sponsored by Daily & Co Real Estate

by Betty Cathey McRee

(also see Cathey Family by Tom Hilk)

The Origins of the Cathey Family

Origins of the Family Name:
The derivation of the Cathey family name is believed to be from the Clan McAfie (Scotland). The Gaelic spelling is MacDhubhshith" meaning 'Son of the Dark Fairy or Elf'. The ancestral home of the Macfies was on the Island of Colonsay, off the coast of Scotland, about 1554.  They were descendants of “low land Scots.” In a rebellion against King Malcomb of Scotland in 1615, the Chief of the Clan was killed. He was murdered at the Standing Stone. The lordship of the Isles changed in the fifteenth century. The name “Macfie” was changed into many different spellings over the years. Our family kept the Anglo spelling of “Cathey”.

It is believed many of the Catheys emigrated to Monaghan County, Ulster, Northern Ireland, perhaps as early as 1611-1618. The Catheys lived there approximately ninety to one hundred years before immigrating to America. The earliest known “Cathey” descendant in America was James Cathey, born in Ulster, North Ireland in 1685. He was a millwright. At the age of thirty-three, he married a woman known only as “Ann” in 1708. James’ records show that he purchased land in Cecil County, Maryland in 1718 and remained there until 1724.

In a peace agreement with the Indians, James Cathey was issued 200 acres of land that was recorded in the Samuel Blunston Register under Thomas Penn in 1732. It did not take long for the Catheys to learn Virginia and North Carolina were where they wanted to settle--there was better and cheaper land. They moved their belongings by wagon and oxen over the Great Wagon Road to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, near Staunton.    They  lived between 1730-1743. James was deeded 1,350 acres by King George II for the sum of “sixteen pounds, 15 shillings.”

After leaving Augusta County, West Virginia, a road crosses the Yadkin River leading to the Irish settlement near Mills Bridge, Salisbury, North Carolina. By 1760, Salisbury had been settled. James Cathey’s deed shows the Cathey household in Anson County colony of North Carolina. It was known as the “Cathey Settlement,” an Irish enclave of fourteen families, ten miles west of Salisbury. The Catheys were the first English-speaking settlement. Here in the Cathey Settlement, James was granted 3,752 acres. Soon thereafter, he became ill, and left one-half of his plantation to his wife, Ann, and one-half to a nephew, John Branden. Records show that later, his two grandsons were deeded the original mill site. James knew how important it was for the people of the wilderness to be able to mill and grind their own grain.

The History of Cathey’s Valley, California

Andrew D. Cathey Settles Town

Cathey's Valley was named after Andrew D. Cathey, born in 1804 in Buncombe, North Carolina. He married Mary Deaver in 1828. Andrew was an adventurous young man in his early life. He decided to leave North Carolina on an exploratory trip to California with the Rowland-Hammond-Wills families from Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia. Their wagons loaded with household goods, they blazed a trail southward finally settling in Benton, Arkansas.

When the Gold Rush began in 1849, many men left their families in search of gold. Andrew, his son Daniel, and son-in-law Benjamin Wills, traveled by river boat from Fort Smith Arkansas to New Orleans and then took a ship to the Isthmus of Panama. In Panama, they boarded another ship bound for San Francisco; from there they caught a stage overland to Indian Gulch, Mariposa County, California.

In 1851, Andrew returned to Arkansas for his family. The Cathey-Wills, Rowland, Hammond,  families organized a wagon train to California.  Some of the families were those who had come from North Carolina earlier, leaving the Hammonds to start from Collegeville, Arkansas.

Andrew Cathey was appointed Captain of the Cathey-Wills wagon train.  About twenty families traveled in covered wagons pulled by oxen. Horses were used to drive the approximate thirty head of cattle. It is said that only one steer was lost on the entire trip, and it was believed stolen by the Indians.

A trip journal shows that they traveled to Fort Smith, Arkansas where they re-grouped and purchased supplies for the trip that began on April 2nd. They traveled the southern route through Ft. Bliss near El Paso, Fort Tucson, Arizona, then began following the Gila River, an alternative to the Santa Fe Trail. As the wagon train moved across the land, more people joined them. Special duties were assigned to everyone. When they reached the Rio Grande, the wagon beds had to be taken apart and all bolt holes were tightly plugged with wooden pegs. The cracks were caulked with what they had available. Together, they formed a ferry-like raft to transport their families, their livestock, and household goods across the river. The Geary’s had started out with the Oatman family. The Oatman’s had been warned the Indians were on the warpath.  the Geary's joined with the  Cathey wagon train and later they came upon the aftermath of the Oatman Wagon Train.   Upon seeing the burned wagons and recognizing Mrs. Oatmans clothing, Mrs Geary she was overcome with grief.  Although the Cathey’s never encountered any hostility by the Indians.

The wagon party took only a very few days off to wash clothes and rest the oxen. It is said many of the women walked barefoot. One serious threat was when their water barrels began to get low, an order was given: no more water. People and animals were rationed only one or two sips when it was really needed. It had been days since they crossed a stream and mountains were still some distance away. After they had almost given up hope of finding water, one of the teamsmen suddenly noticed his oxen raised their heads and sniffed the air. In good judgment, the teamsman gave the oxen their reign. They immediately left the trail, and on top of a knoll, under a large rock was a basin full of fresh water!

After leaving Ft. Yuma, a Mrs. Warner, who had just buried a child enroute in New Mexico, gave birth to another child. The family continued on to El Monte, in southern California. The Wills family broke away from the wagon train. The remaining wagon party traveled over the Tejon Pass, across the San Joaquin Valley to just below Millertown, where they crossed over the San Joaquin River. They proceeded north, crossing over Mariposa Creek and through the McDermott place, up Bear Creek, and on to Indian Gulch where they arrived on October 27, 1852. It was a long, arduous journey of living in tents and wagons for two years and enduring countless hardships. They sold milk from their herd to the miners.

Cathey’s Valley Named After Andrew Cathey and his sons- In 1854, Andrew D. Cathey purchased a ranch from a Mr. Evans. Evans drove a hard bargain and Andrew finally agreed to pay him $1,500 for a quit-claim. This became Andrew and his wife Mary’s first, new, real home. Her sons lived at home for about ten years before they all became larger independent landowners. Cathey's Valley now bears his name.

Andrew Cathey soon became very involved in civic and political activities. He enjoyed exhibiting his abundant produce in the Merced Fair. A few of his trees and vines are still standing, although very sparse after nearly 150 years.

Andrew and his wife, Mary, very devout Christians, helped build a church, school and cemetery on land they donated.

Recently a large mariposite stone monument was built by many donors and volunteer labor in memory and honor of the Andrew D Cathey family and history of Cathey's Valley.  The monumnet is located at the Cathey's Valley Park.  We welcome vistors to stop and read the early history plaque and see the 1879 one room school house.  The school house was restored by the Cathey's Valley Historical Society.

The Little Town of Cathey's Valley Once Named “Valecito”

Cathey's Valley, is a small, closely knit community of people. The town consists of a post office, grocery stores, a fast food and service station, real estate and insurance plaza, and state and local volunteer fire stations. The Cathey's Valley Park consists of a Community Hall, and large picnic and baseball grounds. Service organizations are 4-H, Scouts and horse riding groups.

Presently, the little one-room 1879 schoolhouse is being restored by the Cathey's Valley Historical Society. Mrs. Korn, President, once wrote, it was a place where the ladies came in print dresses and the men in muddy cowboy boots to vote on Election Day. Also, where children put on plays at Christmas times and gave recitations, and pie suppers were held to raise money.

Each Christmas, a lighted Christmas tree graces the front yard of the schoolhouse. Colorful red, green and blue lights burn brightly on a dark night. The children gather around and sing Christmas carols before going Christmas caroling for the shut-ins. It is on these occasions I think what a contrast of nearly one hundred and fifty years ago when Andrew, Mary, and their family first arrived in an oxen-pulled covered wagon.   

posted September 22, 1999-- updated March 2003

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