Mysterious Panther Roaming

By Ralph Dickerson

A mysterious large cat or cats roam the woods of Hancock County, and no one knows exactly what type of felines they are. Over the years, some people claim they saw a Mountain Lion, while others claim they saw a black panther. Is it possible for either animal to exist in Hancock County? Before broaching this particular subject, a discussion of sightings needs to be made.

The latest installment of a sighting happened Saturday morning at Evelyn Martenet’s house in the Horsley Hill area below Hawesville on state Route 69. The incident happened before noon, just after a repairman finished working on an appliance at her home. Martenet said the repairman was standing on her porch writing her a receipt, and she was writing him a check. She looked up, and spotted the animal in a field across from her house.

Martenet said the field contains about four acres, and is sloped upward. She said a ditch runs across the back of that property, covered by grass and shrubs, but no trees. Martenet said a driveway sits on one side of the property, and across the field and towards the top sits a neighbor’s house, with a pond behind and slightly beside the house. Martenet said the cat leapt from the driveway side of the property and headed across the field.

“It was walking along,” Martenet said. “It stopped a few times and then it kind of loped and then at the end it stretched out and ran.”

Martenet judged the distance to be approximately 100 yards. Martenet said she observed the animal, which she called a black panther, for over one minute. When she first spotted the animal, she asked the repairman if it was a black panther. She said the repairman turned and looked and remarked, “It sure is moving like a cat.”

“Its body was as long as a Great Dane, of course it was not as tall,” Martenet said. “It was very sleek. It was a slinky, sleek looking thing.”

What type of cat did Martenet see? The Clarion called the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out. John Hast, the department’s Bear and Furbearer Program Coordinator, discussed the sighting. He immediately shot down the idea of the animal actually being a black panther.

“We do not have any black feline species in Kentucky,” hast said. “A black panther is a South American, Amazonian Jungle kind of deal.”

In addition, the climate of Kentucky, specifically the winters, does not allow black panthers to survive here.

Is it possible Martenet spotted a wandering Cougar? Though the closest breeding area for Mountain Lions exists 900 miles away, it is not uncommon for young males to branch out and travel long distances. In fact in 2014 a Cougar from South Dakota was killed on a freeway in Connecticut, and that same year a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officer shot and killed a young Cougar in Bourbon County. It must be noted these are wandering animals, and do not represent an established Mountain Lion colony in Kentucky. As a breeding population, Cougars are considered extinct in the state. For her part, Martenet insists she did not see a Mountain Lion, but a black panther.

“I think a Cougar has a different shape,” Martenet said. “I think of a Cougar as being tawny colored and muscular with bulging muscles. This was a sleek, black cat.”

Is it possible Martenet simply spotted a dark colored Bobcat? She says no.

“It wasn’t a Bobcat, they are much smaller than this was,” Martenet said. “The shapes are so different too. A Bobcat really does look like an oversized house cat.”

Hast tends to agree with Martenet. He said Bobcats simply are not black.

“It is really rare to have a completely black Bobcat,” Hast said. “I am not sure if there has ever been one recorded.”

Hast said in his experience, most of these Black Panther sightings tend to just be extremely large house cats. He said distance, and viewing one on a sloped hill, tend to alter the perception of the size of the animal.

“We had one in Louisville that was a large cat,” Hast said. “But it was clearly domesticated.”

Martenet sticks by her description of the animal as being the length of a Great Dane, solid black in color with a long tail.

Her report of a large cat is not the only one in the county in the past few months. Martenet told the Clarion of a sighting by another resident of Hancock County. She said the grand daughters of Sandy and Donnie Young also saw a large cat.

Mrs. Young said her granddaughters’ sighting happened in the fall. She said the granddaughters, Emily and Kaitlyn Raley, were walking on B. Rice Road by property owned by Jimmy Newton when they spotted something they at first mistook for a deer due to its coloration. When the animal turned, the granddaughters saw the “deer” had a very long tail, and quickly realized they were not looking at a deer.

“They did not go walking after that,” Mrs. Young said.

Past sightings

Reports of people spotting large cats in the area go back many years. The most recent outbreak, not counting the above mentioned sightings, date back to 2014.

In September of 2014 Marie Freeny called into the Clarion concerning a large cat she encountered at her residence one night. According to the story, around 9 p.m. on the night of September 11, 2014 Freeny let her little Yorkie Jodi out to use the restroom. Freeny said Jodi went only a few feet out into the yard before turning around in a panic and bolting back to the house. Freeny said the dog was terrified. She stepped out to see what scared her dog, and spotted a set of glowing eyes about 20 feet away.

Freeny said several different powerful lights illuminated her back yard. When she saw the glowing eyes, Freeny said she thought it was a coyote, and yelled and stomped her feet to scare it away. Instead, the animal moved toward her, and into the light. What stepped into the light scared her. She said it definitely was a Cougar, not a Bobcat. It was long and slender, and had a long tail. Freeny said she darted into the house and grabbed her shotgun.

When she came back out, the Cougar was still there. Fearing to shoot the gun due to a neighbor’s horses in the field by the house, Freeny simply chambered a round into the gun. When she chambered the round, the Cougar slowly turned and walked away. Freeny said she firmly believes the Cougar planned to have her Yorkie Jodi, or her, as a meal.

In October of 2014 Steve and Kathy Woodward contacted the Clarion about something killing sheep on their 12-acre farm on Hawesville-Easton Road in southern Hancock County. The Woodwards said starting in 2012 something started attacking and killing their sheep. In two years the Woodwards said they lost approximately 40 sheep to some type of large feline animal. They erected a five-foot tall fence around their property, and this animal managed to kill and drag a full-grown sheep up and over the fence. In addition, sometimes the Woodwards would find some of their sheep with deep claw marks on their hindquarters, sometimes deep enough to cause the sheep to die.

At that time they owned a Great Pyrenees, a herding dog. Though bred to protect livestock, the Woodwards said whatever type of cat this was, the dog wanted no part of it, and refused to challenge the cat, or go anywhere near it.

For his part, Steve Woodward said he encountered the cat one day, and it definitely was not a Bobcat. While working in the woods on his property one afternoon, the cat charged him. It was about three in the afternoon, so he was able to see the animal clearly. He said the cat ran towards him, stopped and growled, scratched the dirt and ran about 50 feet away. He said the cat charged him three times, but never actually attacked him. He said it was definitely a Mountain Lion.

12 Comments

  1. Don on May 14, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    It mentions that cougars are extinct in Kentucky, then why did fish and wildlife kill one? Anyone have a link to story behind that, thank you.

    • Linda on May 14, 2020 at 3:04 pm

      Thank you for your comment. We hope this information might help answer your question.
      In 2014 a State Wildlife Officer killed a young male cougar because it was near a populated area. The ones spotted were young males. It is expected females will soon be here – but the females don’t normally roam, only the males. Females don’t move too much in less they cant find food. They mainly stay close to where they were born.
      Refer to link:
      https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2014/12/16/first-puma-found-kentucky-since-civil-war/20487277/

      For quick reference – inside the link it states: A Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife officer killed a mountain lion on a Bourbon County farm on Monday, marking the first confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in Kentucky since before the Civil War, said Mark Marraccini, a spokesman for the agency. Marraccini said the wildlife officer shot the cat because it was about 5:30 p.m. and getting dark and he feared that it would slip away in darkness and threaten people in the nearby city of Paris. “If that cat had left that tree, it would have disappeared into the brush and it was a fairly populated area,” said Marraccini, who said it would have taken several hours and dark before a state veterinarian could retrieve the tranquilizer from her safe and get it to the scene had officials taken that route. “It sounds good but it’s pretty impractical,” said Marraccini, who said the officer who shot the cat made the right call.

  2. Deanna Davis on May 14, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    I saw A Panther at R back yard in 2018. We live West of Princeton Indiana. It was Winter time snow was on the ground. Sure was scary too. This is in Gibson County

    • Linda on May 15, 2020 at 10:44 am

      Yikes! Be careful. Thanks for reading!

    • Mary Frady on May 15, 2020 at 6:28 pm

      My mother says she has seen a black panther several times on her rural clay county indiana home/property.

  3. Karen Peter on May 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    This is fascinating, never know what’s roaming around in woods! Thanks for the great story!

    • Linda on May 16, 2020 at 1:32 pm

      You’re welcome. We appreciate your readership! 🙂

  4. Charlotte Loftis on May 17, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    I lived in Ky in a while back 1997-2012 we lived on a farm we saw black panthers several times roaming on the farm l saw foot prints of a mother and her baby three ft from our back porch and other prints in the snow in the front on the sidewalk and sighed other places to we lived in Logan County Lewisburg

    • Linda on May 18, 2020 at 9:13 am

      Very Interesting! Thank you for sharing.

      • Grewuphearing on May 20, 2020 at 8:17 pm

        Grew up hearing my mother talk about seeing black panthers all the time when she was growning up the last storie i remember her telling us was right after her and her husband got married in the 80s in madison county kentucky

  5. Craig on May 24, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    I pulled into my property in Warren County/Bowling Green just after midnight in July 2018 and saw a long sleek black cat which froze in my car headlights. I have described it exactly as the lady did in this article as a large shiny, sleek black panther. It was not a bobcat or any type of house cat. It also had a long tail. We have about 6 acres on top of a hill with several acres of woods. The cat darted off into the darkness down the back hill towards our woods. Our home is in between Drakes Creek and the Barren River near some large residential neighborhoods out Cemetery Rd past I-65 towards Allen County/Scottsville. After this encounter I too googled to find out about if the black panther had been sighted in Kentucky. After reading this article it immediately sounded exactly like what I had seen.

  6. Mrs. Heiert on May 24, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    We have almost a 2 acre field behind our hose in PENDLETON Co just north of Falmouth. Three years ago we had what looked like a black panther run/leap across in about 4 jumps and was gone.

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