While working on a project recently I came across a story from the Elmira Sunday Telegram from July of 1939. I researched the topic further and the following is the story of the “Strange Beast.”
Is it a panther, straying somewhat miraculously, from some mountain fastness further south in Pennsylvania?
Or is it, as one farmer has suggested “a huge dog that looks like a cross-breed between a police dog and a bulldog?”
Whatever form of creature it is, the beast has caused considerable perturbation at Centerville and Bentley Creek, Bradford County, PA in recent days.
It is Centerville, almost midway between Wellsburg and Bentley Creek, upon which has fallen the brunt of alarm, with strange cries at night and several residents reporting encounters of some sort with the mysterious marauder.
Last reports were that sometime today (July 15, 1939), five armed men, led by Elmo Owen, were starting out on a new hunt for the creature. It was Owen who Thursday reported disappearance of a heifer. He feared that it might have been pounced upon by the lurking animal. Six other heifers that strayed away were found at the nearby farm of Manning Beach. The other could not be found.
None of the experiences of those reporting sighting the animal can compare with that of Grant Brewer 22-year-old farm hand employed at the LaRue Stirton farm near Centerville. The story of young Brewer, highly regarded by all his neighbors as one not likely to exaggerate any happening, is a weird one.
On the afternoon of July 5, young Brewer heard what he thought might be the cry of a trapped dog. He descended into a thickly wooded gully east of the Stirton cattle barn and peered through the foliage. It was then he saw the beast.
“It was brown in color,” relates Brewer, “and anything from five to eight feet long. It was rather chunky about the forepart and head, lanky in the hind parts. As it approached, I backed up gradually and seeing a tree I could climb, made a run for it.”
According to Brewer he barely had hoisted himself some six feet from the ground when the animal threw itself against the tree, clawing its bark. Wrenching forth a dead limb, he clouted the animal and beat the snarling face, finally causing it to retreat. At last, out of breath and no little frightened, Brewer fled to the farmhouse.
Later, Mrs. Brewer, walking from the tenant house she occupies, to the Striton place, claims to have spied the animal.
Mrs. Fred Hanlon, living at the Striton home, reports hearing the animal scream on several occasions.
“It made me think, somehow, of a saw going through wood,” she said.
Asa A. Wood, less than half mile from the Striton place, saw what he believes was the animal near a wheat field about 100 rods away.
“Of course,” he says, “it may be what some others think it—a panther. But it seems odd to me that sheep, cattle, and swine on the farms haven’t been harmed. Of course, it might be feeding on small game in the woods.”
It is Mrs. Wood who voiced theory the animal might be a dog, perhaps a cross strain with a police dog.
Tom Hallstead, working on a painting job on the Stirton tenant place, claims to have seen the beast. Other who report seeing a strange animal are Elton Jelliff of Bentley Creek; Clarence Hallstead, Charles Cummings, and Walter Cilley.
A son of Clarence Hallstead of Centerville heard a commotion in his henhouse. He raced out and saw the animal attacking the chickens. He fainted. When he recovered the beast was gone.
One of the intrepid hunters who ventured forth with a rifle after the creature was Henry Hallstead. Hallstead braved the dank recesses of the so-called “Old Bear Hole” near Three Falls Glen on a hillside overlooking Centerville. According to Hallstead he found no traces of any animal in the old cave, which penetrates the hillside some 100 feet.
The critter which has been sending Centerville and Bentley Creek into a frenzy of discussion has given voice to cries which are variously interpreted.
Besides Mrs. Hanlon, who likened the noise to the scream of a buzz saw, there is Mr. Wood, who said it sounded like a child’s scream.
“But” he explained, “it was a kind of noise that I never had heard before.”
In a general store at Bentley Creek, a youth perched on a counter, asserted that it “sounded like a woman’s scream to me.”
Two newsmen, it might be added in apprehension when they heard a shrill squealing noise borne on a north wind atop a lonely hill. They relaxed when one noted a swinging barn door.
Henry Farley is a founding member and a current board member of the Sayre Historical Society. He is also president of the Bradford County Historical Society.