AUGUST 14, 2014
200 years ago today the panther was still a prevalent predator in Washington County, Indiana Territory. The panther and the wolf were the most dangerous denizens of the local fauna at the time the county was being settled. The anatomical configuration of panthers made them unsurpassed leapers as they had the ability to jump as high as 18 feet and as far as 45 feet. They were also similar in strength to the leopard and could easily climb into trees to await their prey as it passed below. They also could climb back up a tree with their snared prey and feast on it at leisure. The panther was particularly fond of attacking deer and elk and would attempt to attack buffalo. One of their hunting techniques was to lie in wait in a tree near a salt lick where deer and elk would gather. As the ungulate approached the lick, the panther would spring out of the tree onto the back of its victim. The panther would then claw, bite and tenaciously cling to the prey until it fell.
Indians were very leery and respectful of panthers and upon occasion fell victim to their stealth and strength. The name of the noted Shawnee warrior and leader, Tecumseh, meant “panther in the sky”. This was the Shawnee name for a meteor observed streaking through the nighttime sky.
The Goodspeed history of Washington County, Indiana published in 1884 related an encounter that Isaac Hammersley had with a pair of panthers near White River.
Hammersley was born in Cumberland County Pennsylvania in 1762 and married in Washington County Pennsylvania in 1786. When the Ohio and Indiana Territories were opened for settlement, he came west down the Ohio River and became a famous hunter in Washington County, In. He was hunting one day with his dogs and heard a squealing clamor of wild hogs. “Old Ike” soon saw that the cause of the commotion was a sow and her pigs being circled by two panthers. Hammersley shot one of the cougars as it leaped his direction. His dogs kept the other catamount occupied while Old Ike reloaded and then shot the second panther. The largest of the two measured 9 feet from nose to the tip of its tail. Interestingly, the 1886 History of Jackson County, Indiana describes a similar incident except the hunter involved was Elisha Ruddick who had his panther encounter in 1819 on Horse Lick Branch east of present day Brownstown, In.
Panthers were very wide ranging in their habitat and rather impervious to pain. Another published story reports that a hunter in Washington County had set a dagger trap for small game in 1830. A panther nosed around the trap trying to extricate the bait and caused it to spring. The dagger pierced through the panther’s ear socket. The wounded panther was shot the next day in Sullivan County, Indiana with the dagger still in its ear. That is a 94 mile trip by automobile today.
One of Washington County’s enduring legends is the story about a panther and Napoleonic exiles Count John Jacob Lehmanowsky and Peter Stuart Ney who hunted and trapped in the Twin-Rush Creek Valleys of Washington County. Lehmanowsky was a Polish officer who fought as a mercenary for France in Napoleon’s military campaigns. He served under the command of Marshall Michel Ney who was Napoleon’s principal Field Marshall. When Napoleon was deposed many of his officers were imprisoned or went into exile. Lehmanowsky came to the United States and traveled and lectured as a minor celebrity. He lived for a time in Knightstown, Indiana and is reported to be buried near Sellersburg as he married Lydia Sieg from Harrison County, In. French history says that Marshall Ney was executed and buried in Le Cimetier du Pere-Lachaise in Paris in December of 1815. However, persistent multi- faceted legend on both sides of the Atlantic tells us that Ney’s execution was faked and that he escaped to the United States and became a teacher in North Carolina named Peter Stuart Ney.
This series of legends believes that Ney and Lehmanowsky made contact with each other in their exile and that Ney would come to Indiana where they would engage in gentlemanly hunting and trapping. One day they were hunting in the karst upland above and east of Twin Creek. The pair was probing various cave openings that might be a lair for wild game. As one of these caves was entered, a panther leaped out of the dark toward the pair who fled to daylight outside of the cave. The panther pursued and circled the pair. Although panthers were not supposed to attack a human as long as one continued to face the predator, this one made his attack and was shot by Ney. The experience so exhilarated Ney that he requested that he be buried in the cave upon his demise. To this day this cave which is located north of the road to Wonder Valley is called Panther Cave.
Ney died in Cleveland, North Carolina in 1846 and has a brick mausoleum there.
However, it was reported that his son E. M. C. Neyman appeared and claimed the body. E.M.C. Neyman was a physician trained in Baltimore, Md. and after the Civil War moved to Saltillo, Indiana where he practiced medicine for many years and became a community icon. He died in 1909 at the age of 100 years and 10 months. His death was such a celebration that the Monon train stopped at Saltillo in honor of his passing. A newspaper article about his death says that Dr. Neyman was to be buried in “panther cave” but his grave and tombstone are in the Saltillo Cemetery. The brown granite stone bears this inscription:
E. M. C.
February 29, 1808
January 4, 1909
A Native of France
Son of Marshall Ney
If Dr. E. M. C. Neyman was not buried in Panther Cave, did he honor his father’s request to Count Lehmanowsky? Does Marshall Michel Ney have three graves?
PANTHER (PUMA CONCOLOR)
MARCHEAL MICHEL NEY
EMC NEYMAN GRAVESTONE