A Note from Cottonwood Corners

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia:  “There is no reference to the cat in the Old Testament, the domestication of that animal being later than the Bible, except in Egypt, where it was reverenced as a divine being, and probably thus became tame.”

Domestic cats are not mentioned in the Bible. Leopards are mentioned in eight verses and lions are named in 119 verses.

History shows that cats have been our allies for an especially long time. The armies of Julius Caesar used cats to protect their provisions from mice and they followed the imperial legions all the way to England. Some of the Roman armies even marked their shields with cats.

Napoleon hated cats. He refused to allow the increase of the cat population in Paris to reduce the rodents on the streets of the city. Instead, he preferred using poison which resulted in illness to the citizens as well as the vermin.

On July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General of the organization now known as the United States Postal Service. He received an annual salary of $1,000 plus $340 for a secretary and comptroller. He served in that capacity till November of 1776.

Not long after the Revolutionary War, it appears that the United States became the first country to include in the annual budget money for cats. About $1,000 per year was disbursed for postal cats, which were employed to keep the mouse population under control at the numerous postal locations.  The funds were prorated to the sites according to the volume of mail each processed. ($1,000 in 1777 would be $26,523 today)

History shows that cats have been our allies for an especially long time. By the early part of the 1800s, cats were standard equipment in the U.S. Army commissary storehouses. The budget of the army provided for $18.25 to be allocated for the annual upkeep of each cat on the premises. That would be about $417 per cat today!

Cats, after the Civil War, had firmly established themselves on the western frontier as a “mouser” which was needed to protect the provisions and valuables of the homesteader and rancher. And up in Alaska, the need was even greater. They were worth their weight in gold — literally!  So desperate were those miners as they paid for their felines with recently discovered gold.

They were needed on the frontier to control the mice; however, there was one unpleasant experience which their owners and neighbors were forced to endure just about every night.  Cats are social creatures and their “meow” conveys numerous messages: “Hello,” “Let me in,” “Let me out,” “I’m hungry,” and “scratch me.”  Owners knew and understood the normal vocabulary of their cat; however, an interpreter was needed to explain the most dreadful sound which interrupted everyone’s nightly rest.  It was terrible and unpleasant for all who had to endure such clamorous sounds.

Today we call it “caterwauling.”  The pitch changes and the usual “meow’ suddenly becomes a drawn out howl-yowl.  It’s hard to describe, but those living in the neighborhood knew it when they heard it.  It was a cross between a yowl, howl, and a whine.  Webster defined it as:  “(1) to make a harsh cry, and (2) to protest or complain nosily.”

In August of 1876, the editor of the Lincoln County Advocate (Canton) was confronted by a lady from the community who charged into his office and declared that “no man could get to heaven who had not killed at least one ‘night-yowling’ cat.”

Later that same year, the editor of the Daily Press and Dakotan (Yankton) wrote:  “One of our nervous fellow citizens was disturbed the other night by the caterwauling of a Thomas cat, and in order to induce the musical feline to suspend operations and give him a rest, he flung a seventy cent wash tub through a four dollar window and — missed the cat.” He now had a wash tub with a hole in the bottom and a broken window.

During the summer of 1912, the University of Minnesota purchased six cats and they were assigned to the library. They were to wage war on the mice that had invaded the building over the summer.

The Mobridge News of May 2, 1913 contained a short story on page three with a simple headline:

“Nancy is for Rent.” The story went on to explain that in the front window of a store in Mobridge was a sign which read: “Nancy, our Angora cat, rented out by the hour or day. Warranted to kill every rat or mouse in your home.”

The Philip Weekly Review and Bad River News of June 19, 1913, had a simple one-line editorial:

“Cats are in demand because of so many mice.”

In November of 1923, the editor of The Mellette County Pioneer (Wood) in an editorial told of a gentleman in Wood who was in jail for throwing a cat out of the window.  He commented:  “The Supreme Court says it is unconstitutional to pass a law that would prevent driving thousands of young children into mills and factories.  Write that on your tablet.  We can protect cats, not children!”

Cats have personalities as varied as those of man . . . passive, aggressive, lazy, active, loving, independent, you name it.


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on March 2, 2022