War, having served in the 54th Georgia Regiment.

Ray City History reader Dinah Harrison Watson shared that Dicey Guthrie married William Henry Watson in 1881.  They were married August 24 of that year in Berrien county, GA.

1881-dicey-guthrie-marr-certi

Family of William Henry Watson. (Left to Right) James Pleasent Watson, Mark Mitchell Watson, William Henry Watson, Samuel Solomon Watson, Dicy Guthrie Watson, Martha Watson Patten, Isaac Linton Watson. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Family of William Henry Watson. (Left to Right) James Pleasent Watson, Mark Mitchell Watson, William Henry Watson, Samuel Solomon Watson, Dicy Guthrie Watson, Martha Watson Patten, Isaac Linton Watson. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Dicey and William Watson made their home on the Ray City and Mud Creek road northeast of Rays Mill in the Empire Church community, in that part of Berrien county that was later cut into Lanier County. About Mr. Watson, the Tifton Gazette said in the winter of 1903-04, “Mr. W. H. Watson has killed forty-nine porkers, of very good average, this season. Mr. Watson is one of our hustling farmers.”

Children of Dicey Guthrie and William Henry Watson were:

  • Samuel Solomon Watson 1884 –
  • Mary Martha Watson 1886 –
  • Mark Mitchell Watson 1889 –
  • Isaac Linton Watson 1891 –
  • James Pleasant Watson 1898 – 1989

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

The Clinch County News
January 16, 1953

DEATH OF MRS. WATSON
    
    Mrs. Dicy Watson, widow of the late W. H. Watson, age 86, of Berrien County, died New Years’ Day.  She was a daughter of Samuel and Martha Newbern Guthrie, pioneers of Berrien County.  She was married in 1881 to Mr. Watson.  Their home was in the Empire Church community, and burial was at that church.  She was a faithful member of Empire Church.  Four sons survive, also one brother, Colly Guthrie of Jacksonville.

Gravemarkers of Dicey Guthrie and William Henry Watson, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Gravemarkers of Dicey Guthrie and William Henry Watson, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

-30-

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Eyewitness Accounts of the Berrien Tiger

The legendary Berrien Tiger was a large panther that mauled two Wiregrass victims in 1849 (before Berrien county was actually created). The first victim was Jim Hightower (aka James Stewart), step-son of  Thomas B. Stewart.  One of the eyewitnesses who saw the carcass of the Berrien Tiger was Martha Newbern Guthrie,  who was mother to generations of Berrien County residents, and who spent time in her final years living with her son Arrin’s family at Ray City, GA.  Her husband and brother-in-law were among the men who hunted down and killed the beast, after it attacked a young boy. Other stories of the Berrien Tiger (Early Account of the Berrien Tiger, 1849,  1849 Adventures With A Panther in Berrien County, GA) were posted over the past week. The account below, originally published in 1923 nearly 75 years after the event, provides additional details (or embellishments?) not included in early versions of the tale.

[When the Wiregrass Pioneers] were begining to realize a sense of relief from Indian depredations but not from the depredations of wild beasts, there occurred a thrilling encounter between a magnificent specimen of that species of felines known as a tiger and a party of men which encount- —– does when trying to decide whe- ——— only encounter of its kind in all this section originally known as Irwin County.

Setting in Mud Creek

It was back somewhere about the year 1848 and the scene of the episode was in what is now Clinch County but at that time Lowndes near the Alapaha River at what is known locally as the Mud Creek bridge, or “Indian Ford” as it was then known.

In that neighborhood lived Samuel and Hamp Guthrie, Alfred Herring, Jesse Vickery and a man by the name of Stewart (Editor’s note This man was Thomas B. Stewart, born 1798 in Virginia and a blacksmith by trade, and he  lived neighbor to Hamp Guthrie) and also Green Akins and others of the hardy pioneers who were in — swamp, immediately striking wind  —try from the wild man and the wild animals and making it a fit dwelling place to live. Stewart had a step-son named Jim Hightower. This boy was about 14 years old. He had had the misfortune to get his right hand mangled while feeding an old-fashioned wooden roller cane-mill by feeding his hand into the mill along with the cane when a very small boy, and when it healed up so far as I can learn, was the — of distorted and crumpled up stub of bones, consequently he had very little use of that member in any of the tasks he had to perform. The accident occurred at the home of Green Akins and Mrs. Akins who were the parents of Mrs. Jerry May who is now living about five miles east of Nashville. Mrs. Akins released the little fellow from his awful position by first stopping the horse, loosing him from the lever, backing the mill off the boy’s hand and releasing it.  It was impossible to obtain the service of a physician in that section and with the very best skill which Mrs. Akins could master she dressed the boy’s hand in her own way.

Hunts Hog, Flushes Tiger

This boy, Jim Hightower, in company with a little half brother was sent out one morning early to look for some hogs down by the river swamp. Their faithful dog accompanied them. Hunting along beside the swamp they were startled by the strange acts of the dog which had been running about, sometimes in the bushes, sometimes outside when suddenly like something half-dead with fright the dog came tearing out of the bushes and cowered down at the feet of his young masters and no persuasion of any sort could avail to get that dog to return to the swamp. The boys knew not what to think except that they surmised the dog was overcome with cowardice and only needed to have his masters near to encourage him in the face of supposed danger; and with this thought in mind no doubt, the boys proceeded on down nearer the swamp at the place where the dog emerged, at the same time setting the dog on and encouraging him in every way they could to go on in. But nothing they could do could avail to get that dog into the swamp ahead of them.

 While they were thus engaged and while they were pushing their way a little further on into the low bushes, the elder boy being somewhat ahead, they were struck with terror to see a great tawny red body rise out of the bushes with a sudden bound, alighting on Jim’s shoulders and bearing him to the ground. The small boy immediately took to his heels accompanied by his dog, leaving Jim to the fate to which the tiger would subject him.

 Alarm Given

Going by a neighboring house which was nearer than his home the small boy gave the alarm, the family being seated at breakfast. Quickly the man of the house ran to Stewart’s and told the family that a tiger had killed Jim. The news was spread from house to house as fast as possible and the dogs were on their way down to the swamp to make a search, expecting to find the boy Jim torn to pieces or probably eaten. Their guns consisted of the old-fashioned muzzle-loading shot gun, some of which had flint-locks, but in addition each man was armed with Bowie knives with which to fight if it should come to a hand-to-hand struggle.

When they arrived at the place where the small boy said the attack was made, there was the blood, the signs of the struggle, the leaves and straw where the victim had evidently been covered up but no trace of the boy or his clothing, except his little cap, could be found and except the blood.

Dogs Encounter Tiger

The dogs were set off into the swamp, immediately striking wind of the game and began raising a mighty din of yelps and the party knew that they were right on the animal. Immediately, however, the anticipatory sounds of the baying changed to death howls, and the party knew that their faithful dogs were being killed.

Three of the men, Hamp Guthrie, Alf Herring, and Jess Vickery, agreed to stand by each other until death and go into the swamp to the relief of their dogs. Armed with their guns and Bowie Knives they pushed their way as fast as they could through the swamp to where the battle between beast and dogs was raging, and were horrified to see that one or two of the dogs had already been killed and others were being mangled as fast as they came in reach of the in position in the center of the pack of dogs and in such close proximity that a shot could not be made without danger of wounding or killing a dog. Hamp Guthrie, being of a daring and intrepid character, somewhat braver than the other men, decided to get into the fight and tackle the beast with his knife but he made the others promise to stand by him and help him out of the danger to the last. The animal didn’t wait however for Guthrie to reach it. Releasing its hold on the dogs it leaped with a mighty bound upon the shoulders of Guthrie and bore him to the ground. There, in a perfect pandemonium of shrieks, growls, and yelps it held him while it proceeded to tear his flesh with teeth and claws until Jess Vickery ran up an holding the muzzle of his gun to its side, caught a moment when he could discharge his gun without danger to Guthrie, and drove the whole load from his gun through its body. The shot however, failed to make the animal release its hold. He then clubbed his gun and broke it over the animal’s body, still the beast did not let go. He then grabbed up Guthrie’s gun which had been dropped when he was attacked, and broke it over the animal. By this time , Alf Herring had run up with his Bowie knife and together with Vickery they succeeded in stabbing and cutting the beast until it fell over dead.

Guthrie had been terribly lacerated and bitten on the neck, shoulders and head, and his clothing were torn to shreds. He was weak from loss of blood and from the terrible encounter but was able to walk home.

Hightower Turns Up.

By this time, others of the neighborhood had arrived on the scene and brought to the hunters the news that Jim was not dead but horribly wounded and mangled by the tiger, his back, neck, and face and head being terribly torn, two of his jaw teeth broken out by the biting of the animal and clothing literally torn off of him.

The story of the attack as related by Jim, was to the effect when the tiger bore him down he fell on his face and having presence of mind, he would not cry out from the pain but would remain perfectly still like as if dead and worthy of his foe,  hold his breath when the animal would cease his biting and apparently listen, precisely as a cat does when trying to decide whether she has succeeded in extinguishing the life in the rat she has caught.  This was continued no doubt to what seemed an age to the suffering and bleeding boy, until finally the animal decided that it was safe to leave him and pursue the other and smaller boy.  Jim said he watched from one side as he lay on his face , the maneuvers of the tiger as he would lift his head and look in the direction in which the small boy left.  Finally, he said, the great cat began hastily to rake up leaves and straw over Jim’s body and when he had covered him he bounded off Jim knew not where.  When all was quiet and Jim could hear nothing more, he cautiously raised his bleeding head and looked around and listened again to see if he could hear anything of his foe.  Not hearing anything, and thinking it would be safe to try and reach home, he arose ans as fast as he could in his terrible condition, struck out towards home.  He had proceeded only a few hundred yards before coming to a little branch over which he had to pass in order to reach  home by the nearest route and by which route his little brother had gone. When he came in sight of that little branch, imagine his fright if you can, to see that tiger standing there in the path and lapping water.  Fortunately the animal didn’t see him and Jim turned and made his way home by a different route and so escaped a second attack.

Carcass Displayed

The men tied the tiger together, swung it upon a pole and carried it out to the home of Green (W.G.) Akins, placing it in the yard where it lay for a day, a sight to the numbers of people having heard of the great tiger fight, had come for miles to see.

It was a male tiger, a magnificent specimen, and from the description given by those who saw it, must have weighed as much as 250 pounds and as much as four feet in length. It was a solid tawny red in color and about 30 to 36 inches in height.

Jim Hightower, by reason of the many adventures he experienced, may be said to have possessed a charmed life.  He not only had a hand ruined in a cane mill and miraculously escaped death from a tiger, but was struck by lightning and stunned and was weeks in recovering; and he was bitten by a small rattlesnake and suffered greatly from that. Then later on in life he got into difficulty with a man named Wheeler, killing him and for which crime he served a penitentiary sentence of thirty years.

Story Said True

The above story is true and is given substantially as related to me by two persons who were living in the vicinity at that time.  One of them, Mrs Martha Guthrie, widow of Samuel Guthrie, the latter was in the hunt and was a brother of Hamp Guthrie. She and her husband were living at the Joe Stevens place on the Berrien County side of the river at the time, and she had been married two or three years.  She is still living at the home of her son S. F. Guthrie, in the Upper Tenth District of Berrien within four miles of where the hunt took place.  She is 87 years old, totally blind, but otherwise in possession of her faculties. Her mind is bright for one of her age and she talks intelligently about many things that happened in pioneer days.

Witnesses Named

The other living witness who can talk intelligently about frontier life is Mrs. Annie May, wife of Mr. Jerry May, who lives five miles east of Nashville, out on the Milltown Road.  She will be 87 years old on the 26th day of May, 1923, and is well-preserved for a woman of her age. She has spent a lifetime of hard work and still keeps house with her husband who will be 89 years old on next Sept 2nd.  She does her own cooking and housework feeding the chickens and pigs. She is the mother of seven children, all grown and married; and the youngest son Sirmans G. May lives near his aged parents and has grandchildren of his own. Mrs. May was a daughter of Green Akins, in whose front yard the slain animal was viewed by her as a little girl and by the hundreds who came to see it.

By all accounts, the Berrien Tiger  was certainly a large panther specimen. If it was as large as indicated in the account above – 250 pounds – then it was larger than the current record specimen, killed in Colorado in 2001.

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Early Account of the Berrien Tiger, 1849.

An early account of the Berrien Tiger, the panther that attacked a boy named Stewart in 1849, was published in the September 18, 1849 edition of the Columbus Enquirer, just one month after the attack. Earlier posts (1849 Adventures With A Panther in Berrien County, GA ) have given subsequent tellings of the incident.

Even in this early account by the Columbus Enquirer, the victim of the panther attack is still only identified as a son of a “Mr. Stewart”.   The only other individual mentioned by name is  “Mr. Guttery,”   an early spelling for Guthrie.   As the records have shown, Thomas B. Stewart and family where neighbors of John H. Guthrie in Lowndes County in the census of 1840 (prior to the creation of Berrien County).

 Columbus Enquirer, Sep. 18, 1849 — page 2  

 A PANTHER IN WARE COUNTY

We have received from a correspondent, the following account:
    On the 16th of August, in Ware  county, on the Alapahaw, two lads, sons of Mr. Stewart, went out to feed some hogs, and had a small dog with them and were attacked by a large Panther or American Tiger.  He first made his attack on the dog, but soon left the dog and laid hold of one of the lads, and tore him to the ground and bit and tore the lad till he supposed him to be dead, then scratched and covered him up with dirt and sticks and then left him and pursued after his brother, who had by this time made the best of his way home.  The wounded lad finding the tiger gone rose up out of his grave of sticks, and made his nearest way home, and being severely wounded and nearly famished for water, he recollected a hole of water in the creek, and directed his course for it; and when he came near the water, he saw the tiger at it, and as the tiger put his head down to drink, the boy went off the other way towards home; he had gone but a short distance, before he saw his father and three other men in pursuit hunting him, and he told them where he saw the tiger last; they went on to the place and found the tiger still there, and they put the dogs after him – but he did not give an inch of ground, but fought most ferociously and gave one of the dogs a deadly wound, and then the men advanced in shooting position, and the tiger seeing the men, quit the dogs and sprang upon one Mr. Guttery, and one of the men broke his gun over the tiger and still continued to fight with the barrel, but to no effect.  The men then drew their knives, cut the tiger’s throat and his entrails out, but the tiger never quit biting and lacerating with his claws, till the last breath left him.  If mortification does not take place, it is possible that Mr. Guttery will get over it.  But as for the boy, there is no chance for his recovery.  This tiger was one of the largest of the male kind.” – Fed. Union

But as we have seen, “the boy” did survive and went on to live a remarkable life (see The Misadventures of Mr. Stewart).

 1850 United States Federal Census enumeration of John H Guthrie

Name: John H Guthrie
Age: 29
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1821
Birth Place: South Carolina
Gender: Male
Home in 1850 (City,County,State): Formerly Lowndes County, Clinch, Georgia
Family Number: 924
Household Members: Name Age
John H Guthrie 29
Mary Guthrie 19
Catharine Guthrie 5
Reason M Guthrie 3
Francis E Guthrie 1

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The Misadventures of Mr. Stewart

The previous post related the story, Adventures with a Panther, which occurred in Berrien County, GA in 1849.  A boy named James Stewart aka James Hightower, who was a step-son of Thomas B. Stewart, was attacked.  Neighbors John H. Guthrie, William Green Aikin,  and Jesse Vickery tracked down and engaged the beast in a bloody fight to the death.  The Stewart boy survived the panther’s attack, and the following clipping conveys a continuation of his misadventurous life.

From the Albany Medium

  Somewhere in the forties there lived in Berrien (it was not Berrien then) a boy by the name of Stewart. He was not remarkable for anything except for scrawniness, being of small statue, lean and of a clay-bank color, the result perhaps of private meals off of the chimney clay. But as time sped by he became a hero in that then wild country; at least he was a hero in one sense.

  The family with whom he lived resided not far from the Alapaha swamp. One day he and another boy were sent to the swamp to feed a sow. When within a short distance of it a large tiger sprang out of the bushes and brought Stewart to the ground. He fell on his face, and the tiger seemed to be in no hurry to kill him. Indeed the brute was engaged just then in watching the other boy fleeing in the direction of the house. Being satisfied as to the direction the other boy took, the tiger then took Stewart’s head in its mouth and closed on it, but its teeth slipped over instead of penetrating the skull. It bit the boy’s skull several times with the same result, and the boy, with a presence of mind wonderful in one so young, did not once flinch while the beast was tearing huge furrows through his scalp. The tiger, after holding its nose near the boy’s face an instant, as if listening if he was breathing, seemed satisfied that he was dead, and hastily covering him up with pine straw, ran hurriedly after the other boy.  As soon as the tiger was out of sight Stewart sprang to his feet and, taking a wide circuit, ran with all the speed he could command, and finally reached the house in safety.  The other boy reached the house some time before the tiger came in sight of it, and the brute, seeing that he was too late, hurried back to his first prey.

  If Stewart had moved while the tiger was biting his skull, or if he had breathed while the beast was listening, with its nose close to his face, he would have been torn into fragments; but the boy, have heard of many of the peculiarities of this ferocious beast, was prepared to profit by the knowledge.

 As soon as the boys told of their wonderful escape, three neighbors, all resolute men, determined to hunt down and kill the beast. They had one musket and two hunting knives. Taking a favorite deer hound, they proceeded to the swamp.  When near it they saw the dog take to the trail of the tiger and enter the bushes. In a few moments they hear a howl, then all was quite.  They knew the dog had been killed. Halting, they made a solemn compact to stand by each other to the last. Then they entered the swamp, the man with the musket in front and the others close behind, in Indian file, the front man with his musket ready and the other two with their knives drawn. They had not proceeded more than fifty yards in the swamp when the front man was felled to the ground. The tiger seemed to drop out of the clouds upon him. He fell on his back and the beast tried to seize his throat with its mouth, but he threw up his arm and that member was seized instead. In a moment the second man seized the musket, and, placing the muzzle close to the tiger’s side, fired the load of buck-shot through its body. It still held its hold. Clubbing the gun, he dealt the animal three powerful blows on the head, and still it did not release its victim.  The third man then threw himself upon the tiger and cut its throat. Then it loosened its grip and expired on top of its victim. The animal measured twelve feet from the end of its nose to the tip of its tail.

  A few years after the above occurrence Stewart, while feeding a cane mill; had one of his hands caught and drawn between the rollers and so badly mashed that the hand and a portion of the arm withered.

  Later on he was in the field at work, when a thunder storm came up and he was struck by lightning and left for dead. He came to however, and was all right in a few days.

  By this time he was old enough to take unto himself a wife, but the parents of his girl did not favor the alliance, so they decided on elopement. In those days, even, a hero could get married without shoes, so he started for his future wife, succeeded in getting her from the house and the happy pair were on their way to the parson’s when Stewart was bitten on the foot by a moccasin, a dangerous reptile. Even that did not stop him. They proceeded to the parson’s and were united in wedlock. Stewart did not die from the snake bite. History does not say whether the snake died.

  Next we hear of Stewart, he was being tried for his life for the murder of a man named Wheeler. The evidence was all against Stewart and everybody thought he would hang. He was defended by the now venerable Judge Hansell, of Thomasville, then a young lawyer just “starting out.” So able was the defense, so pathetically did the young lawyer dwell upon the many hairbreadth escapes of the prisoner, who seemingly had been preserved through them all through providential intervention, that the jury brought in such a verdict as to send him to the penitentiary for six years. While in the penitentiary he learned the painter’s trade, and after satisfying the sentence of law returned home, where we leave him.

   While in Irwin recently we learned the above facts from Rev. Jacob Young, who has the local history of all that county for forty or fifty years past at his fingers’ ends, so to speak.

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1849 Adventures With A Panther in Berrien County, GA

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
Age: 52
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1798
Birth Place: Virginia
Gender: Male
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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