Article — From the May 1855 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
UNTIL within a few years past, very little has been known of the history and habits of the most notable members of the feline family. Every thing relating to the tiger — except as an animal killed in the chase, or as a captive — is still unreliable. The constant emigration of our adventurous citizens to the wilderness of our vast continent, has recently made us acquainted with the cougar — the largest of the cat-family known to America — while the prowess of Cumming has unfolded the haunts of the lion to the gaze of the civilized world. Speaking, therefore, with authority regarding these two animals, we can devote more space to their description than to those of inferior importance. The Western Continent has ben exempted by Providence from animals of the most destructive kinds, as the lion is a native of Africa, and the tiger of India; the ounce, the ocelot, the leopard, the lynx, and the cougar are more diffused, but are never met in sufficient numbers to occupy a prominent place in natural history. In the development of our paper, we have endeavored to use the most popular names, and have proceeded in our descriptions from the smallest representative of the felines up to the acknowledged head of the family; and, by common consent, the noblest beast that lives.
The Household Cat — the only domesticated representative of the feline race — is a universal favorite; it is so neat in its habits, so beautiful in form, graceful in gesture, and so useful withal; for without the cat, our houses, in many cases, would not only become uninhabitable on account of vermin, but it is safe to say that sections of country would be overrun with rats, and rendered unfit for the residence of man. Although the cat is not distinguished for its intelligence, still, when closely observed, it will be found to possess great sagacity; but it seldom exerts its faculties except for selfish purposes. The cat, as a general rule, shows no attachment to persons, only to places; yet it is one of the few dumb creatures that take an interest in their young after they are able to provide for themselves. In European countries it is quite common to hear of eccentric individuals who make companions of cats, and in England wills are not infrequent, which provide for these feline favorites after the testator is in the grave.
The cat, long as it has been domesticated, retains, in a remarkable degree, its instinctive passion for hunting; and a tame cat, once adopting a wild life, is more destructive, its size considered, than any other animal; and, after one or two generations, its progeny assumes a bluish-gray color, which no doubt is the appearance of the original type. Tame cats frequently abandon the ignoble labor of destroying rats and mice, and take to the hedges and neighboring woods, and bring home woodcock, partridges, quail, and other game birds; and in England they have been trained to become most successful poachers upon the preserves of the wealthy landholder.
The most remarkable illustration of this habit is given in an account of a cat owned by a gentleman living on Elk Run, in Virginia. It would seem that the plantation was much infested by snakes, which were protected by stone fences and thorn hedges. The cat having killed one of the reptiles, it devoted its energies to their extermination. In time it extended its field of operations to the adjoining woods, distant perhaps a mile, and would often return home with a snake many feet in length in its mouth.
The fondness of cats for certain sweet-scented herbs is well known, valerian being their favorite perfume. They are also highly susceptible of every change in the atmosphere, becoming gloomy and hypochondriacal in damp and rainy weather, and buoyant and playful on bright and sunny days. As an inmate of the family circle, they are never objected to by the most careful housekeeper; and the fat and pampered grimalkin, as it lies curled up on the hearth-rug, or reposes in the luxuriously cushioned chair, sheds an air of comfort and quiet about its vicinity that is felt by the most casual observer. The voice of the domestic cat is peculiar; and unlike all its species, in being very flexible, its cry frequently approaching the tones of the human voice. It was these mysterious sounds, joined with its unsocial characteristics, that made the cat an object of superstitious veneration among our ancestors; at the present day it holds an envied place at the fireside, and divides with the faithful dog the attentions and caresses of the social circle, from which all other quadrupeds are rigorously excluded.
1. Tail of Domestic Cat. 2. Tail of Wild Cat.
The Wild Cat is common to almost every country, and is celebrated for its ferocity; it is distinguishable from the domestic cat not only by its superior size, but by the shortness of its tail, which shows that it is of another species. In the South and West it is still very numerous in the forests and swamps, and affords much sport for the hunter. We question if it was ever tamed, or made to show the least indication of friendship for its captors. We had, for very many weeks, caged in a room that we almost constantly occupied, a full-grown animal, which had been raised from a kitten in captivity — in all the time that it was in our possession, we never remember looking up but the cat had its malignant eye upon us, and greeted our observation by a growl of defiance or a snarl of hate. The wild cat makes its nest in hollow trees, near the ground, and is so ingenious in disguising its location that it is rarely discovered. It is very successful in its search for food, and every species of bird and small quadruped becomes its prey. When it once discovers a drove of wild turkeys, it will keep in their vicinity until the young and inexperienced are destroyed.
In hunting the cat, the creature has been known to display a great deal of intelligence in its efforts to escape the hounds. It will, when hard pressed, run up and down the trunk of a tree several times, and then, climbing to the topmost branches, take a flying leap to an adjoining monarch of the forest, and thus endeavor to destroy the trail. As a last resort for safety, it will take to some gigantic and heavenward-lifted limb, from which it will look down upon the dogs below, and snarl and growl defiance. Tormented by an occasional discharge of bird-shot, it will finally leap from its airy perch into the very jaws of the hounds, and throwing itself on its back, do more hard fighting with its claws and teeth, in a given length of time, than any other animal in the world; and give the spectator a realizing sense of the tremendous exaggeration of the Western bravado, who, among other things, professes himself perfectly able “to whip his weight in wild cats.”
We had an acquaintance, some years ago, who, upon a business trip, left the crowded streets of New York, and threaded the then half-wild wastes of Northern Mississippi. While riding along, he heard in the road what he supposed to be a stray kitten, and upon examination discovered, among some dried leaves, a juvenile wild cat, that could scarcely walk. Without reflection, he transferred the little creature to his coat pocket, where it kept up its cries. Suddenly the gentleman was startled by a growl in his rear, and to his horror he discovered the infuriated mother, fierce with rage, and ardently bent upon avenging the attempted abduction of her young. Striking spurs to his already jaded horse, he dashed along the road as best he could, the while finding it perfectly impossible to pull the kitten out of his pocket, so firmly did the young imp fasten its claws to the lining. Each moment seemed more imminent with peril; twice did the “varmint” nearly succeed in fastening upon the haunches of the horse, but as good fortune would have it, the appearance of a plantation, and the sound of dogs, alarmed the cat, and she beat a retreat. It was many months before our friend got entirely over his “scare,” and was relieved of dreams that he was pursued by a dread phantom that resembled that terrible cat.
In the early settlement of Kentucky, a schoolmaster was sitting alone in his log-cabin, when he was surprised to see a large cat enter his premises. Ignorant of the prowess of the animal, he shut the door, and commenced the attack. The battle was long and bloody, the man being nearly torn into shreds; and when discovered in the morning, he was found with his hands upon the cat’s throat, his knees upon its haunches; the animal dead and stiffened by cold. The victor, in his terror, had probably remained in the position described the livelong night, his muscles paralyzed, his nerves shattered; and never, through a long life, did he entirely recover from the terrible encounter.
The Ocelot is the tiger-cat of Peru and Mexico. It is beautifully marked, and is altogether a very attractive and playful little animal. It is quite common among the Indians in a half domesticated state; and is often led about the streets by a string, and, thus feebly guarded, offered for sale. Its principal food, when wild, is the monkey, which it rivals in activity and stratagem.
The Caracal of Asia and Africa, and the Lynx of North America, are animals strongly resembling each other in appearance and disposition. They are both perfectly untamable, and seem to be designed by nature to keep within bounds the numbers of the smaller animals of the forest, acting the same part on land that destructive fish do in the sea. The skin of the lynx forms an important article of commerce, many thousands being annually imported into England by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Chetah is one of the most beautiful animals, not only of the feline family, but of the world, and is common to India and Africa. In the former country they are domesticated, and trained to pursue and bring down game. It is the custom to take them hoodwinked upon the field, where they are brought as nigh as possible to the place where deer and antelopes may be feeding; the eyes of the chetah are then exposed and directed toward the game. The moment that the animal understands the wishes of its master, it leaps from the cart, and creeps along as it does in its wild state, hiding behind intervening bushes and stones, precisely like a cat when attempting to catch a bird. Nearing the vicinity of the unsuspecting herd, it singles out its victim, reaches it by two or three tremendous leaps, and brings it to the ground.
The Ounce is a native of India, and until recently was confounded with the leopard. It is easily distinguished from that animal by its rough exterior and bushy tail, but many naturalists still contend that it is the leopard, its peculiarities arising from its being an inhabitant of mountainous regions. Nothing is known of its natural history.
The Leopard, though smaller than the tiger, when wounded is considered but little less formidable by its enemies. The usual method of capturing it is in traps. People having the greatest knowledge of its habits refrain from confining it in a cage, but fasten it by a thong around the loins, and a chain attached to a post, just as they are every where represented in Pompeian paintings. In this state of semi-confinement the animal best displays its wonderful grace and action. The leopard is without difficulty trained to perform many feats, and seems to be the most sportive of its whole family. Among the branches of trees, while at their play, they spring about so swiftly that the eye can scarcely follow their movements. Individuals have become quite celebrated for their and intelligence and good-nature. An Englishman in India owned one, named Saï, that went at pleasure about the house, and seemed to find the greatest amusement in looking at the street scenes out of a certain window. If the children of the family wished to occupy his place, they unceremoniously thrust him aside. He was full of play, and was by no means averse to a practical joke, such as knocking over his attendant if he got asleep, or perhaps jumping upon the back of the servants as they would be stooping down to clean the floor. Saï was passionately fond of lavender water, a predilection accidentally discovered; on one occasion, while his master was pouring some lavender water on his handkerchief, Saï, who was sitting by, tore it out of his hands, and continued roIling over with it until it was reduced to fragments, Before his social qualities were known, he escaped from the yard where he was kept, and rushed round the ramparts, creating consternation in his course. The castle gates were closed, the officers, who had doors to their apartments, shut them, and the sentinels, who had none, ran away. The playful creature was thus left to complete his frolic by himself; and at last permitted his keeper to quietly lead him back to his cage. Saï was finally carried to England. On the voyage he got ducked in the sea, which seemed to nearly break his heart, and he suffered terribly from sickness. His daily allowance of food was a parrot a day, hardly enough to keep him from starving. On his arrival in England he was presented to the Duchess of York. One morning his new mistress called to see him, and he appeared playful and in his usual health, but at evening he was found dead. Saï, after he once became civilized, showed for his benefactors all the affection and faithfulness of a dog, and illustrated, in a most remarkable degree, that in natural disposition the leopard is far less cruel than the other representatives of the feline family. The Romans, in celebrating the feast of Bacchus, used to have a pageant, drawn through the streets, consisting of a pair of leopards attached to a car, in which rode a human representative of the infant god.
The Jaguar is a native of America, and very closely resembles the leopard. It follows in the track of wild herds of cattle and horses, and thus finds its principal subsistence. Its mode of killing its prey differs from that of the other felidæ, which is to seize by the throat. The jaguar, on the contrary, is said to spring upon the back of its victim, and, by its arms and with a sudden jerk of the head, dislocate the neck. Its strength is sufficient to enable it to drag the body of a horse a great distance. Unlike the other members of the cat family, it readily takes to the water, and not only swims rivers, but is successful in catching fish in shallow water, of which it seems to be very fond. It is related that, many years since, a jaguar took possession of the church of Santa Fé, and killed the padre. The priest’s absence caused suspicion, and a coadjutor went into the church, but, to the people, was as unaccountably delayed as his predecessor. After some time another priest entered the church, and was instantly attacked by the jaguar, but he managed to escape and give the alarm. No one now could be found brave enough to enter the building, so the people unroofed a corner of the church, and shot their enemy from a safe distance.
A jaguar penetrated a squatter’s hut in search of food, and the wife, the only human occupant at the moment, leaped for safety into a large store-chest, fastening with a spring, which obliged her to keep her fingers between the lid and the side of the chest, lest she should be suffocated for want of air. The jaguar soon discovered the hiding-place, and tried to push his head into the chest, but he could not raise the lid, nor could his paws obtain entrance. Presently he discovered the woman’s fingers, and began to lick them with his rough tongue. Not being able to accomplish any thing at the side of the box, he jumped on the top, and by his weight broke his poor prisoner’s fingers. For a long time he continued his efforts to obtain his prey, but at last, finding all of his endeavors useless, he went away. The woman at daybreak released herself and alarmed the neighbors, and, on the return of the husband, a search for the jaguar was commenced, which resulted in finding a pair, together with their cubs. It is hardly necessary to say that these” varmints” were summarily dispatched.
The Cougar is the American lion — at least it bears a closer resemblance to that noble brute than any other of the feline family, for it is destitute of the stripes of the tiger, the spots of the leopard, and the rosettes of the jaguar; but when full-grown possesses a tawny-red color, almost uniform over the whole body, and hence the inference that it is like the lion. Some naturalists call it the puma; the Anglo-Americans the panther, or “painter,” as it is generally termed in the back-woods. Cougar is a corruption of the Mexican name, and such we please to term it. The animal is remarkable for the extensive range of country which it inhabits, for it has been found in all the intermediate space between Paraguay and the great lakes of North America. In form it is less attractive than the generality of its species, there being an apparent want of symmetry; for it is observable that its back is hollow, its legs short and thick, and its tail does not gracefully taper; yet nature has invested the cougar with other qualities as a compensation, the most remarkable of which is an apparent power to render itself quite invisible; for so cunningly tinged is its fur, that it perfectly mingles with the bark of trees — in fact, with all subdued tints — and stretched upon a limb, or even extended upon the floor of its dimly-lighted cage, you must prepare your eye by considerable mental resolution to be assured of its positive presence. We knew a party of hunters, on the prairies of Louisiana, who spent a portion of a day under quite a small and perfectly leafless tree, and never suspected, until it leaped to the ground, the presence of an immense cougar, that was all the time a few feet above their heads in the naked branches; and then so quiet were its movements that the interruption would have passed for a fleeting shadow of the sun, had not the animal been discerned as it moved away upon the open plain.
The cougar, which is not unfrequently killed in the Southwest and in Texas, seldom measures more than six feet in length; and fortunately — for they are very destructive — they are but seldom seen in any inhabited part of our continent; but we notice that one was recently slain in California which measured nine feet, including the tail, which is about one-third of the whole. Their habits are exceedingly solitary, and they never approach the residences of human beings except when impelled by hunger — preferring the most retired passes in the mountains and the deeper gloom of the swamps. Hunting only for game in the night, and possessing, as we have already stated, an extraordinary power of concealment, they are strangers every where, and their appearance throws neighborhoods into excitement, for the mystery attending their movements ever exaggerates the idea of their power to injure and destroy.
The cougar reaches the top of a tree with almost the ease of a bird — depending upon his claws to retain the momentum in his favor gained by his first spring. Selecting a lower limb of some gigantic tree that overhangs a watering-place, or a “salt-lick,” if one be in the neighborhood, he lies extended along his perch, looking — upon the most critical examination of a spectator — more like a line of dried moss, or an excrescence on the bark, than a blood-thirsty beast of prey. Here he keeps his vigil — his eyes alone are moving; but even their fires are partially quenched from observation by silken lashes, which, like the lantern of the thief, darken the light that it may not betray. Most animals of the forest drink at night, and at particular places; thus finally the deer, the elk, or even the lordly buffalo appears, and ere it has slaked its thirst, the cougar has dropped from his nestling-place and descended as quietly as a dried leaf upon the neck of his victim. But now all is changed — the cougar instantly becomes the active fiend — his claws and teeth sink into the quivering flesh, and away flies the fated victim with the speed of an arrow. In vain it rushes against the trunks of trees, or scours through the inhospitable cane-brake to brush off the destroyer — the cougar has fastened himself with the tenacity of death, and even as the wild race continues, drinks up the warm and throbbing blood. Life, tenacious as it is among the ruminants of the forest, is soon sapped by the remorseless appetite of the destroyer; and as the victim falls and expires, the cougar stealthily extends himself along the body, suspiciously glances around, as if challenging a dispute for the prize, and then satisfies for the moment his insatiable appetite.
Excited now, rather than appeased, he rushes back to his eyrie, resumes his watching, and darts down again upon some helpless animal, accompanying his acts with ten-fold ferocity — blood rather increasing than appeasing his lust. Thus passes the night, until the butcher is literally covered with gore. The first streak of the morning sun that illumes the horizon sends him to his hiding-place. ‘With the stealthy, cowardly step of the midnight assassin and murderer, he seeks obscurity, and calms his passions by cleansing his soiled coat of every stain, and at the close of the labor sinks into disturbed sleep, to resume his work again when the darkness of night rests upon the earth.
There are times, however, when a destroyer more terrible than the cougar himself is on his path. The hunter has brought the well-trained dogs to assist him on the scent, and already the deep bay of the excited hound is yelping forth the desire for blood. The wild beast — a short time before so relentless, so powerful, and in his domain so apparently omnipotent — feels that his doom is sealed. Strange as it may be, he has an instinctive dread; the lord of the creation is upon him; the breath of powder unnerves his muscles of iron; and the cougar flies — flies with even more terror than the helpless deer that has suffered in his grasp. As a last resort, he mounts a tree; the unerring scent of the dogs shames the sight in its knowledge, and betrays the presence of the now immolated destroyer. The sharp ringing of the rifle is followed by the body of the lifeless cougar coming helpless to the ground; for, with all his power, he yields to the fiat which gave man dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the face of the earth.
It is a singular fact regarding the cougar that his flesh is used by some people as an article of food, and it is represented as tasting, under the charms of the culinary art, like any thing but “cat.” In stock-raising countries, where the cougar is most frequently found, its thefts are mostly confined to stealing young heifers for food.
A poor fellow, living on the prairies of Opelousas, who was suspected of such acts, was once surprised with various quarters of supposed beef hanging pendent from the rafters of the veranda of his house; nay, more, it was smoking upon his table, and giving out any thing but unsavory fumes. Upon being charged with taking what was not his own, he showed first his title to what he possessed in the characteristic document of an old rifle, and as dress makes the animal as well as the man, he farther confirmed his rights by exhibiting the skins of two large cougars, which belonged not to the drove of the senile brutes of the vacherie, but to the wilds; and were the property of the hunter who possessed the strong arm and unflinching bravery to slay them, and set the mark of ownership where by nature all was free and untamed.
A hunter on the Rio Grande, who was invariably unsuccessful, became so much annoyed by the taunts of his companions, that he determined to adopt the Camanche Indian fashion of hunting, and accordingly dressed himself in a deer-skin, and ornamented his head with huge antlers. Thus equipped he sallied out, and took his place at a favorite “stand.” A few moments only elapsed before a cougar, perched in the limbs of the tree above, thinking that he saw “a sure enough buck,” leaped from his airy abode plump on the hunter’s back, at the same time burying his claws and teeth deeply into the dried skin. A yell of fright and astonishment greeted the cougar, such as never before was heard from the throat of living venison, and dropping his game, the animal and the hunter took different directions, it being a matter of uncertainty, even to this day, which of the two was most alarmed.
An American lady, Mrs. Jane Swisshelm, furnishes the world with a description of the cougar that is thrillingly interesting. She says that at a certain time past, her husband bought in Arkansas a cougar, six months old, which had been caught while a kitten in the woods. The creature was brought home, and remained a prisoner four years, at the end of which time he died. Tom, such was his name, was nine feet in length, of a gray color on his back and sides, and nearly white on the belly and throat. His back was generally perfectly straight, his form symmetrical, and his movements lithe and graceful. If in exceeding good humor he would purr; but if he wished to intimidate he would raise his back, erect his hair, and spit like a cat. In the twilight of the evening the animal was accustomed to pace back and forth to the full extent of his limits, ever and anon uttering a short, piercing shriek, which made the valley reverberate for half a mile or more in every direction. Mrs. Swisshelm says these sounds were the shrillest, and at the same time the most mournful she ever heard. They might, perhaps, be likened to the scream of a woman in an agony or terror.
The natural ferocity of the panther was at length so far subdued, that his fair mistress sometimes ventured, when he was in good-humor, to stroke his head and feel his paw. On one occasion, indeed, when he had broken his chain. and all the men in the house, with the exception of Mr. Swisshelm, had fled to the barn for safety, she seized him by the collar as he took refuge in the dining-room, and held him until her husband took effectual measures to secure him. At length, however, the lady was thrown from a carriage, and so severely injured that she was confined to her bed several weeks. She says:
“When we appeared on crutches we inadvertently went quite near the cougar, and were warned by a low growl that he was regarding us as his prey. We turned and found him crouched within five or six feet of us, ready to spring — his eyes green and blazing, and the tip of his tail moving from side to side. We kept our eyes fastened on his; there was no one within call, and we tried to make him remember us by talking to and naming him.
” ‘Tom-poor Tom!’ but Tom’s eyes lost none of their fire, and the tail kept up its regular motion.
” Then we tried to intimidate him, as we had often done before, by assuming a voice of command. ‘Tom! Tom! Down Tom!’ but Tom kept his hostile attitude, and we — in doubt as to whether his chain was long enough to reach us, or strong enough to resist the spring we saw he intended making — kept our place and tried to stare him out of countenance.
“After what appeared to us a long time, trusting to the power of the eye to keep him still, we set our crutches, and still speaking to him, threw ourself backward a step. The instant we moved he sprang, but the chain held him, and being too short, he rebounded against a post, and fell to the floor some eighteen inches from where we stood.”
It is no wonder that a woman possessed of such nerve should become a champion for her sex.
The Royal Tiger is a native of Hindostan, and although it has been hunted from time immemorial by the native princes, and in recent times by numberless Europeans, still nothing is known of this most formidable animal beyond the incidents connected with its destruction in the jungles. No one has followed it to its den, or watched its nocturnal adventures. Its habits remain, therefore, matters of speculation.
The ferocity of the tiger’s disposition has been exaggerated; but although capable of being made quite gentle, they are unreliable in their habits, and apt at any instant to attempt the gratification of a blood-thirsty disposition. Keepers of menageries, however much confidence they may feel in the friendship of the “king of beasts,” are always nervous about the tiger, and cautious in their movements. We think it was Van Amberg who was unexpectedly set upon by a tiger, when the lion came to his rescue, and actually threw the tiger down, and held him fast until the man escaped. The circumstance is still familiar with the public, where the “Lion Queen,” at Wombwell’s menagerie, England, fell a victim to the sudden irritability of the tiger. While going through the daily performance, and in presence of hundreds of spectators, this young lady was forced to chastise the tiger for some disobedience of orders, when the animal suddenly turned upon her and grasped her throat, and although, when she was rescued, no perceptible injuries were visible, yet life was extinct. In a wild state the tiger is more dreaded than the lion, for he is constantly disposed to destruction, and has been known to put whole flocks of domestic animals to death after his appetite had been gorged to repletion.
The tiger grows to an immense size, and is sometimes heavier than the largest lion. His strength seems amazing. A peasant in the Sundah Rajah’s dominions, had a buffalo foundered in a quagmire, which could not be removed by the united strength of many men. Upon going for more assistance, the party on their return were surprised to discover that a tiger had pulled the buffalo out of the mud, and throwing it across his back, was bearing it away to his den.
Tiger-hunting is pursued in the East on the back of elephants, and every thing depends upon the firmness of these naturally timid animals, particularly when they meet the tiger. The manner of training them is difficult, and is managed as follows: A tiger deprived of his teeth, claws, and with his mouth sewed up, is fastened to a stake by a strong rope about thirty feet long. The elephants in training are then urged on to the attack; the tiger springs upon their trunks with the greatest ferocity, and is beaten back, or thrown into the air upon the formidable tusks. In this way the elephants, escaping injury, are deceived into a false confidence, and afterward face the wild animal with the same courage as they did the one so cruelly deprived of the power of effective defense.
Captain Basil Hall, while in India, witnessed very many of these tiger- fights, and describes one where the animal was urged into the netted court of the exhibition by a handful of lighted squibs and crackers. On reaching the centre of the ring, he was greatly bewildered by the shoutings, drummings, and shriekings which, coming from the spectators, resounded on every side; and was farther put out by the evolutions of some donkeys within the ring, to the tails of which were fastened blown bladders filled with dried peas. On finding all retreat to his den cut off, the tiger flew at the wooden figure of a man that had been stuck up in the ring, and twisted its head off in an instant. Discovering the cheat, he first tore the image to pieces, and then made a dash at the netting in front of his cage, up which he scrambled until his fore paws were already on the roof, and in another half-minute he would have been among the assembled crowds. Fortunately a brave lad, about twelve years of age, had perched himself on the cage, and the moment the infuriated tiger showed his head above the ropes, the boy, with a short club, struck him such a rap on the nose that the animal fell back head over heels into the inclosure. After long badgering the order was given to put the tiger to death. One of the native chiefs discharged a great number of arrows into the animal’s body, so that it bristled all over like a porcupine’s. At last, the English officers, disgusted at his lengthened tortures, begged leave to try the effect of a musket-ball, which laid him dead instantaneously, although several arrows had previously passed entirely through the tiger’s body without producing any visible effect.
A gentleman who participated in a tiger-hunt kindly furnished us a detailed sketch, from which we make the following extracts. After describing the hunting party, as it set out for the jungle, he says: “A quarter of an hour brought us to the place where the tiger was first seen; and sure enough in the vicinity lay the remains of the poor brute the animal had carried off. While we were contemplating the gnawed and half-consumed body, one of the elephants that had lingered behind began to trumpet aloud with his trunk, a sign that he perceived the vicinity of the tiger. It was plain, therefore, that we were near the foe, and that he was concealed in the thicket. Cautiously we urged our elephants toward the jungle, the footmen meanwhile keeping up a continual hallooing, which, with the trumpetings of the half-frightened elephants, caused the welkin to resound with a commingled noise sufficient to daunt even a tiger, in all the consciousness of his solitary dominion and untamed ferocity. A few moments were thus anxiously spent, when one of the old hunters suddenly cried out ‘Sher! sher! bah! bah!’ when we saw the jungle violently agitated all along the straight line leading toward the swamp; and a couple of rifles were discharged from the gentlemen on the nearest elephant, which served to produce a more rapid advance of the moving body, when in a moment, breaking cover, out the tiger sprang into the clear swamp and made for the opposite wood.
“On went the crowd in pursuit, the Europeans urging their drivers to get the elephants into a run; three shots were fired, but apparently without effect, before the tiger reached ‘cover.’ The hunters soon crossed the swamp, and the beast was again roused. Shot followed shot in quick succession, until at length every thing except the report of our arms was as still in the jungle as if naught but the hand of Nature had ever ruffled its surface. Captain Angew, my companion, exclaimed, ‘By Jove, he is hit and fallen! in with you after him! Twenty rupees to the man who first draws his body forth!’ This last sentence was uttered in Hindoostanee, and our footmen spread themselves about in all directions, each anxious for the honor of the discovery, as well as impelled by the hope of reward. To our former well-organized system of action succeeded a scene of hurry and confusion, overweening confidence, and careless movements, which baffles description. A few moments were occupied by this species of search, when a low growl, followed by that subdued noise which all the feline tribe are accustomed to make when irritated, suddenly struck our ears, and the footmen commenced scattering in all directions. A poor servant, belonging to a gentleman of the party, was running away in great confusion, when he was encountered by the enraged monster, and before any of us could collect our confused senses, he was seized by the tiger with both teeth and claws, and desperately wounded in the neck, shoulder, and breast. The tiger, however, was too much alarmed to attempt to bear off his prey; but abandoning it he moved, with great rapidity, toward that part of the jungle most clear of the fugitives, which, by good luck, led back to the swamp.
“Back again we all followed, and the elephants having by this time become familiarized with the tiger’s appearance and smell, with admirable sagacity, now began to understand the object of the morning’s excursion; and, putting out their strength, they advanced with so much speed that we were up with the enemy before he got half way across the swamp. I had just raised my rifle to my shoulder, and was on the point of pulling the trigger, when, good heaven! I saw him suddenly turn, and with two or three bounds, as quick as lightning, he literally flung himself through the air, and alighted on the upper part of the neck of an elephant, and there attempted to cling with teeth and claws. The elephant roared, and shook his head with frantic motion, while the whole of us who were surrounding him, were fearful of discharging our pieces, in consequence of the danger our friends on his back were in, of receiving their contents. The tiger was at length shaken off, after having almost torn the poor animal’s trunk from his head. The moment that he was on the ground a couple of rifle-balls entered him, one in the shoulder and one in the breast. Streaming with blood, and desperately wounded, the animal then rushed upon the elephants; in the second charge, he actually buried his claws in the huge saddle of the animal on which we were seated, and I shall never forget the sight of the savage as he hung suspended from its back. I looked over the edge of the howdah in which I was seated, and caught sight of his eye-balls, rolling as if in a sea of blood, so suffused did they seem with mingled pain and rage. One of my fellow-companions had the honor of giving him the fatal shot, the ball hitting the forehead and entering the brain. The footmen had kept out of the way during the conflict, but they now all hastened to the spot where the tiger lay, carried him to the edge of the jungle, and laid him on the grass. He was a full-grown royal tiger, measuring four feet seven inches from the nose to the insertion of the tail at the rump. Unlike the miserable wretches we see in our menageries, with collapsed abdomens, loose skin, and dull, dirty, ill-defined colors, his belly was round, large, and well distended, the muscular development in his shoulders and thighs magnificent, and the stripes were as clear and vivid as if the fleshy integuments they covered were still boiling with the intemperate spirits to which they are said to owe their brilliancy. The poor man who was wounded, died soon after he was borne to the native hospital. We rested from the scene of our labors a couple of hours, made a plentiful repast of cold meats, cheese, bread, and bottled porter; and amidst the heartfelt thanks of the villagers of Dongerthal, and the loud congratulations of all the sporting men attached to our force, we entered camp with our magnificent trophy just as the sun was declining in the west.”
By the common consent of naturalists and historians, the Lion stands as the head of the feline tribe; recent discoveries, however, are calculated to give the noble animal a distinct place in the creation, and disconnect him from the association. The lion possesses great individuality; he is the most noble of all brutes, and can not with strict justice be confounded with the tiger, leopard, and ounce — species which seem to be the least removed from the lion, yet are so little distinguishable from each other that they have often been confounded together by travelers and intelligent classifiers. Buffon — who was one of the most agreeable of enthusiasts — gives a description of the lion which is so calculated to raise the animal in your estimation, that if one were to read it on Mount Atlas, or in the desert of Sahara, and then unexpectedly encounter the animal in his native haunts, so far from retreating from his presence, he would approach and cultivate his acquaintance. The occupation of Algeria by the French, and the inroads into the wild regions of Africa by Cumming, have conjointly been the means of obtaining really authentic histories of the lion; and although his race furnishes many very exceptionable specimens, still, the lion has risen in public estimation, and possesses more real interest than he did when only viewed through the eulogies and exaggerations of half-fabulous records.
The habits of the lion are interesting. They associate in couples, display great attachment for each other; and with the greatest care rear and protect their young. The male lion, in defense of his family, will, with the coolest indifference, face a thousand men. The magnanimity of his disposition is proverbial, and no anecdotes are better authenticated than those of his sparing his human foes at the very moment of victory. It is quite common in Southern Africa to meet with natives who have been wounded by lions, and who have escaped death solely by the mercy of the beast. A boor, in attempting to mount his horse, was thrown to the ground by a Iion. The animal merely stood over him, lashed his tail, and growled at the man’s friends, who were at a safe distance, and then slowly and dignifiedly commenced a retreat. The strength of the lion is almost fabulous: he has been known to leap a wide ditch with perfect ease while holding a full-grown heifer between his teeth, and there is nothing living that can receive with impunity a blow of one of his paws. He instantly tears down the buffalo and giraffe, and will make equal battle with the rhinoceros and elephant. In fact, so tremendous, and so compact, is the dread machinery with which nature has provided him, that he overcomes almost every beast of the forest, however superior in weight or stature.
The lion never drinks except before the moon rises, or after it sets. He approaches the fountain as if deeply conscious that he is happy in possessing the cooling draught. Extending himself with ceremonious precision upon the ground, he stretches out his powerful arms before him, and brings his chest close to the ground; these things being accomplished, he gives a few laps, and then rests as if to more perfectly enjoy the luxury. Cumming relates that he has often heard them lapping within twenty yards of where he was encamped, yet, from their tawny color, he was never able to distinguish their outline. This confirms the general idea that the lion has no scent; for he would not approach so near an enemy, if he were warned, as in the case of other animals, by the, to them, infection of the air. Nature has given the lion the protection of perfectly harmonizing with the dried grass of the plains and the burning sands of the desert; and thus compensated him for the lack of a sense so common to inferior animals.
One of the distinctive traits of the lion is his voice. All others of his ascribed species are as a whole, silent and stealthy. The lion, on the contrary, now announces his presence by a challenge that makes the earth quake, and carries terror for miles around. As a general rule, the lion is heard throughout the entire night; at the approach of darkness the sighing moans commence, but for the occasional interruption of a distinct roar, continue until break of day. Lions have their separate districts, and allow of no intrusion; but there are times when an unusual drought occurs — then two or more strange troops meet together at the same fountain. On such occasions, if it be a cool, frosty night, the voice of the lion is heard in its perfection. Every member of each troop sounds a bold volume of defiance at the opposite parties, then all join together, and each individual seems to vie with his comrades in the intensity of his power of voice. If these challenges result in bringing two strange animals together, a battle ensues, which seldom ends without the death of one the combatants. The nervous susceptibility is displayed in the fact that, in hazy and wet weather, contrary to his usual custom, he can be heard in subdued growls throughout the livelong day, complaining of the depressing influence of the atmosphere, and no doubt expending, at the same time, a commendable degree of ill-nature upon the solicitous inmates of his domestic hearth. The lion’s notes seem to embody the language of the vast forests and deserts in which he delights to dwell. He gives that vocal expression to the mysteries of his strange haunts, and tells of love, daring, success, and defeat, in the wonderful modulations of his orchestral voice. A lion troop is an opera in which the instruments are attuned by nature; the theme destruction, defiance, victory, death. Hence there come the low, deep notes of sorrow, like the wails of mothers over the slain; then the deep-toned, solemn roars follow in quick succession, like. the rapid discharge of heavy artillery — growing louder and louder, they seem to engulf the surrounding world, and threaten to shake the elements into chaos; then follows the finale of sobs, of groans, so appalling, because so indicative of human woe.
The lion is supposed by naturalists to have the average life of thirty-five years, yet this seems very inconsistent with the well-known fact, that one was kept in the Tower of London over threescore years and ten, and no one knew the age of the animal when it was first made a prisoner. By a kind arrangement of Providence, lions and other destructive animals are never numerous. A certain area is necessary for their support, and they destroy each other if the prescribed limits are interfered with. Gerard, the French lion hunter of Algeria, calculates that there are thirty lions now living in the colony, and that the Arabs pay an annual tribute of twenty-five cents to the government, and an average of two hundred and fifty cents to the lions, in the destruction of their horses, mules, sheep, and camels; so it would seem that the reign of the king of beasts, like that of all other kings, is rather an expensive luxury.
In the life of the great missionary, Judson, occurs a story of a starving lion, which has all the elements of a fearful tragedy. Confined in prison by the Burman authorities, Judson was electrified by the news of a British victory over his oppressors. This increased the severity of his treatment. Just before the war between Burmah and the English, the king had received a present of a majestic lion, which had become a pet in the palace, particularly with his majesty. After the defeats of Bandoola, some of the courtiers discovered the fearful resemblance between the king’s favorite and the insignia on the British flag, and the regal beast was looked upon as a demoniac ally of England, and he was finally cast into prison. The cage was newly ironed and barricaded, as if some unusual resistance might have been expected. And now commenced to the unhappy prisoners with whom Judson was confined a new and fearful scene of misery. The unhappy men had seen their own friends starved, and beaten, and smothered, and strangled to death, and then dragged by the feet from the door, and thrust like dogs into some shallow pit, or left to be devoured by jackal — and they thought they had gained a familiarity with every species of wretchedness. But there was something almost supernatural in their new horror of a starving lion. Day after day the noble beast writhed in the pangs of hunger, parched with thirst, and bruised and bleeding in his fearful struggles, while his roarings seemed to shake the prison to its foundations, and sent a thrill of indescribable terror to the hearts of its occupants.
The jailer said that it was the British lion ineffectually struggling against the prowess of the conquering Burmans, Sometimes, after dark, a compassionate woman would steal to the cage, and thrust a mouthful of food between the bars, but it was necessarily a trifle to the powerful beast, and only seemed to increase his ravings. At other times, one of the keepers would throw water over him, which would be greeted by almost human shrieks of pleasure, though it only seemed to lengthen for a little his term of suffering. At last the scene was over: the skeleton of the unhappy beast was dragged from its cage, and buried in the earth.
In endeavoring to perfectly comprehend the habits and natural history of the lion, Cumming’s adventures in Africa are calculated to give the most vivid idea. He presents many new pictures, all of which elevate the king of beasts in the reader’s estimation, and involuntarily suggest a comparison between man and the lion, as a destructive animal. The noble quadruped pursues his way through the interminable wilds, kills from necessity, and, having satisfied his hunger, leaves the remains of his repast for the weaker animals that follow in his path. Wantonness or cruelty he never displays; on the contrary, he has mercy upon the weak, and disdains to strike a blow, except for the benefit of his own existence and those dependent upon him. Cumming, on the contrary, stalks through the wilderness more blood-thirsty than a thousand lions — he seems to literally revel in blood: without any other reason than to gratify his destructiveness, he disfigures the vast plains with the mountain carcasses of elephants and giraffes; antelopes, gnoos, zebras, and buffaloes fall before his pestiferous saltpetre, as if he were a breathing pestilence. At nightfall, the wolf and the jackal swarm on his track, and screech and yell as if the fiends were unloosed; at daybreak, the eagle and the vulture darken the air over his head, and gorge their unholy appetites in the victims of his prodigality of God’s life. Surely the lion, by comparison, is the being of humanity, and his bloody deeds pale before the records of his Christianized rival, as a destroyer on the face of the earth.