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SharePrint The Great Richwood Panther Hoax


The Great Richwood Panther Hoax was a well-meaning prank in the early fall of 1957 that attracted unexpected statewide media attention, causing its perpetrators considerable embarrassment when exposed, but providing amusement and laughter for citizens in the remainder of the Mountain State.

Jim Comstock, editor of the Richwood News-Leader and The West Virginia Hillbilly, received a call from a then-unidentified source. The caller explained to Comstock that he wanted to do something for Cal Price, the well-respected editor and publisher of the Pocahontas Times. Comstock later identified this caller as Dr. William Birt, following Birt’s death in Milton.

Dr. Birt had met the aging Price and expressed his professional opinion to Comstock that Price didn’t have long to live. He also stated that anyone familiar with Price and his writings in the Pocahontas Times knew that Price fervently believed panthers still roamed the hills of West Virginia. Dr. Birt told Comstock that he was arranging to have a panther shipped from Mexico. Birt’s plan was to take it up on Kennison Mountain near Richwood in Nicholas County and kill it. He would then present it to Price in Marlinton so the old man could go to his grave knowing he had been correct all along. Comstock was to be on hand to publicize the event. All in all, it was a well-meaning and sincere gesture.

Unfortunately, Price died before the plan could be implemented. However, it was too late to cancel the order for the panther, which had already been shipped by the supplier. At that point, Birt and Comstock devised a new plan. Since it seemed senseless to needlessly kill such an impressive creature, Birt would take the panther, container and all, to Kennison Mountain, where Ed Buck, a local Richwood High School biology teacher and accomplished hunter and trapper, would retrieve it. Buck would then say he had “caught” it. Buck was also the chief of the local volunteer fire department; when he brought the panther to Richwood, it was placed on display by his department, and a small admission fee was charged for public viewing.

The story leaked to the wire services on September 18th and began appearing in newspapers around the state. Several of Comstock’s colleagues in the media immediately assumed he was behind the hoax; something of a known mischief-maker, Comstock had once famously added ramp juice to his newspaper’s printing ink, causing a stink with postal officials. When contacted directly by a reporter, Ed Buck would not lie, and the real story of the event emerged. A red-faced Comstock confessed to his role and told his side in a series of articles in his News Leader over the next three weeks, even naming the panther “Miss Imma Hoax.”

The big cat was eventually taken to the French Creek Game Farm (now the West Virginia Wildlife Center) by the West Virginia Conservation Commission (now Division of Natural Resources), where it lived in captivity for many years.

This Article was written by Robert Beanblossom

Last Revised on December 21, 2020

Related Articles


Cawthon, Jack. The Day the Panther Prowled. West Virginia Conservation, November 1957.

Comstock, Jim. 7 Decades – An Autobiography of a Kind. West Virginia Press Club, 1982.

Cite This Article

Beanblossom, Robert "The Great Richwood Panther Hoax ." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 21 December 2020. Web. 18 July 2024.


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