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Friday May 7th

Old North State stories: The wampus of the Piedmont

“The Wampus is Dead — Long Live the Wampus.”

A depiction of the terrifying “Iredell Santer” from the September 4, 1890 issue of the Statesville Landmark. Photo courtesy of the Statesville Landmark.
Buy Photos A depiction of the terrifying “Iredell Santer” from the September 4, 1890 issue of the Statesville Landmark. Photo courtesy of the Statesville Landmark.

1931 was not an ideal time to be living in rural North Carolina. Not only was the Great Depression in full swing, but for the people of Western North Carolina, a great beast was wreaking havoc. 

Residents complained of a foul creature terrorizing their livestock, and giving off gut-wrenching shrieks. This beast would come to be known by the local press as the "wampus.”  

Now, you may be wondering to yourself: What the hell is a wampus? According to Merriam-Webster, a wampus is, “a strange, objectionable or monstrous person or thing.” But for our purposes, a wampus is a large beast, usually described as being cat-like and horrifically destructive.

The first mention of the mountain wampus comes from The Citizen-Times, Asheville, in the spring of 1931. According to the paper’s March 27, 1931 issue, citizens from the village of Conover (near Hickory) had formed a posse to catch a “phantom creature," which had allegedly killed three local dogs. 

Shortly thereafter, what was now being called a “wampus” had struck again — a local farmer complained that the creature had killed one of his hogs. Another local alleged that the creature was not a wampus, but the “Iredell Santer.”

The Iredell Santer had first been described in 1890 as a terrifying creature that ate several local farm animals. Some speculated that it was a cougar, but the townspeople came to the conclusion that it was the Santer, a similar beast.

After dismissing the wampus as a hoax for months, area police chief Tom Kerr was awoken one night by cries that the beast was terrorizing a local resident’s chickens. A few days earlier, local resident Walter Cutting placed a $5 bounty on the wampus’ head, and Officer Charlie Rumple, by God, was going to collect it. Rumple, however, feared the creature, with the Landmark reporting:

“The more he thought of Mr. Walter Cutting’s $5 the more he wanted to arrest the wampus alive, but the more he thought of arresting the wampus the less he thought of five dollars.”

As it turned out, however, the wampus was not the one ravaging the chickens. Instead, Officer Kerr discovered a “big ‘possum.” 

A week and a half later, the wampus’ screams were heard in nearby Elmwood. Just shortly after that, on Sept. 2, 1931, the wampus reappeared. 

According to the Landmark, local resident W.B. Crowson returned from a movie to find, “$25 to $30 of his blooded chickens ... slain” in an apparent wampus attack. The assault apparently freaked out Crowson’s cow, to the point where it broke out of his yard and hid in that of his neighbor. 

On Sept. 8, the Landmark made what many likely saw as the last declaration concerning the wampus: “The Wampus is Dead — Long Live the Wampus.” Local resident Frank Crawford had apparently tracked down the fearsome creature to a dense patch of woods west of Statesville. There, he slew the beast “with thunderous blows,” according to the paper.

But just three days later, reports came in of another wampus in nearby New Hope. A letter to the editor of the Landmark complained that the creature “attacked a young man and girl the other night, returning from church.” The author described the beast as having “front paws like a lion and hind feet like a bear.”

On Sept. 15, the Landmark reported that a local man had thought a wampus was rummaging through his shed full of damaged pianos, when in reality it was just a stray cat. In late October, the wampus was spotted picking a fight with some dogs in Shiloh. Around Thanksgiving, it had allegedly killed a number of hens in Iredell County.

Wampus sightings would continue for the next few years. In 1937, a “wampus kind of animal” was even killed by a local resident. Mentions of the wampus peaked in the mid 1930s, and tapered off as years went by. 

But who knows? Maybe the wampus still lurks in the woods of central North Carolina, waiting to maul hens, harass churchgoers or even stomp around on some pianos. 

@themikenaean

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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