Sunday, June 15, 2008

Putting Panthers on the Map

Who says we don’t have panthers in these mountains? The fact is, you don’t have to go far to find a panther. A quick look at a good topo map will tell you that. According to the US Geological Survey, 75 named locations in North Carolina include the word “panther”.

Across the entire Tar Heel state, Panther Branch is the most common panther place name. You’ll find 15 Panther Branches statewide, while here in the mountains they flow through Buncombe, Cherokee, Graham, Haywood, Madison, Swain, and Transylvania Counties.

Panther Creek is a close second, with 13 occurring in North Carolina. Next on the list is Panther Knob, in eight different locations. Three Panther Knobs rise up in Jackson County alone, and two each in Macon and Madison Counties. If you continue searching Western North Carolina, you can cross four Panther Gaps and climb four Panther Mountains.

Places named after panthers are distributed unevenly across the state. The name is common in the southwestern mountains, appearing 40 times in the counties stretching from Madison and Buncombe to the western tip of the state. On the other hand, it is completely absent from the counties of the northwestern mountains, north of Mount Mitchell and running to the Virginia line. Graham and Transylvania each have seven places that include “panther”, while you will not find the name at all in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga, or Wilkes. What does that tell us?

However, the name is scattered through the Piedmont and Eastern North Carolina. Panther Point Creek is in Rowan County, Panthers Den in Orange County, Panther Bay in Robeson County, and Panther Swamp in Northampton County.

It is easy to read too much into the names applied to places, but without a doubt, some place names did originate from the presence of the big cats. In his book, Place Names of the Smokies, Allen Coggins explains the origin of Panther Spring Gap in Haywood County:

Named for an incident where a young Jonathan Creek girl was allegedly dragged screaming through this gap by a panther in pioneer times. She was never seen again, and it was assumed that she was eaten by the large cat.

So do panther place names give us clues about where the elusive felines might be found today? I don’t know. But if you are planning to embark on a big cat expedition, consider Panther Cove in Graham County, Panther Den Ridge in Swain, or Panthertail Mountain in Transylvania.

Those places might once again live up to their names.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It always irritates me when, so called "experts" say there are no panthers in our mountains! Tell that to Becky Walker, who's mother was killed by one in their barn one morning. Becky went to high school in Andrews NC (Cherokee County). She was born about 1952 and I'm not sure what year her mother was killed. The panther was causing a ruckus in the barn with their milk cow and when Mrs. Walker went to investigate, she was attacked and killed. The panther was later killed. Jerry Trull, Andrews NC