Panther Sightings: Has The Big Cat Returned?
It has a dozen monikers, from panther to cougar to mountain lion. It’s legend runs deep in Appalachian and Southern folklore. From the Wampus Cat to The Santer to The Beast of Bladenboro, the modern day eastern mountain lion has been extinct for nearly a century according the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but is it really?
Eastern mountain lions once roamed as far north as Canada and as far south as the swamp lands of the Florida panhandle. In the 1800’s, their range contracted significantly, with the last three reported eastern cougars killed in 1930 in Tennessee, 1932 in New Brunswick, and 1938 in Maine.
But the legend of these big cats is firmly established in folklore, beginning with the Cherokee, and continuing to this day, with hundreds of panther sightings still being reported daily.
The Wampus Cat.
The Wampus Cat folklore has both Appalachian and Cherokee origins. There are mentions of it in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, and in both Virginia and West Virginia. Said to be half-woman, half-cat, and all-terrorizing—the cat kills animals, steals children and wreaks of a mixture of skunk and wet dog.
The Appalachian legend describes a village that was plagued by stolen livestock. The villagers knew of a witch who lived among them and believed her to be responsible.
Capable of transforming from human to cat, the villagers interrupted her transformation, and she was stuck between forms. Rumor has it she still wanders the hills, a ghastly half woman-half cat.
Starting in the 1890’s and peaking during the 1920’s, there had been numerous reports in the foothills of North Carolina of a mysterious creature called “The Santer”. Part large cat and part demon, it has at times been the cause of mass hysteria among the populace, resulting in terrified parents, school closings, and hunting posse’s.
The brute is described as having an abnormal capacity for food, and has a weakness for pigs, cow, sheep and even children.
September 11, 1890 issue of The Carolina Watchman
It is said to have an unnaturally long body, covered with hair, long legs and a long tail. Its head is large, with glowing eyes. Powerful, swift and silent, it is able to take down a cow or hog with a single ferocious attack.
Locals have it that the Santer is a modern day incarnation of the Wampus Cat, given the similarities and stature between the two.
The last officially recorded sighting of a Santer was May 28th, 1934 from the Mooresville news:
- There is considerable excitement around here about the ferocious wild animal roaming around Shinnsville and other places in South Iredell. Most people who lived here about 40 or more years ago are satisfied that this is none other but an offspring of that same old Iredell County Santer that terrorised the natives around Statesville and Amity Hill, devouring chickens, pigs, calves and carrying off a few missing children that never were found.’
Beast of Bladenboro.
Those familiar with The Santer legend can easily draw eerie similarities with the “Beast of Bladenboro.” It was in 1954, when a mysterious predator was said to roam the Bladenboro area for about a week. Pets and livestock were killed, residents heard strange noises and saw shadows in the darkness and ensuing fear erupted.
Women and children stayed indoors. Men carried their guns by their sides. Hunters, news reporters and curiosity seekers came looking for the “Beast of Bladenboro.”
While a bobcat was killed about a week afterward and was fingered as the likely culprit, doubters noted that a typical bobcat—30 to 40 pounds adult—was not capable of the carnage that had been seen in and around Bladenboro.
Many described the creature as stockier and dark in appearance with a long tail.
Some suggested a “black panther” was responsible for terror instilled in Bladenboro while others were more creative with terms like “vampire beast” because a few of the animal carcasses found were drained of blood due to puncture wounds in their necks.
Despite the persistent doubts that the bobcat was the ‘beast,’ the pet and livestock killings seemingly stopped and life went on. However, in recent years, more similar sightings and occurrences have once again begun capturing attention in various parts of the south east.
Were The Santer and the Beast of Bladenboro “extinct” Eastern Mountain lions?
Hunted to extinction last century, yet from the coastal areas to the Blue Ridge mountains, there are claims from locals that the big cat has returned. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the last confirmed eastern mountain lion was sighted in Maine during the summer of 1938. The official stance is that the species is extinct, yet this does not correlate with the hundreds of sightings still reported on a daily basis.
The most recent of those reports have surfaced in the western Johnston/northern Harnett county area, where numerous witnesses have reported seeing a large black cat, possibly weighing approximately 150 pounds, with a long black tail. The Daily Record of Dunn, NC was the first to report on the story, followed by WRAL-TV of Raleigh. Numerous sightings in the Angier and Benson areas have people talking once again about a black panther roaming the woods.
Several online Internet communities have also had members give unsubstantiated accounts of purported panther sightings. Edwin Liles of Angier told one of the more descriptive and recent sightings to the Dunn newspaper. Liles and his fiancé reported seeing a black panther crouched over a deer carcass that had apparently been struck on a rural road.
Whether today’s “sightings” are hoaxes or genuine inquiries is irrelevant. If the Eastern mountain lion is extinct, and to date there has never been a confirmed case of a melanistic (black) mountain lion, then what exactly are these people seeing?