Myth Monday: The Hideous Wampus Cat
By Kara Newcastle
Imagine this; you’re taking a twilight stroll through the countryside of North Carolina, wandering down an old road through the sparse woodlands. The sun is just sliding past the horizon, turning the shadows of trees dark and long. Crickets and peeper frogs are beginning to sing in the tall grasses. Occasionally, you can hear the lowing of cattle not far in the distance as they settle down in their pastures for the night.
Imagine that you decide that it’s getting too dark, so you decide to head back home. As you meander along the road, it gradually occurs to you that you can’t hear anything anymore. All the frogs and crickets have fallen silent. You glance around, thinking that’s weird, but shrug to yourself and assume that maybe you were the one who startled them all into silence. You keep walking.
As you come upon a bend in the road, you hear what sounds like rustling. Alarmed, you look up, and so can see the tall weeds along the side of the road shudder, as though something is passing through it. Your heart picks up speed, but you tell yourself that because the weeds aren’t moving very much, it must be something small. Like a rabbit. Or a fox. Those live around here in the country …
Your mouth goes dry and you freeze in your tracks as the huge, slender head pushes through the grasses, followed by one large paw, then another. A massive, pitch-black feline shape eases out onto the road, its glowing yellow eyes turned in the direction of the farm where you had heard the cows earlier.
A flicker of hope shoots through you. This thing—this giant cat, massive black panther, this creature that should not be here, not in North Carolina, not anywhere in America—hasn’t noticed you. It’s too interested in the cows.
Just as you think that, the unnatural creature turns its head. It stares straight at you, unflinching, for an eternity.
And just when you start to fear that this panther has decided that you would make a much simpler meal that a cow …
That’s when it stands up on its back two legs.
Like a human.
If you live through this encounter, congratulations—you have just met the demon panther of North Carolina and the Appalachia region: the Wampus Cat.
The Wampus Cat is probably the most famous cat-monster in the United States, and its legend—and sightings—stretch back to long before the Europeans ever considered coming to the New World. The Cherokee were most familiar with the hideous creature … because it used to be a member of their tribe.
As with most myths that are variations to the story, but the most common tale begins with a beautiful Cherokee woman who was married to a handsome, accomplished hunter. The woman was devoted to her husband, and while he seemed to love her as well, he frequently left her in their home so he could go on long hunts by himself. In those days, some of the women would accompany men on the hunts to help prepare and carry home the game they caught, but this woman’s husband absolutely insisted, demanded, ordered, that she not accompany him ever.
This didn’t sit right with the woman. In time, she began to wonder, then worry; what if her husband wasn’t really out hunting? What if he was sneaking off to be with another woman? The wife tried to get her husband to tell her, but he adamantly refused. Every time he refused to tell her what he was doing, the more convinced the wife became that he was cheating on her.
Finally, the woman couldn’t stand it anymore. One night after her husband set out, the woman wrapped the pelt of a mountain lion around herself and snuck after him. She followed her husband deep into the woods, moving carefully so he never suspected that she was there. It was growing late in the evening before the husband reached his true destination—a large bonfire in the center of the woodland, with many of the men from their tribe gathered around it.
Puzzled, the woman crept up as close as she could to the fire and listened. She heard the men tell secrets and stories, practicing magic—this knowledge was forbidden to women. Realizing what she had stumbled upon, the woman tried to crawl away, but her hand accidentally came down on a brittle twig on the ground. The snap was as loud as a thunderclap.
In a heartbeat the tribesmen descended on her, grabbing her and her mountain lion pelt up and dragging her into the light of the fire. Before the frightened woman could explain or her shocked husband could intercede, the shamans, outraged that their secret rites had been exposed, placed a curse upon the woman so that she could never speak of what she saw, and to keep other women from trying to spy as well.
Before the woman knew what was happening, the mountain lion pelt she wore adhered to her skin, and she was violently transformed into a half-woman, half-mountain lion beast. Horrified at what had been done to her, the cat-woman flew into a rage and disappeared into the forest, appearing periodically to stalk and kill humans in revenge for what was done to her.
In time white settlers came to the area, and while they were successful in driving out the Cherokee, they had no luck getting rid of the thing they called the Wampus Cat (I’m not 100% sure why they called it that, but I’ll look into it.) There have been dozens if not hundreds of sightings throughout the years of a large black cat killing livestock, attacking humans and generally just lurking in the vicinity. Some people don’t believe that it exists at all. Some believe that it’s just a misidentified animal, others say it’s just a black panther that escaped from a zoo or private collection or otherwise wandered up from Mexico (before you suggest it’s a black mountain lion, let me just point out that mountain lions apparently do not possess a gene for melanism, and there has never been a documented case of a black mountain lion). And still, others still swear that they’ve seen the creature that’s easily twice the size of a cougar and can walk around on two legs, moving just like a human. There have been scads of blurry cellphone videos depicting what appears to be a large black cat from these areas, but so far, they all seem to prefer walking on all fours.
The Wampus Cat is not the only werecat beast in the United States … either that, or it has an incredibly huge range of territory it travels. The best-recorded case of a Wampus Cat or other werecat-type interaction with a human occurred on the night of April 10, 1970, in Cairo, Illinois. Mike Busby, an auto mechanic, was on his way to pick up his wife from work in Olive Branch when his car suddenly began to sputter and die. Figuring he could fix whatever was wrong, Busby pulled off to the side of the road alongside a stretch of woods, got out of the car and popped the hood. Unable to clearly see what the issue was in the darkness, he tweaked what he thought was the problem, then started to close the hood.
That’s when he heard the noise—something big. Running fast.
Coming straight at him.
Busby managed to turn and look just in time to see a huge black cat lunging for him, its jaws wide and clawed paws outstretch. It knocked the terrified man to the ground and began to claw and bite him as he struggled. The monster opened its jaws to snap down on his throat, and Busby shot a hand up, grabbing the thing’s lower jaw and straining to pull it aside. In response, the cat creature struck him in the face, and Busby later said it felt like he was being punched. That, coupled with the fact that Busby reported that the claws were dull, would make one think that this was some lunatic in a cat costume that came out of the woods and attacked Busby, but Busby claims that the thing was making noises like a large cat would, that it was heavy and solid and very real, with wiry, jet black fur.
Hurt, bleeding, terrified, the desperate Busby tried to play dead, and as he went limp and the cat-thing relented its attack. As the creature towered over Busby, the headlights of a passing diesel truck swung over them. The driver, John Hartsworth, was shocked by what he saw and slammed on his brakes but didn’t stop. The light and the noise seemed to scare the beast because it sprang off of Busby, leapt up on two legs and ran back into the woods!
As I understand it, Busby managed to crawl back into his car, started it up with no problems, then continued into Olive Branch, where John Hartsworth was waiting for him. Both men went to the nearest hospital, where both men recounted the attack to skeptical police. The police insisted that Busby had been attacked by a wolf and even later reported that they shot and killed one wandering near where the Mike Busby had been attacked. Busby, who is still alive as of the writing of this blog, doesn’t believe it; he knows he was attacked by a giant black cat that ran on two legs, and it swears to it to this day.