Tailypo is a creature of North American folklore, particularly in Appalachia. Alternate names include: Taileybones, Tailbones, Taily Po, Taileypo, Tailey Po and Tailipoe. 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. Depending upon the native culture of the storyteller, the Tailypo is said to have either yellow or red eyes. The Tailypo also has pointed ears and a long tail. In some versions of the folktale, the Tailypo is also said to have tufted ears similar to those of a bobcat. The creature is covered in black or dark brown fur and as it appears only during the night, it is even harder to see. The Tailypo usually only ever uses its sharp claws to attack, suggesting that the Tailypo is merely a powerful animal, and not a demon or spirit.
While probably not sapient, the Tailypo does speak, demanding the return of its tail (the actual phrase varies from version to versions, but it is always repeated several times).
The story is almost always set at night in a heavily wooded rural area. Geographically the setting is accepted to be somewhere in the American South. The events could feasibly occur at any time period, given the isolation and atmosphere of the tale.
The main events occur in a dilapidated log cabin deep in the woods where a hermit and his three dogs live.
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 shoots at the creature, severing its tail. Screaming, the 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 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 a gun of some kind) 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 beast is now eye to eye with the man and demands once more the return of his “tailypo.”
Most commonly, the man is described as being flayed beyond recognition by the Tailypo. 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.”
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, the man’s dogs are named (in order of disappearance) Uno, Ino, and Cumptico-Calico.