Frank Heater: Police Chief

Among our cousins was a highly respected police chief in the eastern Oregon city of The Dalles.  The subject of numerous newspaper articles about his exploits, including that of his marshal’s start stopping a bullet, Frank Heater is a family member we should know and honor.

The Dalles (Oregon) in 1884

Frank Heater was born in 1875 to Lorenzo Peter (“Pete”) and Judith Amanda (Robbins) Heater.  His mother was born shortly after the family arrived in Oregon, and after marrying Pete Heater the couple moved to eastern Oregon, settling in The Dalles along the Columbia River.

As a boy, Frank herded the neighborhood cows to grass, then back home again in the evening.  He earned 50¢ a month from each cow owner.  He worked as a cowpuncher, a sheepherder, and a “buckeroo.”  By 1910, he as operating a saloon with Frank Brown at 106 First in The Dalles.  They had sawdust floors to catch the blood and falling bodies from the fights that broke out.

Chief of Police Frank Heater

On July 1, 1918, Frank Heater joined The Dalles city police force.  The following year, after the city marshal had been killed by bank robbers, Frank assumed the position, usually referred to as “chief of police”, and held it until his retirement in 1946.  He was highly regarded in The Dalles.

One of the more spectacular episodes of The Dalles history that Frank Heater participated in was the Chinese Tong War of 1921.  The fight began when one group of Chinese heard that gunmen from Portland were coming to kidnap the leaders of their tong.

About 11 p.m., October 20, 1921, two railroad policemen stopped to interrogate one of the Chinese lookouts, who mistook the white men for the hired gunmen expected from Portland.

Reinforcements quickly came to the guard’s aid, and the railroad police, now joined by city officers, retreated along 1st street, between Court and Union, under a fusillade of fire.  About this time Heater, who had been routed out of bed, arrived on the scene.

As Heater hurried along Court street toward the railroad tracks, a Chinese with gun in hand ran out of the alley, then ducked back in, firing at Heater as the marshal gave chase, shooting the latter in the chest.  Another Oriental opened fire behind Heater and shot the officer in the left leg.  A third shadowy figure moved and Heater shot him in the hip.

By this time all hell had broken loose and slugs from Lugers, revolvers and shotguns were peppering the fronts of the old McCoy garage, Williams’ second hand store at 206 Court Street and the old Baldwin saloon.  A general alarm had been sounded on the fire bell and a large crowd of heavily armed white men appeared on the scene, but were later dispersed.

Not until cooler heads among the tong men realized the mistake being made did the firing cease.  By that time Heater, a Chinese man and Robert Saunders, then a high school senior, had all been shot and rushed to the local hospital.

It turned out that Frank Heater had been shot twice, once in the leg and once in the chest.  The bullet to the chest was stopped by his marshal’s star.

A bullet did not literally ‘lodge over his heart.’  Fired from a gun at close range the pellet struck the center of his metal star and would have gone through but for the fact its nose mushroomed and the metal of the star crumpled up around it.  The point of the bullet went through the chest wall, just entering the cavity.  Another inch now and this story wouldn’t be written today.

‘I knew I had been shot,’ Heater reminisced recently at police headquarters.  ‘From the way the bullet walloped me I thought it was pretty bad and that I was done for.  I don’t know when I was shot in the leg.  I never felt that at all until later.  There was too much excitement and shooting going on to notice it when it happened.

Heater’s granddaughter, in a biography for the Oregon State Archives, states that the damaged marshal’s star was given to The Dalles Police Department in 1966 by her mother, Charlotte (Heater) Proudfoot.

Another newspaper story, this one from 1933, reported “A bullet wound in his right hand, Fred Jackson, transient, was taken to The Dalles hospital this morning after attempting to flee from Police Chief Frank Heater on a downtown street.  Heater shot Jackson when the latter failed to heed the officers warning to stop, after the itinerant had been discovered in possession of stolen property.”

The following year when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt motored by car (by her own hand) through The Dalles, Chief Heater offered her an escort through the city, which Mrs. Roosevelt refused.

City of The Dalles Police Department (Chief Heater sitting, far right) in an undated newspaper clipping

In an undated news article entitled “Jest-a-Minute” by “K.W.” the author writes:

“And why don’t we tell people oftener how much we think of them, and how much they have meant in our lives?  I think today, I’ll throw a bouquet, in the direction of…

Frank Heater—The best gosh darned chief of police this community ever had, who maintained law and order when everyone else thought The Dalles had to be part of the accent on the WILD West, and who still bears bullet scars to prove that he was afraid of nothing.  Maybe he did always call me “Benny,” which never was my name.  I always felt my family was safe, in the old days, with him on the job.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel/Nancy Robbins-James Anderson Robbins-Judith Amanda (Robbins) Heater-Frank Heater)

The Robbins-Hanks-Lincoln Connections

Stories have been told for years about the relationship of the Robbins family to Abraham Lincoln.  I grew up hearing these stories.  As an adult, researching the connections between our family and our most-famous President, I came to realize that while I wasn’t related to Lincoln, others in the family were. In other words, some Robbins descendants are cousins of Lincoln, while others, like myself, share cousins in common with Lincoln.

Most of the stories, and all the documented connections between Lincoln and the Robbins family are through his mother’s family, the Hanks.  I’ve seen no mention of a direct Robbins-Lincoln connection.

This post will look at some of the connections that are documented and mention some that aren’t, and point out some of the family lines that descend from these connections.

The clearest and easiest connection to document is that of two of Lincoln’s first cousins, James Hanks and Jemima Hanks, siblings, who married Robbins family members.  James Hanks was married to Charity Robbins, and Jemima Hanks was married to Absalom Robbins, both of whom were children of Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins.  Both of the Hanks were the children of William Hanks and his second wife Elizabeth Loyd, and William was the brother of Nancy Hanks, Lincoln’s mother.

Robbins-Hanks-Lincoln relationship chart

James Hanks was married to Charity Robbins on 12 June 1830 in Decatur County, Indiana.  They had five children:  William, Absalom, Elizabeth, Mahala, and Jemima.  Tragedy struck this family early on when James Hanks and his eight-year-old son Absalom were killed while out coon hunting when a tree fell on them.  This happened just west of Gaynorsville, Indiana, on April 13, 1841.  With the death of James Hanks, Dr. Nathaniel Robbins (whose wife Nancy was the elder sister of Charity) was the court appointed guardian of the remaining children.  He retained this duty until he left for Missouri in the fall of 1851.  Nathaniel was involved in disputes with the estate of James Hanks over land, and this was one of the reasons he returned to Indiana in the spring of 1852.  He had unfinished business relating to the Hanks estate to conclude.

The families of James and Charity tended to stay in Decatur County.  Among the surnames of their descendants are Skinner, Purvis, Van Treese, Morgan, Wasson, Patrick, Fultz, Ricketts, Jessup, Stout, and Whipple, among others.

Meanwhile, Jemima Hanks was married to Absalom Robbins on December 26, 1831, in Decatur County.  Absalom and Jemima Robbins remained in Decatur Co., Indiana, a few years before moving to Breckinridge County, Kentucky.  They had possibly twelve children, and their descendants surnames include Stillwell, Armes, Ryan, Basham, and Macey.  Absalom and Jemima are thought to have been buried in the Old Robbins Schoolhouse Cemetery in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, a cemetery that exists only as bare rural lot out in the countryside.  Reportedly William Hanks and his wife Elizabeth are also buried there.

Another well-known connection with the Hanks family, but with less documentation, was that of a Nancy Hanks who married Jacob Robbins about 1801, and whose son was the Jacob Robbins who moved to Oregon in 1852.  No marriage record or bond has been found for the marriage of Jacob and Nancy and if you’ve ever seen the scraps of paper which are the early Kentucky marriage bonds that wouldn’t surprise you, but Nancy’s name has been consistently passed down in the reminiscences of her family, starting with those of her grandson Harvey Robbins.

It is not known who the parents of this Nancy Hanks were.  Harvey Robbins’ stories name her parents as being William and Elizabeth (Hall) Hanks.  But William and Elizabeth were married on September 12, 1793, and if Nancy married Jacob in 1801, she couldn’t have been more than eight years old.  At this point in the Hanks-Robbins research, we can’t say with certainty whom the parents of Nancy Hanks were.

Another problem with that timeline is that Jacob Robbins was married to a cousin Rachel Robbins in 1790 and they reportedly had one child, John Henry or “Hance”, Robbins.  Rachel is said to have died by or around 1800, then Jacob married Nancy Hanks, and had William (“Rock Creek Billy”) Robbins, Jacob Robbins Jr., and Aaron Robbins, the latter a name only found in family notes.  What if the date of marriage to Nancy is incorrect?  What if William was also a son of Rachel?  Ah, the joys of research on the Kentucky and Indiana frontiers!

Abraham Lincoln

Among the family surnames descending from this Hanks connection, from William, are Hartley, Bird, Murry, Barnes, Spencer, and Taylor, among others.  One of William’s daughters, Catherine, married her cousin Job Robbins, which adds another large line of, supposed, Hanks descendants.  Meanwhile the descendants of Jacob Robbins included the additional surnames of Gilliam, Loveridge, and Benson.

There are some other Robbins-Hanks connections suggested but not proven.  Micajah Robbins Sr. (another child of Absalom and Mary Robbins) was said to have been married to an Elizabeth Hanks.  However, the one marriage record found for Micajah clearly shows he married an Elizabeth Vickery.  Perhaps he was married again, this time to an Elizabeth Hanks?  His son, Micajah Robbins Jr., was married to an Elizabeth Swink.  Perhaps this name has been confused through the years with Hanks.

A daughter of Absalom and Jemima (Hanks) Robbins, Mary, has been suggested as marrying a Jacob Hanks, son of William and Elizabeth (Knatzear) Hanks, grandson of William and Margaret (Wilson) Hanks.  Jacob Hanks would have been a first cousin once removed to Abraham Lincoln.  This connection has also not been proven.

One silly suggestion that Nathaniel Robbins was married to Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, as I’ve seen in some people’s Ancestry’s trees does not warrant discussion.

The interest, and excitement, in a possible relationship to a famous person can sometime lead us astray and away from the serious research needed to prove or disprove such a family story.  Perhaps today, with a combination of paper research and genetic research with DNA we can finally sort out all these possible and fascinating relationships.

Greenberry and Sarah Robbins: A Reconstructed Life

Some of our family lived in a time and a place for which records are scarce.  This post discusses a couple who died young, left descendants but few records.  What can we learn about Greenberry and Sarah Robbins?

Greenberry S. Robbins, sometimes called just “Berry,” (and the only Greenberry I’ve ever found in the Robbins family) was born about 1824 in Decatur County, Indiana, the son of George and Nancy (Pruitt) Robbins.  (In some family records he’s listed incorrectly as the son of George’s father Absalom Robbins, but he seems much too young for that family group).  He was married to Sarah Burgin in Decatur County in 1844 by James Blankenship, a Baptist minister.

Greenberry Robbins’ land in Decatur County, Indiana

In 1848 Greenberry was awarded a federal land patent for 40 acres purchased as a cash sale in Decatur County, located just east of the Pinhook neighborhood, on the current W. County Road 800 S.  But land patents were usually issued long after families had begun living on the property and by that date the family was already in Missouri.

We know that the family was in Schuyler County, Missouri, by 1846, because their daughter Louisa was born there that year.  And in the 1850 Federal census Greenberry, Sarah, and their three children Nancy Catherine, Louisa, and George Henry Robbins, appear in that county.  One of Greenberry’s brothers, Levi Robbins, lived in Illinois at this time, but all the rest of his siblings, along with his parents, were back in Indiana.  Why the move to Missouri?  It does appear that Sarah’s family were in Schuyler County, as a Burgins appear in the census and a probate record as mentioned later.  There were also Robbins cousins over the border in Davis County, Iowa, to the north. It could have been a combination of Sarah’s family being there and close relatives nearby in Iowa.

Greenberry did not enjoy a long life.  He died about September of 1852 at the age of 28 in Schuyler County.  Life could be short then, with the most minor medical problems leading to death.  We know that Greenberry at that time because in October of 1852 John Burgin (possibly Sarah’s brother) was appointed administrator of the estate, with securities being John Kerr, Samuel Bradley, George Bradley, James Burgin, and Isaac Burgin.

In 1857 a land patent was issued to Greenberry Robbins for 40 acres of land, another cash sale, in Schuyler County.  Remember that it took some years for the person to improve the land and make the payment(s), so it’s not unusual that the land patent was issued in Greenberry’s name even though he was now five years dead.  Greenberry had also purchased 40 acres from neighbor John Kerr in the spring of 1852.  The fact that the land was purchased just months before his death would seem to indicate that Greenberry became ill quickly or suffered an accident that caused his death.  The appointment of an administrator for his estate came with the statement that Greenberry “died intestate as it is said having at the time of his death property in this State which may be lost or destroyed or diminished in value if speedy care be not taken of the same…”

Greenberry Robbins probate excerpt

Sadly, Sarah doesn’t seem to have had a long life either.  She appears with her children in the 1860 census.  After the 1850 census but before Greenberry’s death, one last child, John Milton Robbins, was born.  The obituaries for the two sons, George and John, both recount that their father died when they were very young and their mother died only a few years later.  The dates they provided indicated she was dead by 1860 but that’s disputed by her appearance in the census.

Another interesting record is available.  In 1856 Sarah Robbins was married to Noah Pilcher in Schuyler County.  It must be our Sarah, but what happened to the marriage?  By 1860 she’s back to being listed as Sarah Robbins in the census.

The agricultural schedule of the 1860 census provides a little bit of information about the Robbins farm in Missouri.  Sarah was listed as head of household, with 20 acres of improved land, 60 unimproved; the cash value of the farm was $300.  They had two horses, two “milch” cows, eight sheep, eight swine, and their livestock was valued at $150.  The farm had produced 200 bushels of Indian corn, 23 pounds of wool, 80 pounds of butter, and 13 gallons of molasses.

Where were Greenberry and Sarah buried?  It is not known.  Most of the family were later buried in the Bethel or Queen City cemeteries.  Since the couple died so young, its possible they were buried, unmarked, in what was called the Burgin-Vittetoe cemetery, a rural county cemetery with Sarah’s relatives, but that’s just one possibility.

Finally, we do not know who raised the children of Greenberry and Sarah Robbins.  However, I think Greenberry and Sarah would be pleased to know that Nancy, Louisa, George, and John, grew up, married, and have many descendants to this day.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Greenberry Robbins)

A Very Rare Artifact

Coverlid – noun, archaic or dialect variant of coverlet

(Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition.
 Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“This coverlid was wove on a hand loom in Virginia before 1836 for the hope chest of Miss Melvina Meyers who later became Mrs William Robbins,was brought to Oregon by Mrs Robbins in 1852, later became the property of Mrs Nancy A Ball.  It is now owned by Mrs. A McConnell.”

 

Melvina (Myers) Robbins coverlet

This is a hand-written note made by Ada (Ball) McConnell (the subject of last weeks’ post), that accompanied the “coverlid” or coverlet down to the present day.  The original note, along with half of the coverlet, is now in the custody of the Tualatin Historical Society.  The other half of the coverlet is in the possession of cousin Barbara Stinger, for whom I thank for this story and the photos of the textile.

Let’s back up a bit.  Melvina Myers was a daughter of George and Margaret (Moore) Myers and born in Kentucky in 1818.  The Myers family moved to Decatur County, Indiana, where Melvina met and married William Franklin Robbins in 1836.  Her sister Catherine was married to William’s cousin Jacob F. Robbins.

The note accompanying the coverlet states it was “wove” in Virginia.  Melvina didn’t live in Virginia, so it could be that the writer did not know exactly where she was when she received the coverlet.  It’s probably more likely it was created in Kentucky or Indiana.  The hope chest, also called a dowry chest, was traditionally used by young unmarried women to collect items such as clothes and household linen in anticipation of married life.

Melvina (Myers) Robbins

After her marriage in 1836, Melvina and William had seven children born in Indiana, one born in Missouri when they wintered over before leaving for Oregon, and one after their arrival in Oregon (my great-mother).  After William’s death by accidental shooting in 1856, Melvina married again, to Robert Lavery, had one more child, and then after her death seems to have returned to the Robbins fold, being buried in the family’s cemetery under the name Melvina M. Robbins.

Cousin Barbara adds that the coverlet measures 35 inches wide by 75-1/2 inches long, and that there were two pieces sewed together.  What a treasure!

[This post was updated to reflect that the coverlet is in the possession of the Tualatin Historical Society, not the Oregon Historical Society.]

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-William Franklin Robbins married Melvina Myers)

Ada Ball McConnell: Family Historian

One of the early family historians in Oregon branch of the Robbins family, was Ada Ball McConnell.  Ada kept a small notebook where she recorded family data, from the earliest information she knew about the family up births and deaths in the late 1950s.  I am currently the custodian of this family treasure.

Ada Orena Ball was born in 1873 at Fort Simcoe on the Yakima Indian Agency in Washington.  Her parents were Larkin and Nancy Adeline (Robbins) Ball; Nancy being the daughter of William Franklin and Melvina (Myers) Robbins, who brought her as a child from Decatur County, Indiana, to Oregon in 1852.

Ada Ball McConnell (1873-1971)

Ada’s father, Larkin was the sutler or miller at Fort Simcoe for about three years, before returning to Oregon.  Ada was brought up in Oregon, where she met and married her husband, Aaron McConnell.  Ada and Aaron never had children of their own though they help look after their many nieces and nephews.  The couple lived in Butteville on the Willamette River, where they farmed until Aaron’s death in 1942.

Ada lived a very long life, passing away in 1971 at the age of 98, but she had quit updating her family record several years earlier.  In the 1960s my mother asked about the “family tree” that Ada kept, wondering if it could be borrowed for copying, but Ada wouldn’t let it get away.  At the time, without the ability to scan documents or take something into a copy center for reproduction, her response was understandable.

                                                                                                          By the late 70s I had received what was basically a typed copy of the family record, though I didn’t recognize it at such.  That information was the foundation on which all of my family research was based.  Years later, one of Ada’s grandnieces passed along Ada’s “Robbins Family Record” to me to be its current caretaker.  There was very little new information in the book for me, but I was pleased to see all the inserted clippings of

obituaries that Ada had added over the years.  Many families have their longtime family historians and we are grateful to have had Ada.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-William Franklin Robbins-Nancy Adeline (Robbins) Ball-Ada Orena (Ball) McConnell)

Herbert Robbins: A Death in Wichita

I was recently “working” a family, trying to identify descendants of Jacob F. and Catherine (Myers) Robbins.  I’m related to both, being a Robbins and a Myers.  Another descendant of Jacob, Mary Kate Horner of Kokomo, Indiana, was a great help to me when I first started doing genealogy forty years ago.  She and Margaret Davis of Yakima, Washington, collaborated for many years on the Robbins family history.  At about the time they “retired” from active research, I was starting up and they gave me a copy of all of their research.  Included in this was what information they had on descendants of Jacob and Catherine.

The third child of that couple was Allen Robbins, and his family was one that Mary Kate and Margaret didn’t have a lot of information about.  With today’s Internet resources I was able to find a great deal in the past several weeks, including the fact that Allen and some of his family moved to Missouri from Decatur County, Indiana.  Some of the children remained in Indiana, some lived in Missouri, some lived in Kansas, and some who had moved away, moved back to Decatur County.  What was going on with this family?  Finding an obituary for Herbert Robbins, a son of Allen, added another dimension to the sad dynamics of this family group.

Allen Robbins was born in 1841 in Decatur County, Indiana.  A record exists of his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor in 1867.  We know from the 1900 and 1910 census, that Allen was married to an Alice, and the death record of daughter Kathryn provides her maiden name, LeVaugh, which matches with fragmentary family oral history.  Allen and Elizabeth had six children, Anna, Frank, Charles, Martha, Maude, and Herbert.  With Alice, Allen had three more children: Ernest, Ida, and Kathryn.

At least Charles, Martha (married to Thornton Nuzum), and Maude (married to Elmer Scripture), lived in Decatur County, Indiana.  The other children either lived elsewhere or their final whereabouts are unknown.  But we do know where Herbert Robbins ended up.

“Unrequited Love Caused His Suicide”, Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas), Wed., 7 Aug. 1901, p. 1.

On Monday, August 5th, 1901, Herbert Robbins, checked into the Hamilton Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, under an assumed name.  Sometime around midnight, the porter heard a noise coming from Robbins room, and entered the room through the transom.  He found Robbins groaning in his bed after apparently ingesting laudanum or carbolic acid (reports varied).  A local physician was called and began to treat Robbins, but he died at about 1:30 am.  The local newspaper, the Wichita Daily Eagle, as well as other newspapers in Kansas and Indiana, reported the suicide of this young man, with the full story slow in coming.

According to the news reports, Herbert came from a very poor family, was “orphaned” at an early age, and was raised in the orphan’s home in Greensburg, Indiana.  He later went to live with a wealthy banker, William Kennedy, in nearby Hope, Indiana, who paid for Herbert to go to college in Franklin, Indiana.   Since his father was alive for several more decades, you must wonder if perhaps Herbert’s mother died at the time of his birth and possibly Allen farmed several of his children out as he was unable to care for them.  Herbert remained in Indiana until just a few months before his death.  Father Allen Robbins, stepmother Alice, and some of his siblings were living in Missouri by then.

Herbert left Indiana and appeared in Topeka, Kansas (did he visit his father Allen in Kansas City, Missouri en route?) where he attempted suicide while staying at the National Hotel.  Guests of the hotel complained about smelling gas and when investigated, it was discovered coming from Herbert’s room.  This occurred several times.  The proprietress took a motherly interest in the young man and found him room and board with a  Dr. Hamilton.  Soon after Herbert went to work for a local undertaker, Mr. Palmer, who was pleased with his work and believed that Herbert was going to go into that profession.  Then he vanished without a word to anyone until he was reported dead in Wichita.

He had made efforts to hide his identity, but a letter of recommendation from William Kennedy back in Indiana was found that led to his identification.  He did leave a note that his body should be held until the arrival of Elmer Scripture (his brother-in-law) from Westport, Indiana.  There is no evidence that Scripture arrived or that he was even able to make the trip.

Further news stories report that Herbert’s suicide was the result of “unrequited love.”  Apparently while in Topeka he wrote letters and sent telegrams to a young woman in Indiana.  A letter found there from a woman named “Edith” said she could not have anything more to do with him, and when he telegraphed her, asking if her refusal was final, she said it was.

Another story reported that his father in Kansas City called and was satisfied that the dead man was his son Herbert.  A follow up story discounts that the caller was the father, saying that he had no father.  However, Allen Robbins was living in Kansas City in 1900 and it’s not unreasonable to assume he did make the call, but for whatever reason he didn’t follow up.  Another aspect of this family’s dysfunction?  As mentioned above, it is not known what happened to Herbert’s body.  Was he returned to Indiana via Elmer Scripture? Was he buried at public expense in Wichita?

“Are Very Curious,” Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), Sat., 10 Aug. 1901, p. 5.

One final and gruesome story was reported in the Wichita newspaper.  The people of that town turned out in great numbers to visit the undertakers to take a look at Herbert Robbins’ body.  When asked why, they said they’d “never seen a man who killed himself and want to see how he looks.  Then there are others who want to see him because they think that the poison must have turned his skin blue or red or black or some other color and are greatly surprised when they find the man’s skin about the same color as any dead person.”

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Jacob F. Robbins-Allen Robbins-Herbert Robbins)

Jacob Green Robbins: A Late Emigrant to Oregon

In some earlier posts I shared some of the reminiscences of David Ransom Robbins, a grandson of Ransom Robbins, who was the subject of much of the family stories.  David’s parents were Jacob Green and Jane (Force) Robbins and they are the subject of this post.

Born in Indiana in 1827, Jacob Green Robbins was the fourth child of Ransom and Rebecca (Green) Robbins.  He was raised in Jennings County and married Jane Force, a native New Yorker, there in 1851.  To this union were born twelve children.

Grand Review of Union Army (1865)

Jacob enlisted in the 82nd Regiment of Indiana Infantry Volunteers on 9 August 1862in Indiana and served through the duration of the Civil War.  The 82nd was involved in the battles of Perryville, Stone’s River, Chickamauga, Atlanta, and was with Sherman when he marched across Georgia and up through the Carolinas to Confederate General Johnston’s surrender.  This regiment, with Jacob, participated in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., where Jacob was discharged, honorably, on 9 June 1865.  Like many soldiers, Jacob suffered from illness, including diarrhea, piles, and cataracts in the eyes, brought on by exposure to the elements and unclean water and food.  His later application for a pension would describe these conditions.

Upon return from the war, Jacob, along with other members of the Robbins family, emigrated from Indiana to Minnesota.  A friend of his, whom he had grown up with and served in the same infantry company with, owned land in Minnesota but decided to remain in Indiana and offered the Minnesota place to Jacob.  Once the Robbins’ Indiana farm was sold, Jacob and Jane purchased the Minnesota land, and moved there to Scott County.

Jacob and Jane’s son David Ransom Robbins wrote about the family’s arrival in Minnesota:

Uncle Jim Robbins lived about four miles northwest of Waterville…we finally got to Uncle Jim’s.  They knew that we was on our way, but did not know when we would arrive.  Grandfather [Ransom Robbins] and Aunt Julia’s house was only a short distance from Uncle Jim’s, and they had gone to bed.  Uncle Jim called them and they came over.  My cousin Ransom was not married yet, and was at home.  He was a volunteer soldier in the Fourth Minnesota Regiment and served till the war ended.  You can imagine that it was quite late when we got to bed that night.

Initially the Robbins’s lived near Fish Lake.  David Ransom Robbins described building their house there.

After father got the house logs made, he took one of the mares and snaked them out of the woods to where he wanted to build the house, and sometime in the last or first part of April of 1866 he had a house raising, and the neighbors came and put up the body of the house, and about that time Uncle Nelson Force (Mother’s brother) came.  Then he, father, and Grandfather Robbins made rafters out of saplings by hewing them on one side, then put them up and nailed sheeting on them, which was one inch lumber.  And then they put the roof on which was three foot clapboards they had riven out of oak timber.  They also made all the joists out of small trees.  When they got the floors laid and doors and windows in, and as the weather was quite warm by that time, we moved into our new house before the cracks between the logs were chinked and plastered.

Jacob Green & Jane (Force) Robbins

After living at Fish Lake for about six years, Jacob bought a farm a little to the southwest in Lexington Township of Le Sueur County, and that’s where he and Jane remained until 1911.  In that year, at the ages of 83 and 74, Jacob and Jane moved to Oregon!  Both family and newspaper articles state that it was in search of a “milder” climate that caused the couple to make the move.  Certainly Cottage Grove, Oregon, is much, much milder than Cordova, Minnesota.

Cottage Grove Sentinel (24 October 1912)

The very next year, the Cottage Grove Sentinel spotlighted the elderly Robbins couple, one-year residents of their community, with a headline that stated “Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Robbins Sweethearts Still and Hale and Hearty at Advanced Ages of 85 and 76.”  A couple of their many children lived nearby and helped take care of the couple in their last years.  When they passed away, they did so within weeks of one another.  Jacob Green Robbins died in March of 1918, while Jane passed away two months later, in May of 1918.  Both Jacob and his wife Jane are buried in the Brumbaugh Cemetery outside Cottage Grove.

(Jacob Robbins-James Robbins-Ransom Robbins-Jacob Green Robbins)

Chauncey Del French: Author

I have wanted to write about Chauncey Del French for some time, and I was reminded of his place as an Oregon author, after spending the last several days at a book sellers trade show in Portland, where other Oregon, northwestern, and national, authors were in attendance.

As far as I know, Chauncey French wrote just two books, one of which was published posthumously.  But before I get to the story of his writing, let me provide a little background.

Chauncey French (and I far as I know we have no one else named Chauncey in the Robbins family, but I may be wrong), was the son of Henry Clay French and Minnie Elmira Francisco, and the grandson of Isaac Francisco and Sarah Catherine (“Cassie”) Robbins.  Cassie came across the Oregon Trail from Decatur County, Indiana, in 1852 as a 6-year-old, with her parents James Anderson and Minerva Elizabeth (Hamilton) Robbins, her grandparents Nathaniel and Nancy, and other relatives.

Chauncey, also called Chat, was born in Portland in 1890.  His father, Henry French, was a lifelong railroad worker, ending his career working for the Union Pacific in the Pacific Northwest.  According to Chauncey, his father fled the Great Plains because he was tired of tornadoes.  Though growing up in railroad camps, Chauncey got a good education, and was sent off to the Vashon Military Academy at a young age.  He worked in the woods, he worked on the railroad, worked in fruit orchards, and eventually began to write.

Chauncey Del French

Along the way he met and married a woman named Jessie Robbins.  He knew he was a member of the Robbins family.  His grandmother was a Robbins, and his great-grandmother, Minerva (Hamilton) Robbins, died when Chauncey was thirty years of age.  But did he know he was his wife Jessie’s third cousin, once removed?  Jessie Robbins was the daughter of George H. Robbins, and granddaughter of Marquis Lindsay Robbins (discussed in a previous post).  Did they compare notes about their ancestry? or did they just think the names were an interesting coincidence?  Both Chauncey and Jessie were descendants of Absalom Robbins Sr.

The couple were married in 1914 and they never had any children.  Living most of their life in Salem, Oregon, Chauncey passed away there in 1967 and Jessie in 1970.

Chauncey French was said to have written for pulp magazines under assumed names, including Chat French, Chet Delfre, and Samuel Del.  I do know he wrote a story called “Once Too Often” for Railroad magazine in 1938 under his own name.  That same year, Macmillan Publishers in New York released Chauncey’s book Railroadman, a biography of his father, written by Chauncey but in his father’s voice.  The book was a minor best seller.

Signed title page of The Railroadman

H. Talmadge, the “Sage of Salem,” a columnist for the Oregon Statesman, wrote upon the book’s release:

I reckon that most of us at one time or another do things we should not do.  And, by the same token, I reckon also that most of us do not do things we should do.  Which reflection is prompted by the fact that I have read a book during the week—Chauncey French’s biography of his father, “The Railroad Man.”  I said to myself, a bit patronizingly perhaps, when I picked up “The Railroad Man,” with a view to glancing at its contents, that I must be considerate of my eyes, which have been very good friends for a long time, and more faithful that might have been expected of eyes which have been compelled to look at things which were not entirely wholesome in their nature and have not always been given the rest spells that they deserved.  Well, as usual, it being difficult for me to take advice.  I visited that book continuously until I reached the cabboose end of it, and I reckon it is not necessary to say that I enjoyed it.  “The Railroad Man” is a well-written story of a long and strenuous life—a close-up of a strong and interesting character.

In 1942, during World War II, both Chauncey and Jessie got work at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland and Vancouver.  He began his memoirs of working in the shipyards at the same time.  After the war, the couple returned to their home in Salem.  The manuscript that Chauncey had written was turned over to the Kaiser Company.

Cover of Waging War on the Home Front

It was later discovered by Ted Van Arsdol, a Washington State newspaperman and historian, and was finally published as Waging War on the Home Front: An Illustrated Memoir of World War II by the Oregon State University Press and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission in 2004.  And if I had remembered in time, while I stopped by the OSU Press table at the trade show, I would have thanked them for publishing this wonderful memoir about “war on the home front.”

 

 

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Robbins-James Anderson Robbins-Sarah Catherine (Robbins) Francisco-Minnie (Francisco) French-Chauncey Del French)

and,

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-Marquis Lindsay Robbins-George Henry Robbins-Jessie (Robbins) French)

D. R. Robbins Remembers (Part 2)

This is a continuation of last week’s post, sharing some of the stories told to David R.. Robbins by his grandfather Ransom Robbins, an early pioneer of Jennings County, Indiana.

Living in southern Indiana in 1812 could be a dangerous proposition.  The war with Britain was starting up and the Indians of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other territories were allied with them in an attempt to reclaim homelands taken over by white settlers.  At the minimum they wished to drive the Americans across the Ohio River.

The Pigeon Roost settlement in southern Scott County was the site of a well-known attack in 1812 where 24 settlers were killed by Indians.  Here are some of the Robbins stories about that time, edited lightly for spelling and grammar.

Sometimes afterwards when grandfather [Ransom Robbins] was a young man, he went over to Kentucky to make a visit with his old neighbors.  While he was there, word came that the Indians had killed all the people in Fourteen Mile Creek and Pigeon Roost settlements.  Grandfather shouldered the rifle and started for home.  After he had crossed the Ohio River (on the ferry boat) and he had gone about two miles, he seen a man lying across the road.  Well, he thought, this is the first sign.  He walked up a little closer and stopped.  He could not make out whether the man was dead, asleep or drunk from the position the body was in.  He thought he might be asleep and his gun was under him as if ready for instant use, and if he should walk up near him, he might wake up and shoot.  So he concluded that the safest was to go around him and come to the road beyond this man.  He done so.  He never heard of any man being found dead in that place.  When he got home he found the folks all alive and well in the whole settlement.  But the Indians had killed nearly all the people at Pigeon Roost.

Pigeon Roost Sign (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

About a year afterwards an Indian came to my great-grandfather’s house [James Robbins] one day, at Fourteen Mile Creek settlement, and took dinner with them.  The Indians were all peaceable then.  He told them that he was one of the Indians that killed the people at Pigeon Roost.  That he and eight other Indians camped for one week in the creek bottom land in sight of their house, and near the path that the women and children came along to after and driving home their cows.  It had been planned for nine other Indians to join them there, but they did not come.  And as there was so much shooting going on in the settlement that they thought they were not strong enough to kill both settlements.  At the end of week they went to Pigeon Roost settlement.

James and Hannah Robbins were the parents of seven children, the oldest son being Ransom (D.R.’s grandfather) and the oldest daughter being Mary, also called Polly.  Ransom’s first wife was Rebecca Green, while Mary’s husband was Rebecca’s brother Jams (“Jimmy”) Green.  D. R. Robbins talks about the siblings and their spouses.

Grandfather told me of their having a very good neighbor at Fourteen Mile Creek by the name of Green.  Their oldest son’s name was James, and was known as Jimmy Green; that he and Jimmy Green were the best of friends.  I don’t remember what year grandfather said that they moved from Fourteen Mile Creek to Jennings County, Indiana.  I remember him saying that he was quite a young man, and the Green family moved at the same time they did, and they all settled near Musquatok [Muscatatuck] Creek and took up claims on government land and commenced clearing up the land and making a house and farm again in the heavy timber.

Jimmy Green and grandfather were about the same age, and they were both stout, active men, and they thought a great deal of each other and were like two brothers.  When they were twenty-one years old, they had forty acres of land apiece and were joining.  They both built a log house on each forty, one helping the other till they had them completed, and a small clearing around their houses.  During this time Grandfather was courting Jimmy’s sister Rebecca, and Jimmy was courting Grandfather’s sister Mary and soon after they had their houses finished, all four were married, on the same day and at the same place, and then commenced their housekeeping on the same day, and they were married by the same minister.

Clark Co., Indiana marriage record of Ransom Robbins and Rebecca Green

The two couples were married in 1815 in what was then Clark County, Indiana, as Jennings County was not created until two years later.  Interestingly, the marriage of Ransom Robbins and Rebecca Green is recorded in the Clark County marriage records, while that of James Green and Mary Robbins is not.

(Jacob Robbins-James Robbins-Ransom Robbins-Jacob Green Robbins-David Ransom Robbins)

D. R. Robbins Remembers (Part 1)

The last post provided a brief biography of James Robbins, one of the sons of Jacob and Mary Robbins.  James was the ancestor of many of the Jennings County, Indiana, Robbins descendants.

One of his descendants was David Ransom (D. R.) Robbins, who recorded his memories of the Robbins family, in particular those told to him by his grandfather (James’s eldest son) Ransom Robbins.  D.R. acknowledges that he cannot remember all of his ancestors’ names but he none the less provides a fine narrative of the family from the time of the American Revolution until the early 20th century.  It is sometimes the only source for stories about these early family members.  I received a typed copy of this manuscript very early in my Robbins research from Mary Kate Horner or Orpha Fessler, both of whom shared information about the Robbins family.

Some excerpts follow, with editorial explanations in brackets.

Of the family’s emigration from Virginia to Kentucky, he writes:

I don’t know how many there were of the Robbinses that moved from Virginia to Kentucky.  I remember that Grandfather [Ransom Robbins] said this grandfather [Jacob Robbins Sr.] was one of them.  Grandfather said that he had listened to his folks talking about what a time they had on the way over the mountains [Ransom would have been a small child, under 10 years of age, at the time of the move].  Scarcely any road to follow.  One day it had rained all day and (when, on) towards night it turned cold.  Where they camped for a night everything was so wet that they couldn’t find any dry punk [a fire starter found inside decayed logs].  They got the driest punk and kindlings they could find and tried to set it afire with their steel and flint which was the only way they had to start a fire.  Which was done by holding a flint rock in one hand and striking it with a piece of hard steel with the other hand, holding it down close to the punk and kindlings.  The sparks from the flint would go onto the punk and set it afire.  There were no matches in those days.

Wilderness Road between Virginia and Kentucky

They finally gave up making any fire that night.  As it was getting colder very fast they concluded that the women and all the children would sleep in the covered wagons, using all the bed clothing, that the men folks used in sleeping under the wagons.  There was quite a hill near camp.  The men planned that they would run up an down the hill all night to keep warm.  They kept it up till they began to get pretty tired.  when one fellow says, “what’s that light down there in the kindlings?”  They all ran to see and sure enough a spark had caught in the punk and finally started a fire.  Then they made a rousing big campfire.  It had grown to be so cold that they concluded that if the fire had not started, that they would have tired themselves out and laid down on the frozen ground and probably perished before morning.

The family lived initially in Shelby and Henry counties, Kentucky, before moving north across the Ohio River into Indiana.  The Robbins names have no appeared in records of the Fourteen Mile or Pigeon Roost settlements, but more than one family account attests to their presence there.

Their relatives and others came over Kentucky and settled in the Fourteen Mile Creek settlement till there was quite a settlement.  A man by the name of McCollum started a settlement  in the spring of 1805, on year after the Robbinses came to Fourteen Mile Creek.  McCollum named this settlement the Pigeon Roost, because there was a very large wild pigeon roost nearby.

Clark County, Indiana (1818)

Sometime after, when grandfather [Ransom Robbins] was older, his Grandfather Robbins [Jacob Robbins Sr.] was living with them.  He got up real early one morning and went hunting on horseback.  His grandfather had a good rifle that was not so heavy as his, so he took it.  Their horses were used to a gun being shot from their backs.  They often hunted that way, because they could get nearer game than they could on foot.  He saw a nice deer standing looking at him.  He stopped the horse and shot.  The horse jumped and he fell to the ground, breaking the new block of his grandfather’s rifle, which he had just made out of curly maple and had taken a great deal of pains in making.  Grandfather killed the deer, but he felt very bad about breaking the gun stock.  When he got home he told his father [James Robbins] what had happened.  His father told him to go and tell granddaddy all about it.  He done so.  All he said was, “Did you kill the deer?”  He said he did.  That was all.  Then he told his father what his grandfather had said.  “Well,” his father said, “if you had missed the deer he probably would have given you a switching.

During the War of 1812, the settlement of Pigeon Roost was the scene of a massacre by Indians.  That story and the family’s move to Jennings County will be in next week’s post.

(Jacob Robbins-James Robbins-Ransom Robbins-Jacob Green Robbins-David Ransom Robbins)