Be careful when you are out camping in the woods late at night and you might see a large pair of almond-shaped green eyes staring back at you…and it might be the Wampus cat. Or you might hear sounds that resemble a woman’s scream, screeching, whining roar, a high-pitched mew, howls, or a baby’s cry.
While the Wampus Cat is often thought of as a mythical creature and often portrayed as such in today’s media, they are a very huge and real creature of myth and legend to the Appalachians and the Cherokee Nation. The Wampus Cat has several names depending on the region. It is called the Wampus Cat, Gallywampus, or Whistling Wampus.
The Wampus Cat is not to be confused with the Catawampus which is a different animal that lurks in the woods and usually gets the blame for unusual and strange events. Catawampus is also an Appalachian word that means something is crooked or something that is placed in a corner. It really depends on which region you are from and the conversation as to the meaning of the word.
The Cherokee Legends
There are two different stories concerning the Wampus Cat and it depends on which region you are in as to the changes to both versions.
According to the Cherokee people, the Wampus Cat was once a beautiful Cherokee woman who witnessed a forbidden sacred ceremony. Before each hunt, the warriors of the village would meet in the woods to ask for forgiveness for the lives that they had to take for food and ask for help for safety and a great hunt. It was forbidden for the women of the village to witness this ceremony.
The curiosity about this sacred rite consumed the woman. It was made all the worse by her husband refusing to tell her what went on that made it so secret from the ladies in the village. The woman decided to watch the ceremony secretly since her husband refused to reveal it to her.
So, one night, while the secret sacred rites were being held, she hid under many cat furs to try to keep hidden from discovery. She hid behind the trees and rocks as she silently crept closer and closer to hear and watch the men at the ceremony. Her curiosity and desire to know everything about the ceremony drove her onward.
She got too close and was discovered. The men grabbed her and dragged her into the circle. The angry shaman cursed the woman for her lack of self-control and for breaking the spiritual laws of the ceremony. Because she had wrapped herself in cat skins, they became her own and she was cursed to walk in the forests forever as the Wampus Cat.
According to Cherokee folklore, the Spirit of Madness or Ew’ah was roaming the forests near the village of Etowah or Chota (depending on the version) are both found in North Carolina. The Spirit had the power to drive men to madness with a single glance.
This concerned the shamans and war chiefs that if they sent out their brave warriors to hunt the Spirit that this could potentially kill everyone in the villages. However, the evil Spirit was feeding on the dreams of the children of the villages and something had to be done to stop this.
Standing Bear or Great Fellow (again depending on the version) was the smartest, strongest, most sneaky, and fastest warrior in all of the Cherokee nation. As he was leaving the village, his village shaman blessed him, and his wife, Running Bear, said goodbye to him.
Several weeks went by and there was no sign or word of Standing Bear. Then late one night Standing Bear came running and screaming into the village clawing his own eyes. He had been driven insane by the Wampus Cat and he would no longer be considered “alive” by the Cherokee Law.
Because Running Bear loved her husband so much she went to the shamans to ask for a chance at revenge against the Wampus Cat. This was granted to her and she was given a booger mask in the shape of a bobcat’s face and black paste to cover her scent. She was told that she had to sneak up on the Spirit of Madness to kill it or she could become insane herself.
She headed off into the wooded area that she knew very well and ate berries during her days of hunting the demon. Then late one night, she heard Ew’ah by the stream drinking from the freshwater spring. She quietly snuck up on the demon then pounced…
The Wampus Cat spun around and saw the Cat-Spirit-Mask and began to tear at itself as it fell back into the stream. Running Bear saw that the Spirit’s power had turned upon itself and ran as fast as she could toward her village.
Running Bear was declared to be a Spirit-Talker and Home Protector and it is also said that part of her spirit inhabits the Wampus Cat to this day. It is said that it is now her eternal mission to protect her Tribe’s lands and her people against demons that hide in the dark wooded areas.
Wampus Cat Description
The Wampus Cat is described as having yellow or green eyes. The eyes are described by Native and Non-Native Americans as piercing into your soul and driving a person to insanity.
It also has been described as half-dog and half-cat. And is often described as having a light tan or yellow fur. It is mostly feline in nature and habits and is compared to the Cougar or Mountain Lion.
It is also said that the creature can run on two, four, and six legs. And some regions have the creature with a ball of spikes at the end of its tail.
The Wampus Cat can be seen just as darkness falls after sunset or right before the first light of the day at dawn in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains. It is also said to be amphibious as it often is seen leaping into the water and swimming.
The Wampus Cat in Today’s Culture
Many authors and media have used versions of the Wampus Cat. J.K. Rowling wrote about it in the “Pottermore” History of Magic in North America books, James Cameron’s movie “Avatar” had a version of them that he called the thanator. Roald Dahl’s novel James and the Giant Peach mentions them. As well as other novels and stories use the Wampus cat as part of their plots.
Many schools in the United States use the Wampus Cat as their mascots. These schools are mainly located in Idaho, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana.
In many of the South-Eastern Native American Tribes, the Wampus Cat plays in several myths and legends to this day. It is seen as a shape-shifting animal that causes insanity if it stares back at you. Meeting the gaze of a Wampus Cat will cause you to lose your mind.
Death of John Andrews
The Wampus Cat has moved out of the legends and myths of the people of the Appalachian Mountains and is well known around the USA. This mainly happened sometime around the 1920s as many livestock was being lost to animals during that time period. But we have found the exception with the article in the Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colorado on March 5, 1909, that tells about John Andrews, who was killed on an expedition along the Colorado River. His death was attributed to the Wampus Cat by the other six members of his party.
Is the Wampus Cat real or legend? Well, it could be a little of both. Strange things have been video tapped and photographed on the trail cams now and people are saying that they are seeing strange animals in the woods still to this day.
The wooded area of the Appalachians has always been dangerous ground and it has never been recommended to take a walk by yourself in them. While this could be a huge mountain lion or Bobcat, this also could be a species that has never been trapped as well.
We always take the view that you as our reader and listener should make up your own minds on whether a myth or legend is just that or a true fact. However, all we can say is that many legends and myths of the Appalachian people are handed down generation after generation and are held close and dear to the people of the mountains.
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The Wampus Cat
The Wampus Cat
The Wampus Cat
The Legend Of The Wampus Cat Explained
Wampus Cat in Conway, Arkansas
By Emilia David
May 23, 2020
The story of the Wampus Cat
Posted by Dave Tabler
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
The Library of Congress
The Daily Sentinel March 5, 1909
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When we forget our past and who we are as a people, then we become who “they” say we are. ~~ David Sergent
I have attended the University of Kentucky. I have an Associates Degree from Hazard Community College and Technical School. I have also attended the University of Pikeville. I have taken several classes in Journalism as well as in the Appalachian History, Literature, and Sociology during my time at those schools.
I was born in Florida and grew up in Burdine, Kentucky. I have been married to David W. Sergent since May 4, 2013. I have two children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage. I currently live in Tennessee but my hope is to one day come back home to live in the beautiful mountains once more.