The following is an excerpt from my book Wild & Wonderful (and Paranormal) West Virginia:
Sightings of mysterious black cats are common to West Virginia. History’s MonsterQuest visited Franklin where black cat reports were taking place. One sighting was captured on video. Like most, if not all, MonsterQuest episodes, the investigating team failed to conclusively prove the existence of a cryptid. However, this is not easy to do, especially when investigating very small numbers of creatures spread out over a large expanse of land and doing so in a compressed timeframe.
Black panther reports occur fairly regularly, and it isn’t hard to find an outdoorsman from West Virginia who claims to have spotted one. Few accept reports of the black cats; it is hard enough for wildlife officials to come to terms with the idea of a small, breeding population of cougars—though more and more, this appears to be a reality.
Black cat reports are not unique to West Virginia; they are spotted throughout the Appalachians and the western states. In fact, a tradition of large black cat legends is alive and well in the United Kingdom. The problem with the UK sightings, though, is that there isn’t a native population of big cats like there is in North America. Some refer to the UK version of black cats as “Alien Black Cats”—an all-encompassing term given to the cryptids.
Blacks cats in the Appalachians might be easier (but definitely not easy) to explain than their European counterparts. The wampus cat, too, may be explained in the same way—cougars.
In 1972, a conservation officer spotted a cougar in Watoga State Park. Former US Fish and Wildlife Service director John Gottschalk and his grandson saw a cougar in 1980 on the edge of the Dolly Sods Wilderness.1 Dolly Sods, part of the Monongahela National Forest has traditionally been a hotspot for cougar sightings.
In an often retold story, a cougar was shot and killed in 1976 in Pocahontas County. The big cat was shot after it had killed a landowner’s sheep. Two days later, a pregnant female was spotted bedding down near Bruffey Creek. That night, Department of Natural Resource officers came in and tranquilized the cat and removed it. It was taken to the French Creek Game Farm.2
Todd Lester, an authority on cougars in West Virginia, founded the Eastern Cougar Foundation, a non-profit organization. Lester found and made casts of cougar tracks in Wyoming County in 1996. The casts were analyzed by specialists from the University of California at Davis and confirmed to be from a cougar. Lester has also found tracks in Mingo County, which after analysis, were inconclusive. He has also discovered tracks in the snow in Pocahontas County.3
A small cougar was killed in Floyd County, Kentucky, about an hour or so from the West Virginia line, after being hit by a truck. The incident occurred in June 1997. The cat that was struck by the automobile was accompanied by another smaller cat. The pair were following a large cougar.4
Though taken outside of West Virginia, two videos, both filmed in the early 1990s, warrant mention. The first video, verified to be a cougar, was taken in mountainous western Maryland in 1992. All of western Maryland borders, or is at least within close proximity to West Virginia—if cougars are in Maryland, you can bet they are in the Mountain State too. Another video, recorded in North Carolina in the Smoky Mountains, revealed a cougar was roaming the forests there. Although the Smokies are a good distance from West Virginia, much of the habitat and the wilderness character of the Smokies closely matches the mountains of West Virginia.
- Robert Tougias, Quest for the Eastern Cougar: Extinction or Survival? (Bloomington, IN: IUniverse Inc., 2011), 103.
- Ibid., 104.
- Ibid., 103.
- George M. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Vol. 2. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002), 156.