The Wampus Cat…

A Tennessee Tall Tale cat and indian maidThe end of the “tail”…

Martha and I sat by firelight long into the night talking about our visit from Granny. “Never in my life have I had such an unexpected visitor.” Martha said.

“I felt like I knew her, sort of like she really was my Granny. I wasn’t afraid until she told us the legend of the Wampus Cat.” I said.

“You don’t believe that, do you? She’s probably a local who likes to tell newcomers to the area about the tall tales told around here,” Martha said. “How about a little Fireball night-cap and then we turn in for the night?”

“OK, just a tad,” I tell her. We sipped and continued our conversation longer than we should have. Finally I snuggled into my bed. “Leave the curtains open so we can see the fire, in case we need to add wood.” Martha laughed at that, but left the curtains open. She ran, flying under the covers of her bed.

Sometime later we awakened by a loud rapping at the door. We sat very still on the edge of our beds. “Oh no,” I whispered, “the fire.” Martha gasped, held her finger to her lips. The pounding on the door grew louder. She tiptoed over to the fire, hiding in the shadows, to put more logs on. The fire sparked, hissed and jumped, but caught the new wood quickly.

As she crept back to bed, the pounding stopped. We looked at each other, both hoping who ever it was had left. The window at the side of the door began to shake, and then on the other side. Whoever was out there was trying to get in any way possible. The sound of claws ripping at glass and wood frame assaulted our ears.

Once again quite. The waiting was intense. I held my breath for what seemed like minutes, until a clawing at the roof as the thing made its way to the chimney. Would the fire protect us? Screeching and howling as we had never heard before pierced the air. A scrambling as the creäture clamored down to the ground.

Quite once again. Would the rampage end now? Had we kept the Wampus Cat at bay?

Suddenly at the window in a flash of fire light we saw the cat with her face and claws pressed against the panes.

cworss eyed wampus

Finally, defeated she left. What would she have done if she could get in? Eat us? I don’t think so. I think she roams looking for someone who she can force to change places with her. By magic she would give the woman she captured her curse of roaming the earth with no home.

The next day Martha and I decided we felt safe enough to venture out on a planned hike through the area. The map that we got at the market showed an old church in a glade with a cemetery behind it. I packed some sandwiches and a thermos of tea in my backpack, and we headed out.

We had an easy time walking the trail was well-traveled, just steep. We kept a steady pace and within an hour we came to the old church. It looked old, but cared for.

frame church

The doors were locked so we went around to explore the cemetery. “Let’s see if we can find the oldest marker. You go to the left, and I’ll go right,” Martha said. “We’ll call out dates to each other.”

We walked slowly, calling out interesting epitaphs and dates in the early 1900. In the glade the sun beat down and we were soon growing hot and weary. I kept encouraging Martha, “Just a few more minutes. I feel something is here we need to see.”

“Martha,” I screeched. “Come here, I found it!” She hurried over, stepping over and around graves as fast as she could. I was jumping up and down, like a kid. “You’re not going to believe this. Oh my goodness. This is so incredible!”

Soon we were standing in front of an ancient tomb stone. “Read it, Martha, read it!” I squealed.

Martha began, “Here lies Aingeal Markham, Born February 25, 1840, Died February 25, 1940, Beloved daughter, sister, mother and Granny. She lived her life in service to others.” Martha turned to me, “Meredith how is this possible. Was she a ghost? Good grief, she was born on your birthdate and died on the same date 100 years later. What does that mean? Her surname is our family name! Is this all coincidence?”

We both stood there in amazement for sometime. Neither of us having an explanation of the mysterious events of the last two days.

“Martha, I don’t know if we should tell anyone this. They will think we’re 1 fry short of a happy meal. No one would ever believe that this happened for real.” Until this day this has been our secret.

(Don’t laugh. You never know when this could happen to you if you venture out into the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.)

The Wampus Cat

A Tennessee Tall Tale
Retold by Meredith Dixon Haynes

Martha and I are on a retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains. Our log cabin is cozy with all the comforts of home even though we are deep in the woods, and it’s a couple of miles from another cabin. cabin_in_the_smoky_mountains_tennessee_postcard-rfc9e735814824ba889a2b53ca2518f4f_vgbaq_8byvr_324
Tonight as we are cleaning up after a late supper a knock on the door startles both of us. We can’t see the front door on the porch. “Who’s there?” I call.
“It’s Aingeal Markham, dearie. I’m bone weary from walking. Please let me come in for a spell.”
I look at Martha and we silently assent to let her in. Cautiously I unlock the door and allow a bent, ancient looking woman to enter. Even though she looks like a weathered prune, she has a gentle aura, and we relax and settle her in a rocker by the fire.
“Would you like a cup of sassafras tea?” I ask. “Carl at the store in town told us it’s good for all kind of ailments.”
“Aye, he’d be right. I use to dig my own sassafras in my younger days.”
“Did you say your last name is Markham?” Martha asks.
“Aye. We come from Galway where the name is Marchachain. After the family settled in Nottinghamshire, folks started calling us Markham.”
Martha, sits down on the cane bottom chair next to her as I hand her a mug of tea. “The reason I ask, our family name on our grandmother’s side is Markham.”
I sit in my usual spot on the floor and nestle in a pile of pillows. “What brings you out this far in the woods, Miss Markham.”
“Call me Granny, dearie, everybody does. I come to find you and give you a warning. You mustn’t go out after dark. You need to keep your door barred and windows locked tight. And it’d be a good idea to keep a small fire going all during the night, like you have now.”
I glanced at Martha and wondered if she felt the same icy fingers of chill down her backbone as I did. “Miss, ah, Granny, why do you say this?”
“Child, the Wampus Cat roams about looking for revenge.”

2009-01-15-wampus-cat-sasta

Martha said, “What’s a wampus cat?”
“I was afraid you all hadn’t heard. That’s why I came as quick as I could. Long time ago when the Cherokees were the only living souls here, the men did all the hunting. Women folk stayed home to tend children, cook, and make a garden.” Martha and I are listening intently caught up in the story Granny told us.
“One pretty young thing was jealous she couldn’t go with her husband and the other men. She wanted to see where they went, what they did. Finally, she couldn’t stand it any longer. She wrapped herself in a mountain cat skin and set off some distance back from the hunting party.” Granny paused to sip her tea.
“Soon the men came to a clearing and stopped. They set up camp and started a fire as dusk settled. The woman hid behind some rocks, hunkered down into the mountain cat skin. Soon the men started to tell their sacred stories. The medicine man started doing his magic. The woman stayed quite, but fear began to rise in her breast. She knew the laws of the tribe. The men held sacred the hunts, the stories and the magic. It was for their eyes only. It was forbidden to the women. Panic caused her to scream and run back toward the village.”
Granny paused, very still. “Go on,” Martha and I said in unison.
“The men followed her and caught her in the woods. By now it’s pitch black except for a torch carried by the young woman’s husband. They all made a circle around him, her and the medicine man. The medicine man takes a rope, wraps it around and around, tying that cat skin so tight to the woman. He speaks the magic into the night, ‘Forever you will be half woman half cat. You will roam the land with no home.’ And POOF she becomes a terrible monster,” She said with a flourish of her hands. Martha and I both jump.
“Since that time she is out in the woods looking for someone to take out her revenge. Some can hear her howl. Some say she tries to get in any opening she can, even down the fire-place. Some say none have lived to tell of seeing her.” She stopped, finished her tea. As she rose from the rocker she said, “And now I must hurry back it will soon be getting dark. Don’t forget what I told you about locking tight and a fire all night.”
Before we could say come back, she was out the door and gone. It was as if she vanished into the deepening shadows. Martha and I closed the door of the cabin. I locked the door as she checked the windows.

Please come back for the rest of the Tennessee Tall Tale.