A few days after I wrote a column in April about an adult tiger set free in 2005 near the Buffalo National River, I heard from Rick Brightwell.
Brightwell, 66, saw the story and wanted to tell me what he has told only a few family members and friends.
He believes he was stalked by that tiger near his rural farm on Gaither Mountain, elevation 2,152 feet. He lives not far from Erbie, Arkansas, where the tiger had been released.
He doesn’t know for certain that he was stalked by a tiger and he doesn’t claim to have actually seen the Bengal Tiger on his walk through the woods from his shop to his house in January 2005.
I said in my column that I was initially skeptical when my wife and I toured Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, south of Eureka Springs, and the guide mentioned a tiger that had been at the refuge from 2005 until its death in 2017 after it had been set free in a public wilderness area.
The guide said that a man who had bought the tiger as a cub had found it increasingly difficult to manage her as she grew to (my words here) man-eating proportions.
First of all, you might find it astonishing that prior to 2005 anyone in Arkansas could own any exotic animal, even big-cat predators, with little or no oversight. The law changed after this incident.
Equally astonishing, obviously, is that a man named Mike Connor (or possibly spelled “Conner”) tried to solve his tiger problem by dropping it off in the Buffalo National River Wilderness.
I seriously doubt that creating a tiger habitat where carnivores and humans could mingle was in, say, the top 25 reasons for creating the wilderness area.
Well, it turned out the story the guide told was accurate.
Nevertheless, my initial reaction when Brightwell called was still one of skepticism.
So when he mentioned that a woman who once lived a quarter-mile down the road saw a large cat about the same time he thinks he was stalked I asked for her name and number.
My reasoning was, first, two sources are better than one when writing about a Bengal tiger named India Nicole stalking a man in Arkansas.
Second, the ex-neighbor actually saw a big cat.
It took Brightwell a while to track the woman down; that’s why it’s taken me this long to write a follow-up.
Story continues below:
‘Every time I would stop, it would stop’
I talked to her this week and, to be honest, I’m not sure she adds much to the story.
The story is this:
Brightwell has a workshop near his house in a rural area. He makes Western jewelry, cowboy spurs, bits and horse gear.
“There’s a patch of woods between me and the shop,” he said. “I left the shop and was headed to the house. It was really, really dark.”
It was January but there were still leaves on the ground.
“I think I may have heard a little bit of rustling behind me and realized that something was following me,” he says. “It was off the trail. It was not following me on the trail. I am sure I heard leaves rustle.
“What got my attention is that every time I would stop, it would stop. Two or three times I was thinking it was a calf and when I walked in its direction it would just fade away.”
A calf would not fade into darkness.
He did not have a flashlight but as he approached his house he fell within the circle of an exterior light.
He turned again and this time saw something. Light was reflected off the eyes of a creature not far behind him.
“It was carrying its head low to the ground,” he says. “I could see a real shady outline.
“Several times, the hair on the back of my neck was straight up. That is unusual for me. This trip through the woods was something I was doing all the time. I have lived here my whole life.
“You get that tingly sensation up your spine when something is really not right, but you can’t put your finger on what it is.”
Nothing happened. He entered the house and the next day he told his wife he thought he might have been tracked by a cougar.
Several days later he read a story in the Harrison (Arkansas) Daily Times about the man who let the tiger loose.
The story stated the tiger, raised in captivity, four nights later showed up back at the owner’s house, near Harrison. It had a genetic homing mechanism.
When Brightwell read that part of the story he looked at a map and realized that if the tiger took a straight path from Erbie to its home it would have crossed Gaither Mountain right about where he lives.
“To me, that is amazing because the tiger had been loaded in a vehicle or a car. To get to Erbie you do not go the same way. That cat did not trace the route back home. It went the most direct route, which brought it against my place.”
Brightwell’s chronology lines up with what’s known about the tiger. It was abandoned right around the time the hairs on Brightwell’s neck stood up.
I believe he feels he might have been stalked by a tiger.
After all, if he was going to make it up wouldn’t he include the most pivotal detail — that he actually saw a tiger that night? And not just bright eyes low to the ground?
Betty Conner is the woman who lived down the road. She tells me she spotted a large cat — perhaps a cougar but certainly not a tiger — several weeks before Brightwell’s experience.
In addition, she says, about the time she saw what might have been a cougar there was someone else in the area who saw what he described as a “black panther” near Brightwell’s house.
I wonder: Maybe Brightwell was stalked not by a tiger but by a mountain lion?
Regardless, Conner, the former neighbor, has an interesting theory.
Big cats, no matter the species, mark their trails.
Maybe the tiger was in the tall grass behind Brightwell that night because it was following the scents left by other big cats that had passed through on the same trail?
Regardless, Brightwell has a good tale.
“I always thought it was kind of cool because how many people have been stalked by a Bengal tiger in Arkansas and lived to tell the story?”
This is Pokin Around column No. 41.