The legend of the Wampus Cat explained

Cats have figured in mythology and folklore the world over, from gods taking feline form in Egypt to the superstitions around black cats. In North America, the Wampus Cat is a creature that features in Appalachian and Southern regional lore, according to Appalachian History, having been a part of Native American history that became a mainstay in American tradition, and is even the mascot for several high schools. The term "wampus cat" has even wormed its way into American colloquialism, with the American Dialect Society defining it as an undefined, imaginary animal that people use to express loud noises they hear at night.

While the Wampus Cat's characteristics change region by region, generally it is a catlike creature that terrorizes communities. Some regions say it's half-cat, half-dog. Non-native cultures say it has yellow eyes that can pierce through people's souls and drive them insane. One thing people agree on is that the Wampus Cat roams around just after dark, to look for its prey. The origins of this creature, though, are very interesting. The myth originated with the Cherokee tribe, according to the McDowell News, and figures in two different stories: Both involve a creature called the Ewah, which some say is the original name of the Wampus Cat. 

The spirit of a woman lives inside the Wampus Cat

The Ewah, as explained by the McDowell News, was believed to have been a Cherokee woman with trust issues. She would put on a fur coat made of a mountain lion, and then roam the forest, spying on her husband. Due to her lack of stealth, she was found out, and punished by a medicine man who forced her to wear the fur coat forever, transforming her spirit into the Wampus Cat.

The other famous tale of the Wampus Cat tells of a devoted wife named Running Deer, according to Appalachian History. Running Deer's husband, Standing Bear, was driven insane by Ewah, who had terrorized their village. Running Deer wanted revenge, so she went to the shamans, who gave her a mask with a bobcat's face and a black paste to hide her scent. To defeat Ewah, they said, Running Deer must surprise the evil spirit. It took days, but Running Deer finally saw Ewah — and Ewah was so scared by Running Deer's mask, that its magic madness powers turned on itself. Legend claims Running Deer's spirit now inhabits the Wampus Cat, so it can continue to protect its village.

However, don't think the Wampus Cat is relegated to just fables or tall tales. Mooresville Tribune reports people around Mooresville, N.C. blame the Wampus Cat for killing livestock. McDowell News also talks about people in Alabama who claim the government was trying to create a Wampus Cat-like creature, that escaped a facility and now roams the lands. So, Wampus Cats, like most other mythological cats of yore, still fascinate people ... but don't feed them catnip, or they'll drive you mad.