Biography of Joshua Cates

A remarkable character and an energetic business man was Joshua Cates. Few now living remember him personally, or that he was once an influential citizen of the county. He was no common man in anything, not even in his eccentricities and peculiarities, for these were his most charming characteristics. It is said that he bore a strong resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte, and that he was as great a man in his way as the little Corsican Lieutenant. He was not learned in the books, but he was rich and original in intellect, and rough sometimes in his speech, but still noble in a rugged way. He was as indifferent to fine dress as he was to the opinions of the world at large. He moved everything by his own prompting, and was as busy and energetic as the day was long. He did not eat or sleep like other people, but only indulged in these necessities (or luxuries) when nature compelled it, and whenever and wherever the feeling overtook him. He rarely sat down to his own table (or for that matter to any one else’s) but took a lunch in his fingers and went about his business, and when sleep overcame him, like Sancho Panza blessing its inventor, he lay down and slept, whether in his own house, on his own grounds, or by the roadside, and when exhausted nature was restored, he arose and resumed his work.

Joshua Cates was a native of South Carolina, and came to Christian County when its capital was the puniest of villages. One of his peculiarities was, and in this he differed from most of his contemporaries, he “touched not, tasted not, handled not,” intoxicating drinks, and thus kept his head clear. Another peculiarity was an almost uncontrollable desire for land. He bought all the land he could get hold of, and it is said, did not always adhere strictly to the golden rule in his real estate transactions. An instance is related to the point: A man named Pursley, also a great land trader, was contemplating the purchase of a certain tract, when Cates went to him and said: “Pursley, the title to the land is not good; not worth a cent, sir!” Thus warned, Pursley set about investigating the matter, and while so doing Cates bought the land and secured a deed to it. A favorite expression of Cates’ was: “You observe sir,” and he used it on most all occasions. Meeting Pursley soon after the occurrence just noted, Pursley took him to task for what he considered his injustice toward him. Cates replied: “Mr. Pursley, you observe. sir-” “Yes, Capt. Cates,” said Pursley, ” I observe it all now.” Aside from his land speculations he was a horse dealer and slave trader. He bought horses and drove them to the southern markets, and would buy up the slaves and take them down South and thus rid the county of them. He was once shot by one of his own slaves and badly wounded, but eventually recovered, and ever after he carried holsters and pistols at his saddlebow, like an army officer. He went to Judge Shackelford‘s one day, and while there, the Judge took his pistols out of the holsters to look at them, when he found that not only were neither of them loaded, but the bores were nearly closed up with rust. The Judge laughed at him for the neglected state of his arsenal, and told him that in the event of an attack they would not be of much service to him; but said Cates, “Judge Shackelford, you observe sir, everybody don’t know that.”

Mr. Cates has been dead many years, and is forgotten by most of the citizens of the county. His last days were peculiarly sad, and called forth the warmest sympathy of his relatives and friends. Too great an activity and too much mental strain, excited by his various business enterprises, impaired and unsettled his mind to a great degree, and for some time before his death he was incapable of attending to any business. Few more stirring and active men ever figured in the county. His great forte was trading, and he exercised his talents in that direction to the full measure of his ability. He reared a large family of sons and daughters, and the latter are said to have been among the most beautiful women in the county. His wife is remembered by some of the old people as one of the best and noblest of women, and one whom everybody that knew loved and honored. Many representatives and descendants of the busy old man are still living in the county.

With the foregoing pages devoted to the early settlers, and a few words of their wilderness life, we will take leave of them until we meet with them again in the chapters on the election districts. These pioneers were a hardy, fearless, and a self-reliant people; they were rude and simple in their habits and accomplishments, and devoid of all reckless extravagance. Fresh from the scenes-many of them-of the Revolutionary struggle, a free people, their manhood elevated, they shrank from no difficulty; but, with a stern, unflinching purpose, they went forth to subdue the wilderness, and subject it to the use of man. The women, too, bore their part in the great work, and did as much, in their way, as the men did themselves. They were the companions of the sterner sex, and their helpmeets, and quailed not before the hardships of the frontier. They believed it their highest duty-as it was their noblest aim-to contribute their part in the great work of life. In cases of illness, some young woman would leave her home for a few days to care for the afflicted household, and her services were rendered without money and without price. The discharge of the sacred duty to care for the sick was the motive, and it was never neglected. The accepted life of a woman was to marry, bear and rear children, prepare the household food, spin, weave and make the garments for the family. Her whole life was the grand, simple poem of rugged, toilsome duty, bravely and uncomplainingly done. She lived history, and her descendants write and read it with a proud thrill, such as visits the pilgrim when at Arlington he stands at the base of the monument which covers the bones of 4,000 nameless men who gave their blood to preserve their country. Her work lives, and her name should only be whispered in humble reverence. Holy in death, it is too sacred for open speech.

Cates, Pursley,


Battle, J. H. Counties Of Todd And Christian, Kentucky. Historical And Biographical. F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago And Louisville. 1884. At current time this manuscript consists of only the Todd County section and a few biographies from Christian County.

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