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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Panther and the Terrapin


In recent years, cougar reports have proliferated in Wisconsin -- as many as 75 were said to have been spotted in 2005, though none of these sightings were confirmed. Wisconsin's own subspecies, Puma concolor schorgeri, is thought to have been extinct for nearly a century. John H. Fonda, of Prairie du Chien, had a surprising encounter with one several decades earlier, when mountain lions still roamed through our state.

In 1839 he was descending the Mississippi with his family in a Mackinaw boat. "One day while the boat was floating lazily down with the current, opposite Trempealeau Mountain, my attention was called to an animal, pointed out by my wife.

"It was on a long narrow bar or point of an island just below us, and appeared to be playing with some object, unconscious of our approach. I was not long in discovering that it was a large panther, and made up my mind to shoot it, for at that time I had never killed one. So telling my wife to take the oar and direct the boat to a point nearest the beast, I stood in the bow ready to fire as soon as we had approached near enough. The panther kept dragging the object about, unmindful of the boat, until its keel grated on the sand within twenty feet of it. Just as the boat stopped, I fired. The bullet pierced its vitals, and after satisfying myself that it was dead, I got out to skin it, when I found that one of the panther's paws was firmly locked in the jaws of a large hard-shell turtle.

"It appeared to me that the panther had been in search of food, and spying the turtle, crept up to it with the intent to catch it, and he did catch it; he "caught a tartar." The turtle got a paw in his mouth, and kept hold so firmly that the panther was unable to extricate it. I am of the opinion that the panther knew he had "put his foot in it" and, out of respect to his unfortunate condition, I never boasted the exploit of killing him. The skin of the panther was not worth a "sou-markee" but the turtle was a prize I knew how to manage, for i was something of an epicure. The turtle furnished us with many a delicious feast until we reached the prairie."

Wisconsin Historical Collections 5:269-271
:: Posted in Animals on August 28, 2006

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