In the Southeastern United States, the term “Wampus Cat” is applied to any large, cat-like creature with a loud, shrill cry. In East Tennessee, however, the word pre-dates the arrival of white men in the state. It is usually described as being four feet tall with a mesmerizing gaze. Wampus Cats feed on rabbits, raccoons, domestic pets, and other small animals. According to Cherokee legends, the Wampus Cat is actually part-feline and part-human.

Hundreds of years ago, a beautiful Indian woman was not content to stay home while her husband and the other men went hunting. She longed to savor the thrill of the hunt, the quickening of the pulse as the hunter discovers fresh deer sign and takes off in pursuit of the animal. One day, the woman gave in to her secret desire. She followed the men as they went off in search of game. Miraculously, she remained undetected the entire day as the men looked for tracks and sharpened their arrowheads. After sunset, she hid herself behind a rock and, with the warm mountain lion skin wrapped around her shoulders, she closely observed the men as they told tribal stories and performed magical rites. She became so absorbed in the men’s activities that she accidentally bumped an overhanging tree branch. Thinking that a predator was getting ready to pounce, the men rushed to the rock where the woman was hiding. When they discovered a cowering woman in place of a mountain lion or a human enemy, their surprise instantly turned into anger. How dare a woman spy on their sacred tribal rites! The medicine man was consulted and asked to devise a fitting punishment for the woman. Staring at the skin adorning the woman’s shoulders, the medicine man decided to bind her to the mountain lion hide forever. Her performed a magical spell and changed the woman into an abominable creature, half-human and half-cat. Giving her the name “Wampus Cat,” the medicine cast her out of the camp to roam the hills, desolate and alone.

Some people say that the Wampus Cat’s mournful howl can still heard in the hills of East Tennessee. Some people have even had personal encounters with the supposedly mythical beast. S. E. Schlosser tells the story of a man who was hunting one night with his dogs when, inexplicably, his dogs started whining and ran off. At that same moment, the man’s nostrils were assailed by an especially pungent odor, like the smell of a skin. He was standing there, trying to identify the source of the musky smell, when a piercing scream directly behind him caused him to drop his rifle. The man spun around on his heels, and what he saw chilled his blood. Staring at him with saucer-like yellow eyes was a cat-like creature. The drooling beast resembled a mountain lion except for the fact that it stood on two legs. Without warning, the Wampus Cat howled again. Fear overrode the man’s intrinsic curiosity, and he sprinted as fast as he could to a friend’s house. His friend looked out his window to see what was causing the commotion outside, and he was astounded by what he saw. He held the front door until the man had dashed inside; then he slammed the door in the face of his pursuer. The creature slammed into the door with such force that it seemed to bounce off its hinges. While the Wampus Cat vented its frustration in a series of horrifying cries, the man’s friend tried to repel the creature by grabbing his Bible and reading from the Book of Psalms. After a few minutes, the Wampus Cat slunk off into the darkness.

The Wampus Cat has been even been sighted in large cities, like Knoxville. In the early 2000s, a student enrolled at the University of Tennessee had just moved into her new apartment at 16th and Cumberland streets. It was the first week of school, and she was looking out her window when she saw something that defies belief. At first, she thought she was looking at a human being. Then she realized that it was a human-sized, cat-like being that was walking on its hind legs. The girl distinctly recalled that the beast had glowing, hypnotic eyes. She continued watching the creature until it walked out of sight.

Everyone who has ever encountered the Wampus Cat has paid a high price for the experience in one way or another. Consequences include the loss of animal life, the loss of one’s reputation, and, in the most extreme cases, the loss of sanity. In another Cherokee legend, a young brave who tries to drive the Wampus Cat away from his village loses his mind as soon as the beast comes into view. Friends and neighbors might arrive at the same conclusion about anyone who claims to have seen the Wampus Cat.