How Many Absaloms?

We sometimes find that the story that gets passed down from generation to generation is incorrect.  One of the stories that I have seen passed down in family notes was there were three generations of Absalom Robbins – who I will call: Sr., Jr. and III.  I have found evidence that this is incorrect and this post is a report of my research.

The Story

Family notes state that Absalom Robbins Sr. was born in 1765, was married to Mary Ogle in 1787, had eight children, with the second eldest being Absalom Robbins Jr.  Absalom Jr. was married to an unknown woman, had one child, Absalom III who was born in 1810.  Absalom Jr. later married an Elizabeth Anderson in 1823, and then he died early, perhaps around 1839.  His son, Absalom III, married Jemima Hanks, and moved to Breckinridge County, Kentucky, where his grandfather Absalom Sr. joined him in the 1850s.

Three Absaloms in Oral History

The Records

We know that Absalom Robbins Sr. was born on 11 September 1765 as he stated so in his sister-in-law Bethiah’s application for a pension for William’s service in the American Revolution.  We know from the marriage record that he was married to Mary Ogle on 13 March 1787 in Franklin County, Virginia.  In letter from Ogle researcher William McIntosh, the year of 1824 is given for the death of Mary.  There is no other record to confirm this date.  Absalom was married to Susannah Huffman on 20 August 1842 in Hendricks County, Indiana.  According to the 1860 Mortality Schedule of the U.S. Census, Absalom died at “age 100” in June 1859 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky.

Absalom Robbins III was born, according to census records, in approximately 1810.  He was married to Jemima Hanks on 28 December 1831 in Decatur County, Indiana.  He died sometime between 1885 and 1893 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, where he and his family moved before 1840.

The story of an Absalom Jr. (between Sr. and III) indicate he was born about 1789, which would have made him 21 years of age in 1810, when his single child was born.  As such, you would expect to find a marriage record by or before 1810, and you would expect to find him as an adult in the tax records of Kentucky where the rest of the Robbins family were living.  We do not.

Tax records list one Absalom Robbins living in Shelby County, Kentucky, from 1800 to 1805.  He then appears in Henry County, Kentucky, beginning in 1806 and continuing until 1829.  There are a couple of years in the 1820s where there is more than one Absalom Robbins listed in the tax records, which could support an intermediate Absalom.  There are two listings for Absaloms in 1825 and 1828, and in 1826 and 1827 there is a listing for both a Sr. and a Jr.  Absalom Robbins III was only 16 and 17 in the latter two listings, so theoretically was not to be listed.  However, there are no earlier or later tax listings for another Absalom.  Absalom Jr. should have shown up by 1810 and continued on, either to his death, or his later appearance in census records, as his father and the rest of his siblings do.  Only one Absalom appears in the 1820 Kentucky census and that is Senior.  No Absaloms appear in Indiana or Illinois, where other family members were living or had lived, either.

We have a marriage record in 1823 in Shelby County, Kentucky, for an Absalom Robbins to an Elizabeth Anderson.  If the year of 1824 for Mary (Ogle) Robbins’ death is correct, then this could not be for Absalom Sr.  But if the undocumented year of death is wrong, could Absalom have remarried after Mary’s death?

The marriage record and the very few tax listings for two Absaloms could still provide doubt as to how many Absalom’s there were.  But we have further information, found in an unlikely source.

Affidavit (portion) by Jemima (Hanks) Robbins in support of the mother’s pension application of Elizabeth Robbins

In 1862 a young man named Thomas F. Robbins died while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.  His parents were Hardin and Elizabeth Robbins, and his mother later applied for a pension based on his service.  Elizabeth provided a number of affidavits from relatives stating the relationship of Thomas to her and she and her husbands dependence on him for support.  One of the affidavits was written by Jemima (Hanks) Robbins.  Jemima states that Hardin Robbins, Elizabeth’s husband, was the son of Micajah Robbins, the brother of Jemima’s husband Absalom.  We know that Micajah Robbins was the eldest son of Absalom Robbins Sr. and this statement indicates that Jemima’s Absalom was not Seniors’ grandson, but his youngest son.  This statement negates the existence of an intervening Absalom.

Conclusion

Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins were the parents of eight children, the youngest son being Absalom Robbins, born about 1810.  There was no older Absalom born about 1789 and having a son Absalom III born in 1810.  The tax records suggest the presence of another Absalom but that could have been two listings for the same person, a totally different Absalom (though no other Absalom Robbins appears in any records at that time in Kentucky or Indiana), or a listing for the young Absalom, named before he reached the age of maturity.

Two Absaloms Documented

As for the two years a Senior and a Junior are listed, I believe the young Absalom was recorded.  We don’t know when Mary (Ogle) Robbins died but I suspect it was before 1824 and that the 1823 marriage of an Absalom to Elizabeth Anderson is a second marriage for Absalom Senior.  He has not been found in the 1830 census so we cannot check for any older females counted in his household.

The surprise affidavit in a Civil War pension application, in the absence of any contradictory evidence, concludes that there were only two Absalom Robbins, Senior and Junior.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins Sr.-Absalom Robbins Jr.)

Melvin Robbins (1924-2017)

In 1978, I first visited Greensburg, Indiana, as a teenager with my parents on a family vacation, that was only partly spent on genealogy.  We did some research at the Decatur County Courthouse, visited the local history room of the Greensburg Public Library, and visited the Mount Pleasant Cemetery south of town to find the graves of ancestors William and Bethiah Robbins.

Finding the cemetery was a chore – we ended up asking people on the country roads and once we saw a low stone wall on a hillside and couldn’t get a rise out of the then-owners of the property, parked by the road and climbed up the hill, oblivious to copperheads or whatever else lived there, to finally arrive at the cemetery.

Soon after we encountered someone who told us that Melvin Robbins of Greensburg helped clean up and take care of the cemetery.  We pulled into the driveway of the Robbins home in Greensburg and were immediately invited in by Melvin and his wife Rosalie who began sharing Robbins family history and telling us all about Decatur County.  Thus began a long friendship with distant cousins half way across the country.  Melvin was my mother’s fourth cousin.

Donna and Merrill Mittge with Melvin and Rosalie Robbins (1978)

I mention this because Melvin Robbins passed away last week at the age of 92 (he had lost Rosalie in 2015).  You can find Melvin’s obituary on the Porter-Oliger-Pearson Funeral Home website:

http://www.popfuneralhome.com/obituary/melvin-robbins.

Although our correspondence had lessened in the last years, I and my family have never forgotten the wonderful welcome we received from Melvin and Rosalie.  Years later we still recall another visit when Melvin, accompanied by local historian and cousin Dale Myers, led us on a cemetery tour around Decatur County.  We will miss him greatly!

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Job Robbins-George W. Robbins-Daniel Van Dola Robbins-Melvin Robbins), also,
(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Eliza Catherine Robbins-George W. Robbins-Daniel Van Dola Robbins-Melvin Robbins)

Blue Bucket Gold

The last two posts have discussed the first Robbins family to emigrate to Oregon (John and Dosha (Robbins) Herren and their children) and their barely-survivable “shortcut” across Oregon on the Meek Cutoff.  This post will focus more specifically on an incident which occurred during that ill-fated trip: the discovery of gold.

There are several versions of the story.  One of the most complete, though not error-free, accounts was written by Willard Hall Herren, son of William Jackson Herren, the eldest son of John and Dosha.  In 1922 W. H. Herren wrote an article which appeared in The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.).  Here are some excerpts:

Having noticed the several articles in The Oregonian regarding the Blue Bucket mine, some of my friends that know that I could give an account of its discovery have urged me to do so.  Both my father, W. J. Herren, and my mother were members of the company that Steve Meek undertook to pilot from the crossing of Snake river to the Dalles in 1845.

W. H. Herren’s account, The Oregonian (1922)

Several of the young men that had saddle horses scouted the country over and finally found a ridge that led to the summit of the mountain.  They concluded that if they could once get their outfits up on to this ridge they could make it over the mountains.  By hitching ten and sometimes 12 yoke of oxen at a time to a wagon they finally succeeded in getting them up onto the divide.  There was no water on the divide so they had to make a dry camp.  The captain of the company told all of the young people who had saddle horses to take buckets and go hunt for water.  My father, who was then 23 years old, and his sister, who afterwards became the wife of William Wallace, took their old blue wooden buckets and started out to find water.  They finally found a dry creek bed which they followed until they found a place where a little water was seeping through the gravel and while my father was digging for water his sister saw something bright and picked it up.

The account given me states that they found two good sized lumps or nuggets, and that there were many fine particles in the gravel.  He was quite sure that it was gold at the time, and when he arrived at camp he showed it to some of the older men, who told him that if it was gold it would be malleable.  So one of them took a hammer and hammered both pieces out flat into a sauce-shaped disc.  He had a tool chest with a secret drawer in it.  He hid the gold in the chest, therefore no one but the members of the family ever knew what became of it.  I well remember the old tool chest and its secret drawer.

It is not known for sure where this incident took place, but many researchers, including the research team gathered for The Meek Cutoff by Brooks Ragan, one of the books I mentioned in the last post, believe it occurred in the Crooked River country, south and slightly east of today’s Prineville Reservoir.

There are other, different, stories that have come down in the family.  One version holds that William J. Herren and his cousin Dan Herren picked up two yellow rocks while out tracking some lost cattle.  Taking the rocks back to camp they showed them only to their family.  They were not sure whether it was gold or not, but to be safe they agreed to keep the find a secret.  John S. Clark, nephew of William J. Herren, later said that the family was more interested in their lost cattle than the nugget.  Clark didn’t believe that the emigrants knew what gold looked like anyway.

Another version has Dan Herren discovering a large nugget of gold by himself in some muddy tracks made by cattle going to water.  Still another story is recounted by Lydia (Wallace) Steckel, daughter of William and Susan (Herren) Wallace.  She told how family members found an old blue water bucket, made of cedar.  Near the bucket Susan Wallace picked up some heavy yellow metal in the bed of a stream.  She reportedly said, “If this is gold, I can fill the old blue bucket!”

Willard Hall Herren

Who knows which is the true story, but the consistency of accounts indicate gold, in some condition, was found.  I tend toward the W. H. Herren story, as his is the most complete and he heard it from his father.  He went on to describe later attempts to find the gold:

My people have always hoped that some members of the family would eventually find the place where the gold was discovered, and many years ago my father gave me an old leather-bound memorandum book, with maps and diagrams showing the water courses and giving a general description of the country. I once did some prospecting in the immediate vicinity of where the gold was found.  I found some fine gold, but it was late in the fall and the ground froze so that I had to give it up.  I intended to go back some time and try it over, but have never done so.  Many parties have hunted for the place.  In either 1855 or 1856 one of my uncles in company with four others started for the place, but at that time the Indians were bad, and they got away with the horses and two of the party were killed by the Indians.

A final account describes a search by M. B. Rees, kin to the Herren family, which appeared in the Blue Mountain Eagle (John Day, Ore.), which may explain the find:  “The Rees party followed the route so accurately that even the marks of the trail made by the immigrant wagons were visible.  They came to the camping place where the nugget had been picked up.  Mr. Rees was fairly well acquainted with mining and when the place was reached, he knew that the nugget which had been found was a mere chance discovery and that it had evidently been dropped there by some other agency than that through the working forces of nature.  This journey convinced Mr. Rees that the Blue Bucket Mines were destined to remain through the years as they had in the past – only a myth.”

Though the gold was never found again, the lure of a “lost gold mine” played no small part in the exploration and eventual settlement of eastern Oregon after the western parts of the state were filled with settlers.  Many of our family members went east to search for the gold and ended up mining, farming, or ranching, spreading our family throughout the inland Northwest.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-William Jackson Herren-Willard Hall Herren)

 

Meek Cutoff and the Herrens

This post is a more in depth look at one aspect of the first Robbins-connected family’s trip to Oregon, as recounted last week, about the Herren family’s trek across eastern Oregon on the Meek Cutoff in 1845.

There have been a number of books written about the Cutoff.  The Terrible Trail: The Meek Cutoff, 1845 by Keith Clark and Lowell Tiller (1966)  and The Brazen Overlanders of 1845 by Donna Wojcik Montgomery (1976), look at the entirety of the 1845 emigration from Missouri to Oregon, and provide listings of every family they have identified as being on the Oregon Trail that year.  Two more recent books take a slightly different approach.  Wood, Water & Grass: Meek Cutoff of 1845 (2014) by James H. and Theona Hambleton takes a very pro-Stephen Meek position, claiming that the mountain man, by virtue of his frequent fur trapping travels across Oregon, was never lost and knew exactly where he was at all times.  This is a view not held by other researchers, including the group of researchers that came together to study and travel the Cutoff and who’s work is the basis for The Meek Cutoff: Tracing the Oregon Trail’s Lost Wagon Train of 1845 (2013) by Brooks Geer Ragen.  Anyone interested in the Cutoff is encouraged to find these books for the various perspectives they provide.

 

John Herren, the husband of Dosha Robbins, apparently kept a journal of the family’s trip west.  The only part that has survived is a portion beginning at Fort Boise on the Snake River on August 23rd and ending on September 8th and the Ragen book quotes the entirety of this journal, and uses it to help track the emigrants route and identifies the Herren family’s nightly camp sites.  This diary excerpt was first published in the Albany (Oregon) Daily Democrat in January of 1891.  In the introduction to that reprint was the following information:

“The following is an extract from a diary kept by Mr Herron, father of W J Herron, of Salem, and of J R Herron, a former Sheriff of Linn county.  The diary was obtained by Jason Wheeler, of this city, from J R Herron and copied.  Mr Herron afterwards lost the original.”  And at the end of the published extract was this note:  “Here the diary was torn and mutilated so that I could not proceed with it any further.”  An additional story is that the original of the journal was lost in a family house fire in 1918.

Stephen L. Meek

On August 23rd, 1845, John Herren wrote:

“This morning our company was called together, for the purpose of hiring a pilot to conduct us across the bed Boise River and over the Blue Mountains, down to the Dalles on the Columbia River.  This route will cut off the bend of the road that leads down Burnt River, and is said to be one hundred and fifty (150) miles nearer than the old route.  Price agreed on with Mr. Meek to take us through the new route was fifty dollars, so we got up our oxen and started about 9 o’clock, and travelled a northwest course to a beautiful stream of water called Malheur, about twelve miles from where we crossed the river; found plenty of grass and small willows to build a fire to get supper with, so there was no grumbling.”

In the days following Herren noted the rough road (“the worst road that they [oxen, cattle and horses] had traveled over yet, for it was uncommonly rocky and hilly” and “We had to remove some ten thousand stones before we could pass near the head of this ravine”), the presence of Indians (“the [Indians] stole one horse last night within thirty yards of our encampment”), the lack of food and water for stock (“found no water, only a small spring that did not afford water enough to drink, so our poor oxen, cattle and horses had to suffer for water another night”), and growing disenchantment with their guide and the emigrants decision to leave the main Oregon Trail (“I hope that no other emigrants will ever be gulled as we have been”).

Albany (Oregon) Daily Democrat, 2 Jan. 1891

After ten days of traveling west, north, and south through the arid lands of southeastern Oregon John Herren notes some tension in the wagon train.

“There is nothing here to cheer our drooping spirits.  We are making slow headway, the country here is so broken and rocky that we cannot get along fast, and we are rather doubtful that our pilot is lost for he has been seven days longer getting to the waters of Jay’s river than he told us he would be.  Some talk of stoning and others say hang him.  I can not tell how the affair will terminate yet, but I will inform you in its proper place…”

The following day Herren mentioned seeing a mountain which he thought was the Oregon Cascades and that they were on Jay’s River – now called the John Day River – when in fact they were far south on the Silvies River which flows south into the landlocked Malheur Lake.  The emigrants had a long way still to travel, even if they knew the direction to take.

“September 4th. – We started about 8 o’clock and traveled a south course about 4 miles, then turned southwest about 2 miles and passed down a very rocky hill or mountain into the valley of Jay’s river, here we turned a west course about 8 miles to a beautiful little rivulet of water but no wood except small willows.  Grass is very good.  This valley is on the river that we have been looking for the last seven days.  I hope the grumbling will cease now as our course appears to be west and the peak at the mouth of Jay’s river near the Columbia, is visible, and our pilot says it is about one hundred miles distance.  To-day 14 miles.”

The last journal entry finds the Herrens near the Glass Buttes not far off today’s highway 20 in desolate country:

“September 8th. – We started at 8 o’clock and traveled west about 10 miles over some of the best road that we have had since we passed the Rocky Mountains, but in the evening we had some rocky road for a few miles; here we turned about 2 degrees north of west for about 4 miles and found no grass and had to encamp in a patch of wild sage, where it was as high as our wagons.  About one mile south of where we are we found a little water, enough to cook supper with.  The stream of water that we stayed on last night runs out of the side of a mountain through a hole six feet in diameter; there is water enough within six feet of where it runs out to a drown a horse.  Passed some plains to-day that were covered.”

The party turned north, then west, and then more northerly again as they sought the Deschutes River, finally locating it near present-day Cline Falls.  Once on the Deschutes the emigrants were “found” and could follow that river down to The Dalles on the Columbia.  They were lucky to have not lost any family members during their misadventure, it is estimated that about 25 emigrants died on the route or after arrival in The Dalles.

There is another aspect of this story – while lost in central Oregon the Herren family found what later became known as the Lost Blue Bucket Gold Mine – but that tale will be told next week.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren & John Herren)

First to Oregon: John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren

The first of the Robbins-connected families to emigrate to Oregon was that of John and Theodoshia (“Dosha”) (Robbins) Herren, who crossed the plains in 1845.  They had already left Decatur County about 1838/39 when they moved to Platte County, Missouri, situated at the jumping off point of the great wagon trains leaving St. Joseph, Missouri.  John Herrens’ brother-in-law, the Rev. Enoch Garrison (married to Margaret Herren), had emigrated to Oregon in 1842 and probably sent letters back to the Herrens telling of the trip and the availability of free land in Oregon.

John and Dosha (Robbins) Herren

The youngest child of William and Bethiah Robbins, Dosha was married to John Daniel Herren on 13 June 1822 in Henry County, Kentucky.  Soon after they moved to Decatur County where John filed for 80 acres south of Gaynorsville, joining Robbins and Herren siblings.

In the spring of 1845, John and Dosha Herren and their large family of twelve children, one son-in-law, William Wallace, one grandchild, and John’s 20-year-old nephew Daniel Herren, gathered near St. Joseph, Missouri, to form part of the “St. Joseph Division” of one of the largest wagon trains.  John and Dosha held great hope for their new life in Oregon as demonstrated by the naming of their youngest daughter Elizabeth Columbia Herren.  While the majority of the trip passed without major incident, the Herrens were one of the families swayed by the mountain man Stephen Meek into crossing central Oregon over what is now called the Meeks Cutoff.  Anyone who has driven over this arid, hot, mostly treeless desert between the cities of Burns and Bend, can’t help but cringe at the thought of being there in a wagon slowly pulled by thirsty, plodding oxen. More details of Meeks Cutoff will be in next week’s post.

When their wagon train finally straggled into The Dalles, they were in poor shape.  Dosha’s 10-year-old son Levi Herren, always remembered his first meal there which included fresh bread, fruit, and kegs of syrup.  The Herrens then rafted down the Columbia, taking on provisions at the Hudson Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver on the north side of the river.  They were transported across the Columbia on a Hudson Bay ferry and then followed the “Germantown” road to the Tualatin valley.

For the first winter the Herrens stayed at Whiteson in Yamhill County with the Rev.  Garrison, and then in March of 1846 John Herren and his family located about four miles east of Salem on land that already had a cabin on it.  They remained there for two and a half years.  The lure of gold was strong though, and in the fall of 1848 John, some of his children and son-in-law William Wallace, went to California where they had some success in the gold fields on the Feather River.  Spending about five months there (until the spring of 1849), John returned to Oregon by boat with $2,000 in gold dust.

That the Herrens continued to be in contact with the family in Indiana during this time, and likely in contact with brother Nathaniel Robbins and cousin Jacob Robbins is evidenced by the mention of a letter William Herren wrote to his uncle William Robbins:  “…I received a letter from John Herrens son William which told us that they was all well, the letter was dated May the 3rd. [1852]”  It is interesting that William Jackson Herren, writing letters to his uncle, had last seen William Robbins about 12 or 13 years before when the younger Herren was only 15 or 16 years old.  Obviously strong family ties remained even though the families were separated by a wide continent.

John Herren’s Donation Land Claim

After returning from California John Herren took up a new donation land claim of 635 acres six miles southeast of Salem in the fertile farmland near Mill Creek.  The claim was settled on 2 July 1849 and there John and Dosha remained until their deaths in 1864 and 1881 respectively, and were buried in the Herren family cemetery.

Their land claim, or part of it, was later sold to the state of Oregon and became the location of the Oregon State Penitentiary.  The Herren family cemetery is located on the penitentiary grounds – not in the highest security area, but rather on the “farm annex” – though the property still requires a prison guard escort to visit.  The cemetery, however, is one of the best maintained small family cemeteries I’ve ever seen, with the gravestones sparkling white and the grass kept mowed.

At her death in 1881 Dosha (Robbins) Herren left many descendants.  As reported in the Portland Oregonian at the time:

“Mrs. Herren was the honored and beloved mother of 13 children.  7 sons and 6 daughters, all of whom lived to man and womanhood and 10 of whom together with 104 grandchildren and great-grandchildren now live to mourn her loss and venerate her memory.”

It might be noted that Dosha’s passing was also reported back in Decatur County, Indiana, where her obituary appeared in the Greensburg Saturday Review in January of 1882.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren)

Patriarch of Polk County: Marquis Lindsay Robbins (1820-1906)

In 1853, Marquis Lindsay Robbins (usually called Lindsay), age 33, his wife Mary, and four children left Iowa and made the trek to Oregon, joining other family members who had emigrated in previous years.  Not a lot is known of this family’s trip, just that the wagon train was captained by James Givens Campbell, another resident of Davis Co., Iowa.  After arriving in Oregon, Lindsay and Mary had another three children, and over the years their progeny populated much of Polk County and elsewhere around Oregon and the Northwest.

Lindsay Robbins was born in 1820 to John and Eda (Sanders) Robbins, John being one of the sons of Absalom Sr.  This family stayed in Kentucky later than most, not leaving for Decatur County, Indiana, until about 1830 or 31, and staying there only during that decade, before moving on to Missouri and later Iowa.  In Missouri, Lindsay was married to Mary Sanders, a first cousin.

Marquis Lindsay Robbins

The Robbins family, along with the Campbells, arrived in Polk County, Oregon, in October of 1853.  Mary (Sanders) Robbins’ parents, Reece and Sarah, were already living in the Ellendale community of that county.  Lindsay wasted no time in applying for work at Hallock’s mill that fall, where he was engaged in cutting timber for a new dam.  Always enterprising, during the winter he began making rawhide chairs, manufacturing about 100 and selling them for $2 each.

Signature of M. L. Robbins on Donation Land Claim

The next spring Lindsay and family set out for King’s Valley in Benton County just to the south and took a 320-acre claim on the Big Luckiamute River, near to where Fort Hoskins would be built in 1856.  His son, John Reece Robbins, later reminisced about life near the Fort.

 A company of soldiers was stationed at Fort Hoskins as protection for the settlers from Indian outbreaks. A pet bear which the soldiers kept for the fort was an interesting playfellow for the Robbins children. From time to time the Indians did cause trouble and occasionally the settlers would join in with the soldiers and take a scalp or two.  Captain Auger was in command of the fort at the time the Robbins family lived near it. Drinking among the troops proved a source of trouble, so Captain Auger finally prohibited all drinking at the fort. An enterprising citizen capitalized on this and set up a dive a short distance from the fort on the banks of the river. Captain Auger placed a guard over the place, but the soldiers off duty formed the habit of slipping in behind the bank and coming through the back way. The captain ordered the owner to move out or he would dump his building into the river. The enterprise faded out in short order.

In 1862 the Robbins family returned to Polk county, Lindsay buying land in several directions around the city of Dallas.  For about ten years he engaged in grain and stock raising near Fir Villa (just to the east of present Dallas), and then moved into Portland about 1885 because Mary Robbins was in ill health.

Fort Hoskins today (photo courtesy of Oregon Digital, (http://oregondigital.org/catalog/oregondigital:df6833978)

There was a mention of Lindsay Robbins in the local newspaper for an event that occurred in 1878.

Tuesday morning Mr. M. L. Robbins, living about two miles east of Dallas, set fire to a pile of straw in order to burn it …. The fire revived and communicated with a hay mow near by which was stowed away in a brand new bam feet in 26×40 feet in size which was not quite completed. The fire was discovered too late and the barn with thirty tons of hay and some of Mr. Ashbaugh’s carpenter tools was burned to the ground.

One of the little known and little used genealogical records is the agricultural schedule of the U.S. Census, available for the years 1850 to 1880.  The 1880 schedule listing Lindsay’s farm provides a wonderful snapshot of his life and holdings:  He owned 18 tilled acres, 75  acres  in pasture or orchards, and  600 acres of woodland.   The  cash  value of the farm was estimated at $2800, including $390 in farm implements and $850 in livestock.  The family had spent $110 in building and repairs of fences.  Of livestock, they owned 7 horses, 8 milk cows, 12 other cattle, 8 swine, and produced 100 pounds of butter in 1879.  Forty acres of oats resulted in 800 bushels, and 53 acres of wheat resulted in 800 bushels of wheat.  One acre of apples, with 100 bearing trees, produced 100 bushels of apples in 1879.

When Lindsay died in 1906 he owned over 783 acres of land in Polk County.  He left no will but probate records now at the Oregon State Archives detail many heirs, including his wife, children, and grandchildren, some of whom were living in places unknown to the family.

Lindsay Robbins was described as being five feet, ten inches tall, weighing 240 pounds, with auburn hair and blue eyes. With only three months of formal schooling, he was a fine speller and good at arithmetic. Like his brother John and others in this line of the family, he was a good singer (bass). Lindsay is credited with the naming of the small community of Eola, Oregon, just west of Salem. He was always fond of the Aeolian harp and named the community after that musical instrument with the spelling altered slightly.

As a final story, his granddaughter Mary Garwood reminisced about Lindsay’s sense of humor:

I remember a funny little story that I heard once of his boasting to his brother John H. Robbins about how fast his corn was growing. He said he believed it grew at the rate of an inch in a night. Uncle John was skeptical. Grandfather planted a stick by a hill of corn to show him. Uncle John slipped out and drove the stick down an inch. Next morning grandfather came in with his eyes opened wide and told uncle John to come and look at that stick. After grandfather had told it everywhere he learned the truth.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-Marquis Lindsay Robbins)

William Robbins: Teenager in the American Revolution

In honor of Independence Day this post is about William Robbins, the only child of Jacob and Mary Robbins to serve in the military during the American Revolution.  Whether you are a direct descendant of William or a descendant of one of his younger siblings, his service in the North Carolina militia should be remembered.

One of the very best books on the American Revolution in the South is The Revolutionary War in the Southern Backcountry by James Swisher who describes not only the well-known battles (Cowpens, Kings Mountain, etc.) but how the war deteriorated into a vicious civil war.  The war in the south was very different than that in the north.  After lack of success in the North, the British turned their attention to the southern colonies.  In the south the population was more widely dispersed, roads and transportation were more primitive, and there were frequently competing patriot and Tory militias operating in the same location, raiding, burning, arresting, and hanging their neighbors left and right.

In this chaos young William Robbins, just turned 16 years of age, enlisted in the North Carolina militia in October of 1777.  William’s military service, by his own account, wasn’t heroic (“He was in several skirmishes with the Tories but was in no real Battles…”).  In his pension application which he submitted in 1833, he concisely describes his marching to and fro from one location to another in what is now the Randolph county area.  (Randolph County was created in 1779 from Guilford, which was created in 1771 from Rowan and Orange counties – so the actual “location” of William’s birth in 1761, usually recorded as Randolph county was really Rowan or Orange).

William enlisted three times during the revolution.  The first enlistment was for one months service.  The second, in September 1778 lasted a year, and then finally he was back in the service in August of 1781 until the following February.

In this area of North Carolina a Tory partisan leader, Col. David Fanning, who led raids against the colonists, operating out of the Raft Swamps on Deep River.  Most of William’s military service was spent in pursuit of this man or on guard duty.  Fanning was pretty wily – among his exploits was capturing the patriot governor of North Carolina, fighting 30 skirmishes, and reportedly was captured and either escaped or pardoned 14 times.

David Fanning, “notorious Tory”

Among the actions William mentioned in his pension application, he marched from the “Cross Roads” in Randolph County through what “…was called the Scotch Settlements” in pursuit of the “noted Tory Fannen,” down Deep River, then over to Salisbury then to the Yadkin River then to Island Ford on Deep River, and then into Guilford County, and then home.  Reading the account could make one’s feet hurt but in actuality the distances were not great.  Were some of the skirmishes he mentioned with the infamous Fanning?

Despite Washington’s victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown in the fall of 1781, the patriots weren’t taking any chances.  In February of 1782 William was discharged “…with strict orders to be ready at a moments warning when he should again be wanted.”  Thankfully the war was soon officially over and William didn’t need to serve again.  According to his wife Bethiah’s pension application “…he had made all preparations to go into the service under such engagement and had his clothes nearly completed when the news came that Lord Cornwallis had surrendered and that he would not be forced to leave home.”

William Robbins declaration for a pension (1833)

William Robbins had married Bethiah Vickrey in 1779, when he was 17 years old, only a year and a half after his first enlistment.  The couple, with other members of the Robbins family, left North Carolina after the war and moved north to Virginia, where they lived in Franklin County, before moving on to Shelby and Henry counties, Kentucky, about 1800, and finally Decatur county, Indiana, by the 1820s.

Signature of William Robbins

When it became possible to receive a pension for Revolutionary War service, William applied in 1833.  Unfortunately he died within the next year.  Bethiah then took up the cause for a widow’s pension, which was granted in 1842, in the amount of $20 per year.  In her application she submitted a statement from William’s next youngest brother Absalom in which Absalom stated he was “more or less in the Company of his said brother William during the Revolutionary War” and that he expected to be drafted when he turned 16, which he did the autumn Cornwallis surrendered.  Unlike William’s statement, Absalom claims that both William and their father Jacob were in the battle of Guilford Courthouse.  That cannot be confirmed, but we can be left with the knowledge that William Robbins, a teenager, served in the American Revolution, and his parents and younger siblings were deeply affected by the chaos of a civil war going on around them. That they survived and thrived is a testament to the strength of our early American ancestors.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins)

William Robbins grave in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Decatur Co., Indiana

Serious Trouble at Millhousen

As the Saturday Review of Greensburg, Indiana, headlined on October 7, 1893, there was “Serious Trouble at Millhousen Saturday Afternoon: Fount Robbins Shot by Ferdinand Miller and Can Not Recover, the Doctors Say.”  Other local newspapers had similar headlines.

Another newspaper headline.

In the 1882 Atlas of Decatur County a brief description of Millhousen is presented:

“The principal town [of Marion Township] is Millhousen, an exclusively Catholic town, situate on Squaw Run, in the southeastern part of the township, with a population of perhaps four hundred.  It contains hotels, large tannery, planning-mill and sash and door factory, several stores and saloons.  It also has a Catholic Church, with a membership of 2,000 – the largest church in Decatur County, which has been for a long time under the care of Rev. Father Pepersack.  Millhousen is the most picturesque town in the county, and does a good business, being the center of a large German population, which extends into the adjoining counties.”

This story involves a man named Fountain Ballard Robbins, not common personal names in the Robbins family of Decatur County.  Fount, as he was known, was the youngest son of Marmaduke and Elizabeth (Parsley) Robbins.  Perhaps Fount began to go off the rails when his father died when he was only four-years-old, the ninth child of a now widowed mother. Perhaps he didn’t enjoy farming, of which some of his siblings made a successful living, or maybe he just wasn’t interested in one of the other occupations available to young men in a rural county in the mid-1800s.  Fount was a problem child.  As described by one newspaper at the time of his death: “He has been in a number of unsavory affrays, was generally considered of a pugnacious disposition.”  But in his final “affray”, Fount Robbins seems to have been an innocent victim.

The Greensburg newspapers and the county coroner’s inquest records provide the story of Founts death, though they don’t agree in all details.  The event took place on Saturday, September 30th, Fount Robbins died a week later on Friday, October 6th, and the inquest took place the next day, the 7th.

Ferdinand Miller, formerly of Millhousen, now of North Vernon just to the south in Jennings county, and George Speckbaugh (variously spelled) had been visiting in Millhousen, and by one report “drinking during the day and by evening had become pretty well loaded with bad liquor.”  There were a couple of saloons in Millhousen at the time, and they decided to go visit John Witkemper’s drinking establishment.  (The location of saloons are indicated on the map – probably on the same block as today’s Stones Family Restaurant.)

Map of Millhousen (1882)

According to a witness at the coroner’s inquest, Miller asked Witkemper why he’d thrown him out of the saloon.  Witkemper said he hadn’t.  Then Fount Robbins spoke up and said to Miller “…if you have anything against me step up and I will knock seven kinds of Hell out of you.”  Miller responded with “you will, will you?” and shot at the same time, saying “damn you, take that.”

A newspaper article the following week, after the coroner’s report, gave a clearer story:

“…the facts seem to be that Ferdinand Miller and Fount Robbins, an attache of the place, were in the saloon with Witkemper when Miller asked Robbins to go with him to Spander’s saloon.  Witkemper told Robbins to attend to the stock first.  Miller objected to Witkemper’s remarks and said he was “no gentleman,” but walked out alone without making any further disturbance at that time.  Directly however he returned and again told Witkemper he was “no gentleman.”  Witkemper began trying to explain matters when Robbins spoke up: “Well I’ll tell you how it was —-“ when he was cut short by a shot from Miller’s revolver, a 32 caliber self-acting Colt.  The ball struck him just below the waist, penetrating the bowels, and inflicting a wound…”

Coroner’s Inquest

The local constable, John Pfifer, unclear as to whether the dispute was between Miller and Robbins or Miller and Witkemper and Robbins just happened to be in the way, reported that he had just entered the saloon when Miller fired.  “I then caught him by [the] coat collar and Witkemper took the pistol out of his hand. I placed him under arrest…”  Meanwhile, Fount Robbins was carried upstairs into Witkemper’s home.  The newspaper tried to be optimistic but also reported that Fount’s physicians said his chances were slim.  The physicians were right, Fount died four days later.

Fount Robbins was a widower at the time of the shooting, though his wife Lovisa’s death date is not known.  Both are buried in the Mount Aerie cemetery.  They had two children, both of whom lived elsewhere with their families, possibly to avoid their cantankerous father.  Daniel Robbins lived as far away as he could, in the Sacramento, California, area and may have never returned to Indiana.  Daughter Emma Robbins was living in Hope, Indiana, at the time of her father’s death, though later returned to Decatur County.  She was married to Everett Logan and they had a son Edgar Scott Logan, nicknamed “Peck” Logan, according to late Decatur County historian Dale Myers.  There may be descendants of Fount and Lovisa in existence but Fount’s family was so much smaller than his siblings, the few that might exist have not been located to date.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Fountain Ballard Robbins)

William Franklin Robbins (1816-1856)

William Franklin Robbins, not to be confused with another of the same name (the family historian in Decatur County who read his noted history at the 1922 Robbins reunion), was the eldest surviving child of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins and an Oregon Trail emigrant of 1852.

No photographs were ever taken of William and for the longest time his personality and thoughts were hidden to us, with only his name, dates, and tragic death being passed down through family.  In 1999 while searching through Greensburg newspapers looking for any mention of my family’s trek to Oregon, I came across a letter written by William describing in detail the events of that trip.  Titled “Journey to Oregon,” the letter appeared on the front-page of two issues of the The Decatur Press in 1853.  Suddenly, I had an impression of a man who for so long seemed to hide in the shadow of his parents and much longer lived siblings.

William Franklin Robbins was born in Henry County, Kentucky, to Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.  Nathaniel and Nancy were cousins – Nathaniel’s father William was the brother of Nancy’s father Absalom.  After a few short years in Bond County, Illinois, the family came back east and settled in Decatur County where they lived until the fall of 1851.

Melvina (Myers) Robbins

William was married in 1836 to Melvina Myers, a woman whose sad photo does survive, the daughter of George and Margaret Myers of Decatur County.  The Myers had a large family, and one of George’s descendants was Dale Myers, long-time historian of Decatur County and a good friend.

Not found in the 1850 Decatur County census, it is possible that William was already en route to Missouri with his family, where he was going to rent a place to winter over before moving to Oregon.  In the fall of 1851, Nathaniel and Nancy and all their children, in-laws, and grandchildren, arrived in Missouri and stayed at the son’s rented farm.

While not a day by day journal of the trip, it is a very complete account, and William describes in detail the events, not to mention the daily health issues, of the members of the family.  The biggest event, of course, was the death of three of his sisters from cholera in Nebraska, and I’ll post more excerpts from William’s letter in later articles about this tragic event but today I’ll just describe William’s heartbreaking description of the death of his 11-year-old son Gilman once the party arrived in Oregon in November.

“Gilman was able to walk out of doors without help, which he had not been able to do for some time, and he appeared to be a little better until Thursday morning, when he was taken with a severe diarrhoea, and he being very weak with the fever it soon ran him down, and Friday morning about breakfast time he died.  This was the hardest stroke that ever fell on me, he was such a good boy in our train; he received several presents as a reward for his good behavior and attention to business.  When I found he was dying I ran for some of the neighbors to come in, I went first to old Mr. Moors, Mrs. Moor went back with me, and the old man went for others, in a few minutes Mrs. Divas came; Mrs. Moor closed his eyes, when she came to me and asked me if we had any clothes to put on him, I told her that we had none but what was dirty and ragged, and nobody able to wash any, she told me to cheer up and she would be my friend.  She went home and brought clothes clean, washed and ironed, that fitted him, then her and Mrs. Divas laid him out.  She gave me money and told me to go to Mr. Barnes and get a coffin, and Nat went to Willamette city to get his uncle Dow and Norvil to dig a grave as there was no chance to get help here.  Dow and Norvil came back with Nat, all as wet as they could be.  It was as hard a days rain as I have seen in Oregon; it rained so hard, and was so late in the day that there was no chance to get a grave dug that day; the days being very short, much shorter then they ever get in Indiana.  This was the 17th day of November; next day they dug a grave and buried him on a bench in the bluff above Lynn city, in a beautiful spot that had been selected by the citizens of Lynn city as a graveyard; there had been two or three buried there before.” [note: no cemetery has survived and Gilman’s grave is now lost].

Once in Oregon, the job of building a new life began.  William joined his family members in taking out a Donation Land Claim west of the Willamette River in the current area of Wilsonville and Tualatin.  But a long life was not to be for this intrepid traveler.  In 1856, in one more tragedy for this family less than four years after arrival in Oregon, William lost his life in a hunting accident.  His daughter Melissa wrote years later of that event and William’s funeral:

“But how soon happiness can be turned to sorrow for when I was but four years old Father was taken from us by death in the accidental discharge of his gun while trailing a Bear in company with his Brothers, tho so young I could always remember seeing his body carried from the forest and of being lifted up to view him for the last time as he lay in his casket.  There being no horse teams in our community except Grandfathers [Nathaniel Robbins] which  hitched to a wagon in which was placed the casket and in which Mother [Melvina], baby sister [Artemissa] and I also rode with the rest of the crowd walking we proceeded to the Cemetery one half mile distant and there without a Minister of God to offer a last prayer or to speak one word of comfort to the grief stricken ones his body was laid to rest and while I was too young to realize my loss yet Mother’s heart broken sobbings at that time has followed me through life.”

Fatal Accident

William Franklin Robbins may have died before his time, but his legacy lives on in one of the largest groups of descendants of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel/Nancy Robbins-William Franklin Robbins)

Seven Families West

One of the topics I’ll be covering over multiple posts in this blog are stories about the Oregon Trail and the Robbins families who crossed the continent.  I’ve researched and written about them for a number of years so there is a lot to share.  For those who aren’t familiar with which family groups left Indiana, or Missouri, or Iowa, for the Pacific Northwest, this post will serve as a general introduction.

Between 1845 and 1865 there were seven family groups that crossed the continent, comprising 77 family members.  Nine of the 77 died en route or upon arrival in Oregon.  Over the course of twenty years, the jump-off point moved north from Missouri to Iowa, and the organization and make-up of the wagon trains changed, from large formal groups with elected officers and hired guides, to solo family wagons traveling loosely with other family wagons.

The first family to make the trek was that of John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren.  The couple were married back in Henry Co., Kentucky, and moved up to Decatur Co., Indiana, with the Robbins migrations in the 1820s.  By 1840 they had moved to Missouri, settling in Platte County just north of Independence and Kansas City.  In 1842, the Rev. Enoch Garrison, John Herren’s brother-in-law, emigrated to Oregon, and John was determined to follow.

In 1845 the Herrens joined one of the largest wagon trains, the St. Joseph Division, and set out from Missouri.  William T’Vault was elected captain and John Herren was elected to the Committee of Safety, responsible for drafting wagon train rules and regulations.  This year became infamous as the year of the “Meek Cutoff.” The Herrens joined a group of emigrants who followed mountain man Stephen Meek across eastern and central Oregon on what he promised was an easier route.  It wasn’t.  It may have been easy for fur trappers but wagons with oxen and families were different.  The party got lost, then got hungry, and barely made it alive up to Fort Dalles on the Columbia.  A surviving portion of John Herrens’ diary covers this route and will be the topic of a future post, as will the stories of the Herrens’ discovery of the Blue Bucket gold mine while stumbling around the Oregon desert.

The next groups to cross the continent were the families of Nathaniel and Jacob Robbins.  Nathaniel’s large family group of 31 got an early start by leaving Decatur County in September of 1851 and wintering over in Randolph County, Missouri, at a farm rented for the winter by son William Franklin Robbins.  During the winter Nathaniel returned to Indiana to take care of some business and when he came back west he was accompanied by his cousin Jacob Robbins and his large family, bringing the party up to 42 family members.

This was the family group that was hit so severely with cholera in southern Nebraska, losing four members of Nathaniel’s family.  They had left Missouri late, probably the last people on the trail for the year, and by the time they arrived in Oregon it was November.  Illness took another four members, two of Jacob’s sons and two of Nathaniel’s grandchildren, once in Oregon.

The following year they were followed by Marquis Lindsay Robbins.  He was the son of John Robbins and was born in Henry County, Kentucky.  John and his family lived in Decatur County only in the 1830s, moving on to Missouri and Iowa by 1840.  (Another of John’s sons was the steamboat captain William Robbins covered in an earlier post.)  It was from Chariton County, Missouri, that Lindsay began his trip west with his wife and four children.  Strangely, he encountered two orphan boys, Orlando and Aaron Robbins, along the trail and brought them west to be taken care of by Jacob Robbins.  It is not known if they were “born” Robbins or took the name from their adopted father.

The remaining three emigrant parties were brothers of Lindsay, who had all been born in Decatur County.  John Hudson Robbins left Iowa in 1862 with his family, losing his wife Hester and a still-born daughter in eastern Oregon, and three years later in 1865, he was followed by Samuel and Moses Riley Robbins also leaving from Iowa.  Their treks are the least documented.

There were other family members coming to the Pacific Northwest in the following years but by the time of the Civil War the Oregon Trail years had come to a close.  Future travelers were more likely to come by train or, much later, by motor car!