Story of the Splintercat

"Splintercat Creek", found in the northern Cascade Range of Oregon, "is a tributary from the south to Roaring River in range 7E. It received the fantastic name of the legendary flying cat of the woods which was supposed to splinter branches from trees and tear out dead stumps."

"Oregon Geographic Names, Sixth Edition", Lewis L. MacArthur, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland, Oregon (1992).

The following is a letter to the editor from Lewis A McArthur that was published in the Oregonian, April 17th, 1944:

To the Editor: "For many years the editorial page of The Oregonian has had a generous attitude toward the phenomenon of nature. A good example of this is the fine treatment given the sidehill gouger in the editorial printed on Sunday, April 9. Newcomers to Oregon will have much better notion of what we have to offer in the way of rare and unusual".

"However, it seems to me that the Oregonian has neglected the splintercat. The animal has never been mentioned in your columns, or if it has, I have never seen the item. As woodsmen know, the splintercat is a nocturnal feline animal of great ferocity. It flies through the air with terrific speed and when it hits a large tree, it knocks the branches off, withers the trunk and leaves it standing like a silvery ghost. You have seen these dead snags in many parts of Oregon."

"The late T.H. Sherrard of the forest service first called my attention to the splintercat and described its activities. He admitted he had never seen one. But many years ago he and Dee Wright were camped near Hambone butte in the Clackamas River country, and in the night he heard a splintercat crash into a tree with great vigor. The next morning Tom found a giant snag not more than 100 feet from camp and he was quite certain that the splintercat was the cause of its destruction."

"It is only fair to say that when I asked Dee Wright about it, he said that he, Dee, was prowling around in the night and tripped over a log. That would account for the hubbub because Dee was very spirited, but it would not account for the dead snag."

"The fact that nobody ever saw a splintercat is no proof that it doesn't exist. Lots of people working on the swing shift are never seen in the daylight. The proof that the animals do exist may be seen in the fact that there is a fine little tributary to Roaring River that bears the name Splintercat Creek, and the name is on official government maps."

"It has been pointed out that quadrupeds don't ordinarily fly. You will recall that the walrus, in his memorable monologue on natural history, wondered if pigs had wings. Well, we don't have to ponder that question when it comes to cats. Cats have wings and the Oregonian says so. If your readers will look at Mr. Robert Ripley's drawing published on April 10 they will find a picture of a cat with wings, and that should settle the business. May we have more adequate treatment of the splintercat".

The following editorial, "Naming of Splintercat creek", was published by The Oregonian in response to the above letter from Lewis McArthur on April 24th, 1944:

"In a recent and diverting letter to this page, Lewis A. McArthur, author of that invaluable tome, "Oregon Geographic Names" invited editorial discussion of a nocturnal and legendary forest critter of the northwestern timber, usually called the "splintercat". It is the splintercat, quite as Mr. McArthur sets forth, which creates the dead slivered snags by crashing in full flight into the living tree. If you read Mr. McArthur's brief essay you will also recall that he first heard the story from the late T.H. Sherrard, of the Forest Service at a time when he, Mr. McArthur, was endeavoring to trace the origin of the name of Splintercat creek, which, in his useful volume. He identifies as a "tributary from the south to Roaring river in range 7 east."

"Now the manner in which Splintercat creek came to be named sufficiently authenticates the animal itself, we dare say---at least for all save the most captious---and so it chances that the Oregonian has obtained the account by very reliable testimony. It was far more than a few years ago, and at the time, when Mr. Sherrard was supervisor of the Mount Hood National Forest, the true habitat of the splintercat species. Indeed, it was this very scene as the setting that Mr. McArthur remarked to Mr. Sherrard, "I'd like to know who named that creek such a strange name, and what a splintercat is?" He needed the information for his book. "Well, I named it that" , laughed Mr. Sherrard, and proceeded to enlighten Mr. McArthur on the nature and traits of the splintercat.

"There were so many Deer, Elk, Bear and Beaver creeks, explained Mr. Sherrard, that he was wearied of repetition, and, besides, until then the splintercat had been neglected, although evidence of its loony destructiveness were common to the region of the creek. Thus was Splintercat creek given its name, and so it appears on maps. For which we praise the memory of a fine forester, and duly thank heaven."

"We are told, by way of other evidence of the authenticity of the splintercat, that this animal, though seemingly unknown to biologists, is described in detail in a reference work called "Fearsome Animals of the Logging Woods, Including Some of Desert and Mountain", or some comparable title. This little known treasure was privately printed in 1910 by its young authors, William T. Cox and Coert Dubois, both of the Forest Service, after much research and exploration of sources. Mr. Dubois, who afterward entered the Consular Service, illustrated the work most admirably, while George B Sudworth, dendrologist, author of "Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope," devised the Latin names of identification. The volume was sold by subscription largely within the appreciative family of the Forest Service.

"You may be certain that the sidehill gouger, the discussion of which on this page led to that of the splintercat, also is accurately described, depicted and classified in the book. If you find yourself wishing that you possessed a copy---for the book is now a collector's item--- you will not be alone in this vain hankering."

Historical note: Two prominent figures in this exchange of letters have been added to Oregon's list of geographic names. Sherrard Point, which forms the summit of popular Larch Mountain, located just east of Portland, was named for T.H. Sherrard. The stone observatory located at the crest of McKenzie Pass in Central Oregon, is named for Dee Wright. Both were prominent officials in the Forest Service.