Southern Appalachian Folktales

Fool Killer

Fool Killer was popularized by political cartoonist Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Evans, editor of the newspaper called The Milton Chronicle, in North Carolina, between the 1840s and 1850s.


His version's name was Jesse Holmes, and roamed what is now North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia, killing fools with his club, which doubled as a walking stick. He would use Bowie knives to carve “Fool killer” into the flesh of his victims. At first, his victims were always Confederate sympathizers, and those who mistreated slaves.


Between 1861 and 1870, the character was absent from newspapers, due to the nation being divided and then recovering from the Civil War. When returning, the fictional character turned his murderous sprees on the Ku Klux Klan, those who mistreated black families, and men who abused their wives.


Fool Killer might have been inspired by a folk character by the same name in Melungeon culture. In their tales, Fool Killer's father was the Devil, known to the culture as “Old Horny”, who was ascent all of his childhood. So, he tracked his father down to a blacksmith shop in east Tennessee.


Concealing his true identity, Fool Killer placed an order for a large iron staff, and promised to pay with gold that even Old Horny had heard the Melungeons had hidden throughout the mountains. However, as soon as Old Horny finished the staff, his son beat him all the way back to Hell. He then topped his staff with the image of a human skull made of gold. He then moved into a cave, where he would reside unless he was on the hunt.


This character can be traced back at least to the 1830s, and was said to attack non-Melungeons searching for the culture's caches of gold, governmental agents who attempted to shut down their gold minting refineries, and during Prohibition, authorities who tried to shut down moonshine stills and arrest their operators.


He could also place a sort of curse on men whose wives had had affairs. Fool Killer would meet the betrayed man shortly after he had learned of his wife's infidelity, wave his staff, and small horns would grow from the man's head. The only way the man could remove the horns was to murder the man who his wife had been with. If the man didn't succeed, Fool Killer would shoot him, cut the horns off, and keep them in his cave.


During the Great Depression, Fool Killer's targets were any person who had any secular influence on the insular culture. Victims included teachers from the town outside of their mountains, and entertainers on radio.


Before fading into obscurity, he was seen as a man dressed in black, carrying guns, knives, his infamous staff, and was seen on either a black horse or driving a horse-drawn carriage.

Not Deer

The Not Deer is cryptid in and around the Blue Ridge Parkway, and is associated with Boone, North Carolina. It looks like a deer, but has an odd and misshapen appearance, behaves strangely, and sometimes walks on its hind legs. Strangely, it has little fear of humans that happen on it.


It was first mentioned in August, 2019 by a Boone practitioner of witchcraft, Madison, on her Tumblr page, Have A Magical Day, saying:


[Its] more or less what I’d call a folk cryptid. Everybody has their story about it. They’re all somewhat similar. You’re in a car at night, in a rural, heavily wooded area, and probably a bit lost. It’s not wildly uncommon to see a opossum crossing the road, see blips of little animals with your headlights. You see a deer. So you/your friends go ‘Oh! Deer!’ and slow down in case it leaps in front of you. Then you see it more clearly. There’s just something wrong about it. There’s something about its eyes. You feel your stomach get heavy like a rock, the hair on your neck raise. You sense intelligence that you shouldn’t. It doesn’t move like a deer, it moves like a … oh god, what is that thing? Whatever that thing is, it’s not a deer and we need to leave. You hit the gas and get the hell out of there.


The cryptid is sometimes incorrectly identified as a legends from an indigenous culture not associated with the Appalachian Mountains.


A skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshii (“it goes on all fours”), is a Navajo legend that illustrates how black magic was believed to be used in the culture. These people are believed to be able to change their appearance to that of an animal. However, there's always something very peculiar about the appearance of the animal. The belief that these persons can change shapes isn't the most frightening aspect of these tales. Curses that the practitioners can place on people are what are most feared.


The odd appearance and strange behavior have that have been observed seem to indicate two different zoonotic diseases.


Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is similar to mad cow disease, and causes deer to waste away, and the neurological symptoms include stumbling, walking in circles, drooling, and grinding of teeth.


Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is a viral disease can cause similar symptoms, along with swelling of the neck and head, and loss of fear of humans.


The symptoms that could be the result of these two diseases aren't actually what impresses witnesses the most. It seems that an encounter with a Not Deer is initially dismissed by the mind. It's only later, after no longer being in the presence of the cryptid, that witnesses experience extreme cognitive dissonance.


Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones, who also goes by the names Bloody Bones, Bloodybone, Old Bloody Bones, Rawhead, and Tommy Rawhead in different parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains, is a type of boogeyman used make children behave.


This figure originated in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cornwall, UK, and was best described in the 1967 book The Fairies in Tradition and Literature by Katharine Briggs, saying:

[He] lived in a dark cupboard, usually under the stairs. If you were heroic enough to peep through a crack you would get a glimpse of the dreadful, crouching creature, with blood running down his face, seated waiting on a pile of raw bones that had belonged to children who told lies or said bad words. If you peeped through the keyhole he got you anyway.


The boogeyman was also used as a cautionary tale to teach children that gossiping is an undesirable quality.


In 1970. country music singer Dolly Parton released her song Bloody Bones, calling it Scratch Eyes, as well. This gives a better understanding of how this figure changed in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.


Smallpox was widespread in Europe by the 15th century, and seems to have inspired the image of this boogeyman. This deadly virus caused bloody blisters all over the body, and pustules to open up on the eyelids. Tennessee cites that the virus was finally eradicated in 1977.

Skinned Tom

Skinned Tom is a parable that was used to frighten teenagers from parking at Lovers Lanes in Tennessee, and was more graphic and frightening that the Hookman that appears on a wider scale throughout the United States.


The figure is also a cautionary tale against infidelity, as Skinned Tom was once a man who cheated on his wife. The most common story retold is that Tom was a very handsome man who had many indiscretions with ladies. However, the husband of one of his partners found them parked at a Lovers Lane, and took revenge. The angry husband skinned Tom alive.


Since that night, it is said, a skinless Tom goes about Lovers Lanes, murdering couples parked in cars.


Tailypo, sometimes also called Taileybone, Taileybones, Tailbones, Tallie Tale, Taily Po, Taileypo and Tailipoe, is a creature used to make children behave.


Depending on the teller, its either the size of a dog, or larger, has glowing yellow or red eyes, pointed or tufted ears, and very long, sharp claws. It repeatedly demands children return its missing tail.


The origin of this revenant is typically said to be an incident where a hermit shot off the tail of a mysterious canine-like animal in the woods. As it fled into the woods, he made a stew using the tail.


Since then, parents would say that the creature could squeeze through the smallest cracks in the floor to enter a child's room, demanding the return of its tail. The parents explain that, as long as the child stays in bed, they won't be ripped to shreds by the creatures claws.


Some folklorists have observed that the tale often represents poverty, and can be crafted in a way to be a parable against animal cruelty. 

Wampus Cat

The Wampus Cat, sometimes called the Appalachian Chupacabra, is a large feline that has been described in many ways, and whose origins are not completely clear. Far from being dangerous, this allusive cryptid is quite a shocking site to those who have laid eyes on it.


In their 1890 Dialect Notes, the American Dialect Society noted that the phrase Wampus Cat was found in Texas as a title for a “bad-tempered woman”, as well as in Maine, where it was used to describe an undefined, imaginary animal which could be heard whining about camps at night”.


In a Fort Smith Times article from June 30, 1905, the Arkansas reported defined the phrase as “a bad man”, and applied it to a man named John Marrs, who had been arrested and was subsequently on trial for assaulting a visually impaired man. On September 14 of that same year, the same newspaper applied the title to another man, Tom Craig, who was arrested and placed on trail for inciting a fight in a saloon.


As late as The Fort Scott Republican August 26, 1916 article, the phrase was still being defined. The article stated that,


The Wampus is an odd but familiar term applied to anything out of proportion to reason … The statement “I am a Wampus cat” is generally attributed to a “chip on the shoulder” disposition.


It seems that before the term cryptids was introduced, Wampus Cat was used as a title for any mysterious creature.


In a Topeka State Journal article from April 4, 1914, they defined it as a “cross between a mountain lion and a panther”. In The Des Moines Register article from November 17, 1914, the reporter noted that community members regarded it as a “mythical cat-like being with a wicked disposition”.


And it seems that one of these big cats was captured, and displayed chimeric traits. According to the March 2, 1914 Sterling Daily Standard article, the reporter observed the creature in captivity, and attempted to explain its history by saying that:


The term “Wampus Cat” originated with the [black community], who informed their children of the presence in the woods of a huge cat, more vicious than the most savage lion. They described it as having four long claws, and a tail nine feet in length, which was used in many instances like the tail of a kangaroo, being a powerful weapon of defense.


The creature was captured by two men who were out hunting in the Ouachita River Bottom Community. They spotted a black, cat-like creature, the size of a calf. Both men fired on the creature, and returned to the community with the wounded creature. The strange animal was displayed for three days, drawing a lot of attention.

The reporter who wrote the article went on to describe its unusual appearance:


The “Wampus Cat” or whatever head it may be classified under, has the head and body of a cat, but the fur is long and black, with occasional white spots. The hair on the head is short and the ears small. The tail is long, but not the great length described by the [black community].

It is in the short, stocky legs and feet that the great curiosity in the animal is found. The front feet are those of the bear, with long claws. The foot is shaped something like that of the badger, indicating that the animal at times burrowed into the earth, but the shape of the head and eyes are different from those of this type of animal.

The hind feet are cloven, like those of a deer. None of the feet would indicate the animal does much climbing, that being an impossibility. The gait of the animal is a shuffling one, a cross between that of the bear and a hog.


After three days, the creature escaped, fleeing into histories more hidden oddities.


A Drumright Weekly Derrick newspaper article titled “ Wampus Cat Has Sweet Tooth, Is Chased To City”, on August 1, 1925, outlined very peculiar behavior of a large feline that frightened the residents of Drumright, Oklahoma so badly, that they began considering outlawing jelly beans:


It is believe the Wampus entered Drumright via Tiger Creek in search of a nest. After stealing candy from some children back of the filling station the animal entered the front door and was tampering with the cash register when Mr. Drumright returned from the bank.

By this time a large crowd had gathered in front of the filling station attracted by the screams of the children from whom the Wampus had stolen the candy.


Pulling bricks from the pavement the fearless crowd began pelting the unfortunate Wampus. Luckily no window panes were broken. After receiving several hard raps about the face and toenails the Wampus ran from the station and dodged into an open man-hole.”

It is feared by many Drumright people that the Wampus will again invade the city as it is thought that it is still under the town, living in a sewer.


It is rumored that a petition is being signed by the townspeople to the effect that no store shall be allowed to sell “jelly beans”, which is the kind of candy that may have attracted the beast within the city. At any rate, it is the kind the huge cat stole form the children.


A Sun Herald newspaper article from February 1, 1927, titled “Wild Animal's Raids Cause Excitement”, documented another encounter in Electric Mills, Mississippi, which seemed to echo earlier sentiments that the creature was immune to injury, documenting:


Citizens are excited over the appearance of a large animal which the [black community] in the section call a “wampus cat”. Just what sort of animal that is no one seems to know. The unknown creature is about the size of a large dog, it is said, and, according to the [black community] and a few white people who have seen it, has very stiff black hair. It has been shot at several times but the shots have failed to take effect. One night during the week it ate up 150 chickens belonging to Mrs. S. J. Smith.

By 1939 with the publication of his book, Fearsome Critters, Henry H. Tryon had made the feline into a mythical animal of North American folklore. He wrote the it was a legend in the black community, where it was feared, but also honored for catching deer-killing eagles. He added fantastical elements to the feline, writing:


If a Wampus wades a stream, the fish won't bite for seven said. When the Wampus is on the prowl the only game abroad is the fool hen. The howl of the Wampus on a lonely night will curdle a crock of sourdough. Females of the species may be killed only with crosscut saw. The males, practically indestructible, carry in their fur the germ of blister rust. Under the influence of a full moon, the glare from their eyes starts forest fires. Their footprints are visible only in solid rock. They steal prospectors' picks to brush their teeth.


In his 1952 book We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales from the Ozarks, Vance University wrote that the creature originated in the under-educated class living in the Ozark Mountains, and described it as "a kind of amphibious panther which leaps into the water and swims like a colossal mink."


In Demon in the Woods: Tall Tales and True from East Tennessee, author Charles Edwin Price explains that a wampus cat is a bright-eyed, unusually large cat that walks on its hind legs. This creature has allegedly been sighted throughout the Tri-Cities.


H. W. said that his father, a carpenter who lived in Johnson City during the 1950s, was walking down Spring Street [in Johnson City] late one night. Suddenly, he saw a huge cat – the biggest he had ever seen – sauntering down the other side of the street, moving as if it had all the time in the world.


“Since my father was walking behind the animal, the cat didn’t see him,” H. W. said.


“The cat was about the size of a large spaniel. In fact, my daddy did mistake [it] for a dog at first. Then he noticed that the animal had stripes, just like a big tabby. No dog was ever marked like that!”


Every once in awhile the cat paused to sniff the side of a building, H. W. said. Then it reached Jones-Vance Pharmacy, raised up on its hind feet, put its paws on the windowsill, and peered into the window.


"Daddy stopped in his tracks. He said the cat must have been at least four feet tall when it stood on its hind legs. About then he decided that what he was seeing was a tiger, but there was no circus in town at the time. "Then came the really scary part," H.W. said. "After the cat had seen all that it had wanted to see inside Jones-Vance, it turned and, still standing on its hind legs, continued walking down the street and disappeared around the corner. Daddy said that his blood ran cold." What was the cat up to that night? H.W.'s father never did find out. When he peered around the corner of Spring and Main, the cat had disappeared from sight.


In Legends, Stories and Ghostly Tales of Abingdon and Washington County, Virginia, Donna Gayle Akers retold the story from Charles Edwin Price and Sharyn McCrumb’s 1993 book The Mystery of Ghostly Vera: and Other Haunting Tales of Southwest Virginia of a couple who had an encountered the wampus cat beside of Abingdon’s Barter Theatre.


. . . A couple visiting Abingdon believe they saw a Wampus Cat in the alley next to the Barter Theatre one late night. The two were enjoying a late night stroll, when suddenly they heard a hissing noise. They peered into the alley and saw a cat-like creature with evil green eyes standing up on two feet. The animal hissed again, and then dropped back down to four feet and disappeared into the alley. Obviously, the couple didn’t follow the strange animal, but decided to return to their hotel room very quickly.


In a Rome News-Tribune October 31, 2003 newspaper article titled, “Legend of Green Eyes: a local ghost story”, reporter Kevin Cumming spoke with former historian and chief ranger at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, Edward Tinney, about paranormal events that have taken place where so many lost their lives. During the interview, Tinney spoke the green-eyed ghost of a Confederate soldier that has been coined Old Green Eyes. It was documented that:


Tinney said the legend of Old Green Eyes, the ghost who is said to haunt the battlefield in various forms ranging from a Confederate soldier to a green-eyed panther, has been a part of Chickamauga Battlefield lore since the last shot was fired at the bloody battle that claimed 34,000 casualties Sept. 19-20, 1863. The tales of Green Eyes and other phantom sightings stem from the soldiers, who lived through the War Between the States, Tinney said.


Since then, some cryptozoologists have linked this ghost to the Wampus Cat, and go as far as to say that hearing one at night is an omen of death, and that its presence can insight violence.


Indigenous Cherokee mythology has been applied to try to explain the origins of this creature, or at least the legend.


As explained by a webpage titled “The Wampas Mask” by The Moonlit Road, the first mountain lion was a Cherokee woman named Running Deer. She was a Ghigau, or "beloved woman,” head of the women’s council. Their village was being plagued by a creature called Ewah. The mysterious “ugly demon” was driving men insane. It lived somewhere in the woods and slept in a cave. One day, her husband came staggering into the village. He was completely insane. She had to do something. She put on fur and went in search of the malicious spirit. She tracked it down to its cave and went in. Since its visitor was just some new animal, it didn’t try to make driver her crazy. She screamed and the thing flew from the cave and hid deep in the woods. Now, she had to make a hard choice. She could either return to her people or wait for Ewah to find another victim or remain in the woods to protect them.

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