The Greeneville Daily Sun of December 17, 1918 boldly reported “A ‘Wampus’ is reportedly roaming the big ridge in the vicinity of Gethsemane.” Folks living over around the mountains knew the term “Wampus” very well. It is a term never used today around here and one few have heard. During the 1920–30s, newspapers reported “Wampus” cats killing livestock in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.
A few days later the Sun asked the question, “How many of you have actually seen the ‘Wampus’ you hear talked about on the streets every day?” Farther down the column, it reported, “Parents are telling us that they are experiencing less trouble keeping their children in after dark since the report gained circulation that the ‘Wampus’ had been seen here.” I mentioned one time my grandmother telling me that bears, lions, and the devil would get me if I wondered outside. I do not recall her mentioning a “Wampus” maybe that was too frightening for her to utter. I would not have known what she was talking about anyway.
The February 15, 1923 Greeneville Democrat Sun reported, “Reign of Terror Caused by Raids of ‘Wampus’ in the Virginia Swamps.” It goes on to explain that investigators believe the ‘mysterious monster’ is a “Wampus.” It reports “the beast has eaten dogs, pigs, and other animals in the vicinity of Norfolk.” They believed it to be a long thought extinct species. They thought it had come out looking for a change in diet. Now that would make the kids stay in at night. I bet those middle of the night visits to the outhouse went away too.
The Greeneville Democrat Sun of May 19, 1930 reflects that “The Rev. William Wampus along with his wife and three daughters are moving from the area.” Makes one wonder if the “Wampus” sightings were not the Reverend out wandering around at night. I wonder too, when he got to where he was going, if his last name did not become “Wampler.”
A January 1933 Sun article told of a movie production company looking for the “Top fifteen ‘Wampus’ babies of 1932.” This article is confusing, and I am left to believe they are looking for the 15 ugliest babies of 1932. Wonder if Rev. Wampus sent in pictures of his daughter?
If you recall my article about Crazy Norman and the “painters” you will know the ‘Wampus’ I’m talking about is a type of cat – those big cats that have been mentioned in articles in The Greeneville Sun the past few years, those same cats that people catch on their game cameras, those cats the TWRA says are not in Tennessee. The old folks will tell you they are here and they have always been here.
My good friend Steve Ricker says he and several other people witnessed one running across the field in front of his house. If Steve says it, I believe it.
We can brand the Wampus, cougars, panthers, mountain lions, and painters as the same critter. Except in Cherokee mythology which is where the term “Wampus” comes from. According to the Cherokee, the “Wampus” is the cat-like embodiment of a squaw cursed by tribal elders as punishment for hiding beneath the pelt of a large mountain lion to witness a sacred ceremony.
In Cherokee lore the “Wampus” has 4 front legs. I am guessing a brave was out hunting and he and/or his dogs got clawed up real good. He could not go back and tell his fellow braves a common mountain lion did this, no, it was a six legged “Wampus.” That is how legends are born. Legend says four legs were for running and two for fighting. If I am a Wampus and I am in a scrape I’m going to use all four, or even all six.
The popular Harry Potter movies even mention the “Wampus Cat.” In the films it says the Wampus is a source for hair used in magic wands. I am wondering just how they got the hair of a Wampus cat?
A Harry Potter website describes the Wampus as “Somewhat resembling the mundane mountain lion or cougar in size and appearance, the Wampus Cat is native to the Appalachian Mountains. It can walk on its hind legs, outrun arrows, and ‘its yellow eyes are reputed to have the power of both hypnosis and Legilimency.’ The Wampus cat is fast, strong, and almost impossible to kill. The Cherokee have most extensively studied the Wampus Cat, with whom they share their native region, and only they have ever succeeded in procuring Wampus Cat hair for use as a wand core.”
The Harry Potter site has an image of a Wampus Cat with 4 hind legs, and another drawing shows a Wampus Cat with 4 front legs. Other Wampus cat images just show them with four legs like the normal mountain lion. Sounds like some of these cats may have been exposed to some type of radiation along the way. Maybe the Ancient Aliens were messing with the DNA of mountain lions and decided to play a bit. Oh, we have some extra front legs! Throw them in here! Oh, here’s two more back legs, give them to this one!
The Merriman-Webster official dictionary definition of a Wampus is “A strange, objectionable, or monstrous person or thing.” Go ahead and call somebody a Wampus, they will never have a clue what you are saying. Then there is the Catawba Wampus. That is the South Carolina version not to be confused with the North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee version. I am not going to get into the Ozark Wampus or the Cajun Wampus.
David Whaley who was state president of the Sons of the Revolution the term before I took on that role, was always talking about things being “cattywampus.” I never knew what he was talking about, but I did have an idea. This is the same guy that brought a five-gallon bucket labeled “Roane Mountain Stump Water” to our summer gatherings at The Museum of Appalachia. I never knew what was in that bucket, but it seemed to make everyone that drank some of it very happy. Drink enough of that stuff and go out in the woods and you would probably see a Wampus, or maybe even a Bigfoot, or maybe both, along with Elvis.
As I was typing the above paragraph, David Whaley, who I have not talked to in over 3 years sent an email asking how I was, including his phone number. He said to call him so we could catch up. I did immediately and told him I had just wrote about him! Now that’s “cattywampus” in my book.
Another dictionary definition gives the correct spelling as Catawampus which means “askew,” “awry,” or “crooked.” It is known the word has been around for more than a century and is spelled many different ways, such as cattywampus and caddywampus. It is thought to derive from the Scots word wampish, meaning to “wriggle,” “twist,” or “swerve.”
The formal uses in the dictionary are, “Measure carefully before cutting, or the entire structure will turn out cattywampus.” The dictionary gives another example, “I am bad about cutting wood in a cattywampus manner. I don’t mean for it to be, it just is. It has to be that green-eyed cat lurking in the bush.”
Another use is “City hall is cattywampus to the post office,” meaning “Not directly across from nor adjacent to.” Our Greeneville Town Hall is way cattywampus to the post office. There is also a Skewampus sometimes spelled Skiwampus. I would just stick to Cattywampus myself.
Of course, most of us East Tennesseans today are familiar with the term “cattycorner” which is virtually the same as “cattywampus.”
The four states mentioned were settled heavily by Scots-Irish. They are likely the same people that gave us the Roane Mountain Stump Water. As they moved west, the Wampus moved with them. There are many tales of Wampus cats in Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana. In fact, the Conway, AK high school is home to the Wampus Cats. Leesville High School in Louisiana is also home to the Wampus Cats. How is that for a fighting mascot?
For those that think I cannot write a short article here you go: for those that see a mountain lion, that is one thing. For those that see a mountain lion with an extra set of legs, well I guess it is time to lay off the stump water for a while.