The Caton family tree in New Mexico began with Lemuel and Consuelo came to the territory from Oklahoma in a covered wagon in 1907, staking a homestead at what became the town of Plain. The couple had nine children; eight of them were boys.
The extensive family tree has countless branches, it seems, and a recent tally compiled in 2020 by a family member found a dozen Catons with New Mexico state basketball tournament experience.
According to Chuck Ferris — the premier prep basketball authority in the state — the Catons are “definitely the No. 1 family that I know of in New Mexico (when it comes to basketball).”
“They’ve been in since the ’30s; they started in Forrest in the ’30s,” Ferris said, when asked if he was familiar with that surname. “I know I played against Dale Caton — he played for Alamogordo and then at UNM.”
Ferris played first at Capitan High, and then Tularosa High, where he graduated in 1956 — “1956, not 1856,” he quipped.)
Here’s a collection of Catons with basketball connections; Pearl, Oran, Barnie, Julian, John and Lewis were children of Lemuel and Consuelo.
Pearl Caton: A member of the state-champion Forrest High School teams in 1931 and 1933. He later played at New Mexico Normal, which later became New Mexico Highlands University. He later coached at Carrizozo and Alamogordo high schools.
Oran Caton: Two years younger than Pearl and the youngest of nine children, he was on the 1933 Forrest High champs. The FHS Pirates might have won three titles in a row, but a case of food poisoning doomed them in 1932 and they were ousted by Albuquerque High in the semifinals. A teammate of brother Pearl again at New Mexico Normal. (From 1916-50, there was always at least one Caton attending NMHU.) Oran coached varsity basketball, football and track at Santa Rosa High.
(When the Caton brothers played at Forrest, the gymnasium was a half-size court inside the school; a full-size gym building was built next to it in the late 1930s.)
Forrest High last fielded a team in 1956, and the high school was merged into the Melrose district the following year. The building was used for elementary students until 1966, then closed for good. Forrest’s last business closed in 1975.)
“Oran, who just died in 2010 — I knew him pretty well as a kid,” Ben Caton said. “He used to tell stories about how they would drive the Model A’s — this is like a ‘Hoosiers’ story. They only had one classification back then.”
Barnie Caton: “May have” played in the first state tournament (1921); he played at Grady and NMHU, coached at Forrest and NMHU.
Barney Caton: One of Barnie’s sons, he attended Farmington High, later was superintendent for Alamogordo Schools. “When he was in Alamogordo — before the nation started desegregating schools — he hired a Black teacher (in 1949) to come in and teach, and they had a Black kid (Bobby Joe Fritz) playing on the team. So he was kind of a pioneer,” Ben said. “I don’t know if (that Caton) played.”
Julian Caton: Played at Grady High School. Coached at Bellview and Blacktower (outside Clovis) and later was superintendent in Eunice.
(Johnnie, Barney’s sons Dale and Byron, and Julian’s son Jimmy all played for UNM. Julian’s son Bobby was on Eunice High’s 1958 and ’60 championship teams.)
Lewis Caton: Research couldn’t confirm if he played at Forrest, but his grandchildren, Sam Caton and Nicole Caton, may have played at Melrose.
John Caton: Father of Johnnie, who played for UNM in the 1940s before becoming the head basketball coach at Albuquerque High.
Russ Caton: A son of Scott Caton’s, he is in his seventh season as head coach for the Alamosa State University Grizzlies. The 1997 Adams State graduate was an all-state player for Alamosa High School, helping the Mean Moose win two state championships. After two earlier college stops, he played at Adams State and during the 1996-97 season, averaged 18.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Crit Caton: Son of Dale Caton, who played for UNM; he played on the 1981 Hobbs state championship team. He recently retired as superintendent of Artesia Schools. Three of his children played basketball at Artesia High and all three competed at state.
Scott Caton: Johnnie’s son (Keagan’s grandpa) played for Highland High (Class of 1966) and was head coach Lou Henson’s first recruit to sign after Henson got the job at NMSU. Oran and Pearl Caton are Scott Caton’s great-uncles, Addison Caton, who didn’t play basketball, was Scott’s father, the brother of Oran and Pearl.
Scott’s sons, Ben and Trace, played for the University of Utah.
“We played on sand a long time before my dad ever paved the driveway,” Scott, who lives in Alamosa, Colo., and watches Keagan’s games on ProView Networks, said. “I was too long and skinny to play football; I high-jumped in track and played basketball. That was about it.”
His Highland hoops highlights?
“We lost to Hobbs in the finals, 1966,” he said. “I got 21 rebounds against Clovis in the state tournament.”
Growing up in Albuquerque, he remembers seeing Lobo games in Carlisle Gym and later in Johnson Gym.
“We watched Dale and Byron Caton play — I think they were some of the first scholarship boys for coach Bill Stockton,” he said. Scott later played one game for NMSU.
Trace Caton: A point guard at Utah, where his Utes career was interrupted by a two-year mission. He played at Utah in 1997-98, and then 2000-03.
Ben Caton: Ben’s son is Keagan of the Rams.
“My parents are from Albuquerque; they graduated from Highland High School,” Ben said, although he grew up in Melrose.
“I remember the first time, nailing a rim up to a telephone pole in Melrose,” he said. “I was there till fourth grade. I’m the oldest of the boys. My father was a farmer.
“From there, we moved to Kansas for a bit, and then to Colorado. Everywhere we moved, we always had a hoop first,” he recalled. “There were five boys in my family. We joked that my parents stopped when they had a basketball team. All but one of us played basketball.”
“I grew up watching the Lobos; my grandparents had season tickets,” he said. “I watched Rob Robbins, Charles Thomas, Mike McGee, Rob Loeffel, Luc Longley. I would stay up till 10 o’clock (listening). “
Later, Scott Caton bought farmland in the Alamosa area.
“That’s a whole ’nother story,” Ben said. “There’s five boys. My sophomore year, we lost the state championship. My junior and senior years, we won the state championship. I graduated; my brothers continued — Alamosa won four straight championships.
“We all wore No. 33,” he said. “I think (the connection was Larry Bird). I remember as a kid, my (bedroom) wall was covered with Sports Illustrated pictures, and I remember putting Larry Bird’s photo on the wall. Or maybe it could have been the number available.”
Ben started his college hoops career at the Air Force Academy, then transferred to Ricks Junior College (in Idaho), then went to the University of Utah, where he played for Rick Majerus (1995-96 and ’96-97).
“My junior year, we got beat in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky. My senior year, we got beat by Kentucky in the Elite 8. Then I played in China and England after that.
“Because I went on a mission, my brother (Trace) that’s eight years younger than me became a freshman (at Utah) when I graduated.”
Ben remembers playing in The Pit against the Lobos, rattling off a handful of former Lobos: Kenny Thomas, Clayton Shields, Charles Smith
“The WAC Tournament was hosted here my junior year. The only time we lost was in the last championship game,” he said. “I had good games in The Pit.”
Now he’s hoping Keagan and the Rams will get there next week.