Maine Coon Cats - Legends of Pinepoint, Maine

Legends of Pinepoint - Maine Coon Cats


These bits and pieces of the legend and lore of our breed are all based on oral history from Maine.

Lida Choate has retired from breeding Maine Coon Cats, and is pleased to have a Choate kitten in 48 States. Many happy kitten owners will quickly point out the beauty and health of her Maine Coon line. Perhaps one of the most interesting and knowledgeable breeders concerning the historical Maine origins of our breed, her avid interest in the legends and lore of the Maine Coon Cat preserves these fascinating tales. But Lida Choate's vision of her perfect Maine Coon has been her greatest gift and has preserved precious heritage intact and available for the next century.

"ALWAYS BEEN A LOVE OF MINE" declared Lida, when asked recently of when she started her interest in Maine Coons. "But I didn't start breeding until I retired. My Janie and Jennifer looked like the cats in my barn."

Lida Tarbox Choate remembers fondly her father telling her to get a box with a soft blanket in it, and to put it under the big black kitchen stove. He told her to pick some pussy willows and put them in the box, and promised that the next morning, there would be kittens in the box. For many years after that, Lida thought kittens really came from pussy willows! She chuckles, now, in the telling of that story, realizing that her father knew their cat was due to give birth. And she reminds the reader that the wood stoves back then had longer legs and it was a favorite spot for cats.

Lida was born in 1911 on the farm her family bought from the Pierces in 1910. She believes that their farm was previously owned by the same Pierce family famous for owning Maine Cats in the 1800's.

( F.R. Pierce authored the chapter about Maine Cats in the renowned BOOK OF THE CAT by Francis Simpson, pub 1903 in England. A photograph of a Maine Cat named Blue Danube bred by Mrs. Pierce is featured in that chapter as a definitive example of a Maine Cat of that era).

The barn on the Tarbox farm, near Biddeford Pool, Maine, was well-populated with beautiful Maine Coon cats, undoubtedly related to Blue Danube of the Pierce's. These childhood cats had the prettiest faces; and as Lida remembers, her father was a great lover of the cats from their farm. These nineteenth century and early twentieth century Maine Cats' beautiful sweet faces and very shaggy coats imprinted themselves indelibly in young Lida's heart and mind.

A reporter for the Evening Express newspaper, Mr. Bruce Roberts, retells a favorite family remembrance (1), printed in 1986:

" Her father's account of the Maine Coon goes back to his great-grandmother, Molly Haley, who lived on the Haley farm next to the Tarboxe's, just up from the `pool,` or gut where the Saco River and the Atlantic Ocean meet. This was before Maine became a state and when the four-masted schooners hauled cargo to Maine from around the world.

A cabin boy named Tom Coon, from which the `coon` cat purportedly gets its name, worked aboard the sailing vessel Glen Laurie. One of his jobs when ashore was to collect cats, which were then used to rid the sailing vessel of wharf rats. On one of these rat-catcher expeditions, Tom smuggled in a beautiful longhair. The safe harbor for both the first coon and her subsequent litter was the Tarbox farm at Biddeford Pool, where the Glen Laurie anchored to take on supplies at the Cutts store at the Pool. When the cabin boy became a captain, he continued to bring the exotic long-hairs to the farm during his ocean voyages. "

Lida explains that she noticed the sturdier coon cats with rugged builds had ancestors more likely from ancient Persia, and that the slimmer, more sleek coon cats had ancestors more likely from Turkey. These exotic ports were not unusual to shipping commerce in the days before Maine became a state. Many Maine men captained the finest ships on the sea. (2)

Another favorite legend that Lida relates, is the rescue of Marie Antoinette's cats and their arrival in Maine, safely aboard ship under the watchful command of Captain Clough. Lida has met and spoken with some living Maine descendants of this captain, who recall their grandfather's historical descriptions of her cats' arrival and voyage to Maine. (3)

These cats also had broader, sweet faces and this heritage also may have served to influence Lida's choice of cats when it came time for her to start breeding her dream Maine Coon. The first two cats of Lida's line are Janie and Jennifer. Nearly all of her cats have the name Tarbox or Choate in their name instead of a cattery name. During a visit approximately in 1980, Janie and Jennifer were happily ensconced on a living room table, enjoying visitors' attention. They had long shaggy coats and very sweet expression. These cats are truly reminiscent of Blue Danube and of the Marie Antoinette cats.



(1) Bruce Roberts, WE HEAR column, Coon Cats are Lila,s [Lida's] Life, Evening Express newspaper, 7/23/86. Courtesy Hortense Wilkinson collection.

( Editor's note: Documentation of this Captain Coon has not been found yet by this editor, but documentation of a whaling Captain Coon and his ocean-going family does exist in the Maine State Library)

(2) The Maritime History of Maine, William Hutchinson Rowe, Harpswell Pess

(3) Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, 1919, Journal Printshop


Ed notes

The descendants of Captain Clough (not Cloud as a widely disseminated and much copied publication would erroneously suggest) still remark about the safe arrival of the cats from Versailles.

China, a town in Maine, which a sea captain called home, also was a source for Maine Coon cats, not the country of China, Lida points out.

Rarely can an individual contribution be recognized as to how it fits into the whole breed and improves the whole breed. Lida Choate's vision of her perfect Maine Coon has preserved precious heritage intact and available for the next century. Looking back in gratitude for Lida's contribution to the registered Maine Coon breed, we can say in perfect truth, that because of her dedication, that the precious look and heritage from the last century has been preserved for the next century. No other breeder has given this gift to the Maine Coon Breed.

I have greatly enjoyed every conversation I've ever had with Lida. It is fun to talk of the old sea captain's names and the home towns of my native state.


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Updated 3/24/2015


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