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Sometimes opportunities come as a surprise

Last week I was invited to speak about my Panther Tales research and book that is coming together at the Harlan Crypto Con event on April 21. I put a post on Appalachian Americans on Facebook, asking for stories. I’ll share the results at the end of this column.

I’ve been gathering stories for years. My interest started back in the mid 1970s while visiting in McCreary County, Kentucky with Elmer and Irene Boggs. We had been up to their cabin on Peter’s Mountain and Mr. Boggs was telling all of these big tales about panthers. I thought he was pulling my leg until one ran across the road about 15 feet in front of his Jeep by a backwoods post office in a place called Monkey’s Eyebrow.

Ever since then I’ve asked people to share stories with me about panthers. The number of people who can tell me a story and the number who cannot seems to be very much in favor of those who can. I’ve recorded some on tape recorder. I’ve asked people to write them down for me or set a time to get together and let me write the stories down.

A lot of people have told me stories, but said they didn’t want it in print or didn’t want their name on it because of the people who don’t believe there are any such critters in these parts of anywhere else in the united states. Some who consider themselves experts in the field say there are not and never have been panthers in the United States.

I’m sure their intentions are to educate those of us they consider less educated than they are on the subject. There’s only one problem. If I’m looking at an elephant and you’ve never seen a real one in your entire life, then you probably would think I was telling a big fib. An animal with huge floppy ears, a long nose which is used like a hand, and a body as big as a small bus with two giant tusks would be pretty hard to believe if you’d never seen one yourself or seen photos and read about them. But once you have seen one, there is nothing else to compare to it.

The same is true with panthers. If you’ve ever seen one very close as it darted across the road in front of you, or saw it sitting on a ride line, or stalking prey, it is a sight you will never, ever forget no matter who tells you it’s impossible and that you were looking at a housecat or a big black dog.

If I take my own personal experiences out of it, I have two other major reasons to believe they exist. Native Americans 200 years ago and longer talked about the big black cats, or wompus. They lived in the natural world and were in touch with plants and animals that were a daily part of their lives. They could have cared less about scientists all these many years later saying there is no such animal and no proof that there ever was such a creature on this continent. They had no reason to lie. They certainly weren’t trying to impress or deceive anyone.

The other reason I believe they exist (besides my own sightings) is because there is no reason for so many people to lie about seeing them. Why would they? Even if there is a margin of error factored in, that still leaves hundreds, even thousands of people right in this area who have a panther story to tell. From my post, within about 48 hours, I had gotten over 620 “likes,” 339 responses/stories, and over 100 shares. I hope to hear a lot more from friends and family in Harlan County.

Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Judith Victoria Hensley at judith99@bellsouth.net or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.