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)

 

 

James Robbins: Progenitor of the Jennings County, Robbins Family

Of the children of Jacob and Mary Robbins, some appear frequently in records and those records are such that you can sort out who’s who, and some of the records provide us with at least minimal substance about that person  Two of the sons, however, Jacob and James, suffer from a lack of documentation, and are often confused with others of the same name.  This post will focus on James.

James Robbins was born about 1771 in North Carolina.  His year of birth is estimated from his age in the census.  The state of birth is derived from what we know about earlier and later siblings, as well as his children reporting the state of their father’s birth in much later censuses.

Family stories and records indicate this part of the Robbins family left North Carolina after the Revolution and settled in Franklin and Montgomery counties in southwest Virginia.  The first record James appears in is the marriage bond that was filed when he married Hannah Jarrett in 1790 in Montgomery County, Virginia.  Hannah’s parents were either deceased or not in the county, as her grandparents gave permission for her marry.

James Robbins & Hannah Jarrett marriage bond (1790)

The next record James Robbins appears in is another marriage bond, this time as a bondsman for his sister Margaret’s marriage to a cousin Thomas Robbins in Shelby County, Kentucky.  To add to the confusion of similar names, just a few years before another James Robbins, a probable cousin, was married in that same county to Mary Lastly.  At least this family appears to have moved to Bath County, Kentucky, while James and his family moved north into Indiana.  So, it is probable, though not a given, that the James Robbins who appears in the 1792 through 1805 Shelby County tax records and later in the 1814 and 1816 Henry County tax records, is the James Robbins who married Hannah.

After that we only find James in two U.S. census enumerations: 1830 and 1840.  In 1830 Jennings County, Indiana, we have head of household James Robbins aged 50 to 60, with a woman of the same age, and two boys 15 to 20 years of age, likely their two youngest sons.  And in 1840 James is head of a two-person household, both a man and woman of 60 to 69 years of age.  No land records have been found in Jennings County for James and no probate or other court records have been found.  He and Hannah do not appear in the 1850 census and both appear to have died in the 1840s.  Where they are buried is unknown.

Jennings County, Indiana, and its neighboring counties in 1836 map

We have a list of children that is thought to be complete:  Ransom, Jacob, Mary (“Polly”), John, Matilda, James Jr., and Andrew Martin Robbins.  The connection of them to James and Hannah Robbins is a matter of family tradition.

With that we have all the known formal documentation of James Robbins.  But we do have one further source.  His oldest son Ransom Robbins told stories about the family to his grandson David Ransom Robbins and David wrote these stories down.  Like all oral-history based recollections there are problems with the reminiscences, with places and dates that don’t quite jibe, but over all it’s the single source for some of the colorful activities of this pioneer family.  Following posts will quote from this record.

Meanwhile, research is ongoing and there are records still to explore, in particular land records of the counties between the Ohio River and Jennings County.  In attempting to write up an individual’s or a family’s story, you come to realize that maybe, just maybe, not all the records have been checked and there is still something else out there.  At least that’s the hope.

(Jacob Robbins-James Robbins)

 

The Last of their Line: The Barnes Family

Occasionally a family dies out.  Not in the sense that there are absolutely no connections to a particular person or an ancestral couple, but in the sense that they no longer have any direct living descendants.  So it is with Absalom and Bethiah Emiline (Robbins) Barnes.

Absalom Barnes was married to one of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins’ daughters, Emiline, as she was called by the family, in 1848 in Decatur County, Indiana.  In 1850 the Barnes, with one son, were living next door to Emiline’s parents, her siblings, and her grandfather Absalom Robbins.  The Barnes were another large family in that county.

The young couple joined Nathaniel Robbins’ family as they left Indiana in the fall of 1851, now with two little boys, wintered over in Missouri, and then set out on the Oregon Trail in mid-April of 1852.  About a month out on the trail the Barnes’ wagon tipped over, reportedly only spilling some molasses and breaking some small things.  But sadly this would not be worst thing to happen during the trek, as both Absalom and Emiline died of cholera in Nebraska, along with two of Emiline’s sisters.

Hired man John Lewis recorded in his diary of the Emiline’s death on May 31st:  “…this morning found the ill no better & we remaind in camp Mrs Barns d6ied at half past nine…” and then Absalom’s on June 3rd:  “…we laid in camp on the account of the sick being worse A Barns died at 5oc in the afternoon & was beried at 6oc he was beried on a high gravel point on the bank of the little blew R. 5 m. west of the place whare his wife was…”  Both of the little boys would be taken in by their grandparents.

The oldest boy, Nathaniel Norval Barnes, was born in 1848, while the younger William Zachew Barnes (the middle name probably coming from his grandfather Zacheus Barnes), was born about 1851.  Both were born in Decatur County.  After arriving in Oregon, Nathaniel Robbins, the boys’ grandfather, went to the Clackamas county court and was named guardian of the two boys.  For the rest of the 1850s and into the 1860s they lived with their grandparents.  Again, sadly, William was not destined for a long life.  He died at age 16 in 1867.  In 1870, Nathaniel Barnes, the last of the Barnes family in Oregon, was living with his bachelor uncle John Dow Robbins, working on his farm in western Clackamas County, near the location of today’s Wilsonville, Oregon.

N.N. & Annie Barnes, with daughter Etta Viola

The following year he was married to Annie Mary Walker, and they had two children, Ettie Viola and Frederick Elijah Barnes.  Again an early death would strike the family.  Nathaniel Norval Barnes died at age 37 in 1886.  He joined his brother in the nearby Robert Bird Cemetery.  That left his widow Annie, and children Ettie and Fred.

Annie lived until age 56, dying in 1910.  Fred, the only son, never married.  He enlisted at Vancouver Barracks in 1917 in the 116th Aero Squadron, based at Kelly Field, Texas, and served overseas from December 1917 to May 1919.  The unit was re-designated the 637th in 1918 and was involved in the construction of the 1st Air Depot on the Western Front.  After returning from the war, Fred died of cancer in 1921, age 46.

The remaining member of the Barnes family, Etta Viola, married John Seth in 1926.  Fifty-six years old at the time of her marriage, she and John never had any children.  They weren’t married long either: she died in 1933 at age 61, having outlived all the rest of her biological family.  Her husband John only survived her by two years.

Etta Viola (Barnes) Seth

Frederick Elijah Barnes

And this ends the line of Absalom and Emiline (Robbins) Barnes.  We probably wouldn’t even have photos of them today except that Etta Viola corresponded with her second cousin Hallie May (Lee) Jaques, a granddaughter of Nancy (Robbins) Barstow, Emiline’s younger sister.  Hallie passed photos on to her daughter, genealogist Margaret Davis, who in turn passed copies of the photos, and photocopies of others, on to me.  This family line died out, but they are not forgotten.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-Bethiah Emiline (Robbins) Barnes)

 

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)