The ‘Clan of the Cats,’ was not always a single family but a confederation or community of families, some of whom had been related and some who were not. The wildcat in heraldry can often help as a means of distinguishing the families associated.
A portrait of then chief Cluny MacPherson from around 1873
Most believe that the name came to be through Saint Cattan. His servant, the baillie of Ardchattan’s abbey lands, called himself Gillichattan Mor and is seen as the first clan chief. The family possessed lands at Loch Arkaig and Glenloy during Malcolm II’s time and Torcastle became the seat of the chief.
In 1291 Eva, the only child of the sixth chief Dougall Dall, married Angus, sixth Laird of MacKintosh. Angus became Captain of Clan Chattan. It was disputed whether the chiefship was a heritable honour that Eva could have conferred on her. The chiefs of Clan MacPherson cited that their descendance from the Clan Chattan chief Muireach in 1173 was their right to be chiefs of Clan Chattan. This dispute was on-going for two hundred years.
Angus and Eva also had land disputes begin in their time which would last four hundred years. Because they had Angus Og of Islay for an enemy, Angus decided to move out of Torcastle and withdraw to Rothiemurchus.
At this the Camerons claimed that the Arkaig lands had been abandoned and, proclaiming right of conquest, moved into them. It was in the fourteenth century that Clan Chattan developed into a confederation. Along with the MacPhersons, other clans who formed an alliance were the MacPhails, MacBeans, Cattanachs, MacKintoshs and their cadet branches the Shaws, MacCombies, Ritchies, MacThomas' and the Farquharsons.
Other associate families without blood ties were the Davidsons, MacAndrews. MacGillivrays, MacLeans of Dochgarroch, MacIntyres of Badenoch and the MacQueens of Pollochaig.
Clan Chattan suffered badly after the 1745 rising and the MacKintoshs became the dominant clan.