At last Spring came. The flowers were blooming, rattlesnakes crawling, and varmints prowling!
Early one morning the rancher from the adjoining ranch rode up on horseback to warn us of a marauding panther that had killed a fully grown burro at his ranch that night.
These panthers cross the border from Old Mexico into Texas, and are the Southern type, much larger than those native to the Western States. They can easily kill a horse or a cow.
For some reason they get “itchy feet” and start traveling in the early Spring, sometimes traveling in pairs.
The rancher told us he was organizing the Wolf Hunting Club to try to track down and kill the panther.
He suggested we carry a rifle when riding the big pasture, in case we ran into it we could try to kill it.
All the saddles on the Milam ranch were equipped with rifle cases, so we cleaned the rifles and got them ready to use and took them along. However, we never saw the panther. And never found any livestock it had killed. Those we did lose were killed by coyote packs, as we could see from their tracks. At that time there were a great many coyotes.
Later we heard about a sighting of the big panther at a ranch on the other side of the river.
A Mexican ranch hand was returning from town with a wagon load of supplies, and driving along the river road under the big trees. The panther was in one of these trees, and snarled as the wagon passed under the tree.
The horses bolted – they fear panthers more than anything except rattlesnakes – the rancher said the horses with no wagon – arrived at the ranch house in a full gallup – had spilled supplies all along the road, from the wagon – and the Mexican was several shades lighter of complexion than normal.
The other ranch hands went to look for the panther, but didn’t find it, not knowing just where it had been. The Mexican wagon driver refused to go with them, definitely.
Other ranchers reported hearing it scream at night. It seemed to be traveling away from where it had first killed the burro. And, so further from the Milam ranch.
We sometimes had night prowlers. The Guineas would wake us with their warning chatter, or Buff and Duff barking. On a ranch no one ever goes out at night to look for prowling “varmints”.
There is too much danger of being bitten by a rattlesnake – a lantern’s light is limited, and a large rattlesnake can strike amazingly far. Then, too, there is the chance of rabid wild animals. At one stage they are very vicious and will attack. And an animal can see in the dark and a human can’t.
To frighten away a night prowler we kept Ray’s grandfather’s old double barrel shotgun which we called “The Blunderbus” beside the kitchen door at night. It was loaded and placed there the last thing before we went to bed.
It had a “kick” like the proverbial Missouri Mule and could really bruise a shoulder, so it was just held in the hand when fired. We just opened the door and fired each barrel in succession skyward – it sounded like doomsday – enough to frighten away any prowler. If that didn’t scare it away – it was scare proof.
We usually could tell pretty well what the prowler was from the behavior of the dogs and livestock.
If the dogs had their “hackles” up on their backs, we knew it was a fairly large animal, and that they could see it. We had only to call them to the door – we could tell where the animal was as the dogs would face toward it, never turn their backs. If the animal was large, and prowling around the livestock – they would be restless – the horses snorting and milling about. Most of our night prowlers were Bobcats, skunks, etc, sometimes coyotes. The dogs were kept strictly in the yard. They would allow nothing – and nobody – in the yard unless we told them it was alright. On the other hand, if we told them to watch something – like the fawn or kid or Kazan and Scotty, they would protect it with their life.
Since the rattlesnakes were crawling and we didn’t know if there were more under the house, I only let Kazan and Scotty out in the yard for short periods and told the dogs to watch them. They would follow the puppies around the yard, never letting them out of their sight, but keeping close to them all the time.
And that took some doing for the puppies were full of life and wanted to run and play. Sometimes I let Lambkins out of his little pen – which was in the yard – and he and the puppies would romp and play. It didn’t know Kazan was a coyote – and I doubt if Kazan knew it himself.
But the horses knew. Once I let the puppies follow me out to where Gray Boy was tied. Gray Boy snorted and backed away, pulling on the rope he was tied with, so I picked Kazan up and put him back in the yard. He didn’t pay any attention to Scotty.
We never let the puppies out where the stack were for fear that they might get stepped on.
And we could just imagine the result if ever we took Kazan to the barn where Hanse the Cat could see him!