The Will Rogers Turnpike was just over a year old when an Ohio couple traveled into Oklahoma for the first time. Maybe they were thinking they would see Indian teepees or oil well derricks. What they did witness along the highway was totally unexpected.
As they were paying the $2 toll at the Catoosa/Tulsa exit the driver remarked to the attendant, “Just what kind of wildlife does your state have? We didn’t realize you have African lions running free here.”
The out-of-state traveler didn’t appear to have had one too many, and he said it with a straight face. Still the attendant figured they had mistaken a cow or some other farm animal.
As he was handing the driver his change the turnpike employee asked where the sighting occurred. It was a ways after passing the last exit, the Ohioan replied.
At that time the next gate was at U.S. Highway 69 north of Adair.
The couple continued on, probably wondering what other surprises Oklahoma would hold.
The attendant just added another interesting tidbit to his job’s experiences…that is until a few days later.
Three more times it was reported a large cat had been seen in the same area. East of Claremore first Andy Summerlin and then Mr. and Mrs. Bill Ray each saw an apparent mountain lion. The Rays watched as it crossed a county road in front of their vehicle.
“It was big as life,” Mrs. Ray remarked later.
Summerlin, a Tulsa truck sales representative, reported his spotting to Rogers County Deputy Art Haner.
Another motorist said he saw a “lion or something” beside the road eating a chicken.
With four separate reported sightings, each unknown to the others, it was clear something was lurking in eastern Rogers County.
An animal hunt started. Local deputies under Sheriff Amos Ward, volunteers, and “professional” hunters gathered for a sweep of the area. Sequoyah resident Sam Rhine was called to bring in his two hunting dogs. Short time later two more dogs arrived from Miami.
The big hunt was on.
Despite the large number of searchers, many were not all that willing to venture far into the deep underbrush once nightfall came. Maybe a real honest to goodness huge animal was in waiting.
Actually Sheriff Ward and a Tulsa Zoo official, called in for advice, each agreed that probably was a good thing.
“If something moved there’s no telling what would be shot,” Ward told a reporter at the scene.
No lion was found. A couple of the hunters said they did hear a loud growling and snarling noise.
Today a game reserve was located a few miles east. This was before then, however.
Later investigation turned up area residents saying a circus truck had overturned near Adair a few weeks before. There were no reports of missing animals, however.
Was it possible a lion did escape and the circus people kept quite due to liability issues? Some felt that might have been the case.
The question of the animal seen here was never solved. After all this time it only goes down in county lore.
Not the first time
The loose lion is not the first big cat to be spotted in Rogers County.
Ever wonder why the Foyil School athletes picked the Panthers for a mascot?
This dates back as far as January, 1908. The Foyil Statesman newspaper on that day reported Mary Tiger heard strange noises and piercing screams coming from her chicken coop.
She saw a huge black panther race away as she approached.
Several generations have passed since that day. Even so tales have continued by Foyil residents of seeing a black panther or hearing the screams of a mysterious creature.
One recent book about strange happenings in Oklahoma even told of a possible Sasquatch, or “Bigfoot” in the Rogers-Mayes county line region. Maybe that is going beyond all logic. Maybe…?
The disappearance of small dogs, farm cats, chicken, etc. is a common occurrence in rural area. They are no match for larger predators. What about the story of the two missing cows?
Just a few years ago the cows were turned out on acreage between Highway 28 and the turnpike. While there are numerous homes in the area it also contains heavily wooded regions, as noted about the lion hunt.
The cows took off toward the wooden area and all points north. The new owner figured they would settle down and return to the pasture grass in time. They didn’t.
While all the area couldn’t be searched due to undergrowth, it was determined no fence had been knocked down.
Did they fall victim as a food source for “Bigfoot” or something else just as unbelievable?