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London, Texas Jaguar – 1909

Above: The jaguar killed near London, Texas in 1909

This story has been published in the Junction Eagle a few times, but it came to me recently via Facebook. From the details and included photos, it is plausible. London, where it takes place, is about 100 miles from Goldthwaite. A jaguar was killed there six years earlier, and a second individual was sighted shortly afterward but never caught. Another animal was killed in Ozona in 1915, 100 miles further west.

The London jaguar story is told by Ginger Roberts, the granddaughter of one of the boys that found the cat. It has the feel of Hardy Boys adventure, but these boys stumble into a jaguar instead of a mystery. After getting into trouble with it, they call for adults to back them up with guns.

Pa and Charley were scared to death. They had never seen a jaguar and didn’t even know what it was they were seeing. They just decided they’d better run for their own lives and try to get help as fast as their legs could carry them.

As usual, this jaguar story ends with the cat’s demise. It was described as being 6’7″ and 125lbs, but there is no mention of whether it was a male or female. I’m guessing it was another young male in search of new territory. This was good jaguar habitat, aside from the humans.

I’ve confirmed a photo is hanging in Wagner barber shop in downtown Junction. I’ll have to stop for a haircut next time I’m in town and get some higher-resolution versions.

The London Jaguar by Ginger Roberts

Originally published in the Junction Eagle Wednesday July 30, 2008

Last week, as I was driving home from London, I turned on Hwy. 385, headed toward Yates Crossing, and about halfway between where I had turned off and the Red Creek Road, I spotted a very large mountain lion, just standing in the middle of the highway. He looked at me, unalarmed, and walked west to the bar ditch, stopped and casually watched me as I passed by.

The following Thursday, I was at Rotary, and met Carlton Turner. He said he and his wife had purchased the old Milton and Eunice Watters place outside of London about eight years ago. When I told him about spotting the mountain lion, so close to where he lived, it reminded me of a story my grandfather, Everett Stewart used to tell. I didn’t have time to tell it to Carlton that day, so told him I’d tell it in my article this week.

The story was first told by Emmett Hensley, who wrote an article in 1967, and Pa then followed up with another version he wrote in 1976. Now, in 2008, I am honored and privileged to be able to follow in their footsteps and combine both of their stories and tell it once again.

One Sunday morning, in the Spring of l909 when Pa was almost ten years old, he asked his father if he could spend the day at the Spoont’s house, playing with his friend, Charley. His dad said it was okay, and off Everett went, two miles down the red dirt road and over to the Haggerman place, where the Spoonts were living at the time. When he arrived, he could see that a wagon was hitched, and it looked like the family planned on going somewhere. He soon learned that Robert Spoont’s was tak- ing his two older boys, Otis and Leonard, to the Llano River to spend the day fishing. Charley, who was close to Pa in age, had other plans. He asked Everett if he wanted to go hunting with him. Sheep had been disappearing, and he felt they had a good chance of catching something; maybe even a bobcat. At the very least, they should be able to catch a fox. Charley had three good hunting hounds to bring along with them. Pa was excited to get to go and it didn’t bother either one of them that they were barefooted and wearing short britches. That was the custom in that day. You didn’t wear “long” britch- es until you were 14 or l5 and ready to step out and “impress” the girls. Pa hated to tell Charley, but he wasn’t feeling too well that day. He had a terrible headache. Charley told him not to worry, he would fix him right up and he did. He gave him a cup of black coffee loaded down with sugar. Pa said he took a swallow of it and it made him so sick, he got rid of it and the headache at the same time. He never could stand sweetened coffee after that. They were burnin’ daylight, so Charley picked up a horn he had made out of a hollowed out cow’s horn and blew it. The hounds went crazy. It was time to go huntin’. 

There was a long mountain behind the house about a mile away, and they headed straight for it. Dodging blue thorns and slip sheds, cactus and rocks, they managed to reach the top rim. Then they headed north towards Sam Hardesty’s place.

On the 1910 Federal Census, it shows Sam and Cora Hardesty living with their children, Dee (age 25), James (age 20) and Jack (age 18) on what later became the Watter’s Ranch. It is located directly across from the intersection of Hwy. 377 and the Red Creek Cemetery Road (Hwy. 333) between Junction and London.

The boys decided to start looking for big boulders they could roll down the side of the mountain, when all of a sudden the hounds went wild. They had something. Pa and Charley ran as fast as they could to see what it was, and when they got to where the dogs were barking, they saw something they couldn’t quite believe. It was a huge spotted jaguar in a shallow cave and the dogs weren’t about to let it go.

Now this part gets interest- ing. Neither Pa, nor Charley had a gun. They were depending on the dogs to handle anything that they came across. It was obvious the dogs weren’t going to handle this well or get out of this confrontation easily. Pa and Charley were scared to death. They had never seen a jaguar and didn’t even know what it was they were seeing. They just decided they’d better run for their own lives and try to get help as fast as their legs could carry them. Down the mountain, not caring anymore about thorns or rocks, cactus or thistles, they headed for the Hardesty home. When they got there, panting and out of breath, you can imagine the story they told Dee, the oldest of the boys. Dee grabbed a sawed off shot- gun, loaded it with #4 shot, and they all headed back up the mountain.

Now Dee was indeed older, but not without his own fears. He told Pa and Charley to stand behind him, on a large rock in front of the cave and to hold their pocket knives open and ready just in case he missed or worse, just wounded the cat and the cat came out fightin’ mad after them. He told them to be ready to fight or again to run for their lives. Dee was shaking so badly, he decided to let the cat have it with both barrels, but he missed. The cat charged out and ran about 50 yards up the mountain. The dogs circled it and drove it back inside the cave. A hound they called “Lizzie” got hurt during the fracas, when the cat swiped at it with a force so powerful that the dog fell and broke her hip.

The boy’s legs were bloody from running so much through the brush, but they had hardly noticed. All they knew was that they weren’t getting much “satisfaction” and it was immediately decided that they should go for more help and another gun. Looking down towards the J.F. Vance place, they could see Will McCollum plowing in a field. Again they ran, not stopping until they were face to face with Will, telling him the whole ordeal. Will got his .22 repeating rifle and followed the boys back up the mountain. He stood above the animal and shot it rapidly four times in the head, killing it instantly.

The boys then had fun trying to get that huge cat down off the mountain. It weighed 126 lbs. and measured 6 ft. 7 inches, from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. They rolled and carried it all the way back to the Hardesty home. Sam Hardesty hitched up a wagon to a gotch-eared horse and they hauled the animal to London to George May’s store, to have it weighed. They then took it all over the community, showing it to everyone. George May offered to buy it from the boys for $125. That was a LOT of money, and Pa said he thought about it long and hard, but decided not to sell it. Instead, they decided to skin it and nail the hide to the side of the barn to let it dry. That night, the hounds, feeling a little cheated out of a good fight, had the last say. They finished the bat- tle by attacking and chewing that hide, tearing it into shreds. Pa and Charley took it back to George May, hoping he might still want it and he did, but this time he only offered them $5. They took the money. Pa told me that the big boys got all the glory; they got their pictures taken with the cat, one of which is hanging in Wilford Wagner’s barbershop downtown, but it was the little boys who found it and did all the hard work, and it was the little boys who had the skinned up arms and legs to prove it.

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