Let’s Talk Clovis: The James Wiggins Cate Family

Earl Cate, grandson of James Wiggins Cate, pictured in 1935 with his Guernsey Dairy truck. (Photo courtesy of Clovis Museum)

James Wiggins Cate, the 10th of 12 children, was born in 1828 in New Hampshire. In 1838, his family relocated to Adams County, Illinois.  James remained on the family farm until he was 24 years old.

James married Eliza Henderson in 1856. In 1864, the family, including five children, drove their three ox-driven wagons to California. They encountered Indian problems at Sweetwater Creek, Wyoming during their journey. The emigrant trail followed the Southern Cherokee trail that provided adequate water supply for the tribe and pioneers.

James and his family settled in Southern California at the Ranchito area that is now called Pico Rivera. James purchased 155 acres of rich agricultural land from Governor Pio Pico who was the last Governor of Alta California under the Mexican rule.

The acreage is located between the old and new San Gabriel Rivers. The Cate family is believed to be the first white settlers of that area.

Their son, Daniel Webster Cate, had followed the wagon train on horseback. His son Harlan would remain at Pico Rivera and become a successful businessman and civic leader. Harlan stated: “We never forgot our responsibility to the community, just as our forbearers never had.”

James devoted his efforts to agriculture and horticulture. He planted 30 acres of walnuts and realized a profit of $200 per acre. In 1888, the yield for his Berger and Zinfandel vineyard was 17 tons per acre. The Berger grape was of French origin and at that time was a very popular wine.

James purchased 1,800 acres of land in Clovis. It is interesting to note that the early land purchases were identified as “east of Fresno,” not Clovis. An 1891 Fresno County Atlas identifies the Cate land as bounded by Herndon, Highland, Fowler and Bullard.

In 1894, Cate and his son J. Wilbur built the first Clovis flour mill that was located east of the railroad tracks on the corner of 8th and Fulton (now Clovis Avenue). Their mill reached the capacity of 100 barrels per day. The mill was completely destroyed by fire in 1896. Their financial loss was estimated as $30,000. The mill was not rebuilt.

In 1897, J. Wilbur became captain of an expedition that attempted to establish an overland route to the headwaters of the Pelly River, a tributary of the Yukon. The $20,000 investment was a disaster. He returned to Fresno and purchased the Fresno Undertaking Company. In 1902, he became a successful real estate agent.

James Wiggins Cate and John Potter were active members of the Big Dry Creek (name changed to Academy) 1868 Methodist Episcopal Church South.  In 1893, the men purchased four lots, $10 each, on the south west corner of Woodworth and Fifth Street to establish the first Clovis church (Clovis South Methodist Church).

The original building was replaced three times. The Methodist congregation moved to a new location at 1726 Pollasky in 1963.  The Valley Community Church of God purchased the fourth replacement 1920 church.

James and his wife Eliza were the first to be recorded on the 1893 church register. A few years later, they returned to their southern home. Members of their family remained in Clovis.

Earl Cate (1891-1968), grandson of James Wiggins Cate, and his wife Marguerite were married at Pico Rivera on Nov. 4, 1911. It took them 10 days to arrive in Clovis. Earl drove the wagon and Margaret followed with horse and buggy. They traveled over the Tehachapi Pass and crossed the same mountain creek 23 times. The couple lived in a tent until their home was built at Bullard and De Wolf Avenues.

Earl was a successful grain and dairy farmer at Guernsey Dairy. He also owned the popular White Front Cafe at 425 Pollasky Ave.

Stanley Milton Cate (1923-2006), grandson of James Wiggins, was born in Clovis. He graduated from Clovis High School in 1941 and served in the 396th Fighter Squadron 8th Air Force during World War II.

Stan married Mozelle Horton in 1947, became a prominent civic and business leader in Clovis and actively campaigned for the 1959 unification of the Clovis School District. He worked in real estate, insurance and property management, and was elected Clovis City Treasurer in 1960. He was a Museum Board member at the time of his death (2006).

The Cate family left us a rich heritage.