Thursday, December 3, 2009

Henry W. Shoemaker, Part III: Peter Pentz's maned cat

Another of Shoemaker's tales of the Lock Haven area in Clinton County was the account of a bizarre cat killed by the 'mountain man' Peter Pentz in 1798.

Shoemaker says that Pentz was visiting with Isaac Dougherty near McElhattan Run when they heard a commotion among Dougherty's animals. They found a steer dead, a large maned cat crouched over its body. Pentz and Dougherty tracked the animal up the side of Bald Eagle Mountain, eventually tracking it to a cavernous den in a 'bare place' (large rock-strewn clearings common to the area). Here, the two killed the maned cat and its mate, and captured three cubs.

Chad Arment points out that elsewhere in his writings (Extinct Pennsylvania Animals vol. 1) Shoemaker theorizes that Pentz's cat may have been "a modification of the prehistoric lions which Prof. Leidy called felis (sic) atrox". It is intriguing that such a similar idea to that espoused by Loren Coleman and Mark A. Hall was made over a half century before.

In the same passage he mentions that the Indians of Manhattan Island, New York, said that male cougar were maned. He also mentions later that the skin of a cougar killed along the Greenbrier River in West Virginia had a tail similar to that of an African lion.

In his original recounting of the tale, Shoemaker theorizes that the cat was an aberration of the normal cougar; it is perhaps possible that the genetic traits of Panthera atrox still exist in the genepool of the cougar accounting for lion-like attributes.

Recent studies have indicated that prehistoric lions including P. atrox lived until 13,000 years ago.


  1. Supposedly an African lion was spotted by a hunter in Greenbrier County, West Virginia in 2007. It was smaller than a typical male lion.

    Despite all efforts to trap it or hunt it down, no lion was every found. Maybe Panthera leo atrox may have lived in isolated populations in later periods. However, we cannot assume that American lions had manes. European cave lions did not have them. In Lascaux, there are obvious male lions depicted that have no manes at all. A subpopulation of African lions near Tsavo also is noted for not having manes. (These were the same subpopulation that terrorized the British company building a railroad in the late 1890's. These later became known as the maneaters of Tsavo.)

  2. That's interesting that sightings of "lions" surface from the same area of West Virginia. Along the lines of the mutation thing, I vaguely recall that the Mexican onza (which is a more slightly-built variant of the cougar) had a thin mane, but I'm not certain on that. I had known that the two Tsavo lions from the 1890s had no manes, but assumed that they were just mutants and hadn't known there were still maneless lions around there!

  3. The population of lions around Tsavo is known for being maneless.

    It's kind of strange, because the mane is actually trait that the lionesses use to determin the fitness of a male. The thicker and darker the mane is, the healthier the male is.

    I wonder when this trait evolved, because it was not evident in European cave lions.