The story of the Wampus Cat

Posted by | October 13, 2017

In Missouri they call it a Gallywampus; in Arkansas it’s the Whistling Wampus; in Appalachia it’s the just a plain old Wampus (or Wampas) cat. A half-dog, half-cat creature that can run erect or on all fours, it’s rumored to be seen just after dark or right before dawn all throughout the Appalachians. But that’s about all everyone agrees on. In non-Native American cultures it’s a howling, evil creature, with yellow eyes that can supposedly pierce the hearts and souls of those unfortunate enough to cross its path, driving them to the edge of sanity.

Cherokee folklore, which is filled with tales of evil spirits lurking in the deep, dark forests that surrounded their villages, offers a different view of the Wampas cat.

An evil demon called Ew’ah, the Spirit of Madness, had been terrorizing the village of Etowah (or Chota, depending on the version you hear) in what is today North Carolina. The village shamans and warchiefs called for a meeting. The wise shamans told the warchiefs that sending the braves to hunt and kill the Ew’ah was surely going to be the end of the tribe, for the Ew’ah had the terrible power to drive men mad with a glance. The warchiefs argued that the Ew’ah could no longer feast on the dreams of the Cherokee children, and that something must be done. Together they agreed that their strongest brave would go alone, and bring great honor to his family and tribe by killing the mad demon.

the Wampus CatStanding Bear (or Great Fellow, depending on the story version) was the strongest, fastest, sneakiest, smartest, and most respected brave in all the Cherokee nation, and he was chosen to do battle with the demon. As he walked from his village, the shamans blessed him, and the warchiefs gave him many fine weapons with which to slay the beast, and on the edge of town, his wife, Running Deer, bid him a final farewell. She would never see him the same way again.

Weeks went by, and there was no word from Standing Bear. Suddenly, late one night, the stricken brave came running back into camp, screaming, and clawing at his eyes. One look, and Running Deer knew. Her husband was no more. With time, he would be able to pick berries and work in the fields with the young girls and the unmarried widows, but he would never be any good as a husband again, and by Cherokee law, that meant he was dead. Standing Bear’s name was never again mentioned, but Running Deer had loved her husband, and she wanted revenge.

Running Deer went to the shamans, and they gave her a booger mask, a bobcat’s face, and they told her that the spirit of the mountain cat could stand against the Ew’ah, but she must be the one to surprise the demon. The warchiefs gave her a special black paste, which when rubbed on her body, would hide her scent as well as her body. She kissed her former husband on the forehead, his blank eyes staring, and headed off to seek her revenge.

Running Deer knew the woods as well as she knew the village, and she ate sweet berries to keep up her strength over the many days, but still she came across no sign of the Ew’ah. Then, late one night, she heard a creature stalking down by the stream. As she crept slowly towards the creek, she heard a twig snap behind her. She spun, and just as suddenly realized how quickly it could have been the end of her. Behind her a wily fox darted across the pathway. “If that had been Ew’ah, I would be mad now…” the widowed Cherokee woman thought to herself, as she continued towards the creek.

At the edge of the creek, she saw footprints which did not belong there, and her former husband’s breastplate lay at the edge of the water. As she followed the prints upstream, she saw the demon. Its hulking form lurched hideously over the water, drinking from the pristine mountain spring. The Ew’ah hadn’t seen her! Running Deer crept ever closer, and just as she felt she could bring herself no closer, she sprang!

The Ew’ah spun, and saw the Cat-Spirit-Mask, and began to tear at itself as the spirit of the mountain cat turned its powerful magic back on itself. The Ew’ah tumbled backwards into the pool, and Running Deer immediately turned on her heel and ran as fast as she could back to the village, never once looking back.

When she arrived home, she sang a song to herself—a quiet song, of grief for her husband, but also of joy for the demon’s banishment. The shamans and warchiefs declared Running Deer the Spirit-Talker and Home-Protector.

Some say that the spirit of Running Deer inhabits the Wampas cat, and that she continues her eternal mission of watching her tribe’s lands to protect them and their peoples from the demons that hide in the dark and lost places of Tanasi.

sources: Cherokee version above related by Enrique de la Viega, of Powder Branch, TN, on 7/11/03, posted to Ex Libris Nocturnis forum at

Mysterious Knoxville, by Charles Edwin Price, 1999

17 Responses

  • Tim Hooker says:

    In Southeast Tennessee, I’ve heard it called a Catty-wampus.

  • While there are towns named Etowah in both North Carolina and Tennessee, the Cherokee village named Etowah was in Bartow County, Georgia, near the Etowah Mounds (which were not built by the Cherokee), and Chota was in Monroe County, Tennessee.

  • Dave Tabler says:

    You’re right! Thanks for catching that and setting it straight, Dennis.

  • Janie Kraker says:

    I live in northern Georgia and comment Dennis for his knowledge and his post. My late father always talked about a Wampus Cat and I was thrilled to find this post. Thank you so much! I travel to western North Carolina frequently and feel that I belong in the Nantahala area. I grieve for what the white man did to the noble Cherokee. As a side note to Tim Hooker’s post….catty-wampus is known to me and my family as “all mixed up” or “out of order” or “out of arrangement”.
    I just returned from a wonderful visit to Fontana Village…we went in February and the lake was almost completely drained…we visited Cherokee, Joyce Kilmer, Robbinsville, Lake Junaluska areas. I am infatuated with Horace Kephart as well and have hiked Kephart Prong several times. Simply put, I love the area and feel that I belong there.

  • Jennifer Robinson Whaley says:

    A year ago I got my family tree from my mother who had kept it all in her Bible. I am over three fourths cherokee Indian. My fiance had spoken of a Wampus Cat that he and his cousins had seen on our land as children.We moved to the thirteen acre property last June. I saw something behind our house that i thought was a ghost and another spirit just before dawn.It looked at me as if it were looking into my soul and what I felt was pure rage.When I described what I had seen to my fiance he told me it was the same Wampus Cat he had seen as a child. This is the first time I have looked it up and find this very interesting. Two years ago I gave my three daughters Indian names. My eleven year old named Hannah is the one I gave the name Running Deer. I never knew the story behind all of this and just want to thank you for post.

  • Jennifer Robinson Whaley says:

    who has a drawing or picture of the wampus cat

  • TJ Morrison says:

    I live in Atoka, Oklahoma. I am in McCall Middle School. McCall is the last name of the Mayor that built the school. But anyways, My school’s nickname is the Wampus Cats, so it’s
    The Atoka Wampus Cats. Our football team is good, and so is our softball and baseball team. Basketball, mabye a so-so.

  • Nancy Stafford Griesinger says:

    Catty-Wampus in our neighborhood always meant a rather mixed up situation.
    My people lived in Western North Carolina in what is now Eastern Tennessee. They traveled west and settled (some of them) in Northwestern Tennessee.

  • […] panther.  It’s a creepy ghost story, basically, and like any legend, there are different versions.   If you’re building a party, these are your strong warrior types.  (You know the drill by […]

  • Shannon Duzan-Fowler says:

    The Etowah mounds in Georgia aren’t Cherokee mounds. They were built by the Mississippian Period mound builders (thought to be the ancestors of both the Cherokee and the Creek).

  • brave heart bull says:

    Etowah is a corruption of the Muskogee word, Etalwuh ( E’tvlwv in our language)meaning: Their Town, as in someone else’s. If you remove the “E”, making it Tv’lwav, it then becomes personal.

  • Tony Williams says:

    As a boy growing up in rural northwest Florida, my Granny used the term “Wampus-Cat” to scare us back into the house at dark or at dinner time. Best of my recollection, she described this thing as evil and “of the devil”. Ran on all fours or upright, long fangs and claws and his scream could be heard for a country mile. I remember this as a useful method for her getting my cooperation.

  • BigUrn says:

    The Catty-Wampus don’t give a fuck.

  • Tony says:

    I was attacked by a Wampus cat as a child. My Mamaw would always holler right before dark, “you kids better get in here before the wampus cat gets you” and we would come runnin to the house. A kid at school made fun of me for believing in the wampus cat. One evening we were playing outside and my mamaw hollered the usual. I shot back “Aint no such thing as a wampus cat, we’ll be in when the game is over!” About 30 minutes later I came up to the house and as soon as I opened the screen door, the Wampus cat got me. Its claws felt like a switch on the back of my legs. I learned that a wampus cat is actually a whoop ass cat and it don’t like being sassed.

  • Suzannah McCuen says:

    My parents are natives of upstate SC and made rare reference to something being cattywampus or kittywampus if it was askew or discombobulated. They were not superstitious people and so did not attribute any bad or mystical traits to panthers, “painters” or mountain lions, recognizing that their mountain ancestors were originally referring to the big cats when using the term cattywampus.

  • Jasmine says:

    I currently go to a school that uses the Wampus Cat as their mascot and the town even has an Indian name (according to one of my teachers anyway). All of the students there have made themselves familiar with one of the legends that we all know by heart. Personally I was thrilled to actually find an article with a different origin story than the one I was used to and had memorized.

Leave a Reply

3 − = 0

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2017 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive