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Tailypo is a frightening ravenous cat-like creature of North American folklore. Alternate names include: Taileybones, Tailbones, Taily Po, Tally Po, Taileypo, Tailey Po and Tailipoe(sies). Most often (and especially in older adaptations) the Tailypo legends are simply titled "Tailypo."
The Tailypo is usually described as being the size of a dog, with yellow or red eyes, pointed ears and a long tail. In some versions of the folktale, it has tufted ears like a bobcat. It is covered in black or dark brown fur to camouflage its nocturnal activities. Its claws are its main weapon.
The Tailypo can speak like a man, and demands the return of its tail (the actual phrase varies between versions, but is always repeated, usually three times): "Taily-po, Taily-po...who has my Taily-po..."
During a season of considerable hunger and a lack of suitable game, the tale begins with a hermit and his three hounds. The man is out at night, looking for the evening meal and manages to shoot a small hare, which he shares with his dogs. Understandably still hungry, the man presses on and discovers a bizarre shape with bright eyes and a long tail. The hermit quickly severs its tail. Screaming, the cat creature runs off into the darkness and its tail is then taken back and made into a stew or simply eaten by the man.
On the brink of sleep, a rustling and clawing wakes the man. Sitting up, the hermit is able to see the gleaming eyes of the Tailypo leering at him from the foot of his bed. In an otherworldly voice, the ravenous cat creature demands the return of its "tailypo." Terrified, the man calls for his hounds, which immediately come to his aid, chasing the beast off into the night.
With the creature chased back into the woods, two of the hermit's dogs return, but one is missing. The man tries to sleep, but the Tailypo soon returns, beckoning even more forcefully for the return of its tail. Again the man sics his hounds on the Tailypo, and again one is missing upon the return of the survivor. Unable to sleep, the man clutches his weapon (usually an ax or gun) and waits for dawn, his remaining dog nearby. When the Tailypo appears for the third time, the man once again orders the hound to attack the Tailypo. Predictably the dog chases the creature away and does not return.
The man, now left with no real protection, having exhausted his three hounds, cowers under his bedsheets, praying for dawn. Hours before daybreak the man hears the familiar rustling sound, hoping it is one of his dogs. Unfortunately the man is leapt upon by the Tailypo and is either disarmed or has dropped his weapon in terror. The ravenous beast is now eye to eye with the man and demands once more the return of his "tailypo."
The man, scared to death, finds the courage to push the creature away and yell, "I haven't got your taily-po!", hoping the creature will leave. However, the ravenous creature, angrier than ever, yells back: "Yes, you have! Yes, you have!" and jumps back on the bed, mutilates the man and destroys the cabin. In at least one version, the old man is sodomized before being eaten.
In less violent versions, the beast is simply said to attack the man with such force that when the sun rises, all that remains of the cabin is the chimney. Either way, it is understood that the Tailypo has exacted revenge for the loss of its tail. Supposedly, during the darkest of nights, the creature can be heard whispering for its "tailypo." Another version by folklorist S.E. Schlosser simply states that the hermit was never seen again and the whispered phrase is "Now I've got my Tailypo!"
One less common version takes place in a small city in the Southern United States and is about a young boy (usually named Kenny Ray). In this version, the creature comes through the boy's window and sheds his tail, instead of it getting chopped off or shot. The boy, needing money, sells the tail instead of eating it. Later that night, the creature comes to the boy's room and demands its taily-po. The boy yells, "I don't have your taily-po!", which scares the creature away.
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The Tailypo legend has countless variations, many of which are passed down orally. The theme of a hungry man and his dogs hunting for food by their old cabin is constant. However, the methods used by the man to defend himself vary from axes to rifles. Also, the man's dogs sometimes simply get "lost" or just flee in fright, instead of being eaten or killed by the Tailypo. Sometimes, the dogs chase the creature into a swamp and then disappear, with the suggestion that they were lured into the swamp to be killed. In some variants, the Tailypo actually enters the cabin through a hole in the floor, as opposed to being found in the woods. The season is accepted to be late Autumn but this too varies. Usually these variations depend most heavily on the target audiences, with grisly embellishments removed for younger listeners. In some versions, most notably the one in S.E. Schlosser's Spooky Campfire Tales, the man's dogs are named (in order of disappearance) Uno, Ino, and Cumptico-Calico, which are acknowledged as strange names.
- Tailypo at Scary For Kids
- The BookHive: Listen to a Story Jackie Torrence tells the story of Tailypo in RealVideo format.
- AppLit Folktale Index: Tailypo
- History and origins of the story within Grimm Brothers'