As the leaves fall from the trees and the first frosts touch the peaks, I am reminded of the tale of the Wampus Cat told by the families in and around Cades Cove.
As a boy I remember when the Wampus Cat would come into the Cove. It was like a painter, only bigger. And way more mean. Why I been told that hit could eat a sheep right near whole. And it didn’t take much work for one to do in a cow neither.
The men had a warning system all worked out for when they cat come in. For some reason, perhaps ’cause of its speed, they called it a run and when a man had a run come in why he would fire off a series of shots into the air. I remember my daddy when he heard those shots. He would grab down his gun from over the mantle and head out quick as could be. Hit always made me scarred when the Wampus cat was on a run cause you could hear the men whopping and hollering all across the hillside, particularly down there along Chestnut Flats on the Parson’s Road.
The men would be out all night fighting the cat and hit must have been a terrible fight at that. Why when my daddy would come home he was so tired, he could barely walk. He had to use his gun as a crutch and even then he needed to hang tight to the doorframe to keep from falling over. His eyes were all red and bloodshot from being out in the dark forest. I imagine he had to force em open all night just so he could see. And his ears, why they hurt him something fierce. Why just a whisper would make daddy throw his hands over em and hang his head.
When he come in like this momma would put him right to bed. I told her once that that Wampus Cat must be one mean spirit in the mountains. But she said, “hit ain’t no spirit in the mountains, hit be a spirit in the bottle.”
Although most Cove families were good Baptists and Methodists, and even Mormons, there were a few that stretched the law when it came to distilling liquor. The Burchfields and Powells that lived in the Chestnut Flats area of the Cove (at the end of Forge Creek and beyond) were known to make quality brandies. When Tennessee went dry, and alcohol was outlawed, some turned to making whisky to make ends meet. It was said that a bushel of corn might get you 50 cents, but turn it to Whisky and you might earn 5 dollars.
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