Be careful of the legendary Whompus Cat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2000

Editor's note: This edition of Southern Seen was originally printed on August 12, 1998.

I have always been a great fan of the tradition of oral storytelling. As a southerner, I was always thrilled by the prospect of sitting in the yard as the sun sank through the humid air of summer, with just a hint of breeze to keep away the mosquitos and horseflies, and listening to my elders and their compatriots tell tales of Confederate soldiers and great aunts twice removed and tales of greatness in generations past. There was always something magical in hearing about things that you had never seen, but were so real in the stories woven with soft drawls and at least a grain of truth. I'm not sure that this story has even a grain of truth, but it sure sounded good to all us youngun's gathered in the cool of the evening.

This is the legend of the Whompus Cat.

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It seems that many eons ago, along the many creeks and sloughs that dot the countryside here in lower Alabama, a special type of cat came to be. It was as ferocious as the panther that we hear our grandparents talk about, as quiet as a bobcat slipping up on a quail, and as mysterious as any creature of southern mythology.

Since the Whompus Cat lived on the creek banks, it had developed a special type of body. On one side, the legs were the same, the legs were the same length as a normal wildcat. But, on the other side, because it had to run along the creek banks to get everywhere, those legs were much shorter than the others. That allowed it to run at full speed because its body was level with the banks. Needless to say, once the Whompus Cat set his sights on something, he usually caught what he went after. Many a generation of night fishermen, sitting, sitting around their campfire, was chilled to the bone by the haunting cry of what sounded like a baby crying in the night, but was the Whompus Cat, long and short legs pumping, running down its prey.

Now you must also realize that there were left and right handed Whompus Cats, depending on which side of the creek bank they were born on. One problem that they faced was trying to get turned around to go the other way. In fact, it was this one side long, other side short that proved to be their downfall.

What happened was some enterprising swamp dweller realized that while the Whompus Cat was a dirt road sport on a creek bank, he would be helpless as a kitten if you could ever get him on level ground. So the way you caught a Whompus Cat was to wait behind a tree on the creek bank until one walked by you. You grabbed him by the tail and slung him on level ground, where, with one set of legs long on one side and the other side short, he would run in a circle until he was exhausted. I can imagine it would be a sight to see.

So if you find yourself in the woods on a dark night, and hear a lonesome cry that seems to draw tears from the sky, hope it's not a long lost Whompus Cat.

And if it is, look for level ground and a good grip.