The Wampus Cat (2018)
The Wampus Cat is a creature in American folklore that varies widely in appearance, ranging from frightful to comical, depending on the region. Early references, by the American Dialect Society, noted the Wampus Cat as either, “A creature heard whining about camps at night,” or “An undefined imaginary animal.” Folklorist Vance Randolph described the Wampus Cat as, “a kind of amphibious panther which leaps into the water and swims like a colossal mink.” Other commentators liken the Wampus Cat to a creature of Cherokee mythology.
In Cherokee mythology, the monster is the cat-like embodiment of a female onlooker cursed by tribal elders, as punishment for hiding beneath the pelt of a large wild cat to witness a sacred ceremony. The Wampus Cat is used as a mascot for numerous educational institutions. During the 1920–30s, newspapers reported a “Wampus” cat killing livestock in North Carolina to Georgia. Though possibly due to early intrusions of coyotes or jaguarundi, the livestock deaths were attributed to the Wampus Cat.
A Wampus Cat might sound like the name of a cartoon cat but in reality, it is something much more complex and much more sinister. Although Wampus Cat legends can be heard throughout the South in the United States they seem to be predominantly prominent in Appalachia and has its origins in Cherokee lore.
There are several different versions of how the Wampus Cat came to be. One of the most prominent legends behind the Wampus Cat says that a group of Native American men set out for a long and grueling hunting trip. Because of the nature and duration of this hunt, no women were permitted to accompany the men. Both the men and the women of the tribe were incredibly upset about this order. One particularly spirited wife decided to secretly follow the men along of their hunt.
In order to camouflage herself, the woman decided to wear the hide of a cougar and hang near their campfire. She listened with rapture to the tales of the hunt, the rites of the hunt, and the conversation of the men. However, she soon made herself known. Perhaps she coughed, or gasped, or repositioned herself and broke a stick. But, whatever happened the men discovered her and were infuriated. They brought her back to their village and let the shaman decide her fate. The shaman punished this woman by turning her into the animal she wore on a back.
Thus, the Wampus Cat was created. The Wampus cat is half-human, half-cougar and is cursed until the end of time to walk the woods alone. Because of her terrifying experience, all those who cross her path are terrified of her and typically run screaming, thus preventing her from ever having positive human contact.
It is said the Wampus Cat has the ability to walk on her hind legs and has the snout and ears of a feline. The Wampus Cat likes to stalk campfires, especially those only with men, perhaps as a way to avenge her situation. Sometimes she simply steals food, but other times she attacks those around the campfire.
Interestingly enough, the Wampus Cat is where the term ‘Catawmpus’ allegedly comes from. Catamountain was a common way to say ‘Mountain Cat.’ Catawampus was used to describe an atypical or strange cat that those in the mountains believed they were seeing.
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