The Lost Chapter

The Lost Chapter

A big part of writ­ing is the edit­ing pro­cess, which means some­times large chunks of a ma­nu­script dis­ap­pear from a book.

I liked the Mascots, Media Sensations & Media Stars chapter but could nev­er fig­ure out where to place it in The Cougar. My ed­it­or, Pam Robertson, felt the same way. So, aside from a con­densed para­graph or two that were in­cor­por­ated into an­oth­er sec­tion, the en­tire chapter was cut.

Thanks to the di­git­al age, I can share The Cougar’s lost chapter here.

Mascots, Media Sensations & Movie Stars

…a per­fect blend of beauty, strength, in­tel­li­gence and ability.”

Orval Pall, bio­lo­gist, The Cougar Almanac:
A Complete Natural History of the Mountain Lion

“The re­gi­ment had three mascots…a young moun­tain lion brought by the Arizona troops, a war eagle brought by the New Mexicans…and a rather dis­rep­ut­able but ex­ceed­ingly know­ing little dog, named Cuba….The moun­tain lion, Josephine, pos­sessed an in­fernal tem­per; where­as both Cuba and the eagle, which has been named in my hon­or, were ex­tremely good-humored.Josephine was kept tied up. She some­times es­caped. One cool night in early September she wandered off and, en­ter­ing the tent of a Third Cavalry man, got into bed with him; whereupon he fled into the dark­ness with yells, much more un­nerved than he would have been by the ar­rival of any num­ber of Spaniards.The eagle was let loose and not only walked at will up and down the com­pany streets, but also at times flew wherever he wished….Josephine hated him and was al­ways try­ing to make a meal of him, es­pe­cially when we en­deavored to take their pho­to­graphs together.The eagle, though good-natured, was an en­tirely com­pet­ent in­di­vidu­al and ready at any mo­ment to beat Josephine off. Cuba was also op­pressed at times by Josephine, and was of course no match for her, but was fre­quently able to over­awe by simple de­cision of character.”

Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders

It’s iron­ic that, even as North Americans were decim­at­ing the cou­gar pop­u­la­tion, the cat’s fo­cus, strength and cun­ning were id­ol­ized and admired.

Today, even though the an­im­al is con­sidered ex­tinct or en­dangered in a large por­tion of its former ter­rit­ory, the cou­gar has worked its way into North American cul­ture in as­ton­ish­ing ways.

Cougar car ad from 1967
Mercury Cougar ads from 1967 is­sues of Life Magazine, cour­tesy artist Ken Gerberick.

What is it that makes people both ad­mire and fear the fe­line and go to great lengths to either kill it or pro­tect it? The mys­tique of the an­im­al prob­ably has a lot to do with it. What people don’t see or un­der­stand of­ten takes on a grandeur all its own. And what is known is pretty amaz­ing. Physically the cou­gar is a power­ful pred­at­or that is fast, fierce and grace­ful and has sur­vived in spite of vig­or­ous cam­paigns to ex­term­in­ate it.

Websites pro­mot­ing cou­gars as a per­son­al to­tem use terms like in­tu­it­ive, in­tim­id­at­ing and con­fid­ent and say these traits are of­ten ex­hib­ited by people in po­s­i­tions of power, au­thor­ity and so­cial con­trol. In more re­cent times, the cou­gar be­came a sym­bol of sleek sex­i­ness. But in Roosevelt’s era, it was the fe­ro­cious as­pect of the beast that held the most ap­peal. Roosevelt was writ­ing about a re­gi­ment of the 1st United States Volunteer Calvary that made his­tory in the 1898 Spanish-American War. Of the three mas­cots, only the dog, Cuba, ac­com­pan­ied the men to the coun­try he was named after.

The eagle and Josephine re­joined the unit when it re­turned to the states. One story says that, as well as cud­dling up with the sleep­ing sol­dier, Josie, as the cou­gar was called, also nibbled his toes. Details are scarce as to how and when Josie died but her memory lived on in the form of a cou­gar skin rug made from her hide and her moun­ted head, which even­tu­ally made its way to the Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Although no one knows when the concept of mas­cots was first in­tro­duced, there are re­cords of a goat filling the role for the Royal Welsh Fusiliers as far back as 1775. Like many words, the mean­ing of mas­cot has changed over time. In the Middle Ages, it meant witch. Later the word sig­ni­fied a ma­gic spell and, even­tu­ally, a good luck charm. Many mas­cots are chosen as a way to in­tim­id­ate the en­emy so it’s no sur­prise that pred­at­ors such as cou­gars, bears and sharks are pop­u­lar choices.

Early re­search for this book in­cluded set­ting up a Google Alert for “cou­gars” to keep in­formed about stud­ies, sight­ings and en­coun­ters. To my sur­prise, 90 per­cent, or more, of the links Google sent my way were re­lated to sports teams. If I’d wanted to, I could have be­come fa­mil­i­ar with the teams and scores of the Regina Cougars and Victoria Cougars, as well as kept up to date on which cou­gars from which teams were be­ing re­cruited to the NFL and the Cougar Football Program in Australia.

The Australian link seemed odd as of­fi­cially there are no cou­gars “down un­der.” But, ac­cord­ing to Lyn Hancock, ru­mours of big cats roam­ing the out­back are com­mon. The former Aussie, who cared for sev­er­al cou­gar cubs after mov­ing to British Columbia, said the Australian cou­gars are most likely pets that es­caped or were re­leased into the wild.

The name cou­gar, catamount, lion and pan­ther seem par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar as mas­cots for uni­ver­sit­ies and col­leges. One of the first to choose moun­tain lion was Pennsylvania State University. In 1904, when the Penn State base­ball team was taunted with a stat­ute of Princeton’s Bengal ti­ger, Harrison D. “Joe” Mason com­bined the name of a loc­al land­mark, Mount Nittany, and the “fiercest beast of them all” to cre­ate the Nittany Lion.

I was a tod­dler when my par­ents lived on cam­pus at Washington State University in the 1950s. Yet many years later I still have vivid memor­ies of a cou­gar star­ing at me in­tently as he paced in his cage. WSU’s foot­ball team was ori­gin­ally known as the Indians. But when an Oakland car­toon­ist de­pic­ted a 1919 vic­tory over California State University as the “fierce Northwest cou­gars chas­ing the de­feated Golden Bears,” a new name was adopted.

Eight years later, state gov­ernor, Roland H. Hartley, gave WSU a cou­gar cub and sug­ges­ted nam­ing it Butch in hon­our of Herbert “Butch” Meeker, a uni­ver­sity foot­ball star at the time. Altogether six Butchs lived at the Pullman, Washington cam­pus between 1927 and 1978. The cat was kept in a large run and taken to home games in a wheeled cage, which was paraded around the field at half-time.

Like most schools, WSU now uses a stu­dent dressed in a cos­tume to por­tray their mas­cot. In fact, the only school still us­ing a live cou­gar is the University of Houston in Texas. In December 2011 three tiny cou­gars were orphaned when a hunter shot their moth­er. Two were found re­l­at­ively quickly but the third re­mained elu­sive. Eventually, a bio­lo­gist as­sist­ing with the search gave a cou­gar-like chirp and Shasta VI, as he’s now called, replied. The little guy was taken to his new home at the Houston Zoo where he lives with an­oth­er cou­gar. Shasta makes his ap­pear­ances at UH events via a webcam.

Even some ele­ment­ary and pre-schools con­sider the cou­gar the an­im­al of choice when it comes to hav­ing a cool mas­cot. The Cincinnati Christian School in Fairfield, Ohio has a Cougar Cubs preschool while in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Cochiti Elementary School calls it­self “Home of the Cougars.”

But not every­one thinks hav­ing a cou­gar as a mas­cot is a good idea. In January 2012 a huge con­tro­versy arose when stu­dents who would be at­tend­ing the new Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Utah voted to ad­opt the cat as the school’s mas­cot. After com­plaints from par­ents re­fer­ring to the pos­sible neg­at­ive con­nota­tion of a mod­ern use of the word – i.e. a sexu­ally act­ive wo­man in­volved with a young­er man – the school board ve­toed cou­gar and an­nounced Charger, as in horses, as the school mascot.

Wildcat beer canAdvertising gurus have long taken ad­vant­age of the cougar’s al­lure. Most folks are fa­mil­i­ar with PUMA brand sports foot­wear, cloth­ing and ac­cessor­ies. And many a tawny cat has been paired with a fash­ion mod­el to show off the latest at­tire. For those into hand­guns there’s a Stoeger Cougar. In Australia, Foster’s Group Ltd. makes sour mash Cougar bour­bon while Labatt Brewing Company in Canada pro­duces Wildcat Strong beer. In 2012, Apple even got into the act by re­leas­ing a new desktop op­er­at­ing sys­tem called OS X Mountain Lion.

In the trans­port­a­tion field the name cou­gar has been giv­en to RVs, ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers, fight­er planes and heli­copters. But per­haps the most well-known vehicle to make use of the big cat’s name is Ford Motor Company’s Mercury Cougar. After much me­dia hype tout­ing the “Untamed Elegance” of the two-door hardtop the auto­mobile was launched in 1967. Promotional ma­ter­i­al called the car “…a new kind of road an­im­al” and “…a lithe, con­tem­por­ary car.” By the 1970s, at­tract­ive fe­male mod­els, in­clud­ing act­ress Farah Fawcett, ap­peared hold­ing cou­gars on leashes or driv­ing with a cou­gar as a pas­sen­ger as part of the me­dia campaign.

Cougar car ad from 1967
Mercury Cougar ads from 1967 is­sues of Life Magazine, cour­tesy artist Ken Gerberick.

Although it was mar­keted as “a man’s car a Mustang own­er could step up to,” pur­chasers of both sexes bought into the idea of own­ing a sexy, power­ful vehicle. According to an art­icle by Larry Jewett in the Nov. 2010 is­sue of Modified Mustangs & Fords, “The suc­cess of the Cougar led to the idea of qual­ity ‘at the Sign of the Cat,’ util­iz­ing a snarling cou­gar perched atop a Lincoln Mercury sign.”

Today, the word cou­gar con­tin­ues to ex­pand its ter­rit­ory as a sym­bol­ic icon. After sports teams, the second most fre­quent “cou­gar” story my Google Alert sent me was about older wo­men dat­ing or mar­ry­ing young­er men. It’s likely this type of ro­mantic li­ais­on has oc­curred since time im­me­mori­al. But in the Nov. 2010 is­sue of Psychology Today, Maridel Reyes said the ex­pres­sion be­came main­stream after the 2001 pub­lic­a­tion of Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men by Valerie Gibson. In the book Gibson said she de­cided to use the word after hear­ing about a re­mark a young man in a bar made about an older wo­man who “looks like a cou­gar on the prowl.” Gibson defines hu­man cou­gars as “wo­men 40-plus who date young­er men and don’t want to settle down.” The mean­ing re­mains flu­id, how­ever, and is of­ten used to de­scribe any wo­man who has a ro­mantic re­la­tion­ship with a man 10 or more years young­er than herself.

This new cou­gar cul­ture has be­come big busi­ness. A cas­u­al in­ter­net search re­veals cou­gar clubs and puma parties. There is a National Cougar Convention, as well as Miss Cougar Canada and Cougar/​Cub Couple of the Year con­tests. Some con­sider cou­gars smart, beau­ti­ful wo­men who are fit, fash­ion­able and will­ing to have fun no mat­ter what their age or that of their part­ner. Stars on the sil­ver screen have giv­en the term a cer­tain glam­our. Anne Bancroft played the clas­sic cou­gar in the 1967 movie The Graduate while Kate Winslett did the same in the 2008 The Reader. Not to be left be­hind, tele­vi­sion aired Cougar Town, Sex and the City and The Cougar. And celebrit­ies such as Demi Moore, Kim Cattrall and Madonna have at one time or an­oth­er filled the role of a real life mod­ern cougar.

But not every­one con­siders cou­gar a good term to de­scribe wo­men. Some find the ex­pres­sion hu­mi­li­at­ing or derog­at­ory. And a num­ber of cou­gar pro­mo­tions have back­fired. In 2010, de­clin­ing to give a spe­cif­ic reas­on, Carnival Cruises op­ted to aban­don cou­gar cruises in fa­vour of more fam­ily-friendly voy­ages. The same month an on­line ad for a New Zealand air­line por­tray­ing middle-aged wo­men as sexu­ally ag­gress­ive pred­at­ors prowl­ing bars in search of young men to fill their crav­ing for “slabs of meat” was pulled due to com­plaints by rape pre­ven­tion or­gan­iz­a­tions and women’s rights groups. In Georgia, a lib­rary me­dia spe­cial­ist com­plained to the school board about the pos­sible re­mov­al of an edu­ca­tion­al Internet search en­gine. In her let­ter Martha Powell wrote, “…I did a search for cou­gar in Google and in my res­ults list there was not an an­im­al in sight…at least not the 4‑legged ones our 2nd graders are look­ing for!”

It’s in­ter­est­ing how an older man in a re­la­tion­ship with a young­er wo­man is re­ferred to as “sug­ar daddy” but re­verse the roles, and the wo­man be­comes a pred­at­ory an­im­al. And ap­par­ently be­ing a cou­gar is det­ri­ment­al to a woman’s health. In a May 12, 2010 art­icle in the Guardian, Ian Simple wrote, “Marrying someone young­er re­duces your mor­tal­ity rate if you’re a man – but in­creases it if you’re a wo­man.” Stats from the Max Plank Institute for Demographic Research in Germany in­dic­ate that a man with a spouse sev­en to nine years young­er than him­self has an 11% lower mor­tal­ity rate than a man whose wife is the same age as him. Keep everything else the same but switch the genders and a wo­man has a 20% great­er mor­tal­ity rate.

Human cou­gars aren’t the only ones that have ap­peared in movies and on tele­vi­sion. In the mid-1960s, Hollywood looked to Canada as a source for their fe­line stars. While con­duct­ing re­search at the University of Western Ontario, Alan MacEachern found a piece of pa­per with Mickey Mouse let­ter­head. In Lost in Shipping: Canadian National Parks and the International Donation of Wildlife he wrote that a Disney ex­ec­ut­ive was look­ing for a “re­mark­ably tame and tract­able” moun­tain lion. The let­ter con­tin­ued, “Actually, we could po­ten­tially use a big old male with rheum­at­ism and a def­in­ite lack of pep and fire, and pos­sibly blind, whose coat nev­er­the­less, de­veloped into an at­tract­ive one and whose size is as for­mid­able as when he was in his prime….” Parks Canada replied that filling the re­quest wouldn’t be a problem.

While pro­grams like Wild Kingdom prepped the baby boomer gen­er­a­tion to take an in­terest in the en­vir­on­ment­al move­ment, some movies and tele­vi­sion shows are far from real­ist­ic. More than a few have giv­en the pub­lic the idea that cou­gars only at­tack if de­fend­ing their young, that they fre­quently leap on people from trees or would nev­er at­tack a per­son seated at a camp­fire or climb a tree after someone.

But as much as cou­gars have be­come an icon of all that is sexy, strong and beau­ti­ful, it’s im­port­ant not to for­get that the ac­tu­al an­im­al is un­pre­dict­able and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous wheth­er it’s en­countered in the wil­der­ness, viewed in a road­side zoo or in­tro­duced as someone’s pet.

Banner photo: Wild Pacific Trail. Photo by Paula Wild.