Panthers in Mississippi: Folklore or reality?
Published 7:30 am Sunday, February 5, 2023
There are no black panthers in Mississippi, at least according to state wildlife officials. Don’t tell that to the dozens of Mississippians claiming to have seen one, or at least a huge breed of cat with extremely similar characteristics. Sometimes brown or tan, sometimes black, there is no doubt many people are sure they’ve seen something exceptional.
Every few years, stories of panther sightings make their rounds, especially in the days of social media. Just about every time, other people jump in with their own stories of sightings and family stories of the elusive creatures. We recently asked for some of those stories from people across the Magnolia State.
“The legend of all legends, right? False,” the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks posted on their website. “We have never documented a black panther here in Mississippi. Furthermore, originally, there would have been panthers and cougars here, but they don’t have a black color phase. The closest big cat with a black color phase would be jaguars down in South America.”
Sarah Gorrell of Smith County has a couple detailed experiences with black panthers.
“Regardless of the fact that the Department of Wildlife has never seen one, my opinion is that they haven’t been in the right place at the right time,” Gorrell said. “My house sits on the site where my grandparents’ house once stood, and for years we grandchildren heard our Granny tell about ‘the panther that roamed the creek in the fall and spring.’”
Gorrell said she often heard “the eerie screams of the panther.” Then, she said she came face to face with one.
“My husband had just been diagnosed with cancer in October 2010. Our house was built with a crawlspace, so vents have to be closed in the fall/winter and opened in the spring/summer,” she explained. “He mentioned, late one afternoon that ‘the vents need to be closed.’ He had gone to bed and I was watching the 10 p.m. news and weather and heard the forecast that we were about to have the coldest night we had experienced. Knowing that the vents hadn’t been closed, I decided to go outside with my flashlight and close the vents.
“The first vent that I chose to close was the one under the kitchen window. Rather than squeeze between the deck and the house, I decided to go up onto the deck and reach down and close the vent. I had just gotten down on my knees and was getting ready to reach down when I heard the loudest, eeriest scream that I’d ever heard in my life, and it was close enough that I expected to turn around and see a panther on my deck! The sound had come from just around the back of the house.
“Getting up, getting off that deck and back into my house is all a blur. I just remember that the next thing I knew, I was inside and was so shaken by the experience that I was sick to my stomach.”
She would later see what she believed to be a panther while driving in Covington County.
“My second experience with a panther was about three years ago,” she said. “I was on my way home from Hattiesburg and was coming ‘the back way’ on Salem School Road. It runs from U. S. Hwy. 84, just outside Collins, to Hwy. 532 (Hot Coffee Road). It was late one afternoon and suddenly a huge black cat, just flying with tail outstretched behind it, ran across the road in front of me from the woods on one side of the road to the woods, on the other side. I have no doubt that it was a black panther.”
A Louisville couple saw a large brown cat while hunting near Vicksburg.
“My husband, Gerald Tedder, and I saw a brown panther one night when we hunted for raccoons at Long Lake off of King’s Point Ferry Road in Vicksburg,” Nancy Anderson Tedder said. “He had killed a raccoon and was carrying it in a backpack. I was behind my husband, and I asked him if he heard the sound of something following us. He slowly stopped and he looked at our backtrack. We stood there awhile to see if we heard anything. The wind was blowing off and on that night so we figured it must have been that. So, we started again. It wasn’t 10 or 15 minutes later I heard it again. I told my husband and he quickly looked back. Then we saw him about 10 or 15 yards away! He must have smelled the blood from the raccoon. Needless to say, that was the end of our hunt!”
Byron Bailey was working for a sporting goods store in Starkville while a student at Mississippi State University a few years ago. He remembers vividly a customer shocking the staff with what he had seen.
“When I was working at Academy Sports in Starkville, I had a guy come in saying one was going after his livestock and the state wouldn’t come look into it,” Bailey explained. “He was looking into night vision to get pictures of it.”
At the Gateway to the Delta, Debra Jefcoat said she often heard them near Yazoo City.
“One night, we were riding around in the county and broke down,” she said. “I had gotten outside of the car and heard a sound that sounded like a woman screaming. There were no houses around and no vehicles around. I asked what that sound was, and was told a black panther. All my life, I heard from people they were around Yazoo County. Needless to say, I got back in the car and didn’t get out!”
A Laurel resident said she saw a huge brown cat several years ago in Ellisville.
“About 20 years ago I saw a brown big cat in Ellisville,” Samantha Thornton said. “It was like a big puma/cougar looking thing. I went to let the dog out and she wouldn’t go and then I saw it! I reported it to the wildlife people and they said just to document if I saw it again.”
“Up in Jasper County I saw one!” Lori Scoggins Clark said. “It crossed in front of me!”
Even though she didn’t see the animal, Teresa McCreery said she heard a distinctive sound that could only have been one of the rare cats.
“I heard one,” she said. “I was told after describing the sound of a wailing woman or crying baby. I let the dog out one night/early morning. We had a covered back porch. I heard crickets and noise and then all of a sudden it stopped! Silence… it was pitch black so I looked for the dog, which quickly came back in without calling her! I can only imagine whatever it was, was close! I thank God we were safe because I’ve never heard those woods so quiet before or since then!”
Another Mississippi man said he’s seen two, and he’s quite sure of what he saw.
“Have seen two. One was dead on Interstate 55 south of Granada,” Marshall Ainsworth said. “Hit by car. Watched two guys load into pickup. About the size of a full-grown black lab with a very long tail.”
What do you think? Do you have your own panther sighting? We’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org