Wooster Cartmill

Wooster Cartmill - by Derryl Dumermuth

Wooster! What an unusual name for a little boy. I can easily imagine his schoolmates' reaction, the teasing. Wooster rhymes with rooster: "cock-a-doodle-do". Children can sometimes be so insensitive.

This is the story of Wooster Beach Cartmill who was destined to become known as "The Father of the Creamery Industry in Tulare".

In the spring of 1849 Wooster's father, Dr. William F. Cartmill, joined the thousands of "Argonauts" who made the hazardous trip to California to seek their fortune in the gold fields. Since he found little success in mining, he used his skill as a doctor for the miners and Indians, and then acquired a partner to establish a general store. This venture proved to be a success, earning sufficient money so that he could make the arduous journey back to Missouri to claim his promised bride, Sofia Barnes. Returning to Amador County in 1855 he found that the partner had absconded with everything.

Wooster was born there in that year and his boyhood was typical for a pioneer boy of that time. In 1924, at age 69, he recalled two of the times he incurred the displeasure of his father. Copying what he saw of the miners, he dug his own mine into the side of a hill. Unfortunately, the tunnel collapsed, pinning him to the shoulders. His cries soon brought his father to the rescue. On another occasion he was carrying a large watermelon from the garden to the house. When he set down his heavy load to open the gate, the melon rolled down the hill. He recalled that it was a spectacular sight.

In 1861, eleven years before the birth of Tulare, William brought his family and the cattle that he had acquired to this area, buying a ranch about five miles northwest of the future town. Their shelter, sided with rough oak boards, with a dirt-floor and crude fireplace, provided little protection from the elements. The ranch eventually covered 520 acres.

Shortly after their arrival in the valley, on Christmas day, it started to rain heavily, and continued for days. The warm rain melted much of the snow pack in the Sierras and created one of the biggest floods ever in this area. The family abandoned their home and started walking to a neighbor located on higher ground. Six-year-old Wooster clung to his mother's skirts while his sister Flora was carried by her father. Three more children were born to William and Sofia on the Tulare ranch, but Wooster was the only one to survive to maturity.

The closest school was too far away, at Goshen, nearly ten miles from the ranch. So every evening after supper William home-schooled his children. As a result, Wooster was well educated by the time he did attend school. He later bragged that he won every spelling bee.

As soon as he was old enough, the boy was expected to lend a hand in the operation of the ranch. The cows that he milked produced the cream that his mother churned into butter. The butter was sold for 50 cents a pound (a princely sum in those early days) to a man who transported it on mule-back to the gold fields, where he made a tidy profit. Later, Wooster herded free-range cattle and sheep, as far away as the future Tulare town-site. Still later he worked for the railroad, then purchased a partnership in the butcher business, acquired a half interest in a Visalia creamery, and was employed as Deputy County Auditor. Each time he changed occupations he returned to the home ranch.

In 1900 Wooster built the first Tulare creamery, located on the site of the future Adohr plant. Three years later the creamery was sold to the "Co-operative Creamery Company of Tulare", which listed Wooster Cartmill as the chief executive officer.

In 1922 the Warren Harding Administration appointed Wooster to serve as Tulare Postmaster. He retired in 1926 at age 69 and died 12 years later.

Today we have two reminders of the Cartmill family's contribution to Tulare's history - Cartmill Avenue at the northern edge of the city; and the little house at 304 West Tulare Avenue, built soon after the birth of Tulare in 1872. The house in town made it much more convenient for Wooster's four children to attend school in Tulare. Wooster's daughter, Mary, lived in the house most of her life, until she moved to a convalescent home in 1984.

Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, author of "A Town Called Tulare" and co-author, with his wife, Wanda, of "Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z". Both books were written as fund raisers for the Tulare Historical Museum and can be purchased in the Museum's gift shop.


1. Wooster Beach Cartmill, 1857-1938