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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
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The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
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Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
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Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
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Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6
This is a great topic to explore, and I particularly like the way Gary expands from the subject into journalism and sociology. For instance, there's this entry of his:

The Jimplicute

According to Vance Randolph, this creature is a weird combination of "ghostly dinosaur, an incredible dragon or lizard supposed to walk the roads at night, grab travelers by the throat and suck their blood." Randolph further suggests that the creature was invented after the Civil War "to frighten superstitious Negroes."

Whatever his origin, the jimplicute has kin throughout the Southeast and Mid-west, and numerous hunting parties with baying hounds and impressive arsenals have scoured mountaintops, swamps and isolated farms searching for a misshapen creature that was drinking the blood of dogs, cows and hapless humans. No doubt the Texas "wowzer" is a close relative.

Sightings are not restricted to the mountains and the prairie, either. For example, the "Vampire Monster of Bladenboro" received extensive newspaper coverage in 1954, and an atmosphere of hysteria surrounded this North Carolina coastal community for several weeks. In the final days, over 1,000 armed men scoured the countrysides and swamps looking for "a sleek, black creature with a round head" that was slaughtering dogs, sheep and cattle. When a half-starved bob-cat was shot, many hunters refused to believe they had killed the "vampire monster" and continued the search. However, the killing of domestic animals stopped.

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Here are a few more entries from my "critters" manuscript which should give an idea of the range of subjects.
Waterloo Plovers

A breed of chicken native to Arkansas. Their eggs were golden brown with a rainbow extending around the larger end. Accord-
ing to Randolph, "Men who ate Plovers' flesh grew strong and wise; and the women who fed on the Plovers' eggs became tall and beautiful. In later years, some of the Plovers wandered away and crossed with wild pigeons, producing a strange hybrid called the Waterloo Bonney. The Bonney, like the Sidehill-Hoofers, adapted to the steep Arkansas hillsides by developing one long and one short leg. Certain families in Arkansas explain that the beauty of their women and the strength and wisdom of their men is due to the fact that the family is a direct descendant of ancestors who fed on the flesh and eggs of the Waterloo Plover.

The Whirling Whimpus

Last seen in in the Cumberlands of east Tennessee. Mentioned in Wyman's book., in a section devoted to a reprint of "Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods" by William T. Fox. The Wimpus has dininitive hind-legs, an enormous torso, the head of a gorilla and huge forefeet with razor-sharp claws. Its most ominous trait is the ability to spin so rapidly, it becomes invisible. In fact, the only indication of its presence is a "heavy droning sound, seeming to come from the trees overhead." According to Fox, it preys on campers and lumbermen who are out "scouting timber." The Whimpus hides in the bend of a trail and its unsuspecting victims simply walk into the invisible creature whose claws function like circle-saws, reducing flesh and bone to "syrup and varnish."

Whistling Wampus (aka Whistling Whoo-hoo)

A huge wildcat with supernatural intelligence and a talent for making beguiling sounds. Some species can whistle, and lure hapless
hunters and woodsmen to their doom by whistling at them from
"dark cedar thickets." Lumberjacks often explain the disappearance
of a fellow worker by saying, "I guess the Whistler got him." In
addition to whistling, some wampus cats give calls - usually "Hoo-
Hoo" or "Whoo-Hoo." The combination is supposedly irresistable,
something like the siren call in Greek mythology. The folklore of
other regions have some fascinating near-kin of the "Whistling Wampus." (See "Notes")

The White River Monster

Early in June, 1937, a farmer suddenly appeared in the town of
Newport, Arkansas crying that something as big as a whale had
appeared in the White River. He described it as "big as a boxcar,
like a slimy elephant without any legs." This was not the first time
that strange marine life had been reported on the White River, and
many people in the area had heard of the "devil fish" that had alleg-
edly been caught back in the 1860's. The townspeople rushed
to the river and several citizens claimed to see the creature. When
the newspapers got wind of the sighting, they managed to get
plenty of descriptions, but no photographs. When curious folks
continued to arrive, the Newport Chamber of Commerce realized that
the event had money-making potential. Striking an agreement with
the farmer who had reported the sighting (near his farm), they erected a fence and charged admission to the public. Signs proclaimed, "This Way to the White River Monster." Within a
short time, the whole area acquired a circus-like atmosphere.
Armed men patrolled the river banks continually. Some people
were of the opinion that dynamite should be used to kill the
monster. A professional diver was employed to verify the fact
that the creature existed. The Chamber of Commerce built a dance
platform on the bank, fiddlers and banjo-pickers appeared and
concession stand were erected. a public address system kept the
curious crowd informed as to the diver's progress in finding the
"monster." Armed with a harpoon, the diver descended and returned without seeing anything except logs, rocks and old boats. Interest
waned quickly and when the diver found nothing on the second day, the crowd drifted away. Some folks now claim that the farmer created the entire hoax to protect a bed of mussels he intended to
dig while everyone was distracted by "the monster," which was an
old sunken scow that moved and surfaced when the farmer pulled
a complex system of wires. The farmer's share of the Chamber of
Commerce profits was an added bonus. (See "Notes.")
The stories that might begin the Mythical Creatures section, I think, are the Cherokee ones about people's divorce from animals: The Origin of Disease; The Origin of the Bear; and the story about animals living in an idyllic world on mythical mountaintops and below caves. Other types of stories stem from this human divorced-from-animals feeling of awe toward animals, including those in which people use fearsome animals as fear cards.

Barbara Duncan has recently engaged Cherokee storytellers in retelling some of these stories.

Gary's bobcat story makes me think that the folklore of panther sightings belong in this section.

My "Popular History" starts off with bear lore, including a modern tale, "The Bear Hunters of Dillingham."

I'm imagining an anthology that tells stories, but also makes sense of them through the ordering of the stories. How and why are myths created?

That man who invented the White River Monster is not unlike any threatened culture that tries to spook people away. (This should suggest a bunch of stories to you all.)

Then there are the sacred animals, animals as totems, and as spirit guides. Our stories of this kind have become so weakened. Spiderman? But MariJo has her crow stories and poems. Barbara Kingsolver in "Prodigal Summer" has her wolf. And the Arkansawans have their Waterloo Plovers.

Just a start.
Rob's mention of "painters" reminded me of this entry in my list of "critters."


There is nothing imaginary about the painters that once lived in the Appalachians and the Ozarks. In fact, a lot of folks tell me that they are still around. (See "Notes") However, the folklore associated with the super-natural powers of the mountain panther has more to do with imagination than fact. The average native of Appalachia can tell a "painter story," usually about their great-great-great grandmother, who, when pursued through the woods by a painter, distracted the beast by throwing articles of clothing behind her. There is a good one about a little woman named "Granny Pop" over in the Big Bend section of Haywood County that did that. Usually the shivering woman arrives home "devoid of linen," or ends up neck-deep in a mountain pool where she is rescued by her husband/father who shoots the painter. Mountain folk in western North Carolina often tell stories that have been "passed down in the family" about how their triple great-grandmothers had saved their families from a painters. Drawn to the house by the smell of a newly butchered hog (or a new-born child), the painter would attack the cabin door and scream. The resourceful woman would either pull her spinning wheel close to the door and begin to spin or she would play a fiddle or other stringed instrument. The sound woul disconcert the painter, who would remain in a state of confusion until the husband or a neighbor arrived and killed the "charmed beast."

Wilbur Zeigler and Ben Grosscup relate a frightening personal encounter with mountain painters in an abandoned cabin alleged to be "hanted" by local hunters. The narrator of this story awakes in the
night to the sound of terrifying screams, thumps and crashes. In the light of of a dying fire, the author watches shadows move, and tries to create a rational explanation for the gore-splattered floor. Eventually, he learns that several painters were in the cabin with him. While devouring a fresh kill, the painters are frightened by a snow-slide which strikes the cabin, cascades down the chimney and extinguishes the fire. Bolting for the door, the painters (and a badly frightened companion) brush against the author and escape. Shortly after this experience, four painters are found living in the rock cliffs above the cabin and are killed.

All of these stories, whether true or not, sound factual. It seems conceivable that a hungry mountain panther would behave in this matter. However, many tales describe painters as gigantic creatures
with preternatural intelligence and senses; they can "smell the flesh of a new-born baby," or the milk of a nursing mother. Driven to a frenzy by these smells, the painters descend chimneys and murder entire families. In some tales, they walk upright. Where is the line between fantasy and fact?. Probably somewhere around the point where the painter stands erect and begins knocking on doors with its paw. (See "Notes.")
Yes. yes, Gary! Thank you. Now, I'm convinced that the first, sample chapter should be on mythical creatures, and that it should begin with painters rather than the Cherokee stories of the divorce between humans and animals. (Rattlesnakes and bears might rival.)

Painter stories are perhaps the most current examples of mythical creatures, and thus connect people to the subject. (Hey, all you all folklorists, where are you all? Name your painter tales, heard, experienced, and read.) After introducing the current beasts, the chapter can then progress thematically back to the time when....

In fact, if we go mountain lion-snake-bear, there'll be the natural as well as thematic transition ot the Cherokee origin stories.

Gary, you cover many bases in your entries. It would be fun to juxtapose a few of the chased (chaste?) woman unclothing stories. Regarding the painter smelling a new born baby, Robert Morgan tells a great tale in "The Trace," one of the three stories in his book The Hinterlands.

There are lots of stories about painters in Graham and Cherokee county.

Most of these are told as fact so there aren't a lot of super natural claims about them in these. Generally, they start with mention of the panther's scream which is said to sound like a that of a woman in pain. Several have them jumping into a campsite as everyone runs for their lives. Others have them screaming back and forth to each other.

The forest service tells me that they are still around in those areas but are pretty scarce. They seem to wander down out of the mountains once in a while when food is scarce just long enough to keep the stories going.
Isn't this just great?

I'm going to hurry because I'm going up to Twelve Bones in a minute for barbecue. I trust everyone in this group knows that barbecue is a NOUN!

My main interest in all this is what is it about us that mythical beasts inspire wonder when "ordinary" ones don't? The idea that a known wolverine, if you learn about it, is way more fascinating than the mythical werewolf. And when I say this please understand that it is in no way a criticism of the subject or our interest in it. Not at all. Nor is it a criticism of the belief of those who might have believed in these creatures. They are a testimony to the human imagination and the will to believe, both of which are endless and never cease to amaze me. Law, that sounds arty! I didn't mean it that way, I swear. I know Gary has explored this and related issues in his previous posts here, and when I get back, I'll give them a thorough looking-over.

But it's an old habit, isn't it, making up/imagining/believing in half people/half animals. Goes all the way back to the sphinx and farther back than that, for sure.

My focus, and my obsession, has always been right there at the juncture of myth and belief. I'd love to know the answer to that question I posed above, in part because I've always wondered about 'near 'bout everything, and also because I'd like to have an explanation for people who don't understand the fascination with folklore. But then maybe if it's explained it goes away, so just forget it.

But I do know that in the genre of "weird fiction" where some of what I've written has been placed, there remains that pulp fiction fascination with monsterdom, even among writers and readers who are strict naturalists. Think of H.P. Lovecraft, for instance. Maybe there is something archetypal even about bug-eyed monsters.

As y'all know, my favorite mythical creature, hands-down, is the old-fashioned ghost. I could go on and on about that, but I won't, because I know the thread here is about mythical animals.

I remember as a kid growing up in Charlotte, my friend and I always got all misty-eyed when her grandmother mentioned the mountain lion that once inhabited the then-farmland of northern Mecklenburg County. No doubt the cougar did prowl in her grandmother's time, but just the idea that it might come back lended a magic to our days. Likely, if we saw it several times, there would go the magic.

I swear I saw one in Flat Rock when I moved here 11 years ago. More on that later, that's not terribly mythical, except that I believe it and nobody believes me.

I remember hearing about the cabbit, the result of the breeding of a cat and a rabbit.

I researched and wrote about Skunkfoot of the Dismal Swamp years ago. He's a local Bigfoot.

I've hollered at Dot to come join. Let's hope she does, because she collected so many tales during her tenure at the Charlotte Observer. I grew up in Charlotte, you know, and Dot herself was kind of like a legend. Still is.

Dot covered the Lizard Man of SC, and I recalled her telling about its kinship to some creature or another with a giant, lizard-like tail that left tracks in the dirt.

Dot also covered the "Wooly Booger of Drexel."

(Forgive me if some of this is covered in your posts, Gary. I have to read them later, but wanted to hurry up and get this post in before I have to leave for a while.)

But what I really want to tell y'all about is the Monster of Matthews.

I'll do that in another post. Don't want to "lose" this one.
Sherry, the folklore about mythical creatures should include natural history, I think.

For instance, here's a take I took on a Wildlife Commission piece:

There's much to admire about the bear’s spirit. She-bears are very rarely caught. Also, they wait until they are in their caves before taking the pause button off their about-to-be fertilized eggs, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s DVD, “The Bear Facts.” Hibernating, bears need neither to feed nor eliminate wastes, yet they maintain their muscle structure. Doctors, the DVD reports, are studying the bear’s unique hibernating functions “to benefit a wide variety of people from kidney patients to those suffering from osteoporosis.”

I think we should find some good science writing to include in our folklore section! /Rob
Well, you may or may not know that I'm all for good science writing! I did a NC Humanities Council talk for a while on literary nonfiction about nature and science. One series of books I came across would tie in very well with the folklore of crows, ravens, etc. MIND OF THE RAVEN by biologist Bernd Heinrich is one of them. He has a series of raven books that I've perused though not entirely read. RAVENS IN WINTER is another. Simple, eloquent prose. If I could start over, I'd get grounded in science and do that kind of writing!

And, oh, the folklore of trees. I have always loved the idea of tree spirits. I'm sure you've seen MEETINGS WITH REMARKABLE TREES and REMARKABLE TREES OF THE WORLD. Of course, it goes without saying they are not about tree spirits, but they do explore trees tied to mythology and human culture.
I have a new book out that's a bestiary of these mythical creatures. Fearsome Creatures of Florida includes the Skunk Ape, El Chupacabra, and others you might not know. Take a look at the website, which opens with some animation of the Mangrove Man!
I saw a sleek black critter up here in the cove one day during a walk. :) -- Don't think it was that one though, but it was a beautiful animal -- looked to be a feline, too large to be a cat, but I don't know....
It looked at me; I looked at it -- and I can't remember which one of us turned around and left first *laugh* but I haven't seen it since.
PS - I didn't throw off my clothes, by the way . . .

I am loving reading these! I would so buy a book with a collection of stories like this.


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