The following description is of a giant gray lynx that was killed in Pennsylvania in 1874. It comes from Henry Wharton Shoemaker’s Extinct Pennsylvania Animals (1919) :
John G. Davis, old-time woodsman of McElhattan, Clinton County, gives the best description of a mammoth Canada Lynx killed by John Pluff at Hyner, in that county, in 1874. Pluff, who was a noted hunter in his day, died in January, 1914, in his 74th year. One evening, when Pluff was at supper, he heard a commotion in his barnyard. Taking down his rifle, he hurried out, only to notice a shaggy animal moving about among the feet of his young cattle. Courageously driving the steers into the barn, he came face to face with a gigantic Canada Lynx, or, as was called in Northern Pennsylvania, a “Big Grey Wild Cat,” or catamount, to distinguish it from the smaller and ruddier Bay Lynx [bobcat].
Taking aim at the monster’s jugular, Pluff fired, killing the big cat with a single ball. The shot attracted the neighbors, among them Davis, and they gazed with amazement at the giant carcass, the biggest cat killed in those parts since Sam Snyder slew his 10-foot panther on Young Woman’s Creek in 1858. The Canada Lynx measured 4 feet, 10 inches from tip of nose to root of tail—(the tail measured 4 inches)—and weighed 75 pounds.
The next day being Thanksgiving, it was supplemented to the turkey feast, and all enjoyed the deliriously flavored white meat more than the conventional “Thanksgiving bird.” This lynx was probably a straggler from the Northern Tier, as none of its kind have been about Hyner since. At the same time, the Canada Lynx has been killed in many parts of Pennsylvania, as far south as the Seven Mountains and Somerset County, some claim, but never frequently. It hangs close to the main chain of the Allegheny Mountains, if it can make a living there (pg. 183-184).
Now, this story should be taken with a grain of salt.
Exaggerated sizes for large predators are almost de rigueur for frontier stories.
But I don’t dismiss it out of hand.
The typical Canada lynx is big at about 40 inches in length, and it weighs only 18 to 24 pounds. They are rangier than bobcats, but they will weigh less than the biggest bobcat.
This 75- pound ”lynx” in Pennsylvania doesn’t sound like a Canada lynx to me at all.
The truth is we really don’t have a good handle on the native mammals of North America that lived before the modern conservation movement.
I think it is very possible that there were very large lynx in the United States. This animal could have been a very large gray bobcat, for bobcats are well-known to vary greatly in size. Canada lynx actually don’t. Throughout their range, they are essentially the same size– 18-24 pounds.
This particular cat– if it did weigh 75 pounds– probably wasn’t built like the rangy Canada lynx we know today. It would have had to have been a particularly robust creature.
Or it could have been a unique species of lynx that we never were able to document before it became extinct.
There is the persistent story of the Ozark howler, a giant black bobcat that lived in the mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, and I think it might be possible for European man to have made it impossible for large lynx and bobcats to survive.
After all, a farmer is much more likely to tolerate a 25-pound bobcat than a 75-pound bobcat or lynx.
Eurasian lynx to reach this size, and they are very effective predators of deer.
And it is well-known that bobcats and Canada lynx evolved from the Eurasian lynx.
Traditional accounts say that the bobcat became diminutive to avoid competition with already extant large predators in North America, and the Canada lynx invaded the continent in a later wave, where it became established in the Northern part of the continent as a snowshoe hare specialist.
But could there have been large lynx-type cats in North America in modern times?
I don’t know how good the evidence is, but we do have these tantalizing historical accounts that make us wonder.
Maybe there were large bobcats and/or undocumented lynx species in North America during an earlier time, and these animals were wiped out because of the potential threat they posed toward livestock.
Again, I am very skeptical that this cat was a Canada lynx. Canada lynx are actually quite poor at preying upon livestock and deer. Bobcats are actually much better at it.
The size of this animal could be a mere exaggeration, but we do have Eurasian lynx that are that size.
So it’s possible.
But what it exactly was is still a unanswered and unanswerable question.
It’s fun to speculate, eh?
I can’t decide whether it’s a mere exaggeration or if there actually was a lynx or bobcat of that size.
It’s up in the air for me!