From Apple Devils to Smoke Wolves, ETSU explores spooky Appalachian tales

Published 9:24 am Tuesday, October 17, 2023

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Perhaps you’ve heard of the Apple Devil, a smaller version of Bigfoot purported to roam Central Appalachia, with a special love of apple orchards.

Maybe you know someone who reports to have heard the shrieks of the Tennessee Wildman, a towering ape-like creature said to possess piercing red eyes.

Many in the area are familiar with the Mothman, made famous by both a book by John Keel and movie starring Richard Gere.

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Such stories have been part of Appalachian folklore for generations. Elusive creatures, producing eerie sounds that seemed to genuinely frighten those who claim to have seen them.

And as Halloween approaches, ETSU explores some of these mountain-based legends – and why they persist. 

“Central and Southern Appalachia is home to many mysterious and unexplained creatures, many of which are regional versions of widely known cryptids,” said Dr. Rebecca Adkins Fletcher, assistant director of the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services.

Fletcher is an anthropologist who teaches a popular course at ETSU called “Paranormal Appalachia.”

“While many of the stories are likely told to scare children into staying away from dangerous environments and places, the stories also hold special allure for many adults,” she said. 

Monsters and cryptids, she said, “can serve many cultural purposes beyond entertainment.”

Some of the oldest stories come from legends rooted in tales passed down from the Cherokee.

“As metaphors, they may warn against human excess and greed, such as environmental overuse and destruction. They allow us to experience the sensation or thrill of fright without being in danger,” said Fletcher. “During this time of year, the change of seasons is a liminal space, and it is a good time to consider the cycle of life and death and our own role as transitional beings within changing places. Monsters and cryptids help us do just that.”  

For fun, how many of these Appalachian monsters are you familiar with?

– Raven mocker: An evil figure rooted in Cherokee mythology that flies around at night, often emitting bird-like shrieks.

– White thang: A southern cryptid usually depicted as quite tall and white with lengthy hair and sharp claws.

– Wampus cat: An Appalachian monster that is a cat-like beast, sometimes walking on its hind legs and possessing glowing eyes.

– Smoke wolf: An enormous red-eye wolf-like creature, usually residing in the forests of West Virginia.