Cataloochee Heritage Profiles of Mountain People

The Wild Man of Cataloochee

Early 80’s Cataloochee

Ever heard of The Wild Man of Cataloochee? His real name was Arley Phillips. Arley was a legend in Haywood County, NC and beyond. He died almost 2 weeks ago. He was 77 years old.

Quote from article featured in The Mountaineer, written by Vicki Hyatt:

“Phillips lived in the White Oak community under conditions seldom found in today’s world. His  primitive home had no running water or electricity and is unchanged — except for wear and tear — from the time it became the family home. The Phillips were one of many forced to relocate when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formed. There is no insulation in the house and the construction of yesteryear allows plenty of places for outside air to circulate in both winter and summer.”  

In years past, Arley frequented the Cataloochee area of the park. As folks saw him slip through the woods or look for food in the dumpsters they nicknamed him The Wild Man of Cataloochee.

The Deer Hunter and Papaw Tony spent many days and nights in the Cataloochee section of the park. It was their favorite place for camping, horse riding, and fishing. The Deer Hunter was always on the look out for The Wild Man. Over the years he saw him several times.

Once The Deer Hunter was trout fishing and as he looked up The Wild Man crossed the river just a few feet ahead of him, he never spoke just looked at The Deer Hunter and kept going.

Arley’s nephew, neighbors and a few other folks befriended him, often leaving him food and other items he needed as well as checking on him every once in a while to make sure he was o.k.

By the time I met The Deer Hunter and Papaw Tony, their days of camping at Cataloochee were over. You had to reserve a place to camp-I suppose you still do. One day Papaw got a phone call that he wouldn’t be able to camp the coming weekend even though he’d had it reserved for quite some time. Seems someone more influential than Papaw and his horse riding buddies had rented the entire park. Papaw decided a little complaining was necessary, but it was to no avail. Then he decided he’d rent the entire park himself, however turned out he wasn’t influential enough to do that either. After Papaw contacted a congressman about the issue the welcome mat was never put out for Papaw and The Deer Hunter again-actually that’s an understatement. It was more like: come if you want to and we’ll make sure we find every fraction of the law you violate no matter how small it is. During one of the last trips they made to Cataloochee there were 21 flat tires among their group of horse riders.

Years ago The Deer Hunter told me about The Wild Man and I was intrigued from the beginning, wondering: what did he eat? did he talk to anyone? did he have a house? did he get lonely?

Seems kinda sad that all my questions were answered through the death of Arley Phillips.

Ever heard of The Wild Man of Cataloochee?



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  • Reply
    J.P. Hammond
    December 11, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    Tipper, I’ve heard of Arley from my sons friend in Madison county NC. He was a great nephew of his.
    Family went over to make him a window in the house. There were none in it. He came out and ran them off.Didnt want one. Gifts family gave him, were unopened in a shed out back.

  • Reply
    August 21, 2020 at 10:26 pm

    I enjoyed learning these bit’s and pieces about Arley,… it would have been so neat to have been able have befriended him and known him and listened to his stories… thankful he had some who sought to care when they could.

  • Reply
    January 29, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of Mr. Philips, but I read a book and the story was built around such a character. It was an awesome read.

  • Reply
    steve a in florence ky
    January 28, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Great article Tipper. I read the Newspaper article and it was great too. It left you with mixed emotions. Should we have been happy for him being independent so long? or sad that he shunned the help folks offered. A rough life but I bet he was happy. Not living near the mountains it is interesting to see so many comment that they know similar characters. No one like that near here.

  • Reply
    Chef E
    January 27, 2010 at 10:52 am

    At some point in CA and SF on the west coast this was ‘hip’ and called dumpster diving, as to not waste. I had not heard of the ‘hip’ term until I met a dumpster diving vegetarian musician in my Open Mic circles…funny but he could be this mysterious ‘Wild Man…’…although hubby calls him my new BFF since I feed him often!
    Great post Tipper!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I’m sure he was quite content living the life he lived.
    People like that can tell you things you never knew about nature.

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    January 27, 2010 at 3:46 am

    Very interesting! I can’t believe they flattened all those tires!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2010 at 12:11 am

    An interesting story about an interesting character! Sad but yet it seems that was his way of life and suited him fine.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Hard to find a place where you could actually be alone for that long. I guess those North Carolina Mountains still have a few places fairly remote places left. In most areas he would have been adopted by the government and become a ward of the State. He was probably better off where he was. Interesting reading as usual. Pappy

  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    This man was my uncle. He truly lived a life of freedom like most of us will never know. I only saw him a few times, but he lived like he wanted too.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I have heard of him several times. I lived in Haywood county for many many years and now live in Buncombe county. I have never seen him, although I would love to meet him. Wouldn’t it be great to live the life EXACTLY the way you want too?

  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 10:03 am


  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 6:44 am

    This reminds me of the way things were in my hometown when I was young. Everyone knew -or was related to- everyone else. Folks like Arley were accepted and looked after because they were one of ours. We had a couple of local “characters”. One old gent would walk along talking very animatedly – to himself. There were some dire warnings from parents that if we didn’t do well in school(or behave in church,or do our chores), we’d end up that way, but no one bothered him, and he didn’t bother anyone. He had a house,always appeared well-fed and was dressed appropriately for the weather. Nowadays, he’d be locked up in an institution somewhere, supposedly for his own good. We used to feel a body had a right to live the way they wanted to. Now we have no “characters” left.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 12:58 am

    This story makes me wonder about his younger days and family life. If he has a nephew, he obviously had a brother or sister. Interesting. RIP Wild Man.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    That’s amazing!

  • Reply
    January 25, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    I think his soul is in all of us!
    Who wouldn’t want to be “the wild man” sometimes!! I would.

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    January 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    I liked this story- and he was pitiful in a way. I’m glad there were folks to look after him and care.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee ♥
    January 25, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Oh the article.. surely tugged at my heartstrings. God love him and God bless his neighbors for helping as much as they could.
    (We attempted to go to Cataloochee one time. I got so anxious that we were on the wrong road…it was more like a path…and there was no one around. Finally he grew weary of hearing me whine and fret and turned around . Our car had previously broken down once on the Cove loop and that’s not quite something you ever get over with it ( was a nightmare on that loop with traffic bumper to bumper with a stalled car), and I just KNEW our car would either break down on that path or get stuck, etc.!)

  • Reply
    January 25, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    The story of Mr. Phillips reminds me of that of another North Carolinian from the opposite end of the state – the Fort Fisher Hermit. They even look alike.
    See for more about him.
    I met the Hermit several times when I was a boy. He lived on the beach in an old military bunker or concrete structure of some sort. For much of the year, he wore only swim trunks, and his skin was like leather.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    January 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    This sounds intriguing! I’ll have to follow up on it.

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Thomas
    January 25, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    There are stories here about a man living in the woods. If any of the kids came across him he talked to them and showed them how to hunt and fish and to clean and cook what they caught.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 25, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Tipper, the Deer Hunter and I had lunch with Dwight McCarter last week. Dwight is a retired Park Ranger from Tennessee. He was talking about Arley, I guess Arley had just died and Dwight knew lots of stories about him.
    Guess most towns in the mountains have characters more or less like Arley.
    I can remember some of them as I grew up.
    There was one guy, I don’t recall his name, that lived in and old shack outside town. My dad took him some heavy wool felt to go on the outside of the shack to make it warmer. When my dad went back in a couple of weeks to see how it worked for him the wool felt was still sitting where my dad had put it and the man said he hadn’t had time to put it on the shack.
    Go figure!

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    January 25, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    I have never heard of him. He sounds like quite a character. Can’t wait to go read the article.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    January 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Tipper: What a neat story of the wild man and also how complaining is sometimes the wrong thing to do.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Interesting post and I read the article. He sounds like a lot of the homeless folks in the city and suburban areas, except that he was fortunate to have a home where he could be who he was.

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