Maine Coon Cats - Legends of Pinepoint, Maine
Legends of Pinepoint - Maine Coon Cats
"IF YOU ARE BORN LOVING A COON, YOU'LL ALWAYS LOVE A COON." - Lida
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
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.
From "A TRIBUTE TO LIDA CHOATE" by Beth
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