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Old Screamer made his first appearance one balmy midnight in the spring of 1940. For years the abandoned quarry three miles south of the Western Kentucky town of Eddyville (pop. 2,407) had been a favored parking spot for lovers. On this particular night, two cars sat on the gravel bed at the base of the 35-foot-high limestone cliff that rose above the horseshoe-shaped quarry on three sides. From one car radio wafted a strain of soft music. Suddenly, from the crest of the cliff, a blood-chilling scream pierced the night. In unison two car engines roared to life. Gander Galusha and his date heard something heavy land on the roof of their Chevrolet convertible. Then came a ripping sound. The startled couple looked up through a gaping hole to see a snarling animal clawing madly through the canvas top. Gander threw the car in gear, pressed the accelerator to the floor and spun the car around on the gravel. The maneuver flung the animal from the roof. Gander didn't stop to see what it was. Nor did the couple in the other car, who were already well away.
The next day the incident was the talk of the town. "Bobcat," said one of the wizened oldtimers who occupied the benches on the courthouse lawn. "Big one, from the sound of things. Came up from the bottoms, I figure, during the spring floods. I've seen 'em claw up folks mighty bad. Someone best get him out of there, 'fore he does some real harm."
Someone tried, then someone else—men with shotguns and rifles, trappers. Every hunter in the county, it seemed, took a stab at it but to no avail. The midnight screams continued.
One Saturday, Sam Litchfield drove into town and hurried into the drugstore. In the bed of his pickup truck his young English setter, Pepper, lay injured, his back and chest a mass of wounds. When Sam emerged from the store, he began doctoring his dog. Sam had been training Pepper on a covey of quail that nested in the field behind the old quarry, he explained to onlookers. Suddenly, the inexperienced dog broke discipline and ran up the back side of the quarry. Then came a loud commotion on the top of the cliff—"fierce snarling and growling." Pepper began to yelp in pain. By the time Sam reached the base of the cliff, Pepper had limped back down and collapsed. As Sam lifted Pepper and ran to his truck, he heard a scream from the cliff. "Mean and threatening, like the varmint was warning me to stay away or else," Sam said.
No one had any doubts about what Pepper had encountered. After that, the quarry was abandoned once again. Old Screamer, as he was now known by one and all, had laid claim to a domain.
And that's how matters stood late that summer when, one afternoon soon after my 14th birthday, I announced to my father that I was going after Old Screamer. My father was a tolerant man who advocated independence in his children. But on this occasion he lowered his paper and eyed me askance. "Oh? When?"
"I see." His tone was not encouraging. "A lot of good men have tried already."
"I suppose you have a different plan, then?"