Friday, May 1, 2009


Spotted cat petroglyph in context
with equestrian warrior, and close-up of
spotted cat petroglyph.

This spotted cat image is found at a wonderful petroglyph site in southeastern Colorado. Pecked into the cliff apparently in conjunction with an equestrian warrior it may represent that warrior's name glyph. My personal interest in the image, however, is in the speculation of the identity of the cat itself. The cat is definitely phallic (and thus I assume a full-grown adult) and has a long tail. Historically, the possibilities for spotted cats in this area are limited to bobcat or lynx, and baby mountain lions. The phallic nature of this cat seems to indicate that it must be an adult which should rule out the baby mountain lion. Its long tail and lack of ear tufts rule out the bobcat and lynx.

Spotted cat on model tipi, Little Rock, Southern
Cheyenne, 1904, collected by James Mooney,
owned by the Field Museum, Chicago.
Photographed at the Buffalo Bill Historical
Center, Cody, Wyoming.

So what kind of cat is this? Other examples of spotted cat imagery can be located in Native American art. One that can be pointed to is the image on the painted model tipi (above), owned by the Field Museum, Chicago, which was collected in 1904 by Smithsonian ethnologist James Mooney and was displayed at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center at Cody, Wyoming, when the photograph above was taken. Another example I have seen is a carved stone pipe shaped as a spotted cat, attributed to the Mississippian culture. That carved stone pipe has been identified as an ocelot, which is one of the possibilities for identity of the spotted cat. The closest report of an ocelot sighting that I have been able to locate was somewhere along the Texas/Oklahoma border which might fall within about 100 miles from the petroglyph site. The other possibility for a long-tailed spotted cat is the jaguar, sightings of which are still reported irregularly throughout the southwest. In either case (ocelot or jaguar), they are now extinct through much of their former range in the southwest, and even in prehistoric times were probably quite rare. This suggests that the sighting of one of these animals was a significant event, worthy of reproducing on your tipi, your pipe, or on the cliff.

The possibility that the spotted cat on the cliff in southeast Colorado being the equestrian warrior's name glyph also makes a certain sense. If one were seen by a young warrior on a vision quest it would certainly be commemorated. It might be commemorated by becoming part of his name, and it might be commemorated by recording on his tipi or other belongings, or on a cliff. All in all, it seems reasonable to assume that this spotted cat, ocelot or jaguar, was placed here as this lucky warrior's special name glyph.

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