The Residents Of Cat Gorge
by Norris Chambers
It was hot and sultry and I had just come in from the field for dinner. I walked across the porch into the open hallway. On the right was the door to the old log house and on the left the entrance to the south room. The south room was a sixteen foot square addition that had been added years before. The door was standing open. I walked in to see if someone was in there. I jumped back when I became aware of a big cat standing in the middle of the room, hissing and spitting at me. There had been cats around from time to time, but this one was a stranger. He was big and black with large greenish eyes. After I got over my initial surprise I walked back into the room again.
He was still standing in the center of the room and with his growling and snarling he made it clear to me that he didn't intend to move.
"Scat! Scat!" I yelled at him with my most forceful tone. Every hair on his back stood up and he continued to made antagonistic noises.
My mother heard the commotion and came into the hall from the log room. She asked what was going on. I told her there was a cat in there that didn't want to get out. She walked in to take a look and she backed out even faster than I had.
"Maybe it's mad." She reasoned. "Let's leave it till your papa comes in." We went on through the log room to the kitchen. In a few minutes papa came in from feeding and watering the horses. He had been plowing and I had been hoeing peanuts. Mama met him at the door, and I was right behind her.
"There's a big cat in the south room and I think it might be mad. It growls and spits when you try to get it out." He walked into the room. The same belligerent sounds erupted again. He told us to get back in the log room and he went to the side room door and came out with our old single shot .22 rifle.
I watched through the screen as he stood in the doorway and shot the intruder between the eyes. He carried it out, holding the hind legs, and headed toward the barn. After dinner we went back to work and the cat incident was forgotten. Mama thought the cat was a victim of hydrophobia, but papa said it was just one of the wild ones trying to take possession of our house.
A few nights later we were awakened by a loud squawking and fluttering from the chicken house. If you've never heard the racket that a flock of chickens makes when attacked by some varmint in the middle of the night, then you don't really know what a creepy, frightening sound is. Papa got the gun and I lit a kerosene lantern. It wasn't over a hundred feet to the chicken house. About half of them were outside running about and the other half were inside still squawking as if they were dying. The chicken house was a rock building about twenty feet wide and ten feet deep. We had lattice type roosts inside where the chickens bedded down for the night. The two large doors on the front were open as well as the windows in each end of the building.
When I held the lantern in the door and we looked in a big house cat ran between our legs and disappeared into the darkness. In a little while the chickens began to drift back into the building. We could not find any sign of damage. Papa said the cat was probably looking for a meal, but didn't have time to pick out the chicken it wanted.
We went back to bed and didn't have any more cat trouble that night.
The next morning at breakfast the cat subject came up. Papa said that the cats probably came from Cat Gorge. I had heard of Cat Gorge, but Clifton and I had never hunted that far up the creek. Red Creek narrowed and the hills on each side were closer to the stream. The hills in this area were high and steep and dotted with huge rocks and scrub trees. We had heard that there were many wild house cats in this area. Papa explained that they found plenty of food by eating frogs, mice, rats, squirrels, birds and an occasional fish. There was always plenty of water in the deep holes and this attracted small game of all sorts. Apparently the cats had no natural enemies and multiplied prolifically in the numerous small caves on the steep hillsides.
Clifton and I decided we had to explore this cat haven. By the time we got around to making the trip the fur season was starting, so we headed our 'possum hunt up the creek in a northerly direction. It was about five miles to the gorge so it was around noon when we came to the area where the cliffs closed in and the creek narrowed. We had found two 'possums in hollow trees, but decided to wait until we returned to get them. We didn't want to carry the hides that long. We knew they would resume their naps and would be there when we returned. 'Possums sleep during the day and prowl at night.
There was hardly walking space between the creek bank and the bluffs on each side. We decided to walk in the creek bed, since it was dry at this point. We continued our northward trek and before long the creek bed narrowed even more and we saw the beginning of a water hole about fifty yards ahead. We also saw four or five cats along the edge of the water. When they saw us they scattered in both directions and scampered up the eight or ten foot banks and into the brush and rocks farther up.
"There are a lot of cats," Clifton commented. I agreed and suggested that we try to get up on the bank and go a little deeper into the gulch. About this time we heard a spine tingling screech from somewhere high on the left side and an answer from the right side.
Then it seemed like there were a dozen yowls, howls and screams from both sides. We looked at each other quizzically but neither of us considered turning back. We made our way along the side of the cliff, hanging on to big rocks and scrub trees for support.
As we progressed slowly we heard several raucous caterwauling challenges that were answered numerous times from farther along the cliff and also from the cliff above the other bank of the creek.
"This is weird," I exclaimed and we continued to crawl northward.
"Sure is," was all the response I got.
Then we crawled into a well worn trail running from the creek upward. I looked up the trail and just about twenty feet ahead I saw a big hole under a rock. The trail seemed to end there. We inched our way up to the entrance and I bent to look inside. We heard a sudden hiss and I found myself staring into the huge face of a vicious cat. We immediately decided that we were not welcome and retreated back down the trail. The unhappy cat didn't pursue us.
We saw several other trails leading upward but didn't bother to follow. We saw two kittens playing on top of a big rock. When we went closer they scampered down the other side and disappeared. We heard a loud fluttering of feathers and a huge hawk swooped down and up, carrying in its talons one of the kittens we had seen playing on the rock. The kitten was screeching and there were loud answering wails from all directions. I was saddened to see the kitten carried away. We both knew its fate when the hawk found a safe landing place. We had seen chickens and rabbits devoured by hawks before, and it wasn't a pleasant thing to see.
Clifton said that he guessed the cats did have some natural enemies. I agreed, but said that they evidently didn't have enough resistance to keep them from multiplying. We saw many piles of feathers where we supposed that cats had feasted on smaller birds. In some areas we saw scattered bones, presumably squirrel and other small animals, that had provided meals for the cats. We saw several adult cats as we progressed, but they ran away as we approached. The noisy din continued the full half mile of the gulch. When the cliffs widened and flattened and the creek spread out we knew that we had gone through Cat Gorge. I wondered how many others had made the difficult trip.
"How many cats do you reckon are in there?" I asked. Clifton answered, "I would guess several hundred, maybe a thousand counting the kittens. I'd like to come back and take a boat up the creek. I noticed there is water all the way through."
I had to be a negative uncle and remind him that it would be a long way to carry a boat.
He agreed but said he still wanted to do it. We talked of making a folding boat and letting our donkey, Birthmark, carry it. That sounded like a pretty good idea, so we decided to come back another day and paddle up the creek for a little different viewpoint.
We didn't care about going back along the rocks and brush so we climbed the lowered cliff and walked back along the top. Even from here we could hear occasional squalling from the cats below. There was nothing on top but postoaks and briars, but the walking was comparatively easy. We went back down to the creek and stopped for the two 'possums. They were still there and were waiting to be skinned and have their hides stretched on a drying board.
If this story has a moral, I haven't found it yet. It's just another tale from the days of long ago. I often wonder if Cat Gorge is still there, but don't have the ambition to go find out. I suspect that the brush clearing that the government financed in the depression days and the encroachment of civilization has removed most of the food supply for the residents of the gorge and that their empire has crumbled.
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