OUT OF PLACE CATS
Other strange animal sightings have been reported over the years in the southern part of the state. Indiana used to be home to a large population of predators including bears, wolves and pumas. The puma, or mountain lion (Felis concolor) has been declared extinct in Indiana for more than one hundred years, yet reports of big cat sightings still turn up every now and then.
In 1877 a young couple walking home near Rising Sun was chased and attacked by a large cat "as big as a good sized calf." The animal ran along the top of a roadside fence and caught the girl with its claws.
Mary Crane was pinned to the ground and the cat proceeded to lick the girl's face. Her friend ran ahead, alerting men in the nearby village who quickly came to Mary's rescue. Hearing the approaching men, the cat gave a piercing shriek and fled into the night.
Mary Crane was uninjured. The next day cat footprints were found at the scene. The prints reportedly measured six inches wide. The footprints were tracked for several miles through the woods, but no cat was ever found.
In 1908, a large cat describe as a "black mountain lion," terrorized Pike and Gibson county residents. Then it reportedly moved to Snyder's Gulch, ten miles northeast of Hazelton. Hunters tried to find the animal in the flooded swamp and nearly shot a tramp hiding in a tree in the process.
The other parts of Indiana have also seen its share of big cat reports. In 1948 there were frequent reports around the city of Richmond located on the western edge of the state. On the morning of July 7 Arthur and Howard Turner, were walking across a field at 5:30 A.M. when they saw two unusual animals not far away. The closest was described as large-headed, brownish in color and "shaggy" as a lion. The other was black and looked more like a panther.
Arthur fired his rifle at the "lion" which jumped a gate and ran off. For the next two days, others saw the two big cats together in the area. Police searchers found only tracks made by a five-toed animal weighing an estimated 200 pounds. As usual, the animals disappeared.
Richmond policeman Louis Danels along with his family also spotted a strange animal on a Sunday afternoon drive. "It was so strange," he said. "Suddenly the strangest, most vicious looking thing walked toward my car down the center of the road. It had long front legs, a large head with small pointed ears, and small glittering eyes."
Danels said the animals back sloped down in an odd manner, and its body narrowed at the hips, ending in two back legs considerably shorter than the front two. "We got to within ten feet of it and it ran off the road into the weeds." The family thought it looked like a hyena, but of course hyenas don't live in Indiana.
That same year, farmer Dorten Moore, who lived close to Fountain City, complained to Sheriff Carl Sperling that something had slaughtered seven of his small hogs, eating their hearts and livers. Several days later Neighbor Harold Erskine heard a "strange caterwauling noise" over in Moore's fields and the farmer was faced that next morning with more dead livestock.
On the night of August 1, game warden Clifford Fath and Charles Cornelius, a county conservation officer, testified they had encountered a "varmint" on the road between Quakertown and Roseburg. It was sitting in the middle of the road, and Fath had to swerve his car in order to avoid hitting the animal, which looked as though it might weigh close to 350 pounds. The creature lunged at the car, crashing into its side before fleeing into the woods.
Fath and Cornelius quickly organized a posse. With the help of dogs they tracked the animal to a tree in whose branches it was hiding. Members of the group opened fire, but the beast leaped into another tree and managed to escape.
Three days later an "African lion" rushed a fishing party at Elkhorn Falls south of Richmond. The party consisted of four adults and two children. According to Ivan Toney, who lived nearby:
About 7:30 P.M. a man came to the house and wanted to use the phone to call the sheriff. He said he and another man, along with their wives and two children, were fishing along the banks of the pool at the foot of the Elkhorn Falls.
The families reported that the animal "looked like a lion with a long tail, and bushy hair around the neck."
Near Peppertown, which is about thirty miles southwest of Richmond, on the morning of the 28th, something jumped Henry Ferguson Jr. from the rear while he was out in a field topping tobacco. He didn't get a good look at the animal, but it succeeded in tearing his trousers and shirt and cutting his arm before running away.
Even though the 1948 sightings eventually subsided, the big cats did not go away. In January 1951, three persons at a farm near Noblesville, in the central part of the state, saw a giant panther, "five feet long and pitch black," which left tracks as big as the "palm of a woman's hand." It disappeared into a thicket along Stoney Creek after David Simons took a shot at it.
Farmer Ed Moorman was attacked by a large tan-colored animal which clawed his face and only ran off when he fired his rifle. This was in June 1952 near Monument City, which is in northeastern Indiana. On the 26th, Moorman found then of his pigs dead. Blood had been sucked from their necks and their hearts and livers eaten.
From witnesses descriptions and claw marks found on a wooden gate, the creature was identified as an "African Lioness." A posse of local men got together to track down the mysterious animal, but unfortunately when the cat was spotted, a couple of television newsmen from Indianapolis panicked and shot early, scaring the beast back into the woods.
Michigan City and La Porte, Indiana are close to Lake Michigan in the northern part of the state. In July and August 1985 approximately 40 people reported an alleged panther to the Michigan City Police Department. Many witnesses said the cat would quickly vanish into the wooded areas. Detective Kenneth Waltz said that the creature is about four feet long and weighs about 150 pounds. Waltz believed that he found dung and paw prints that resemble a human double fist indicative of a cat print.
La Porte, Indiana, received ten panther reports during this two-month time span. On August 17, 1985, Louis Keen saw a strange catlike animal while working at a power plant at about 5:30 P.M.. Keen described it as a cougar that "rolled in coal." Another employee of the Indiana Public Service saw it through binoculars and confirmed Keen's testimony.
On August 29, Jim Williams was driving home when a shadow crossed the road. When Williams turned on his bright headlights, he saw that it was a panther crossing a lawn. He later reported the incident to police. This incident took place in the same area as the power plant sightings.
Indiana still has occasional reports of animal mutilations often attributed to out-of-place big cats. During the winter of 1999 and 2000, several farmers in the Wabash area had large boars which were killed by an unknown predator. The dead animals had their throats chewed out and also received long scratches down their sides. Area conservation officers speculated that the pigs were probably killed by feral dogs. They couldn't explain, however, how the dogs managed to get in and out of the high-fenced pens without notice. One farmer told the local press that if dogs were responsible for the pigs' deaths, " . . . then they would have to be pretty big dogs, at least a hundred pounds or more to be able to take down these big boars."
INDIANA'S LAKE MONSTERS