Newspaper accounts from the late 19th century and early 20th century speak to us of the vestige encounters with great wild cats, that inhabited the dense virgin forests that covered the territory of Wayne and Pike counties, Pennsylvania, and beyond.
PAUPACK TWP. - Newspaper accounts from the late 19th century and early 20th century speak to us of the vestige encounters with great wild cats, that inhabited the dense virgin forests that covered the territory of Wayne and Pike counties, Pennsylvania, and beyond.
Despite the large scale cutting of the forest and advancing population, reports of the mountain lion- also called the catamount, panther, puma or wild cat- persisted into the 1900’s.
One of those meetings occurred in 1884 in the area of Purdytown, the original name of Lakeville, Paupack Township, Wayne County. Before getting to Levi Labar’s story, we shall follow further on the trails of long ago, trod by the distinctive paw prints of mountain lions- as well as wolves.
Noted Wayne County historian, Phineas Goodrich of Salem Township, recorded in his 1880 book on local history that the common gray wolf was much more common. Both wolf and panther were a threat to the farmer and family who carved a home in the ancient wilderness of the Poconos. The first settlers were required to keep sheep to supply their household with wool. Both sheep and young cattle fell prey to wolves, unless they were under constant watch.
A law was passed March 10, 1806, requiring the county to pay the person producing the scalp of a full-grown wolf or panther, eight dollars, and and for the scalp of a young whelp or cub, four dollars, The bounty was raised on March 16, 1819 for adult wolves and panthers to $12.00.
Farmers and hunters were thus encouraged by the bounties, and waged war on these beasts. Wolves were especially hard to eradicate. Phineas Teeple of Manchester Township is thought to have killed the last wolf in Wayne County.
Panthers, Goodrich wrote, were more dreaded than wolves as the cat could climb over any fence that could be built. They would often catch sheep in broad daylight. Goodrich said he once saw a panther spring from a thicket and kill a sheep on a public road. A neighbor scared the animal away before it could finish its meal; the sheep’s carcass was used as bait, to catch the panther.
Around 1809, Joseph Woodbridge Esq. of Salem had bought 11 choice sheep and kept them behind a high fence by his house. One morning Woodbridge excitedly reported to Goodrich’s father that some animal had gotten in, and killed most of the sheep. A large mastiff dog was used to help tree the panther thought responsible, and was shot. The largest panther several hunters said they had ever seen, its claws were sent to Connecticut “to show the Yankees what kind of monsters the settlers had to contend with in the beech woods.”
Goodrich wrote that not being a roving animal the panther was much sooner destroyed than the wolf, and he said that if there were any left, it would have to be in “the most desolate places” in the county.
“It is almost safe to say that the panther has in these parts become extinct,” Goodrich wrote in his book.
Note that Goodrich said, “almost.”
Here is a summary of a few that were found in local newspapers. Mountain lions were commonly referred to as other catamounts or wild cats. Dates of publication are given.Nov, 10, 1876, Tri-States Union: A lad of 12 years, Clark Jackson, was gunning for birds at Pine Creek, Pa. the other day, when his dog treed a large catamount.
Discharging bird-shot, the wild cat fell to the ground wounded, and immediately attacked the dog. Jackson ran to his dog’s aid; although he broke his gun in the struggle, he was able to kill the wild cat. The boy arrived home with a dead catamount, a dog that looked like he had a hard winter and a broken gun. He told his parents he was mostly upset about the gun.
Nov. 21, 1895, Tri-States Union: Last Saturday a party of hunters the outskirts of Mill Rift, Pike County, came upon a large catamount. George Sawyer took the first shot, and between the hunting dogs and the hunters the cat, weighing nearly 25 pounds was subdued.
February, c. 1898, Milford Dispatch, & Tri-States Union: Dan Hallack of Eldred, NY was hunting near Long Pond, when he shot and killed two large catamounts. The biggest weighed over 40 pounds. The larger one was fighting Hallack’s dog until he intervened with a great struggle. The two animals were taken to a skilled taxidermist in Yulan.
c. April 1901, Tri-States Union: August Tampler of Spring Brook had his rifle with him when he walked to the Shohola post office to get his mail, Friday, April 5. He had just crossed Rattlesnake Creek when he was startled by a heavy strike on his head and shoulder, and the nails of a catamount terribly scratching the man’s face.
The largest he had ever seen, Tampler’s gun was at first useless in the close encounter. In the desperate battle, Tampler’s dog attacked the catamount, giving Tampler the chance to dispatch his adversary with the gun. The wild cat weighed 85 pounds. Tampler was badly scratched and his clothing shredded.
Tampler had just passed under a maple tree, and it was evident the foe was crouching in the branches when it lunged at its victim.
October 1912, Tri-States Union: Ted Wraggle, 18, of New York, was visiting Joseph Johnson of Tyler Hill in Wayne County, October 16. A catamount had entered the poultry house. Wraggle pursued the wild cat, which turned on the hunter. The young man succeeded in bringing the animal down with a gun.
Levi Labar’s story
We come to the story of Levi Labar.
From the story it appears he was living on his own in Purdytown, in March of 1884. Research did not definitely learn more about the man, unless he was the same Levi Labar who in 1880, was residing in Palmyra Township Pike County, and was working as a bark peeler. This was an important job in the tanning industry that flourished at that time.
Bark from hemlock trees needed to be peeled, for the tanning process. There were large tanneries at Hawley (Cromwelltown), Ledgedale and near Cherry Ridge. He may have been away from home, working in the woodlands in Paupack Township, in this capacity.
Labar was born February 17, 1823 in Pike County. He served as a private in Company B, 151st Regiment, with other Pike County men during the Civil War. The regiment served at the Battle of Gettysburg and other engagements.
In 1866, Labar was wed to Hannah Smith. They raised at least seven children. He was living in Monroe County when he died at the age of 87, on Mach 23, 1910.
If this is the same Levi Labar, he would have been 61 at the time of his encounter with a catamount.
His story was circulated among newspapers at least as far as Illinois, and around the Northeast. What follows is his account, combining details from different published reports.
A BATTLE WITH A WILD CAT
Levi Labar, of Purdytown, had a terrible fight with a catamount in his bedroom the night of March 17, 1884. The animal entered through a large window pane which had been broken and was covered with a piece of cloth naked to the sash. About midnight, after Labar had gone to bed, he heard a strange noise in the room.
On jumping up to make an investigation a sharp, unearthly yell was given by the wildcat, which made the very air jingle.
Labor seized a piece of wood, and without stopping to make a light, attacked the animal, which at once sprung upon his shoulders.
Labor shook it off and gave a stunning blow with his club. For fifteen minutes the conflict raged fiercely, the brute leaping from wall to wall, clinging to the paper with its sharp claws and then bounding upon its opponent, screeching with fury, and with eyes shining like coals of fire.
At last Labar dealt the cat a death blow just as it was about to leap on his head from the top of an open door. The animal was one of the largest ever seen in that section of country. It measured eight feet [another newspaper said six feet] from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail.
Labar was severely lacerated about the face and arms.
Where did they go?
Surely the catamount didn’t want to be in the house any more then Labar wanted it there.
We can only imagine that the window was fixed in short order.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Eastern Cougar subspecies, which once populated most of the eastern states, disappeared from this range at least 70 years ago. The panther is well known in the western states, and there is a small population in Florida.
Reports of sightings, however, have lingered through the decades, although substantive evidence of a breeding population has been lacking. According to the USFWS, cougars that have been seen back in their ancestral range are either escaped or released from captivity, or in rare cases, have wandered from the west.
USFWS states that most eastern cougars were killed out of fear for human and livestock safety and were victims of massive deforestation and over-harvesting white-tailed deer, the cougar’s primary prey.
In his 1880 book, Goodrich wrote, “The marvelous stories sometimes old about bears, wolves sand panthers, without provocation aggressively attacking men, women, or children should be received with many grains of allowance. That fear of man, seemingly impressed on the brute creation by a Higher Power, restrains them from committing any such violence.”
Tell that to the cougar that entered Labar’s bedroom. We wonder if Levi Labar had read Goodrich’s book!
History of Wayne County, Pa. (1880) by Phineas Goodrich
Vintage newspapers found at Fultonhistory.com
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar)