Sometimes I’m asked how I decide what to research in the vast world of LIW, or why I know some amazingly trivial things but not others.
It usually starts quite innocently enough. A comment, a mention in an article, a question from someone else — and the next thing you know, I’m off on a quest. A mission to find out some obscure Wilderism. But truth be told, it’s what I love best about Wilder research. I’m not one to devote huge amounts of time to a given topic and then stay on that topic to complete the research it requires; no, my “research” is done in fits and spurts and is typically quite random. A question comes to mind and I search until I either answer it to my satisfaction or finally decide the answer simply can’t be found.
Last night is a perfect example. It began with a comment from a friend. “Hey, we were looking up information on Maine coon cats as we thought one of our cats has very similar markings, and found a Little House reference we were sure you’d be interested in.”
The reference? Apparently, one particular Maine coon cat is documented in literature in 1861. Its name? Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines.
“Interesting,” thought I. But instead of leaving it at that as most sane people would do, I spent the next hour researching both the cat and the song attempting to figure out the relationship. I studied the lyrics carefully — what could this song possibly have to do with a cat? Absolutely nothing. But everything I found seemed to indicate that the song was written in 1868 by William Lingard.
Such a specific name surely could not be a coincidence. And the cat was documented seven years before the song was written. Could Lingard have known the cat owner, I wondered?
Further research turned up more information. The song was actually published earlier than 1868 — the earliest known date, in fact, is 1862, by T. Maclagan, and it was reportedly a popular song during the Civil War.
But the cat… 1861… ?? We’re still looking at a cat named “Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines” in 1861, when the song “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines” wasn’t written until 1862. Or was it? Apparently Maclagan was a popular music hall performer in England in his time.
I came to the final conclusion — final unless more evidence is turned up, that is, for this is actually just a theory — that Maclagan was already performing and popularizing the song before it was published, and that the cat was therefore named after the song.
Mrs. Jinks of Madison Square — the verse Laura sings back to Pa — was not added until 1868, however.
If you don’t know the tune, listen to the chorus here:
Now how many of you will have Captain Jinks running through your head the rest of the day? I know I will.