The Wampus Cat Myth Explained: Origins and Sightings

An illustration of a six-legged mountain lion snarling
The Wampus cat has roots in Cherokee folklore and Appalachian legends, but lacking real proof of its existence, is the six-legged feline just another undefined, imaginary animal? Daniel Eskridge / Shutterstock

If you haven't heard of the Wampus cat before, you're missing out on one of the more enigmatic cryptids out there. The legendary creature has roots in American folklore, particularly the Appalachian region.

Described as a fearsome hybrid of a mountain lion and a woman, believers say the Wampus cat roams the wilderness, emitting eerie sounds that strike terror into the hearts of those who cross its path.


Origins of the Wampus Cat

Cherokee folklore offers a few perspectives on the Wampus cat. One legend tells of Running Deer, a Cherokee woman who wanted to take down the evil spirit Ew'ah, known as the Spirit of Madness. Running Deer wanted revenge, for she believed the spirit was responsible for driving her husband, Standing Bear, to madness.

Equipped with a booger mask and the spirit of a mountain cat, she surprised and defeated the spirit, becoming the tribe's Spirit-Talker and Home-Protector. Some believe that Running Deer's spirit resides within the Wampus cat, guarding the Cherokee lands against dark forces hidden in the depths of Tanasi.


According to another legend, the creature was once a woman who spied on a sacred ceremony by hiding beneath the pelt of a mountain lion. A medicine man punished the woman by transforming her into a fearsome feline entity: the Wampus cat.

The Lore of Appalachia

Throughout the Appalachian region, the Wampus cat is known by different names, from Gallywampus to Whistling Wampus, and is rumored to appear at twilight or dawn. In Appalachian folklore, the mythical beast is often portrayed as the catlike embodiment of a cursed woman who was punished for her disobedience or involvement in witchcraft.

Other interpretations suggest that the concept of the Wampus cat was influenced by European mythology, specifically the idea of witches or women with shape-shifting abilities. These influences may have merged with local Appalachian folklore over time.


Historic Accounts

Some historic accounts also lend weight to the existence of the Wampus cat. The Greeneville Sun reported December 17, 1918, "A 'Wampus' is reportedly roaming the big ridge in the vicinity of Gethsemane." The newspaper went on to say that sightings and rumors of the Wampus cat have persisted for generations, further fueling the intrigue and tall tales surrounding the beast.

Years later, the creature made headlines again when it was blamed for a string of livestock deaths. Newspapers reported that the elusive monster had consumed dogs, pigs and other animals in the Norfolk area. They speculated that the Wampus might belong to a species long believed to be extinct. While the papers of yore published a few reports of the Wampus cat killing livestock, there is still no tangible proof of the cryptid's existence.


Physical Description and Sightings

Eyewitnesses describe the Wampus cat as a large and fearsome creature with a bobcat's face, often portrayed as a cross between a cat and a human, with sharp, elongated claws and fangs. Its most distinctive feature is its glowing, yellow eyes that supposedly pierce through the darkness of the night as it roams the Appalachian Mountains.

Eyewitnesses have reported seeing a creature with a muscular, feline body covered in dark, matted fur, accompanied by a long, sinuous tail that aids in its balance and agility. Some accounts assert that the creature has six legs and is more of a half-cat, half-dog hybrid.


Sightings of the creature have been sporadic, typically occurring deep within dense forests or in remote areas. Witnesses describe feelings of unease and an overwhelming sense of being watched when encountering the creature.

Purported Abilities and Behavior

The Wampus cat allegedly has several supernatural abilities, one of the most notable being its ability to emit spine-chilling screams. These vocalizations are believed to be a method of attracting prey or warding off potential threats.

The half-cat creature is also thought to possess exceptional speed, agility and stealth, allowing it to navigate the densest of forests and remain undetected.


Legends suggest that it can shape-shift or become invisible, making it even more challenging to track or capture. These extraordinary abilities have both fascinated and frightened those who have delved into the beast's mythology.

Wampus Cats in Pop Culture

The enigmatic creature has not only woven itself into the rich tapestry of folklore but has also left its mark on popular culture. You can read about its haunting presence in Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Orchard Keeper," while its formidable image pops up in fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

Within the Harry Potter universe, where magic wands contain cores made of enchanted substances, Wampus hair makes an appearance as a core material. The Wampus is also one of four houses at the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in North America.


This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.