Tailypo: The Appalachian monster

"All I want is my taily-po!"

Southern and Appalachian folklore is rich (almost Grimm-like) in monsters and difficult lessons learned by hapless mortals. The Tailypo is one such monster, a powerful creature that stalks the woods yet only brings harms to those who harm it first. 

According to the most common form of the legend, an old man lives in a cabin in the woods with his three hunting dogs. The old man and his hounds are hungry and desperate. While out hunting one night, they come across a large monster (the Tailypo) which is said to be dog-like, with dark fur, blazing eyes and a remarkably long tail.
The old man chops off the monster's tail, and the monster runs away. The old man and his hounds return home, where they cook and eat the tail. 
Later that night, the monster comes back for its tail. The specifics of what the monster does will vary depending on who's telling the story, and who they're telling it for. An audience of younger children will get a greatly sanitized version of the tale. Teens and adults will be told a much more gruesome and suspenseful version. 
The core story is that the monster causes escalating havoc that ends with the death of the old man and his dogs because the old man refuses to (well, cannot) return Tailypo's tail. "All I want is my taily-po," the monster cries, over and over again. 
It's important to note that, unlike in many folk tales, the old man doesn't act out of malice. He acts out of the desperation born of crushing, endless poverty. He is evidently alone in the world, without any friends or family to help support him. He has only himself, and his three hunting dogs. His is a desperate existence, and I can't help but feel a bit sorry for him.
The old man's crime is to be hapless. So hapless as to not even know that he is in danger. A more savvy woodsman would realize it's a bad idea to eat the tail of a supernatural creature. But the old man is too oblivious, or too hungry and desperate, to care. He pays the ultimate price for his carelessness.
The lesson of the story is not to mess with forces you know nothing about. It's as relevant today as it was two hundred years ago when the tale began. Back then, Tailypo might have warned kids from chasing after bears or hopping a moving freight train. But the story of Tailypo is just as apt today, as a warning to avoid predatory lenders or adjustable-rate mortgages. 

Image courtesy Flickr/E Photos