Myths and Folklore Wiki

The Wampus Cat or Cherokee Death Cat is a feline creature in American folklore that can be depicted as frightening or comical, depending on the region.

Myths & Legends

In Cherokee mythology, the monster is the cat-like embodiment of a female onlooker cursed by tribal elders, as punishment for hiding beneath the pelt of a large wild cat to witness a sacred ceremony. The Wampus Cat has been associated in several South-Eastern tribal beliefs as a shapeshifter.[1]

Later, various towns in the United States reported sightings as early as the 1920s of the Wampus cat, which would kill livestock. During the 1920–30s, newspapers reported of a "Wampus" cat killing livestock in North Carolina to Georgia, and such sightings continued even into the 60s. When one was sighted, the townspeople would institute curfews and arm themselves against the creature. Though the dead livestock and sightings may be attributed to early intrusions of coyotes or jaguarundi, the livestock deaths were attributed to the Wampus cat.[2][3]

Later references by the American Dialect Society noted the wampus cat as "an undefined imaginary animal."[4] which could be "heard whining about camps at night."


The Wampus cat varies widely in appearance, but is always feline in nature. It usually depicted similarly to a Cougar or Mountain lion with light tan or yellow fur, has yellow eyes, and often has six legs as opposed to four. According to locals in Conway, AR the cat is described as "a mountain lion with six legs: four for running, and two for fighting."[5] In Clark Fork, ID the cat is described as having a "ball-like formation" at the end of its tail, seemingly covered in sharp quills or spikes.

Folklorist Vance Randolph described the wampus cat as, "a kind of amphibious panther which leaps into the water and swims like a colossal mink." [6]

Modern Depictions

  • "Strangeways Brewing" in Virginia brews a beer named after the cat.


  • A musical ensemble who recorded several tracks in 1937 and 1938, and consisting of six or seven string musicians including Oscar "Buddy" Woods, were billed as 'The Wampus Cats'.[7]
  • J. K. Rowling's Pottermore story History of Magic In North America lists the Wampus cat as a source for hair used in magic wands.[8] The American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Ilvermorny, also has named one of its four houses for the mythical beast. [9]
  • In the Cormac McCarthy novel The Orchard Keeper, the character Uncle Ather tells stories about wampus cats, or "painters". 

Animations & Films


The wampus cat is used as a mascot for numerous educational institutions.

  • Clark Fork Junior/Senior High School (Clark Fork, Idaho)
  • Conway Junior High/ High School (Conway, Arkansa)
  • Atoka High School (Atoka, Oklahoma)
  • Itasca High School (Itasca, Texas)
  • Leesville High School (Leesville, Louisiana)


  1. Stonestreet, O.C. (2016). O.C. Stonestreet IV, Curse of the Wampus, and other Short Spooky Stories of Piedmont North Carolina (1st ed.). Duke Libraries: Createspace. p. 74. ISBN 152323749X. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  2. "The Wampus Cat - North Carolina Ghosts" Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  3. Tribune, Dale Gowing Mooresville. "Wampus and other spooky tales…"Mooresville Tribune. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  4. "American Dialect Society. Dialect Notes (1905-1912). Volume III. (New Haven: The Turtle, Morehouse & Taylor Company, 1913)". Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  5. Owens, Judy (June 20, 2008). "Reporters Looking for Stories, Finding Wampus Cats | Daily Yonder | Keep It Rural". Daily Yonder. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  6. Randolph, Vance. We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales from the Ozarks. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951.)
  7. Uncle Dave Lewis. "Buddy Woods"Allmusic. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  8. Rowling, J.K. (March 11, 2016). "1920s Wizarding America", "History of Magic in North America". Pottermore.
  9. Rowling, J.K. (June 28, 2016). "Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry", "Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry". Pottermore.