Hopkins County Folk Lore
More Ghost TalesBy Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Halloween is almost here Folks. While the days grow shorter with winter approaching, the ghost tales get longer and bolder. In sending two similar stories this week, I hope to establish a folklore connection between our county and the rest of the state.
THE HAUNTING OF THE BEAST/CAT
I remember the incident well. It was the late 1950's in Western Hopkins County. My family was consuming our laid back Sunday morning breakfast when a great hammering began at the front door. Folks didn't wait for someone to answer the door in those days and when our neighbor heard the usual "Come on in" call from our kitchen, James fairly burst into the room, holding a sixteen gauge shotgun.
My mother, immediately alarmed, thought something dreadful had happened to his family. She instantly rose from her chair motioning for the rest of us to be quiet. We obeyed immediately, holding our forks in mid-air.
"It's a monster cat! The "varmit" 'as come back after all these here years. Jay saw him in the edge of the woods this mornin'. Bigger'n anything he ever saw, says its shoulders woulda compared to his mule in size and it was solid black"! Don't that beat all"!
James, our neighbor, couldn't get the words out fast enough and repeated the whole exchange in one breath. The word excitement does not even begin to adequately describe his state of mind as he huffed and puffed through the details. He systematically removed his cap, ran his long brown fingers through his hair, replaced the cap, then repeated it all over again.
It seems our other neighbor, Jay, had been standing in his back yard which bordered on the woods behind him, when he heard a great, thundering howl. "Jesus himself woulda hiked up his robes and run, ifn he'd heard that thing growl"! Jay repeated, shoving James aside as he crashed into our tiny kitchen.
My parents begin to visibly relax as it became apparent no crisis had taken place. A complacent smile played at the corners of my dad's face. My brother and myself were fascinated however as we crowded closer to hear every last word.
By now, the big black cat had become a beast with fangs clearly visible from 200 yards away. "Coulda eat a coon dog with one bite", Jay exclaims, "that's how long them fangs was ahanging down from its mouth". It seems the varmit had looked Jay over, then gave a horrible growl. "Didn't sound like nothing I ever heard in my life!" The cat then walked off into the woods, disappearing from sight.
The purpose of the two men in going door to door in the neighborhood was to form a posse. Yessiree, they would find this fiend and shoot it dead, right on the spot. "Are you agoing with us Clint?" they demanded of our dad. At the polite refusal Jay began to plead their case, "Why kids could be 'et alive awalkin' to school and the woman folk caint let the young'uns out for anything. None of us is gonna be safe 'til that thing is shot and lays somewhere in the dirt aspillin' its blood. That is if'n its got any blood". With this last statement, Jay raised his eyebrows meaningfully.
Undaunted at the loss of a recruit, the two men shouldered their squirrel hunting weapons and proceeded to the house next door.
There had always been tales of a monster cat that had roamed Hopkins County as far back as anyone could remember. My mother remembers hearing tales of this cat when she was a child in the 1920's.
Some say the cat was at first a flesh and bone Cougar or Panther. When settlers first came to Hopkins County, carcasses of cattle and horses were found partially eaten after being drug into the hills. The farmers banded together, staked out the lion, and shot it to death. Later they were to discover two baby cubs the lioness had left behind. The farmers also killed the cubs putting an end to the menace from the flesh-eating cats.
The next year, at the same place where the cat was killed and at the exact time of the month, another cat was again spotted stalking the neighboring farms. When the settlers again formed together in search of the animal, no sign of the beast could be found. No animals disappeared this time, and no tracks could ever be found of the cat, no droppings either although they searched diligently in the places it had been seen.
For many years, the farmers were plagued with the unearthly sounds of a mother cat calling for her youngsters. It always happened at the same time of the year and the same month.
Eventually the cat tales subsided only to resurface again down through the years. Sightings of the ghost cat were reported every decade or so accompanied by tales of a sudden or mysterious death of someone just when the cat screams were heard.
Those old tales were uppermost in the minds of our neighbors that day. In no time at all pickup trucks of all descriptions were cruising up and down our little road. The beds of those trucks were filled with mighty hunters bearing shotguns and rifles, while spitting tobacco juice in long arcs onto the roadside. Some of the men stood with weapons pointed over the cab of the truck.
There was much shouting going on between the men of the various trucks when they met on the graveled road. Sightings of the monster cat had been called in and the word was swiftly passed along. At this news, trucks lurched forward so abruptly; men sprawled in great heaps, falling all over each other. Hats and guns flew all over the place in the mayhem created in the back of the truck. I hate to think what happened to those men who held great wads of chewing tobacco between gum and jaw.
The shenanigans of these fearless warriors provided great entertainment until late in the afternoon. People sat in their yards waiting for the men in the patrolling trucks to yell the latest news as they flew by. Women shelled beans; kids romped in the ankle deep grass despite the fear of being " 'et alive", while the men folk calmly wondered about the sanity of their neighboring peers.
It was another one of those memories that dug deep down into your subconscious mind, wrapping its tentacles around your brain, and refusing to leave, ever. After all these years, on each Halloween, this memory comes forward of its own accord, just like it was yesterday. I can still see the men hanging onto those old beat up trucks, proudly protecting our neighborhood from the beast cat who was as big as a mule.
Even as a child however, some things struck me as odd. How did our brave protectors expect to track down a killer cat who had been spotted in the woods without ever leaving the backs of those pick up trucks? Furthermore, if it was a ghost cat, did they really think shotgun pellets would kill it in the first place? Maybe they should have used silver bullets.. Oh sorry, that was a werewolf story, wasn't it?
Story # 2
Davis Moss, a historian from our own Barnsley, Earlington, and Mortons Gap areas in Hopkins County, has given us another similar story from the mountains of Eastern KY.
David also mentioned a tale that is still going around in his own area of Barnsley and Mortons Gap. Supposedly, a circus cat escaped from its owners around 50 years or so ago and still runs wild in that area today.
Comments from David: "I think that it's really strange that there are two stories like this within a few hundred miles of one another. (Referring to the Eastern KY tale) The delay in time can be accounted by "word of mouth", or a concerned adult trying to keep kids in the house at night, and causing wide-spread panic".
"I hope this will help and possibly give you some insight on our folklore and how it may have developed".
Thanks David, for your time and for your helpfulness. I do appreciate it!
In attempting to show the similarities, yet how tales change when passed by word of mouth, here is the modified story from Eastern Kentucky.
THE GHOST CAT
In the early 1900's, a man named Isaac Thompson lived in a log cabin in a place called Cat Holler in Owsley County. The holler got its name from the thought that mountain lions or panthers lived in the rock overhangs surrounding the place. Isaac made a poor living by farming a little and helping neighbors with the fall hog butchering and other domestic chores.
One November evening, Isaac was returning home with a large piece of beef he had helped a neighbor kill and dress. No panthers or mountain lions had been seen in the vicinity for several decades. Reportedly, a wild cat, hunting the night in search of food, smelled the raw and bloody beef.
Trailing Isaac down the mountain, it leaped upon him, devouring the beef and Isaac in the process. Screams of agony resounded in the darkness, which, according to the locals, can still be heard occasionally
No one lives in Cat Holler today and it is only visited by hunters or hikers. Isaac's cabin is long gone, including the foundations, but no one has forgotten Isaac in all these years. Neighbors living a few miles away report that hunters have heard the piercing scream of a mountain lion as recently as 1983. Some people have taped the awful screams of the animal and positively identified them as those of a wild cat, either a cougar or mountain lion.
Searches have been made, however no animal tracks or any sign of a large cat have been found. Nothing has been seen that is in any way unusual in Cat Holler. Several people have stated that although the cat hasn't been sighted, the screams of a human voice crying out in agony, accompany those of the cat.
The tales of the Ghost Cat continue until this day in Owsley County just as they do in Hopkins County. I'm sure that each county has their own tales of the mysterious cat that still haunts its residents, especially this time of year.
In conclusion, celebrate this Halloween with a family activity. Carve that lantern together, build a fire, and drink lots of hot Apple Cider. Dim the lights, set the stage, and tell those old "spook" stories from years gone by. After all, these tales are part of our heritage and our culture. Pass them on to the next generation so that they too may enjoy our rich legacy in ghost tales from our ancestors.
Copyright © 2000 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Nancy Trice, © 2000