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Former Dycusburg Resident Publishes Book
from The Crittenden Press

Don Brasher, who lived in Crittenden County until the age of 19, recently published his first book, "The Wampus Cat," a fiction work based on his real encounters with a panther that his grandfather Cal Tosh called "a wampus cat."

Brasher, who still has family in Crittenden County, said the panther legends are plentiful in western Kentucky and the southern United States, though officials in the region categorically deny existence of the beast in the wild.

"These sightings are relevant throughout most of the South," said Brasher, 67. "But officials continue to dispute and poo-poo people who claim to see the cats."

He said one family member even called the wampus cat legend a "bunch of BS" when they first read the book. A personal brush with a black panther here in Crittenden County soon changed their mindset, Brasher said.

Panthers, also commonly referred to as pumas, cougars or mountain lions, are of the "big cat" family and not believed to be indigenous to this area of the county, according to wildlife officials. Encyclopedias define the preferred home of the big cat as mountainous and wooded regions of the American west and deep south, such as Florida and Louisiana.

Though the panther is a fierce carnivorous hunter, interactions with humans are rare, and usually take place without incident. That is precisely how Brasher's first encountered ended.

He said that two of his friends - Clifford W. "Tiffy" Shewcraft and Willis Clayton "Dump" Shewcraft - hunted o'possums near their home adjacent to Dry Creek in the southern part of the Crittenden County.

After years of searching, Brasher happened upon the cat near some reeds growing alongside a pond bank in Crittenden County at age 17. He said that he was as close as 30 feet away and his first instinct was to shoot the cat, but something kept him from doing it.

"There's something sacred about these cats," he said. "Even after I took careful aim at the cat, I realized that he really wasn't my enemy, so I let him go."

Brasher describes his encounter: "One night when we were hunting, we heard a chilling scream that literally made every hair on our heads stand up. We ran for my grandfather's house, woke him up and told him what happened. He wasn't too pleased that we woke him up, told us that we had heard a wampus cat, and sent us on our way."

Brasher, entered the U.S. Air Force in 1954, stationed in Texas, where he chose to call home after four year in the military there. The next 33-plus years, he spent at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio as a civilian working for the Air Force. He retired from that job in January of 1988.

Not fully ready to retire, Brasher entered into a four-year project at General Atomics in San Diego, Calif. In 1992, he retired full-time to fish and write at his home in Aransas Pass, Texas, which lies on the Gulf Coast. He lives there with his wife of 40 years, Georgia (Dottie), who he met in San Antonio when he was at the Air Force base.

The Wampus Cat is an account of Brasher's childhood in the 1940s and 1950s. The book is intertwined with a mix of truth and fiction, he said.

"For the most part," Brasher said, "The story is true with a sprinkling of fiction to add color and a few more chill bumps to hold the readers' attention."

The origin of the term "wampus cat" has its roots in Native American folklore.

A June 1999 article in The Atlantic, a national monthly magazine, said that "the inspiration for wampus cat seems to be 'catawampus,' an old term for a remarkable or unruly individual," which jives with the idea that campers blame the wild cat for things that go bump in the night.

According to several folklore and legend web sites, the wampus cat is the ghost of a young Cherokee woman who chased a demon away from her village. One day, a demon appeared just outside of the village where the couple lived and made itself known by hideous howling in the woods.

At the urging of the rest of the villagers, the husband went into the woods to slay the demon. He returned a few hours later, but something was terribly wrong. The sight of the demon had driven this great warrior completely out of his mind. The medicine man gave the warrior's wife a mask made from the face of a large wild cat.

Later that night, the woman went into the woods to hunt the demon. When she spotted the cat, she reached out and grabbed a twig and broke it with a loud snap. Startled, the creature turned around. Its face was the most horrible thing that the woman had ever seen, and she screamed so loudly that the entire woods shook with her screams.

The wampus cat, according to folklore on the Internet, is the ghost of the woman who wanders the woods looking for demons to exorcise.

The wampus cat, according to some Native American culture web sites, can stand on two feet and walk upright.

Although the cat that a young Brasher saw did not walk upright, he remains convinced that he came in contact with one of Crittenden County's own mysteries.

"Some say the book is good," Brasher said, "and others say it's just a figment of a young boy's imagination. I know, though, that a lot of people in Crittenden County have seen panthers, even recently, and it may very well be that they are seeing the wampus cat."

The Wampus Cat is a 297-page paperback available from www.dycusburg.com or by contacting Brasher directly. Initially, 40,000 copies have been printed in the book's first run. But Brasher said this most recent printing is technically the second edition. He said his wife and daughter printed a limited number of books a while back.

"It was a big hit with the kids," said Brasher. He hopes that initial interest spills over to adults who become interested in the panther legend through this latest edition.

Brasher said he has six more books written on various topics, but all are yet to be published.

Matthew T. Patton, a native of Crittenden County who lives near Philadephia, Penn., contributed to this story.