Mountains seem to invite tales of mystery and danger. There is a majestic, vast, rugged quality to them that make them seem like perfect places for mysteries to lurk hidden away from the eyes of civilization. In North America, one mountain range which has a long history steeped in the inexplicable and bizarre is the Appalachian Mountains of the east. This is an ancient, sprawling range of verdant forests, breathtaking vistas, and numerous unexplained enigmas.
Sprawled out across a vast swath of eastern North America, spanning 1,500 mi (2,400 km) from the island of Newfoundland all the way down to central Alabama, the Appalachian Mountains, also called just the Appalachians, is one of the great mountain ranges of the continent. Formed over 480 million years ago, the Appalachians are also among the oldest mountains in North America, with their now relatively modest average height of 3,000 ft (910 m) once soaring to jagged heights to rival those of the Rocky Mountains before the countless eons tirelessly wore them down to their present size. With such an ancient and expansive mountain range, it is perhaps no surprise that there are many mysteries to be found within its green, rolling peaks, spanning a range of inexplicable phenomena from hauntings, to mystery creatures, bizarre humanoids, mysterious underground bases, and lost tribes. Let us take a tour of some of the various bizarre mysteries of the weird and wonderful Appalachian Mountains.
Lurking within the forests and verdant green valleys of the Appalachians is a veritable menagerie of alleged weird beasts, phantom creatures, and out of place animals running the gamut from the plausible to the absurd. Perhaps the most well-known mystery creature of the region is the Appalachian Black Panther, an animal that has been reported as far back as the days of early settlers of the area and continues to be sighted today in both the Appalachians and the Ozarks. There are even historical examples of dead specimens of these black panthers turning up from time to time. One animal was allegedly killed in the 1800s by a settler named Emily Stacey, who shot one with a musket through her own door when it savagely tried to get into her house. Additionally, in 1843, a Sir William Jardine published a compendium of big cats titled The Naturalist’s Library, Mammalia, Vol. 1, Cats in which he describes two specimens of what he called “black cougars,” that were supposedly killed in America and displayed in London during the 1700s. Jardine even assigned them with a name, Felis Nigra, the Black Puma, although it is uncertain of what exact species of cat they were and the bodies are long since gone. The odd thing is that while it is possible, cougars are not currently known to exhibit a melanistic, or black, phase as there has never been any concrete such a specimen found. The only two types of big cat known to have a black color phase and thus become “black panthers” are jaguars and leopards.
Whether they come in black or not, the existence of cougars in the Appalachians is in and of itself not completely farfetched. Although they have been considered extinct in the Appalachian Mountains for over a century, cougars were indeed once found all across the eastern United States. In fact, cougars, also called pumas or mountain lions, were once found throughout the United States and were at one time the most widely distributed large land animal in the Western Hemisphere. When settlers arrived in the Appalachian region in the 1500s, the presence of these fearsome cats caused them to be hunted down, and habitat loss and deforestation helped to put the nail in the coffin for cougars on the east coast until they were all but gone by the 19th century. However, numerous sightings of cougars in the eastern United States, including the Appalachian Mountains, continue to this day. Could the mysterious black panthers be melanistic cougars? There is also the possibility that black jaguars may have roamed to the region. Jaguars were once found in the Southwest United States and are known to be melanistic, so it is perhaps possible that some have managed to make their way to the Appalachians and are responsible for the reports of black panthers in the region. Regardless of what they are, the fact remains that people continue to insist that “black panthers” stalk the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains.
Black panthers certainly would not have the Appalachians to themselves, as there are a good deal more mysterious beasts said to call this range home. In addition to mystery big cats, there are also far stranger, and indeed larger creatures that have been reported from here for years. One such creature is the Appalachian version of Bigfoot, which in these parts is called the Yahoo and is so named for the booming vocalizations it is said to produce that sound like it is wailing “Yahoo.” The creatures are typically reported as being brown in color and somewhat smaller than a typical Sasquatch, standing between 6 to 8 feet tall. Unlike their gentler Pacific Northwest cousins, the Yahoo is somewhat infamous for being quite aggressive, highly territorial, and dangerous. It has been speculated that the Yahoo could be a subspecies of Bigfoot.
Another large, hairy humanoid creature said to prowl the Appalachians is known as the Dwayyo. The Dwayyo are reported as standing 7 to 9 feet tall, but rather than being ape-like as with Bigfoot, they are said to look like a bipedal wolf, complete with a bushy tail. The beast has been seen by a variety of witnesses, including hunters, campers, and even park rangers, and there are numerous others who have heard its eerie, piercing howl echoing through the night. Like the Yahoo, the Dwayyo is also known for its rather nasty disposition, and various cases of cattle mutilations reported throughout its supposed range have been attributed to the creature. It is said to be feared by dogs, which it will attack without hesitation, a claim made more somber by occasional reports of mysteriously mutilated dogs within the mountains. There have also been reports of the Dwayyo lunging at cars from the woods and even attacking people. One report given under the alias “John Becker” described a farmer coming across a 9-foot tall “wolf-man” with bristly hair and a prominent tail when he went out to investigate what was causing his dogs to bark so furiously. The monster allegedly reared up and snarled, after which it launched itself at the farmer in a rage, with the man barely able to escape from its slashing claws back into his house as the ferocious creature paced about outside before disappearing into the surrounding wilderness.
Another somewhat wolf-like beast reported from the Appalachians is a giant black dog with an enormous red mouth and jagged fangs that marauds through the countryside near South Mountain, Maryland and is known as the Snarly Yow, as well as the Black Dog or sometimes Dog-Fiend. Reports of the creature mostly seem to revolve around a pass where the Old National Road cuts across a brook and a canyon. Rather than an actual flesh and blood animal, there are a variety of elements to the accounts that seem to suggest it is more of a phantom or spectral beast, with the purported ability to change colors from black to white, as well as grow or shrink in size at will. Other reports claim that hunters who try to shoot the creature will find that their bullets pass right through it, while still others claim that the creature can phase through walls or trees.
The Snarly Yow has a long history of causing mischief and mayhem. In colonial times, it was said that the creature would appear long enough to terrify horses until they threw their riders off in a panic, after which the beast would simply vanish. This disconcerting habit would carry over into modern times and modern transportation, as it has been reported that the Snarly Yow will lunge in front of cars, after which the driver will swerve and crash trying to avoid what they see as a dog in the road. As soon as the driver gets out, they typically will see the fierce creature growl and bare its fangs at them before simply disappearing into thin air. The Snarly Yow also seems to enjoy simply chasing cars down the road for the fun of it or frightening hikers in the area, sometimes reportedly planting itself in the path of hikers and refusing to move, thereby forcing them to find an alternate route. Although it may seem like a malevolent monster at first glance, the Snarly Yow is nevertheless not known to attack people.
While hairy hominids, hell hounds, and werewolves may seem bizarre, there are still other creatures reported from the Appalachians that are so strange they border on the preposterous. The Snallygaster is a monstrous abomination that is said to be like some sort of cross between a reptile and a bird, with an alligator-like head equipped with a fang-filled beak, sharp, formidable talons, and a 25-foot wingspan. Some reports turn up the weird factor a notch and make mention of tentacles and even poisonous breath. Appearances of the Snallygaster can be traced back to the 1730s, when German settlers of the area claimed to have been terrorized by a flying reptilian monster that they called Schneller Geist, meaning “quick spirit,” in reference to its ability to silently descend upon prey with breathtaking speed, after which it would supposedly suck the blood from its victim.
Intermittent sightings of the Snallygaster continued throughout the years and it gained a good deal of coverage in February and March of 1909, when several news publications printed stories of a string of accounts of the locals coming across a terrifying winged beast with “claws like steel hooks, and an eye in the center of its forehead,” as well as a screech that sounded like “a locomotive whistle.” This publicity reached such a frenzied pitch that the Smithsonian Institute actually offered a reward for the monster’s skin, and the U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt himself allegedly considered postponing an African safari so that he could hunt it. There are some supernatural attributes associated with the Snallygaster, such as the belief that a five-pointed star will keep it at bay. This belief was once so prominent that some old country houses and barns in the region still sport images of five-pointed stars to this day. Interestingly, the Snallygaster and the previously mentioned Dwayyo are said to be mortal enemies, with occasional reports of the two creatures having vicious, epic fights.
Besides mysterious creatures spotted throughout the Appalachians, there are also stories of enigmatic humanoids as well, with many such accounts originating within the various deep, dark coal mines, quarries, and caves in the region. One such account comes from Kentucky, when in Dec. 26, 1945 there was a spectacular mine explosion that came to be known as the Belva Mine Disaster. In the wake of the explosion, survivors of the tragedy related a decidedly odd story in interviews with local newspapers. It was revealed that in the aftermath of the explosion, some of the trapped miners had seen a mysterious door suddenly open in the sheer rock wall of the mine, out of which stepped a mysterious figure that looked somewhat like “a lumberjack” from a well-lit room beyond. The weird entity reportedly assured the miners that they would be alright and then went back into the secret room, after which the hidden door closed and disappeared as if it had never been there at all.
This story of a mysterious “lumberjack” entity would not be an isolated case. After another mine disaster in Shipton, Pennsylvania, the only two survivors told of being rescued by strange men in odd clothes, who guided the miners with a mysterious blue glow. In this particular case it was reported that whenever the figures touched the sides of the mine, the stone walls would flicker to life with a shifting array of psychedelic, holographic images. When the miners were out of the dark depths and facing imminent rescue, the strange men who had helped them proceeded to creep away back into the blackness from which they had come, the blue glow that had permeated the air around them becoming fainter until it was out of sight. Both survivors gave identical stories even when questioned separately and insisted that what they had seen was not a delusion or hallucination.
Humanoids are not the only creatures to be found in the subterranean depths of the region, as one report from the Mar. 5, 1981 edition of The Valley News Dispatch seems to show. The report describes how a group of children came across a 4 foot tall creature crawling from a sewer in New Kensington that looked like a cross between a human and dinosaur. The children reportedly chased the strange beast, and at one point one of them even supposedly managed to grab its tail, after which whatever it was scrambled back into the stygian darkness of the sewer tunnel. This report seems to tie in with numerous sightings of small reptilian creatures said to be around the size of a small child spotted throughout the Appalachians.
Other horrors lurk within the earth in the area as well. From Dixonville, PA., only a few miles from where the weird dinosauroid was allegedly found, a more ominous and deadly account comes in an article from NEWS EXTRA, July 14, 1974. In the wake of a 1944 mining disaster that killed 15 men, mine inspector Glenn E. Berger reported that the incident had not been the result of a cave-in but rather the work of bizarre subterranean humanoids that had the power to manipulate the earth. One survivor had allegedly told of seeing a “vicious humanoid creature not of this world” after the miners had broken through into a previously unknown and untouched passage. The creature had then allegedly used some sort of supernatural ability to cause a partial cave-in to block their escape, after which it had then proceeded to mercilessly attack the miners until it was frightened off by arriving rescuers. Inspector Berger claimed that none of the bodies of the dead men had exhibited injuries from falling rocks, but had instead had grievous slashes across their bodies that seemed to have been made by large claws. Spookily, some of the bodies of the miners trapped in the disaster were never found.
In another bizarre incident, two boys came across a perfectly smooth hole in the ground that appeared to have been melted straight into the earth after it had been uncovered by excavation work for the building of a road. The shaft was around 4 feet across and sloped at a slight angle down into the darkness. The boys’ dog reportedly ran down the shaft barking, shortly after which a low, vibrating rumbling emanated from the depths and the dog came scurrying back up into the light in a desperate, terrified panic. The hole displayed no further strange activity and was subsequently covered by the road construction. There have been various other reports of strange shafts and mysterious hidden automatic doors leading down into the ground across the region for years.
Interestingly, in the vicinity of Blue Ridge Summit, PA, there is a vast, sprawling underground bunker run by the military which is supposedly some sort of electronic nerve center and command post. The installation is maintained by nearby Ft. Ritchie, MD, and is also often called “Raven Rock,” “Site R,” and “The Underground Pentagon.” Located 650 feet down within solid limestone, the facility reportedly covers 260,000 sq. ft. and sprawls out over 716 acres, encompassing five different subterranean buildings. The high security base allegedly is connected to Camp David via tunnel, and is said to have vast warrens of interconnected tunnels, passageways, and caverns, most of which are top secret. Taking this into consideration, it has been speculated that some of the weird stories of underground humanoids and creatures could have some link with this mysterious network of military underground tunnels and buildings, or that the installation is involved with some sort of top secret research that could have something to do with the phenomena.
The Appalachian Mountains hide not only mysterious creatures, phantoms, and underground bases, but also anthropological mysteries as well. In 1690, French traders slogging through the wilderness of Southern Appalachia came across an odd sight. The expedition hacked their way through thick, nearly impenetrable underbrush to emerge into a clearing that had a town of neatly lined up log cabins that was populated by olive skinned people who had European features, beards, light colored eyes and hair, and who spoke a strange, broken form of Elizabethan English. The French explorers became convinced that they had found a group of displaced Moors who had colonized the New World, but the find was more or less dismissed and forgotten about.
Over the years, further reports trickled in from the native people of the area describing mysterious light skinned people with strange customs living deep within the wilderness, but none of these tales were taken seriously and were mostly seen as folklore or superstition. It wasn’t until nearly a century after the French expedition’s find that this enigmatic tribe would be stumbled across again, this time by a Frenchman named John Xavier in the Newman’s Ridge region in upper East Tennessee. Once again, the villagers had distinctly European features and spoke a form of broken English. They called themselves the “Porty-ghee” or “Melungeons,” and referred to each other with Anglo surnames. When asked of their origins and ancestry, they were unable or unwilling to reply, a mystery made more confounding by the tribe’s lack of any written records and a general aversion to discussing such matters. Much to the surprise of the explorers, these Melungeons got along peacefully with the other native tribes of the area, which were notoriously hostile, and the other natives seemed to see them as mostly a curiosity.
As more and more settlers poured into the region, the Melungeons got many people scratching their heads. Just who were these strange, English speaking native people with light olive skin, European features, and customs that were markedly different from the other native tribes of the region? Theories abounded, ranging from the idea that they were a lost tribe of Israel to the theory that they were the descendants of shipwrecked explorers or even the lost colony of Roanoke. In the end, nobody knew. Unfortunately as the region experienced a deluge of settlers, these enigmatic people experienced a good deal of discrimination and segregation and by the 19th century they were designated as “free persons of color,” which effectively barred them from owning land, using public education, or voting. As a result, many of them moved away from their ancestral lands and by the 20th century only a scattered few still remained in the very remote corners of East Tennessee and western Virginia.
In an ever more crowded and diverse landscape, the Melungeons themselves started to question who they were and where they had come from. It seemed that over years of oral tradition as their sole way of transferring information to future generation, and the propensity for families to keep their own oral traditions secret from others or to even fail to pass it on to the next generation at all, their origins had been lost to time along the way. Although they did not identify themselves as Native Americans but rather as a distinct group, there was uncertainty of just what that group was. It is indeed a question that puzzles anthropologists to this day, and the Melungeons have been referred to as one of America’s greatest anthropological mysteries.
The Melungeons still exist to this day, and although they have over the years trickled out of isolation to join mainstream society, many of them still reside in the most remote and poverty stricken areas of Southern Appalachia, and the mystery of their origins continues to be a hotly debated topic that is far from being solved. There is much discussion and disagreement as to their ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and geographic origins, and it seems to be a mystery that is no closer to being understood than it was when those French explorers first found them in the wilds centuries ago. It is mostly agreed that they are a tri-racial isolate group, most likely comprised of a mix of European, African, and Native American ancestry, but other than that there is not much that is known for sure. There is a profound lack of hard evidence to prove anything, a myriad of conflicting, sometimes wild theories, and DNA tests that have shown some link to Mediterranean peoples but otherwise have proven inconclusive and mostly only serve to pose more questions rather than answers. All of these things have ensured that the answer to the Melungeons’ origins remains elusive and shrouded in mystery.
In modern times, there has been resurgence in interest in the topic, and Melungeon descendants have drawn together in solidarity to form groups such as the Melungeon Heritage Association, which seeks to try and preserve their culture and search for answers to their shadowy origins and identity. With more interest in the matter, archeological digs being carried out, and modern tools at their disposal, perhaps in the future they will come closer to understanding where they came from but until then the Melungeons will continue to be a perplexing anthropological enigma.
Strange beasts, underground secret tunnels, mysterious entities and anthropological puzzles; the Appalachian Mountains are certainly a place with its fair share of the bizarre. For those with the desire to perhaps see some of these weird phenomena for themselves, a good way to travel through the region is by way of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches approximately 2,200 miles (3,500 km) through scenic wooded terrain from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail is one of the longest in the United States and is popular with hikers, many of whom attempt to walk its entirety within a single season. However, if you decide to head there make sure you keep an eye to the woods. You never know what may be watching you back.