How come Big Tom Wilson never saw a panther?

“Just off from the summit [of Mount Mitchell], amid the rocks, is a complete arbor, or tunnel, of rhododendrons. This cavernous place a Western writer has made
the scene of a desperate encounter between Big Tom [Wilson] and a catamount, or American panther, which had been caught in a trap and dragged it there, pursued by Wilson. It is an exceedingly graphic narrative, and is enlivened by the statement that Big Tom had the night before drunk up all the whisky of the party which had spent the night on the summit. Now Big Tom assured us that the whisky part of the story was an invention….

“But what inclined Big Tom to discredit the Western writer’s story altogether was the fact that he never in his life had had a difficulty with a catamount, and never had seen one in these mountains….”

— From “On Horseback”  by Charles Dudley Warner (1885)

Despite the best efforts of generations of wildlife biologists, belief that panthers (by whatever name) roam the North Carolina mountains seems inextinguishable. Check out the impassioned responses to this column.