Let’s Talk Clovis: Family of Francis Smith Estill

Estill family photo from the 1890s. (Clovis Museum)

The spelling of the Estill name has been changed many times. The first record of the family name was “d’Estelle” in a 1525 marriage certificate issued in Provence, France.

William and Thomas Estill arrived on the Shrewsbury River in the autumn of 1664. They founded Middletown, which remains a small town on the coast of New Jersey about 50 miles south of New York. The wife of William delivered a baby boy the day they landed. It is believed their son was the first white child born in New Jersey.

After they arrived, the Estills were productive new citizens: Wallace, born 1699, served Virginia as High Sheriff of Augusta County; his son Benjamin, born 1735, became Justice of the Peace for the King of Britain; his son John founded the first iron furnace in Virginia.

John’s son, Henry Miller Estill (1811-1867), was the first surgeon at Virginia Military Institute. He served from 1839 to 1857. VMI is our nation’s first military college dedicated to training the “citizen-soldier” that would take his place in civilian life and be prepared to defend his country in time of national peril.

It is the only school in American history where the whole student body was engaged in battle. A total of 10 cadets were killed fighting for the South at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864.

Former faculty members of VMI include Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. George Patton.

Henry and his wife raised 10 children, seven boys and three daughters. Of his seven sons, five served in the Confederate States Army.

Francis Smith Estill (1852-1941), the youngest of the sons, was too young to join his brothers in the war. Francis (Frank) had lost both his parents by age 17.

In 1869, Frank joined his two brothers, John and Robert (Bob), in California. John and Robert had served under J.E.B. Stuart. John is buried at Academy Cemetery (Clovis) and Robert in Virginia.

Frank was put in charge of Bob’s band of sheep that grazed near Mendota. He eventually started his own band of sheep, selling his stock in 1900.

Frank married Martha Jane Cole on Oct. 10, 1886. They lived near Academy [Avenue]. Martha’s father, Academy sheep baron William Temple Cole, and his wife Jane raised 10 daughters. All married into pioneer families.

Frank served as Fresno County Deputy Assessor from 1904-1933. He died in 1942 at the age of 90. He and Martha are buried at Academy Cemetery. They raised four children.

Their son Cowan Sample (Sam) married Mabel Haneline. They also lived in the foothills near Academy. He was the part owner of the Superior Granite Company of Clovis and supervised the Academy Quarry. They moved to a ranch on Academy and Herndon and raised sheep and cattle. Their three children: Marjorie, Donald (Buck) and Jack Estill.

Marjorie married William Johntz. Their three children did not remain in the Clovis area.

Donald (Buck) served in WWII. After the war he raised cattle and farmed grain east of Clovis until his death in 1984. He and his wife Rosalie Sagnier Estill had no children.

Jack and his wife Judy had a cattle ranch east of Clovis. In 1977, they purchased a ranch in Modoc County and Jack moved there. Judy remained at the old home place east of Clovis.

Jim Cowan Estill received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology from Christian Life College and served as a deputy sheriff/bailiff in Monterey County. He, his wife Suzy and their son Jesse raise cattle in Churchill County, 60 miles north of Fallon, Nevada. Jesse has become a successful Junior Rodeo champion.

This article is based on “A Brief History of the Estill Family” that was authored by Jim Cowan Estill in 1995.

The family is a part of our rich heritage.