American History & Hauntings




By Michael D. Winkle

"Up these heights and down these hollows you'd best go expecting anything.  Maybe everything."
Manly Wade Wellman, Who Fears the Devil?

 After writing some stories about Oklahoma, it seemed to the present writer that certain aspects of those Oklahoma monster stories had counterparts across the country in North Carolina.  This was mainly due to the Cherokee connection, as in the case of the Little People or Tsundige'wi.  Perhaps the displaced Native Americans merely carried their stories and legends with them on the Trail of Tears -- despite the Kiowa and Seminole sources of parts of "Home".  Or maybe there are strange beings haunting hills, forests and rivers all over America.  At any rate, here are a few weird Tarheel tales.....

 The Great Leech of Tlanusi'yi
James Mooney writes, in Myths of the Cherokee:  "The spot where Valley river joins Hiwassee, at Murphy, in North Carolina, is known among the Cherokees as Tlanusi'yi, 'The Leech Place.'"  It is named for a truly frightening entity that supposedly lived there:

"Just above the junction is a deep hole in Valley river, and above it is a ledge of rock running across the stream, over which people used to go as on a bridge. . . One day some men going along the trail saw a great red object, full as large as a house, lying on the rock ledge in the middle of the stream below them.  As they stood wondering what it could be they saw it unroll -- and then they knew it was alive -- and stretch itself out along the rock until it looked like a great leech with red and white stripes along its body.  It rolled up into a ball and again stretched out at full length, and at last crawled down the rock and was out of sight in the deep water.  The water began to boil and foam, and a great column of white spray was thrown high in the air and came down like a waterspout upon the very spot where the men had been standing, and would have swept them all into the water but that they saw it in time and ran from the place."

 The geyser-like burst of water did catch less fortunate people on occasion, and the bodies would later be found "with the ears and nose eaten off."  The Cherokee finally abandoned the trail.  "The great leech is still there in the deep hole, because when people look down they see something alive moving about on the bottom, and although they cannot distinguish its shape on account of the ripples on the water, yet they know it is the leech."  A point on the Nottely River about two miles away is also called Tlanusi'yi.  It is believed that an underground channel connects the two Leech Places, allowing the monster to pass from one to the other. [1]

Some cryptozoologists see lake- and sea-monsters as plesiosaurs or long-necked pinnipeds, but certain lakes and rivers in the USA may hide even more bizarre creatures.

 The Little People
Of Johnston County, North Carolina, Jim Brandon writes:  "There is undoubtedly a presence of some kind around here.  It has manifested in the form of monsters, mini-sters, bridge trolls, and even phantom reenactments in the skies of the 1865 battle of Bentonville." [2]

Janet and Colin Bord elaborate on Brandon's "mini-ster": "It was also a young boy, eight-year-old Tonnlie Barefoot, who first saw the tiny entity of Dunn, North Carolina (USA), when he was playing in a field of dried cornstalks near his home on 12 October 1976.  He saw the little man 'not much bigger than a Coke bottle,' dressed in black boots, blue trousers, and a blue shiny top, with a black 'German-type hat' with a pretty white tie.  He seemed to be reaching for something in his back pocket, then froze, squeaked like a mouse, and ran off fast through the cornstalks.  He left some footprints 2 1/4 inches long and 1 inch wide with boot marks in them.  On 25 October, twenty-year-old Shirley Ann McCrimmon also saw a little man, as she came home from a party just before daybreak.  He wore boots and a thin garment, and his skin was light brown.  He shone a tiny bright yellow light across her eyes, and ran away when she screamed.  The dogs also barked at him." [3]

 The Brothers House in Winston-Salem, where the unmarried males of the Moravian Church once lived, has in recent times been carved up into tiny retirement apartments.  For years it was haunted by an entity called the Little Red Man.  One day "a substantial citizen of Salem was showing a visitor through the interesting deep cellar of the one-time Brothers House."  They spotted the Little Red Man.  "The two men made hurried plans to catch the creature there in the gloomy chamber and quickly moved in to corner him.  Their outstretched arms met around empty air and they turned to see the Little Red Man grinning at them from the doorway." [4]

 The Little Red Man was traditionally thought to be the ghost of a Moravian Brother named Andreas Kremser, who died in 1786, but perhaps he and the "Coke bottle man" are modern manifestations of what the Cherokee called the Yunwi Tsunsdi or Tsundige'wi.  James Mooney writes:  "Once some young men of the Cherokee. . . traveled south until they came to a tribe of little people called Tsundige'wi, with very queer shaped bodies, hardly tall enough to reach up to a man's knee." [5]  Some of the Little People may have followed the Cherokee to Oklahoma (as suggested in "Home of the Red Man"), but others apparently stayed in North Carolina.  Mooney continues:  "Only a few years ago two hunters from Raventown, going behind the high fall near the head of Oconaluftee on the East Cherokee reservation, found there a cave with fresh footprints of the Little People all over the floor." [6]

 The Woollybooger
In January 1972 a deputy sheriff and a volunteer deputy were parked on the shoulder of a road near Drexel, Burke County, North Carolina.  Suddenly they saw "a creature cross the road in front of them that was huge and kind of grey, and appeared to have no head."  They turned on their headlights, and it turned and walked into the woods.

 A follow-up story from the Associated Press reported that "the deputy was now satisfied that he had seen a bear that covered its face with its paws as the lights of the moving car hit it."  (An odd, cartoonish thing for a bear to do.)  "The story also referred to several other sighting reports, and to police stations being 'flooded' with calls about 'The Woollybooger.'"  Perhaps this was just an errant Sasquatch (though they usually do have heads), but Bigfoot hunter John Green believes the word Woollybooger may be significant.  "It is obviously a description as well as a name, and I have talked to several people who come from rural areas in the South who are familiar with the term. . . it seems to me to indicate quite definitely that there is a widely-distributed tradition of hairy bipeds in the South." [7]  I might mention that the Tall Man, or Ssti capcaki, of the Oklahoma Seminoles is huge and gray, but most Native American peoples know of Sasquatch-like giants.

 The Whang Doodle
If the monsters of America act nasty, it may be because they are given strange to downright humiliating appellations, as in the case of the Whang Doodle.

Mrs. Adyleen G. Merrick collected the story from a black man named Alex White, who lived near Lynn, North Carolina.  "White claimed that the experience with the Whang Doodle occurred while he was a boy on his father's small farm in Polk County."

"I was jes a shirt-tail boy, this winter I'm tellin' 'bout."  Alex White lived with his father, mother, and little brother on the family farm, and that day had been fairly uneventful.  The boys went to bed in the "shed-room" where vegetables and leather hung to dry.

For some reason Alex couldn't sleep.  Well into the night, something happened that might have awakened him anyway:  "All to oncet, out of the quiet, and seem like way off, I hears a long scream:  'Ye-e-e-ow-ow-ow.'"  For a while there was silence, but then the cry echoed again through the night, this time from the hog pen.  "You never heered sech a scatterment in all you born days.  I shakes and trembles.  I thinks I shorely die.  Pappy, he wake up, and go lookin' for his goose gun.  Mammy, she wake up and gits the lantern lit."

The whole family marched into the darkness.  "The hawgs is a-carryin' on something terrible, screamin' like's if all they throats is being cut."  When they reached the pen, Mrs. White's lantern revealed the creature.  The elder Mr. White fired.  "That ole critter skins over the fence of the hawg pen, and I catches a glimpse of him.  He looks like he as long as a cow, as high as a goat, and got big ears like a mule.  He look like a pinter [cougar], but he ain't no pinter.  He all gray, and wooly.  He take one big jump to'rds the woods, and he lets out his yell:  'Ye-e-e-ow-ow-ow.'"  The family retreated to their cabin and bolted the door.

Mr. White claimed that the creature was mentioned in local folk songs, and he provided Mrs. Merrick with a couplet from one:  "Whang Doodle holler, and Whang Doodle squall,/ Look out chillun, do he git you all."  This implies a tradition of the creature in the area. [8]  This fierce, mule-eared critter reminds one of the Seminole Hvcko capko, or Long Ears, mentioned in "Home of the Red Man."

 The Siren of the French Broad
I managed to stick a unicorn story into Oklahoma; the best I could do for North Carolina was uncover a Siren.

"Among the rocks east of Asheville, North Carolina, lives the Lorelei of the French Broad River," writes early American Folklorist Charles M. Skinner.  Despite the Classical and medieval European connotations of the names Siren and Lorelei, this entity has supposedly haunted the pools of the upper part of the river since the days of the Cherokee.  Those who sit or rest too near the Siren's lair will see in the water "the form of a beautiful woman, with hair streaming like moss and dark eyes looking into his, luring him with a power he cannot resist.  His breath grows short, his gaze is fixed, mechanically he rises, steps to the brink, and lurches forward into the river.  The arms that catch him are slimy and cold as serpents; the face that stares into his is a grinning skull." [9]  Don't say we didn't warn you.

(C) Copyright 2001 by Michael D. Winkle. All Rights Reserved.


1.  Mooney, James.  Myths of the Cherokee.  (Nashville: Charles and Randy Elder, 1982 [originally published in the 19th Annual Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1900]), p. 329-330.
2.  Brandon, Jim.  Weird America.  (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978), p. 173.
3.  Bord, Janet and Colin.  Unexplained Mysteries of the 20th Century.  (Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1989), pp. 155-157.
4.  Harden, John.  Tar Heel Ghosts.  (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954), p. 42.
5.  Mooney, p. 325.
6.  Ibid., p. 333.
7.  Green, John.  Sasquatch:  The Apes Among Us.  (Seattle: Hancock House, 1978), p. 220.
8.  Hendricks, W. C., editor.  Bundle of Troubles and Other Tarheel Tales.  (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1943), pp. 33-36.
9.  Skinner, Charles M.  Myths and Legends of Our Own Lands, Vol. II.  (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1896), pp. 77-78.

Return to the Ghosts of the Prairie Home Page