The Phantom of Appalachia in My Backyard

The eastern cougar is extinct, or more correctly, extirpated (totally wiped out), so the federal and state wildlife officials say,  but sightings of the big cats are frequent here in the Southern Appalachians.  It won’t do any good to contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources if a cougar is sighted; they just laugh at such reports.  So I have to settle for telling my friends, neighbors, and blog readers.

This morning I saw a cougar/mountain lion/panther/puma/catamount/painter (as the Appalachian old-timers called it) in my backyard.

I was outside with my daughter’s small dog, which we always keep on a leash because otherwise she would chase anything that moves, including large dogs or bears.  I heard something coming through the woods behind the house and could tell it was something large, although it didn’t sound like a bear.  I looked up to see a panther, sleek and slender, golden yellow in color and with a long tail, bounding down the hill through the woods in my direction. It was about the height of a German Shepherd.  My first thought was, “That is not a housecat.”  My second thought was, “That is not a bobcat.”  Bobcats are native to this area and often are seen around here.  The panther went behind our shed, and I got the dog and quickly went back inside the house.

If I had had my camera with me I would not have had the presence of mind to take a photo.  However, this is what I saw:

(Photo Credit:

Friends and acquaintances on our local community Facebook page have responded to my post with their own stories of seeing panthers, including black panthers.  Our neighbor through the woods was not surprised at all with hearing that I had seen a mountain lion and said that she herself had seen a black panther about a year ago.  One friend even remarked that if someone shot a panther they probably would be fined for shooting a protected species that doesn’t even exist in this area.

Panthers feature prominently in the folklore of Appalachia.  The Cherokees called them the “Lords of the Forest,” and in the Cherokee clan system the Panther or Wildcat Clan was a subdivision of the Blue Clan (Blue Holly Clan).  Appalachian settlers mostly feared the big cats.  I’ve heard the stories of “painters” screaming in the night (sounding like a screaming woman), killing farm animals, following people who were walking home in the dark.  I’ve also heard the stories of “painters” protecting children who were in danger.

Wildlife officials notwithstanding, folks who live here in the North Georgia mountains seem to accept the stories that mountain lions, panthers, cougars, whatever one wants to call them, still roam these hills.  I definitely believe they do because this morning I saw one.


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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Joye Fuller says:

    What a treat to see such a creature!


    1. Strangely enough, I have felt blessed all day. And I’ve been amazed at the number of people who live relatively near me who have seen both eastern cougars and black panthers.


  2. Amy says:

    I’m not sure it a treat, I’d worry about the safety of kids, dogs…. Thanks for sharing the story!


    1. I’ve been doing some research, and attacks on humans are very rare. The panthers prefer to avoid humans. Maybe that’s the reason this one turned and went behind our shed instead of continuing to come in my direction. We never let the little dog out alone anyway because we’re afraid of larger dogs and bears. I will say this – I do not like to go outside at dawn or dusk or after dark, and I haven’t walked up our road by myself in quite a long time.


      1. Amy says:

        Thank you for the additional information about panthers. You live in a beautiful country.


  3. brucethomasw says:

    Hi Deb – our Cougar sightings here in Vancouver Island are apparently the highest in North America.

    A few years back I read an article in our local paper with a first hand account of a person losing there dog to a cougar. It gave a 1-800 wildlife conservation number that people were encouraged to call. A few weeks later, sure enough, my wife Francis sited a cougar early one morning in our garden – I immediately called the 1800 number, and the person in the office seemed quite angry at me – I don’t know why – maybe I was too excited about it, and I just ended up telling her I was doing what the conversation officer had said to do. Makes you wonder sometimes….

    By the way – Fran was thrilled about your comment about her novel. In the 3rd book of the Crater Lake series that’s now in process, Chasing Down the Night, there will be a new character – a Cougar!!

    Take care there with those Phantoms of the Appalachians – we carry a big stick, an air horn or whistle, occasionally bear spray or a hunting knife, which I’m quite uncomfortable with and to be honest, I often forget.

    Have a good day Deb … peace and best regards – Bruce


    1. Hi Bruce,
      I love your comments. It seems as if the wildlife people just don’t know what to do with these reports of cougar sightings. A friend of mine who has a book shop down the road said she saw what she thought was a yellow Labrador Retriever in the woods and began whistling for it to come to her. She realized it was a cougar when she saw it climb a tree. When she called the state wildlife office, the man told her she must have seen a “crossed up dog” (whatever that is). She and I both had a good laugh at the idea of a “crossed up dog” that could climb a tree. My Facebook posting about the cougar continues to generate comments from people who live in the same general area as me and who have seen not only cougars but black panthers as well.

      I’ll be looking forward to the cougar character in Fran’s next book. Please tell her that after I sent her my comment last night I ordered the second book and should have it in another day or so.



      1. brucethomasw says:

        Awesome Deb. One positive thing about the cougar sightings in your neck of the woods is that it appears they are making a come back – antidotely speaking of course 😉 … and lived experience and observation counts more than some give it credit for. This gives me much hope for cougars, panthers and wolfs and such, and for humanity.


    2. JC says:

      Very cool post. Just over on the narrows of rabun we too discuss sightings and stories from years past. When you look at the county on a map you have over 100,000 acres of forestry land west of tiger and north of lake rabun. i would like to think those mountains can still sustain the habit needed for a big cat!


      1. Thank you! So many people here in White County have told me of sightings in recent years, most of them sightings of black panthers.


  4. Your words, ” I looked up to see a panther, sleek and slender, golden yellow in color and with a long tail, bounding down the hill through the woods in my direction” paints a beautiful picture of this animal. Thank you for sharing your experience and the information.


    1. Thank you! I’ve been accused of mistaking a deer, bobcat, or even a dog for this panther, but the description shows it definitely was a panther.


    1. Thank you. Every time I go outside now I look for it even though I know may never see another one.


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