Sunday, March 21, 2010

Big Cat Tales: From the Appalachians to the Swamps

Cryptid cat sightings are a worldwide phenomena. For decades, there have been accounts of large black cats roaming the countryside of Great Britain. As well, recent mutilations of horses and livestock in Australia have prompted fear that undocumented large cats also dwell on the continent.

Over the past few years, there has been an increased number of large cat sightings recorded throughout the eastern United States. Most descriptions have been similar to those of cougars or panther-like creatures, large muscular felines with long tails. Though, many of the reports proved to be that of a large feral cat or an oversized pet.

Before European settlers set foot in North America, the native Cherokee tribes of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia spoke of the fearsome Wampus Cat (also called the Ewah) that roamed the land. This was said to be the result of a woman who had disguised herself in the skin of a mountain lion and spied on the men of the tribe as they sat around the campfire telling sacred stories on a hunting trip. When the woman was discovered, the tribe's medicine man punished her by transforming her into a half-woman, half-cat. Supposedly, this creature still lives.

In the early 19th century, the Wampus Cat was reported to roam the Southern bottomlands and described as ". . . an impossibly hideous critter said to have the head of a man, the body of a wildcat only larger, and the soul of a demon." The Wampus Cat was known to lurk along murky river bottoms and feast upon hapless hunters, fishermen and travelers and anybody else who wandered too far away from civilization. Wampus Cat stories and sightings became less and less frequent after the War Between the States.

Old American South books and newspapers state that "Wampus" was a name used for an unknown monster cat as well as other mystery animals. The word catawampus (cattywampus), which means "Cater-Cornered; slant wise, or Evil; malicious" in the American Heritage Dictionary, seems to be a neutral piece of evidence.

In 2008, a reader from Knoxville responded to an inquiry I made concerning the Wampus Cat and other mysterious large cats:

“During the school year, my girlfriend lives in Strong Hall on the University of Tennessee campus. One night while we were at her place, I was talking about how I was walking back to my dorm (Greve Hall) with a friend of mine. I was beside him, but very slightly ahead. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what appeared to be a man in a black cloak walk up to my friend and sort of lean into him, almost like he was going to put his hand on my friend's shoulder. Only when his hand fell on my friend's shoulder, he simply disappeared. I will admit that during this time I was a bit tired from studying for an exam, and my friend says he felt nothing, but that's neither here nor there.”

“After telling my girlfriend this story, she told me that during the first week of school she looked out her ground-floor window toward the corner of 16th and Cumberland, and saw what appeared to be a human-sized cat walking on its hind legs, with glowing eyes. I don't remember the details she gave me, as far as how long it was there or how long she saw it.”

“It should be noted that my girlfriend is from Minnesota and I have no reason to believe she would try to trick me by reading about the Wampus Cat and then trying to pretend she saw it. We're very close and I have no reason to believe she would lie to me.”


Granted, this could have been a dorm party induced phantom, but I think the writer was serious. There are recent accounts of large cat sightings in the south that have an unusual twist.

A few years ago, an unknown predator mauled a pit bull and killed two puppies in Brunswick County, North Carolina and residents fear it's the same animal that killed three dogs in September 2007. The county's animal control agency investigated the animal's tracks, droppings and other clues but couldn't determine what attacked the dogs. Locals call the unknown animal the 'Beast of Bolivia'. Some residents and experts said the predator may have been a wayward panther or cougar, or even a wolf because 3-inch paw tracks were found at the scene. There have been no reports of noise during the attacks which seems strange since this is a residential area. As well, the beast has never been seen.


In an earlier incident, a man was taking pictures of alligators in the North Santee River in South Carolina with a digital camera. Later when he returned home and looked at the images, he realized there was a black panther watching him. He stated that he never witnessed or heard the animal for the entire time he was at the river.

For years there have been stories of Black Florida Panthers prowling in our wilderness, but there's never been any official record they exist.

A rare Black Bobcat was captured and researchers at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary say they now know what people were referring to when they said they saw the panther.

"For years, people here in Florida have talked about Black Florida Panthers. First of all, Florida Panthers are basically a Cougar. There has never ever been a Black Cougar or a Florida Panther ever found. No record of them, no pictures, no hides, no skins, nothing. but still we hear these stories of black cats that lurk in the wilds of Florida. Maybe we have kind of found that missing piece of the puzzle and we now know what everybody's been talking about when they say, 'I saw a Black Panther in the wild.' But really they saw a Black Bobcat."

The sanctuary has been working with the state to run DNA and blood tests. They want to make sure there's official documentation that the Black Bobcat exists... even if the Black Panther does not. The sanctuary has returned the Black Bobcat to the wild.
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MORE ON THE LEGENDS


The mountains of Tennessee, from the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia , are dotted with country folks whose occupations range from farmers to coal miners. Many of these country folks have tales of the paranormal, ranging from coal miner ghosts to legends of the Indians.

Jinx Johnston is one of those country people who had a true encounter of a famous legend. The legend of the Wampus Cat. Jinx was a robust man. He stood about 6 feet high and weighed around 200 pounds. He was the type of man that could not scare very easily. The camp fire would cast eerie shadows on the faces of his audience as he began to tell his story of the Wampus Cat. The following is his story...

"There was an old woman who lived by herself in the hills of West Virginia. Townfolk swore she was a witch. People would complain their cattle would be hexed and other farm animals would come up missing. They all blamed the old woman because she lived like a hermit. Supposedly, she would turn herself into a cat and hide until someone would open the door. She would dart into the house and wait for her victims to fall asleep. She would cast a deeper sleeping spell on the farmer and then she would slip out of the window to steal a farm animal. The witch was so good at what she was doing, she was never caught."

"One day, the townfolks decided they had grown tired of their livestock coming up missing or dead. They devised a plan to catch the witch in her own act. She snuck into an unsuspecting house and placed the whole family under her spell. She jumped out the window as she had always done and went straight for a cow or sheep. Uncle Jinx always changed the animal this woman was after. The old woman, still in her cat form, went to the barn. She began chanting spells to change herself back into human form. Before it was completed, several people jumped out and surprised her. The poor old woman never had the chance to complete the transformation. It left her half woman and half cat. A ghastly creature to the eye sight. The creature howled with fright and broke down the door. She ran off into the night, never to be seen again. Jinx Johnston said time is important for a witch if she was changing back from an animal to a human again. The spell she had cast upon herself could never be reversed or fixed. The witch was doomed to be the Wampus Cat for the rest of her life."

"On nights when the moon is high, and the wind is blowing hard, you can see this creature. It walks upright like a human but has the body of a large cat. It howls and supposedly still stalks the hills of West Virginia. This creature is said to stalk farm animals but prefers young children the best."

Jinx would always finish his story by telling his audience how he used to go raccoon hunting. He and his 'coon' dogs would be out looking for raccoons to tree. The moon would always be bright in the sky and the howls of the Wampus cat would ring in his ears. One night, the dogs were way ahead of him. He kept hollering for them to return but they never did. The robust man went on to tell how he tripped over something and his rifle went flying out of his hands. He smelled an awful smell. He said it smelled like a skunk and a wet dog. He looked up and saw this hideous creature. Saliva dripping from its fangs, and yellow eyes that glowed in the dark, and a howl that nearly brought him out of his skin. Jinx looked for his rifle but it was lost in the dark. He got up and slowly backed away from the creature. He turned around and ran as fast as he could towards home. Jinx told how he could feel and smell its breath on his neck. He bolted inside his house and slammed the door. He reached for his Bible and began reading out loud. The Wampus Cat howled at his words. Finally, just as the sun peeked over the hill, the Wampus Cat left. He said this was the reason he stopped treeing raccoons at night. Jinx's fear of the Wampus Cat was greater than chasing a raccoon up a tree.

The second version of the Legend of the Wampus Cat begins this way. According to an old Indian legend, the Wampus Cat was created. It was said a young Indian woman did not trust her husband. It was custom for the men of the Indian tribe to hunt while the women did things around the encampments. The women were forbidden to hunt. One night, she placed the hide of a mountain cat on her body. She snuck out to spy on her husband to see what he did on his hunting trips. As the hunters gathered around their camp fires, the woman watched them. She became fascinated with the stories and the magic that was presented to the men of the Indian tribe. The poor woman was caught and for her crime, she was transformed into what is known as the Wampus Cat. The woman was doomed to be forever half woman and half mountain cat. The ghost of the Wampus Cat is still said to walk the hills of Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. On full moons, you can see the Wampus Cat howling. Is she howling because of her grave mistake and wishes to be transformed back to her humanly body?

If there were no legends, the world would be much duller. Many people consider the Bigfoot or Sasquatch a myth. I’d say just as many people consider the hairy hominid a fact.

Sources:
www.essortment.com
en.wikipedia.org
www.americanfolklore.net
www2.mcdowellnews.com
www.godchecker.com


Big Cat Tales: From the Appalachians to the Swamps

1 comment :

Andrew D. Gable said...

Karl Shuker has also let me know that there have been specimens of bobcat with long tails, rather than the nubs they usually have, found. A long-tailed bobcat that happened to be black would be VERY pantherine. Especially interesting as quite a few "black panthers" seem to be not very large.

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