Long Trail

How Now, Snarly Yow?

The Snarly Yow is a legend told ’round South Mountain Maryland and the West Virginia Panhandle. It’s a legend that takes its roots from the grim spectral dogs of Wales and the British Isles, that came over the ocean with the miners and laborers who settled in the area, padding through land that saw some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the Civil War. Terrified hunters have sprayed it with shotgun blasts, and baffled motorists have struck it on lonely highways, only to turn and watch it lope off, unharmed, into the darkness. A vast black dog with a red mouth, glowing eyes, and a supernatural resistance to bullets or bumpers, it has never been known to harm a soul or cause any sort of damage apart from the need for cartridges to be refilled, or pants to be changed.

The exception is when the Snarly Yow came to Clear Holler, West Virginia.

There, in the deep ravines and smoke-rimmed hillsides, the Snarly Yow came to stalk its prey. Perhaps, some said, it was a cousin of the Snarly Yow of the Eastern Panhandle, the silent hound who scared you silly but stayed its paw against you. This cousin, then, had no such restraint. But it was, at least, discriminating.

One night, deep in whip-poor-will spring, a hunter was trudging up Browns Mountain. He was a lean and bitter man, not well liked in town, but respected for his strong tongue and stronger hand. He was known to whip his horses and beat his dogs. His children too, if he’d been drinking. Cresting the ridge that night, under a waning moon, he came upon that particular beast. Seeing its glowing eyes and scarlet mouth, he gave an ejaculation. the Yow raised its head, regarding him – it is said – with curiosity but not animus, there in the thin moonlight. But the man, who saw only teeth in a snarl and an animal too big to cower before him, drew up a stick from the ground and hurled it at the beast. It was a clean throw, but the stick almost seemed to pass through, and the Yow watched it go before turning its face back to the hunter. Then the hunter drew his gun, cursing the animal, and took aim at its broad and shadowed flank. He fired, once, and then again, until the chamber was spent. The beast didn’t budge, but turned and walked inexorably down the hillside towards the hunter, whereupon the man turned tail and fled.

(Yows do not pursue, in most tellings. A Yow appears, resists injury, and vanishes, swift as it first appeared.)

He did not flee fast enough. he was found the next morning, half dead of blood-loss and jibbering with fear, the meat shredded from one leg and bit clear through to the bone on the other.

It’s said he never beat his dogs – or his daughters – again.

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