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  • Writer's pictureKaylee Sanabria

The unknown history of Maine coons

Mrs. F.R Pierce, the owner of the first documented Maine coon, wrote a chapter about her family having one to several long haired cats often called Maine cats in the first book about pedigree cats published in 1903 by Francis Simpson. It appears that what they termed Maine cats were owned by farmers in the 1860s and were presented at local agricultural fairs in New England, USA 30 years before the first formal American cat shows were conducted. These cats were known for their long hair and hunting abilities. But where did the Maine coon come from? This is a question that no one can definitively answer, however there are a few myths.

It has been said that viking ships carried over cats known as norweign skogkatt, today known as the norweign forest cat, which are known to adapt to harsh conditions. Viking ships would dock, and these cats would disembark and mate with short-haired cats already in Maine.

The second myth is that when Marie Antoinette, the former Queen of France, attempted to flee, she brought six Turkish augora cats with her in the hopes of reaching the United States. Marie's attempt failed, and she was executed, but her cats are claimed to have stayed aboard the boat and made it to Wiscasset, Maine, where they were freed to mate with short-haired cats already in the state.

My idea is that long and short haired cats were transported over on ships during the summer months and mated, and then it was survival of the fittest. The kittens who could adapt to the harsh weather were the ones who survived, giving birth to the Maine coon, America's only native cat. Over time, the cats that were able to adapt began to produce offspring with distinct traits such as long hair on their stomachs and feet and exceptional hunting abilities. Because not just any cat could live in this location, and because there were few settlements nearby, the first Maine coons remained unmixed.

This brings us back to the 1860s, when farmers would bring their cats to local fairs. Large shows were held in many major cities, including Chicago, ten years before the first American cat show at Madison Square Garden in 1895. There were 176 cats entered in the Madison Square Garden exhibition, with the overall winner being a brown tabby Maine coon named Cosie.

Cat shows became immensely popular, with events held all over the country, with the Maine coon frequently winning best in show. However, success was short-lived, and with the arrival of the more popular Persian cat, the Maine coon was soon labeled extinct! The Maine coon was no longer seen in shows until 40 years later. Because of the dedication of a small number of Maine coon breeders who kept meticulous records, the Maine coon did not become extinct and was recognized as a breed by the CFA in 1975.

When we look back at the Maine Coon's history, we can see how it had to constantly adapt to the severe weather, stealth, and 40 years of being on the verge of extinction before becoming one of the most well-known and regal cat breeds in America.

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