Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 3rd, 2009
This guest contribution is thanks to archivist T. Peter Park:
An unknown 7-foot-long predatory “varmint” from the Brushy Mountains killed a hunting dog and pursued local residents in Turkey Hollow, Wilkes County, North Carolina in November 1944, according to North Carolina journalist, folklorist, and regional historian John Harden in The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1949, 1980). In his chapter on “The Strange Killer of Turkey Hollow” (pp. 147-154), Harden narrated a story told by a Cabarrus County friend from his newspaper days at Salisbury, W.S, “Slim” Davis of Kannapolis.
One cold November day in 1944, Slim Davis and his friend Code Frazier set out deer hunting near Moravian Falls and Pores Knob, with Code’s 50-pound black hound Jule. As they followed a narrow wagon road up Turkey Hollow, Code showed Slim some scars on Jule’s leg and ears, made some time earlier by an unknown assailant. She had a long ragged scar on her leg from shoulder to knee, and her ears had been slit in a dozen places, either by a fang or a claw. “I don’t know what done that,” Code told Slim, “but whatever it was, it’s the only thing that ever whipped Jule.” A dog hadn’t given Jule these wounds, he added. “Whatever done that whipped every dog in the country–and Jule twice.” Code said that he had been working in an apple orchard near that very spot in Turkey Hollow when Jule first jumped it. He had found poor Jule limping home an hour later, bloody, severely hurt, from her encounter with the “varmint.”
As Slim and Code were talking that morning, Jule suddenly ran off–and then a thin whine sounded down on the slope below them, followed by a long drawn out baying, as they approached a cliff called the Devil’s Smokehouse. Then they heard Jule yelping in a frenzy of excitement. They heard Jule running and yelping in pursuit of what they thought must be a fox toward Snaggy Mountain and the Devil’s Smokehouse. Code’s grim voice then snapped them back to reality. “That’s no fox, either,” he said. “That’s the varmint she’s after again.” A few minutes later, Slim and Code stood just below the Devil’s Smokehouse rocks, a 50-foot cliff running a quarter of a mile east and west, across the rim of Turkey Hollow. Then Jule’s hunting sound reached its highest peak–and abruptly ended.
Slim and Code looked for Jule, but never found her. Code’s dog was never seen again that November day in 1944. Arthur Edsel, Raymond and Willard Lane, Galen Hood, and Reid Anderson helped in the search for days. They covered the whole area by foot, inch by inch, but never found a trace of Jule.
Did they ever find out what the “varmint” was?, Harden asked.
No, but there was a story of how it chased the Lane boys out of Turkey Hollow the next night after Jule disappeared. Then Reid Anderson said that it jumped into the road in front of him as he was coming through the adjoining Shandy Hollow two nights later. Reid said it looked like it was seven feet long. He took a few shots at it with his .38 but seemed to have missed. After that the varmint retired, as far as anyone knows.John Harden, The Devil’s Tramping Ground, p. 154.
Unfortunately, none of the witnesses–neither the Lane boys nor Reid Anderson–described the “varmint” in any detail. Did it look like a big cat, or was it bear-like, dog-like, or wolf-like? What color was it? Harden himself thought it might have been a “panther” (puma or mountain lion). Several successive forest fires in the Blue Ridge in 1942 and 1943, it had been suggested, had driven a lot of the wildlife, including bear and deer, over into the Brushies and along the Yadkin River valley. In that migratory flight from the fires, “a panther may have left his usual habitat and come to the Brushies to make his home” (p. 154).
A tantalizing thought, though perhaps forever unverifiable–could it have been one of those frequently-reported cryptid “black mystery cats”?