The history of the Catahoula is a highly debated topic in which no-one can provide a definitive account of. A simple search of the world wide web will produce a variety of different stories. Even the meaning of the name “Catahoula” is said to mean anything from “clear lake” to “clear water”, to “sacred lake”. Basically, a review of the many different accounts of the history of the Catahoula, shows a somewhat common theme.
The following account of the history of the Catahoula is contained here courtesy of the Catahoula Owners, Breeders and Research Association (COBRA):
During a Spanish expedition of the Southern United States, stemming from Florida to Texas, the explorer Hernando De Soto made his way to Louisiana in the year 1541. In addition to the many soldiers and supplies, he bought dogs that have been referred to as Spanish War Dogs. Research shows these dogs to be the Alano Mastiff and Greyhound. The dogs were used for hunting food and campaigning against the Indians. It is during one of the campaigns that De Soto met his fate, and was buried in the Missisippi River in order to hide his body from the Indians.
The remaining soldiers decided to return home to Spain, and during their departure, they abandoned the dogs, which were then utilised by the Indians for hunting. It is known that during this time, the Red Wolf would roam among the Indian camps in search of food. The dogs that the Indians had captured were allowed to breed and interbreed with the Red Wolf. The Indians used the offspring from those breedings to assist them while hunting deer and wild boar in the swamps of Louisiana. It was during one of his journeys that the explorer Henri Tonti made reference to the “Wolf Dog” being used by the Indiana, and is documented in the book, “Louisiana History” by Charles E. Gayarre.
Approximately 125 years laterm the French settlers arrived in Louisiana. Along with their supplies, they carried their own dogs, which today are known as the Beauceron. The French admired these strange looking “wolf dogs” for their intelligence and loyalty, as well as, their innate ability to hunt and work. The settlers began using the dogs to herd and retrieve cattle from the marshlands. They introduced their dog, the Beauceron, to the wolf dog, and the results are what are seen today in the Catahoula.
The name Catahoula has been rumoured to mean “clear lake”, however, research indicates it is more likely a mispronunciation of Couthouggoula, which means Choctaw in the Muskogee languange.
There have been references to Catahoula Indians by many people, but research shows there were no tribes of Catahoula Indians. After the onslaught of Indians settled together in an area where the Red, Black, and Little Rivers join. These four tribes were the Avoyelle, Tunica, Ofo, and Choctaw. Because these four tribes remained in close proximity of each other, they were dubbed as the Catahoula Indians. Even the name Catahoula has been interpreted in many different ways. When researching the Indian language Muskhogean, it is found that there is no such word as Catahoula. Again, research gives way to a mis-pronunciation or slur of the word “Couthaougoula” meaning Choctaw. This word was used to describe the Indians or their dog, lending the reference that the Indian was not any better than his dog.
In earlier years the dog was known as the “Catahoula Cur”, but was renamed “Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog” by Governor Edwin Edwards, on July 9, 1979, when it became the State Dog of Louisiana.
There were three distinct versions of the Catahoula, which varied in size and colour. These lines of dogs were known as the Wright, McMillan, and Fairbanks lines.
- Mr. Preston Wright’s line was the largest of the three, and represented the dogs originally produced by the dogs of De Soto. His dogs ranged between 90 and 110 pounds.
- Mr. T.A. McMillin, who lived on Sandy Lake, raised mostly Blue Leopard dogs with glass eyes. These dogs ranged between 50 and 60 pounds.
- Mr. Lovie Fairbanks’ lines were the Brindle to yellow coloured dogs. His line was not as large as the Wright dogs, but larger than the McMillan line. They ranged between 65 and 75 pounds.
These and similar lines are still strong today, but it is due to the interbreeding of these three lines that there is so much variation in the Catahoula’s appearance. More information on the desired appearance is listed in the Standard of the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog.