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RG3890.AM:  Cather Family

Papers:  1870-1915, mostly 1877-1895

Frederick County, Virginia; Webster County, Neb.

Size:  1 box and 1 reel of microfilm


William Cather was born in Frederick County, Virginia, on May 10, 1823, the son of James and Ann Howard Cather. A farmer and sheep raiser, he was active in politics as was his father. They were one of the few families in the area who supported the Northern cause during the Civil War, and, after the war, Cather was appointed county sheriff by the state Reconstruction government. The family was active in the Republican Party. In 1874, William Cather visited his eldest son in Webster county, Nebraska, and three years later he and his family moved there, where he invested widely in railroad lands. He died there on November 23, 1887.

On March 31, 1846, William Cather was married to Emily Ann Caroline Smith, and they were the parents of seven children. The eldest son, George Perry Cather, and his wife, Francis Amanda Smith, moved to Webster County, Nebraska, in the autumn of 1873. They were the first permanent settlers in what became Catherton Precinct. They and their children played prominent roles in the history of Webster County. The second son of William Cather, Charles Fectique Cather, and his wife, Mary Virginia Boak, remained in Virginia until 1883, when they too moved to Webster County. Their eldest child was the novelist, Willa Cather. The eldest Cather daughter was Alverna Amanda, who was married to J. Webb Clutter and Francis Edward Payne. She came to Nebraska with her parents in 1877. Ann Virginia was the fifth Cather child. Known as Jennie, she married John Graham Ayre of Loudon County, Virginia on March 11, 1873. After her husband’s death, she too came to Nebraska with her parents, dying only a short time after their arrival. Her daughter, Alfretta Ayre, later married C. Hugh Miner. Three other children of William and Emily Cather died young.


This collection consists of Cather family materials arranged in two series: 1) Correspondence, 1870-1877; 1895; and 1915; and 2) Miscellaneous.

Series 1, Correspondence, consists of letters between various members of the Cather family in Virginia and later in Nebraska, mainly Mrs. Caroline Cather and Mrs. George (Franc) Cather to Jennie Ayre. Other letters were written by Charles F. Cather and Mrs. Sydney Cather Gore, a sister of William Cather. The letters dated 1895 are from members of the Cather Family in Nebraska to Mrs. William Cather and Alfretta Ayre in Virginia. This series has been published in Nebraska History, Vol. 54, No. 4 (Winter 1973). Most of the letters were loaned for microfilming in July of 1973, and are available only on microfilm at NSHS. They are now the property of the Willa Cather Foundation. Transcripts of the correspondence were microfilmed with the originals. Two unfilmed items, an 1895 letter and 1915 postcard added to the collection after the filming was completed, are housed in Box 1.

Series 2, Miscellaneous Cather Family Materials, include reminiscences, genealogical materials, and a “Notebook of Aristotle Smith,” who was related to the Cather Family by the marriage of his Aunt Caroline, Mrs. William Cather. Part of the Notebook concerns a visit to Webster County, Nebraska. All items in Series 2 are copies; the original materials are not in the NSHS collection.


See the NSHS Willa Cather collection [RG2639] for additional materials relating to Willa Cather. See the NSHS Library catalog and the Nebraska History index for numerous published materials by and about Willa Cather and the Cather family. For additional Cather materials held elsewhere, contact the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Archives and Special Collections and the Willa Cather Foundation.


Series 1 – Cather Family Correspondence, 1870-1915

Reel 1


  1. 1870

  2. 1872

  3. 1873

  4. 1874

  5. 1875

  6. 1876

  7. 1877

  8. 1895, April-August

Box 1


  1. Letter, G.P. Cather to Retta Ayre, June 23, 1895

    Postcard, John Cather to Mrs. Miner, July 29, 1915

Series 2 – Miscellaneous

  1. “A Recounting of the Autobiographical Sketch & Memoirs of Rev. Flavius Josephus Cather of West Virginia & Los Angeles, California” [copy]

  2. “The Cathers,” George Perry Cather [copy]

  3. From the Genealogical Records of the Robert Cather and Jasper Cather Families, Collected and Compiled by George Cather Ray [copy]

  4. “Notebook of Aristotle Smith, Eden, West Virginia” [copy]



Boak, Mary Virginia, 1859-1931

Cather family

Cather, Caroline Smith, 1827-1900

Cather, Carrie, 1876-1960

Cather, Charles Fectique, 1848-1928

Cather, Franc Smith, 1848-1922

Cather, Frank William, 1886-1927

Cather, George Perry, 1847-1938

Cather, Jasper

Cather, Willa Sibert, 1873-1947

Clutter, Kyd, 1872-1928


Payne, Wilella, 1882-1960

Ray, George Cather, 1907-


JEP/ht   09-25-1974

KFK   05-08-1998

Encoded TMM   03-10-2010