The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Woman's Scream

By Pamela Chandler © 1987

Issue: July, 1987

When I was twelve I lived in my grandfather's homestead five miles outside Elizabethton, Tennessee. Elizabethton is located in the mountains of Upper East Tennessee near the North Carolina line. The house was in Wolf Creek Holler. In the Southern Appalachians, a "holler" is any narrow–walled cove where a holler can be heard clear across the valley. At the back of our house was Iron Mountain. My favorite time in the mountains is spring when the wildflowers with descriptive names like Dutchman's Britches, Pink Lady's Slipper, Squirrel Corn, and Bishop's Cap carpet the forest floor.

It was on such a spring day of my twelfth year that my best friend, Debra Jean (from across the holler), and I decided to climb Iron Mountain to gather wildflowers. Mama packed lunches of fried chicken and biscuits and we started up to Sowbed Gap. We reached the gap around noon and stopped at a spring to eat lunch. After lunch we began picking flowers, pink and white trilliums and the prized, but scarce, Pink Lady's Slipper. Then we decided to hike up to Sam's Bald to pick some Spring Beauty.

We were so busy with our flower picking that we must have lost track of time. Already the late afternoon shadows had fallen on the north ridge. It was then that we heard the strange eerie cry of a panther. As my grandmother had warned us, it sounded like a woman's scream. For a moment we stood stone–still. The cry came closer. Quickly, we dropped our baskets and headed down the mountain. Debra Jean led the way and without looking back, shouted, "We will follow the creek down to the logging road and maybe he will lose our scent." So we ran down to the gap and to the creek which started below the spring where we had eaten lunch. We ran into the water and followed the creek bed down the mountainside. Hopping from stone to stone, we sometimes lost our footing and slipped into the rushing, cold waters of the creek. Bruised and wet, we finally gained a healthy distance and reached the logging road. From here it was less than a quarter of a mile to the Chandler cabin and safety.

The next morning, Papa took his gun and climbed the mountain. Sure enough, he found fresh panther tracks streamside at the spot where we had plunged into the icy waters of the creek. The tracks entered the stream and reemerged on the opposite bank where they disappeared into a laurel thicket. Papa was satisfied that the panther had only been defending his territory and possibly some young cubs.

This was the closest I ever came to a panther. And this was some fifteen years ago. Nowadays panther tales are rare. And sightings of this largely nocturnal animal are even rarer. Some 'experts' say the panther is extinct now in the Appalachian Mountains. Perhaps they are right. But I am inclined to believe Henry Chandler who still lives on Iron Mountain. He says that on a summer evening along nine or ten o'clock, while he was sitting on his front porch, it is not uncommon to hear the haunting sound of a woman's scream.