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The story of the Wampus Cat

Posted by | October 6, 2014

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


Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by | October 5, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with a look at a brand new documentary film titled Earl Hamner Storyteller.’ “There were eight of us,” Hamner recalls. “Tall, lean, fine-boned, red-headed youngsters growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Depression. My father called us ‘his thoroughbreds,’ and put us on a pedestal. CBS called us The Waltons, and put us on television.”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

In 2013, Cora Hairston released her debut novel, a story told through the eyes of a coal miner’s daughter ‘on the black side.’ Faces Behind the Dust traces the challenges, triumphs and tragedies of a young black woman’s coming of age in the southern West Virginia coalfields in the 1950’s and 1960’s, towards the end of segregation and the dawning of the Civil Rights era. Here’s an excerpt from it.

We’ll wrap things up with the tale of Tennessee’s most famous hag: the Bell Witch. “This witch,” said an 1886 ‘History of Tennessee,’ “was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfort of its victims.”

And thanks to the good folks at the Victor Library at the University of California Santa Barbara, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Smyth County Ramblers a 1928 recording of My Name is Ticklish Reuben.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.


And the goats are fine, thanks

Posted by | October 3, 2014

The poet who penned “the fog comes in on little cats’ feet” moved to western North Carolina for the sake of the little goats’ feet. Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg and his wife Paula had lived for 17 years on Chicago’s foggy shores by Lake Michigan, but left it all behind in 1945. Flat Rock, NC, twenty-four miles south of Asheville, offered greener pastures and a longer browsing season for their Chikaming goat herd.

The Sandburgs paid $45,000 for 248 acres of land, a three-story, 22 room main house of over 9,000 square feet on a hill fronted by green pastures with various lakes, a barn complex and several outbuildings. Plenty of room for them, their three daughters, two grandchildren, their library of more than 10,000 volumes, and the goat farm operation. The hill approaching the house is steep and the climb ascends 100 feet over a third of a mile. Sandburg believed they had bought a “village” and Mrs. Sandburg a “million acres of sky.”

Lilian Sandburg at Connemara, Carl and Lilian Sandburg homePhoto caption reads: “Carl Sandburg spends most of his time writing, and his wife, Lilian Paula Sandburg, most of hers with her goats. She is shown here with her grandson, Joe Carol Thoman.”

The name of home they purchased, Connemara, is Irish, meaning of the sea. Connemara is a region in the country of Ireland located on the northwest coast in the county of Galway, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The home was built in 1838 as a summer home by Christopher Gustavus Memminger of Charleston, SC, who later served as the secretary of the treasury for the Confederacy. After his death the property passed to the Gregg family and then to textile tycoon Capt. Ellison Smyth, also of Charleston, who named it Connemara in honor of his Irish heritage. The Sandburgs bought the estate from Smyth’s descendants and kept the name.

The Asheville area was familiar to Mrs. Sandburg because her brother, photographer Edward Steichen, had spent time there and recommended it as a place to investigate.

Sandburg died on July 22, 1967 at the age of 89. His wife followed ten years later. Both of their remains were cremated and their ashes buried at Carl Sandburg’s birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois beneath a large boulder named after Carl Sandburg’s first and only novel, Remembrance Rock. Connemara, meantime, was sold to the government and is now maintained as a National Historic Site by the U.S. Park Service.


Carl+Sandburg Connemara Flat+Rock+NC Asheville+NC +appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia Appalachia+history


Family Makes Treasure Trove of Early Chattanooga Photographs Available for Book

Posted by | October 2, 2014

The following article by John Wilson appeared yesterday on the website. It is re-posted here with permission.


A treasure trove of Chattanooga photographs that have been passed down in the Stokes family for generations has now been assembled in an upcoming book.

Chattanooga Around The Turn Of The Century: The Remarkable Stokes Collection will be published by

Pre-orders are now being taken for the book, which includes over 700 photos on large-size pages.

Chattanooga Stokes Collection 1

Publisher John Wilson said, “I first got a glimpse of the remarkable Stokes collection of old Chattanooga photos when I interviewed Ann Forstner Cooper Brooks, granddaughter of Will Stokes, in 1995. At the end of the interview at her apartment at Mountain Creek, she pulled out boxes of well-worn albums containing literally hundreds of amazing Chattanooga scenes. Though I only got a quick look, I could see there were numerous views of turn-of-the-century downtown from Cameron Hill, Lookout Mountain, and the few skyscrapers of the day. There were photos of the city’s well-known landmarks as well as charming pastoral scenes. I saw there were dozens of photos taken at Chickamauga Battlefield soon after it opened as a national military park.There were dozens more photos of the trains and streetcars that were then the city’s dominant form of transportation. Many of the pictures showed Chattanooga streets being shared by horse-drawn wagons, early automobiles and streetcars.

“Best of all, these were large, remarkably clear photos that were evidently produced by talented photographers using a fine camera.

“It was 19 years later when I got the privilege of seeing them again. Larry Burrows, friend of the children of Ann and a lover of local history, was allowed to scan and copy pictures in the Stokes collection. He shared them with me and eventually there was a conversation with Ann’s daughter, Connie Cooper Jones. She graciously agreed to allow full access to the collection so that they could be put in book form for all to see and enjoy.

Chattanooga Stokes Collection 2

“It turns out there were boxes and boxes of photos in the collection from early Chattanooga photographer David Stokes and son, Will Stokes. David Stokes was in Hamilton County before the Civil War and he fought with the Union Army. He married Mary Tennessee Fitzgerald, whose family was from Ooltewah. David Stokes was a painter and he also tried his hand at watchmaking. He was briefly the proprietor of the Eblen House, which was on Market Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. But, by the time he died at the early age of 58 in January 1901, he was known as one of the city’s most prominent photographers after opening his photography shop on lower Market Street about 1881.

“Son Will Stokes was even a more enterprising photographer than his father after learning the craft from him and from A.W. Judd. It was said that his ‘close application to his business and a continued study of modern improvements earned for him a reputation that spread to other cities.’ His first shop was opened in East Lake about the time of his father’s death.

“Will Stokes kept in his shop the photo books that still are a prized possession of his descendants and thankfully have been passed down and preserved. The photos were numbered, and a customer could pick out the ones he or she wanted prints of.

“Will Stokes served a term as president of the Chattanooga Society of Free Masons and was master of the F&AM Lodge 199. He suffered a lengthy illness when he was in his 50s and died in 1922 when he was 55.

“Some photos from the Civil War are in the Stokes collection and there is a picture of Market Street showing the New Orleans Store in 1875. Some other early photos remain, including an interesting one showing 9th, 10th and 11th streets around 1890. Many of the photos were taken by Will Stokes between around 1901 to 1920. The Walnut Street Bridge is the only bridge in view in many of the river scenes. But he made several of the new Market Street Bridge that opened in 1917.

Chattanooga Stokes Collection 3

“With photo software, it was possible to capture and highlight interesting details from many of the Stokes photos so that the original number in the collection was multiplied. Thanks to the interest of Larry Burrows and the gracious generosity of Connie Cooper Jones and her brothers, Jim, Joe and John Cooper, I am thrilled that the remarkable Stokes collection can now be seen and enjoyed by all.”

The photo book will be in a 11×8 1/2 format with a soft cover.  The number of copies to be printed by College Press at Collegedale will be based on the initial orders, so there will be a limited run.  The photo book is due to be ready for mailing or pickup around the first of November in time for Christmas giving.  The price of the book is $35.  For those who want it mailed, add $5 and list where copies should be mailed to.  Send checks for $40 to  For those who will pick up the book from John Wilson at later designated locations, send checks for $35 (for each book ordered) made out to

Mail your orders to:

John Wilson
129 Walnut St.
Suite 416
Chattanooga, Tn., 37403


The sorghum season is on!

Posted by | October 1, 2014

Kentucky and Tennessee are today the leading sorghum syrup producing states, and neither are shy about the fact. The Tipton-Haynes Historic Site in Johnson City, TN hosted a sorghum festival September 20, and over in West Liberty, KY the locals of that district celebrated their own 44th annual Sorghum Festival last weekend. Georgia has an official state sorghum festival in Blairsville, which opens October 11 and goes for a full week.

sorghum mill Kentucky styleA poor-soil brother of the corn family, sorghum grows all over the United States and as far north as Canada. To mountain folk, in the days when they knew sugar only in liquid form, there just wasn’t any other sweetening like it. Sorghum meant a rich dark-brown molasses, just right for corn bread and unbeatable for hot-cakes. It is still used for seasoning beans and for making cookies. A sorghum “run-off” was the most enjoyable event of the old-time farm year. Sorghum—the ‘sugar plant’—was mostly a small farm product, but during the Civil War years about sixty million gallons of it were manufactured. Today sorghum has been bred into a dry soil plant for livestock feeding.

The beers mentioned in early American writings were in no way similar to beer as we know it—and such was southern molasses beer, made from sorghum. A first distillation of fermented sorghum juice, molasses beer was found on the tables of most mountain farms, often as a substitute for milk, and was taken by small children at every meal.

The typical Kentucky family had two acres planted in sorghum. Most of it was for syrup, part went for cattle fodder, and the seeds fed the chickens. The sheet metal pan for cooking the syrup was similar to New England’s maple sugar pan, but the horse drawn sugar mill originated in the South. Northerners usually preferred to do their “farm squeezing” with wooden screw type presses.

Sorghum Festival 2008 at Ketner's Mill TNSorghum Festival 2008 at Ketner’s Mill TN.

Squeezed sorghum juice exuded from the mill through a burlap strainer and into a barrel. It was then transferred to the cooking pan. As the juice began to boil, it was paddled and cleared of impurities, turning from green to muddy and finally to clear brown. Four gallons of juice produced about one gallon of syrup; as a substitute for store bought sugar, sorghum was an easily grown crop with very little waste.

Unlike today’s sugar with its nutrients refined away, primitive sorghum syrup was not as good to look at, but it at least contained food value. Sorghum joined corn as one of the staffs of early farm life; it even found its way into paints and dyes.

source: Once Upon a Time: The Way America Was, by Eric Sloane, Dover Publications, 2005

sorghum+molasses sorghum+festivals Blairsville+GA Morgan+County+KY Gray+TN appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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