Remembering War Dead

On Memorial Day, Americans frequently visit cemeteries and place flags and flowers on the grave of anyone who has served in America’s armed forced.  But Memorial Day is officially the day for remembering those who died while in military service.  We have many, many relatives in the Robbins family who have served in the military, and we also have those who died while in service.  An early post on this blog told the story of Jefferson Robbins and his lonely grave in southern Indiana.  This post will discuss his uncle Harrison Robbins who is buried in a more prominent location.

Gravestone of Harrison Robbins

Harrison Robbins was born about 1820 in Henry County, Kentucky, and taken by his parents Micajah and Elizabeth Robbins north to Decatur County, Indiana, sometime in the early 1830s.  Later as a young man he moved south to Breckinridge County, Kentucky, where other Robbins’ were moving from Indiana, and where in 1845 he was married to Eleanor Swink. (As an aside, in the future, various Swinks and Robbins would move to Colorado, settling in Otero County, where the small town of Swink exists to this day – but that’s a story for a future post).  There seems to have been quite a bit of travel back and forth between Decatur County and Breckinridge County.  We find many of our family living in one place one year, the other place a couple years later, then back to their original location several years after that.  And in fact, by 1847, Harrison, Eleanor, and their first-born child Elizabeth, were in Decatur County.

Harrison was not young, about 41 years old, when he enlisted on 18 September 1861.  He and Eleanor had six children by then:  Elizabeth, Rachel, Ann, Henry C., Lafayette (“Lafe”), and Stephen Robbins.  What made a man of his age, a husband, and a father, enlist in the Union Army?  He must have been motivated by patriotism and devotion to the preservation of the Union.  His enlistment came just two months after the first Battle of Bull Run, which the Union lost, and which demonstrated that the Union wasn’t going to be preserved without bloodshed.  His political views might possibly be determined by the name of one of his sons, Henry Clay Robbins, as the noted political leader Henry Clay, by then deceased, was known as “the Great Compromiser,” who stood for the Union above all else.

Whatever the reason, after enlistment, Harrison was mustered into the 37th Indiana Infantry at Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  The 37th was attached to the Army of the Ohio, and ordered to Kentucky in October of 1861.  After that the regiment was involved in the invasion of Tennessee and the capture of Huntsville, Alabama.  In June of 1862 Harrison was promoted to the rank of corporal and was then involved in the siege and capture of Nashville in the fall of 1862.  In December, the Army of the Ohio, now under the command of William S. Rosecrans, moved southeast from Nashville and took position near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The Battle of Stones River opened on December 31, 1862.  Both the Union and the Confederate commanders (Rosecrans and Bragg) planned attacks that day, but Bragg was quicker.  The Union Army was hit hard and driven back, but not driven from the field.  Over the next several days they fought off several Confederate attacks and in the end it was Bragg who led his Confederates back south.  The battle was noted for having the highest percentage of casualties on both sides.  Sadly, Harrison Robbins was one of those casualties.

Excerpt from George Puntenney’s “History of the Thirty-seventh regiment of Indiana infantry volunteers : its organization, campaigns, and battles–Sept., ’61-Oct., ’64”

The only thing we know specifically about his death is what his widow Eleanor reported in her pension application a few months later, that “….his death was caused by being shot through the bowels…”  In 1864, the 111th United States Colored Troops disinterred bodies from the Stones River and other battlefields, and reburied them in the newly established Stones River National Cemetery.  Today that is where Harrison Robbins rests.  I’ve visited that cemetery twice over the years and Harrison’s grave is a very easy one to find, just a few steps from the central flag pole.

Harrison’s children ranged in age from 3 to 15 years and Eleanor wasted no time in applying for a widow’s pension.  It’s too bad that it’s from a such a record that we have this information, but Eleanor did list all of her children and their birth dates and places, a listing we can’t find for a lot of families of the same time period.  She never remarried but the family seems to have split somewhat.  In 1870 only some can be found in the U.S. census.  Rachel and brother Lafayette, for example, are found living in the household of a C. and Rachel Kirby.

Over the years, the children separated even further.  Daughter Elizabeth (Robbins) Murray ended up in Benton County, Indiana, with her family; son Henry C. Robbins lived in Kansas and Missouri before moving to Sheridan, Wyoming; Lafayette Robbins joined some of his Robbins and Swink cousins in Colorado, where he died in 1924.  He had been married to Maleta Hubbard in 1911 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky – he returned to Kentucky from the west to marry into a family who already had several Robbins connections.  Harrison’s widow Eleanor lived with her daughter Elizabeth Murray and died in 1883.  It is not known if she died in Decatur or Benton County.

Stones River National Cemetery

Today Harrison Robbins’ grave is in a prominent national cemetery, as part of the Stones River National Battlefield.  A long way from home, but not forgotten.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Micajah Robbins-Harrison Robbins)


Harvey Robbins and the Rogue River Indian War

A recent trip to southern Oregon got me thinking about cousin Harvey Robbins and his experiences in the 1855-56 Rogue River Indian War.  The route I traveled, along Interstate 5, is pretty much the same rugged route that Harvey traveled with his state militia company in rain and snow.  Today the freeway climbs and descends four passes between Grants Pass and Canyonville.  In Harvey’s time each of the intervening valleys had a fort that played a part in the war.

By 1855 the Takelma Indians were living on their treaty-established Table Rock Reservation in southern Oregon.  After a massacre by miners that year the Indians began taking revenge against miners and settlers in the area, which led the tribe to flee west down the Rogue River Valley and into the Coast Range.  Other related tribes to the north attacked isolated cabins in the valleys of Jump Off Joe Creek, Graves Creek, Wolf Creek, and Cow Creek.  The fear of Indians moved north into the Umpqua country and ultimately the Willamette Valley.  Governor Curry called up several companies of volunteers from the upper Willamette and Umpqua area counties.

Brothers Levi and Harvey Robbins (1850s)

Harvey Robbins, born in Decatur County, Indiana, in 1833, came across the Oregon Trail at the age of 19, with his parents Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins, all his siblings, as well as his cousin Nathaniel Robbins and his large family.  The family settled initially in Marion County, with some later moving on to Molalla, in Clackamas county.  Harvey, however, took out a donation land claim in Linn County, near Harrisburg.

As Harvey described the situation in the fall of 1855:

“By this time I had become of age and had taken up a parcel of land in Linn county.  When the call reached Linn County the news spread rapidly, runners going in all directions.  One came to me where I was plowing on the prairie and informed me of the urgent need for haste.  I at once unhitched my team from the plow and turned them loose to find their way home while I went to the claim of a young friend a couple of miles away.  He had two excellent saddle horses and I secured one of them and we rode hastily to the nearest assembly point.  We then met a number of other young fellows and all of us at once signed the necessary papers.  We were then ready to fall into line when called out.”  (Pioneer Reminiscences by Harvey Robbins).

We are lucky that Harvey Robbins kept a journal which survived and which was published in 1933 in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, as well as having written up his reminiscences.  In the journal Harvey describes the events of October 1855 to January 1856.

After marching south to Roseburg, Harvey described the “lack of respect” that the local residents affording the volunteers.  “The citizens of this place seem to treat the volunteers with but little respect.  One man has even forbade our cutting wood on his claim.  We just went to his wood that was already chopped and helped ourselves.”  The following day he reported: “Rained all night.  We have no tents yet.  The citizens will not even let us sleep in their barns.  A person may very easily imagine what kind of respect the volunteers begin to have for Umpquaians.”  (Oct. 29-30, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

The various companies elected a battalion officer and then they were on their way south, marching to Fort Bailey (now the location of the historic Wolf Creek Tavern).  There Harvey and his fellow soldiers learned of the army’s defeat at the hands of the Indians at the Battle of Hungry Hill.

Oregon vigilantes

Harvey’s company left Fort Bailey for Fort Leland (today situated next to Interstate 5 in the Sunny Valley) and then they were marched west down Grave Creek to the Rogue River, and then down the rugged Rogue, where the river plunges into canyons inaccessible to anyone but foot soldiers.

“The spy of yesterday morning arrived at camp, reported that the Indians were, he thought from all appearances, preparing to fight.  Capt. Keeney’s company was ordered to cross the river with [the] Southern battalion.  While preparing rafts to cross the river we were attacked by the Indians from the opposite side of the river.  Killed one man, wounded 22 more, Capt. Keeney’s company.  The river runs here in a deep canyon.  The side on which the Indians were is covered with fir timber and brush so thick that we could not see them.  The side on which we were was open with the exception of a few scattering trees.  As soon as the firing commenced Capt. Keeney ordered his men, every one to choose a position behind something to shelter us from their sight.  10 minutes before he advised us, all that were not at work, to get behind something and keep a close lookout for Indians, but the boys disposed to laugh at him.  The firing commenced at about 1 o’clock, continued till 8 o’clock at night, when seeing it was impossible to accomplish our object or even do any good in any way, we left the field, carrying our killed and wounded with us to our camp.”  (Nov. 26, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

The soldiers stayed where they were, firing back and forth with the Indians for several days, but after a storm left 10 inches of snow, and with provisions running low, the officers decided to return to the safety of the forts.  Once there the soldiers proceeded to vote for a Colonel and Lieutenant-colonel, Harvey writing: “The candidates have been shouting here today, telling us their views and what they would do if elected.  If they make their words good, woe unto the Indians.”  (Dec. 5, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

Rugged Rogue River country near Indian battle sites

On December 16, Harvey reported that provisions were again running low.  “This morning we are out of meat, and having made several applications to the quartermaster for meat, and could not get it, Captain had discovered in the quartermasters house a keg of syrup which he called for, and the quartermaster swore that he should not have it.  Captain swore that he would.  He came to camp and took a few boys with him and just walked in, carried it out, and said “Here boys, take it,” and Mr. Quartermaster took care not to cheep.”

As the month wore on, and the weather worsened, and the supplies were running out, Harvey reported on Christmas Eve “Today there is considerable of murmuring in camp about the way we are getting treated here.  We are very poorly clad, and in fact we have no suitable equipment for a winter campaign and it seems there is no exertion used for our relief with the exception of Captain.”  On Christmas the soldiers received “a bucket full of brandy” from the quartermaster.  Captain Keeney asked for a furlough for his men, was denied, and he marched them anyway to Roseburg, for which he was temporarily suspended from command by the Governor.

So ends Harvey Robbins’ involvement in the Rogue River Indian War.  But we’ll be hearing more from Harvey later – he also participated in the Yakima Indiana War, ran a freighting service in eastern Oregon, mined and ranched in Oregon and Washington, and late in life returned to Decatur County, Indiana, to attend the 1922 Robbins Family Reunion.

(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins II-Jacob Robbins III-Harvey Robbins)

John Milton Hamilton – A Rough, Western Life

After first appearing in the 1850 census as a 2-month-old, Milton Hamilton next appears in records when he was run over by a covered wagon.

“…about 5 oc this afternoon Milton hamilton fell out of the wagon and 2 wheels run over his brest but it is thought he will recover…”


So wrote John N. Lewis, a young man hired by John Milton Hamilton’s grandfather Nathaniel Robbins, in his 1852 Oregon Trail journal.  Miraculously the toddler did survive the accident on July 8th and the trip across the plains that took the lives of three of his aunts, one of his uncles, and several of his cousins.

Milton was born in 1850 in Indiana, to John Henry Hamilton and Mary Jane Robbins, both from large, well-known Decatur county families.  At a little over one year old he was taken by his parents on the beginning of their trip west, and the following year suffered his wagon wheel accident.

After the Robbins family arrived in Oregon, Milton grew up in the very northwestern part of Clackamas county, where Nathaniel Robbins and his family members settled.  John and Jane Hamilton’s 328-acre Donation Land Claim was situated on the north side of current Advance Road, between S.W. Stafford and S.W. 45th Drive, near Wilsonville, Oregon.

About 1872, all of the Hamiltons, parents and children, left the Willamette Valley and moved to Grant County, Oregon, settling in a high dry valley along Deer Creek.  The Hamilton family gave their name to the area and the small settlement of “Hamilton” grew up along the stage road.  Despite living in the back end of a remote county, they traveled a lot more extensively by horse and wagon and foot than we can imagine today.  They returned occasionally to western Oregon and on one trip in 1879 Milton married Adaletta (“Lettie”) Foreman at the home of Jasper Fuller in Portland.  His brother Sebastian Hamilton was a witness, as was his cousin Margarette Sharp’s husband John Cairns.

Father John Hamilton ranched, raced horses, and was elected to serve in the state Senate from Grant County before losing nearly everything after some bad investments.  The Hamilton boys did what many pioneers did in eastern Oregon at this time, ranched and mined.  Milton’s 160-acre ranch was located east of the family settlement.

He appeared in the local Canyon City newspaper at times, for mundane reasons such as being associated with new roads, as well as getting into, well, scrapes:

“From Mr. Henry Welch who came over last Monday from his home on the North Fork we learn just the meagre particulars of a cutting scrape that occurred at Hamilton on Saturday night last.  What the row was about we do not know but Walker Hinton cut Milton Hamilton with a knife quite severely in the arm, face, and the right side.  The preliminary examination was to have been had on Monday, but as the authorities have not arrived at the county seat with the prisoner it is presumed that he gave bonds or was acquitted.”  (Grant County News (Canyon City, Ore.), 28 March 1889)

A week later we learn:

“Hinton who stabbed Hamilton last week was placed under $1,000 bonds, we are informed, for his appearance before the next grand jury, Hamilton will soon recover, it is thought.”  (Grant County News, 4 April 1889)

While no further information on Walker Hinton was found, this was in a late June issue of the newspaper:

“Milt Hamilton who was so very severely cut and stabbed last spring is now being treated by electricity for the recovery of his injured arm.”  (Grant County News, 20 June 1889)

Milton Hamilton recovered once again and continued to ranch and work the mines.  But in 1894, at the age of 43, Milton’s luck ran out and he was killed in a mining accident.

Milton Hamilton death 1_NEW.jpg

According to the article Milton was killed at the Dunlap mine, while family stories only remembered that he died in “the mines at Fox Valley.”  Fox Valley is about 10 miles south of Hamilton.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever find the exact location of Milton Hamilton’s death, but then I came across a court case, found through Google books, in Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Oregon, Vol. 27, in which the location of the Dunlap mine is listed.  From that I was able to determine that the location of Milton’s death was on the south side of Fox Valley, where there are still some mines to this day.  A contemporary map doesn’t name the Dunlap mine but does list others, as shown here.

Grant Co Map

As an epilogue:  Milton’s widow Lettie Hamilton is found in the 1900 census, having been married for five years to Jacob Legler.  The census also sadly notes that Lettie had had two children, but neither were living in that year.  So Milton Hamilton died in 1894, his children died sometime between then and 1900, and his particular family line died out.

Hamilton Cemetery

Hamilton Cemetery, and in background site of Hamilton community

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-Mary Jane (Robbins) Hamilton-John Milton Hamilton)

Letters about Letters: An Example of Serendipity

Anyone who has done family research for any length of time has experienced serendipity, that totally unexpected and fortunate occurrence which brings forth some marvelous source or record or photograph or family connection.  So it is with three letters which unexpectedly appeared one day, describing other letters which reported a sad story of the Oregon Trail.

A distant cousin in Wyoming, Abbie Current, sent three original letters (two from 1852 and one from 1861), to cousin Barbara Stinger in Oregon, because she thought the letters were important in our family’s history of the Oregon Trail.

All the letters were addressed to Elizabeth (Robbins) Wadkins (sometimes spelled Watkins) of Scott County, Indiana.  One letter is dated August 21, 1852; it is from William Robbins (father of James Gilman Robbins of last week’s post) of Decatur County, Indiana, to his sister Elizabeth Wadkins.  The next letter is dated August 27, 1852, and it is from Elizabeth’s niece Nancy B. Anderson of Greensburg, Indiana.  The third and final letter is also from Greensburg, dated January 18, 1861, and is from Abram and Charlotte (Robbins) Anderson to Charlotte’s sister Elizabeth.  (Abram and Charlotte were the parents of the middle letter sender, Nancy Anderson.)  This post will deal with the two 1852 letters.

By the time these letters were sent to Elizabeth (Robbins) Wadkins, her brother Nathaniel, with his wife and family, had been gone from Decatur County for eleven months, and were still on the road to Oregon.  They had left in September of 1851 and arrived in Randolph County, Missouri, to “winter over” before leaving for the Pacific Northwest in the spring.  While in Missouri, they were joined by their cousin Jacob Robbins (sometimes called Jacob Jr. but more accurately Jacob III).   We know from family reminiscences that the Robbins party sent letters back “home” to Decatur County when they arrived at a place that had a post office.  Fort Laramie (in what is now Wyoming) was such a place.

But, no such letters have ever come to light.  They could have all been lost or destroyed over the years, or they could still be sitting in a wooden chest in someone’s attic or barn.  What we do have, are two letters which mention letters sent by Nathaniel Robbins.

In the first letter Nathaniel’s brother William reports to their sister Elizabeth (spelling and punctuation has not been corrected):

“I received a letter from Nathaniel on last Saturday it was dated Ft. Laramie Nebraska Teritory July the 3rd it stated that him and his family was all well that was alive.  He lost 3 of his Daughters on the 30th of May with cholera.  Mahala Died half past 7 oclock Emeline half past 9 and Amand half past 12— they was all interred in one grave on a high mound one mile west of big Sandy, they then moved forward some six or seven miles to little blew river thair Absalom Barns Died and was buried on a high mound on the road side.  I have received a letter from John Herren son William which told us that they was all well the letter was dated May the 3rd…..”

Explanation:  Nathaniel’s three daughters and one son-in-law died of cholera in southern Nebraska, a few days before reaching Fort Kearney.  William Herren of Salem, Oregon, was the son of Dosha (Robbins) Herren, another sibling of William, Elizabeth, and Nathaniel.  The Herrens had moved to Oregon in 1845.

In the second letter Nancy B. Anderson, Elizabeth and Nathaniel and William’s niece, reports:

“My granmother and aunt Mary Kirkpatrick has both departed this life since you was to see us and we have received a letter from uncle Nathaniel dated July the third he has seen a very serious time since he left he has lost four of his family Amanda Emaline Mahaly and Absalom barns with the colary but now he writes that the rest of the family are all well and he is going on his journey”

Explanation:  Nancy is referring to her grandmother Bethiah (Vickrey) Robbins who died in December of 1850 and Mary (Robbins) Kirkpatrick, who died in June of 1851.  Even though Elizabeth only lived about 50 miles to the south, she hadn’t seen her family in some time.

The source of these letters, Abbie Current, is not a descendant of any of the families mentioned in the letters.  How did they come down to her?  The letters were sent to Elizabeth (Robbins) Wadkins in Scott County, Indiana.  None of Elizabeth’s siblings lived in that county.  There were, however, many other Robbins cousins there, including several named Nathaniel Robbins, who were Abbie’s ancestors.  It is most likely that someone in the Wadkins family came across the letters, saw a reference to Nathaniel Robbins, and assumed they were connected to the Nathaniels in Scott County.  All the Robbins’ in Scott County are related to the Decatur County families, but the connection is a generation or two earlier.  Whatever miracle resulted in the letters being  preserved, we can be grateful that they survived and were shared a century and a half later!

James Gilman Robbins

The photo at the top of this website is a small portion of a much longer photograph of the 1922 Robbins Reunion in Decatur County, Indiana.  One of the “stars” of this reunion was the oldest attendee, James Gilman Robbins.  He was so prominent that his photo appeared on invitations to the event.

James G Robbins reunion_NEW 50%
James Gilman Robbins was the third child of William and Eleanor (Anderson) Robbins.  His siblings Sarilda (Robbins) Styers, John Everman Robbins, and Merritt Holman Robbins, were very successful and have interesting stories of their own, but this post focuses on James.

He lived his entire life in Decatur County, born there in 1829, and passing away near Horace in 1927.  He was married to a woman with the indomitable name of Elmira Stout in 1853 and they had three children.  Elmira’s father, the Rev. Joab Stout, was a Baptist minister at the Liberty Baptist Church, the later site of the 1922 reunion.

Besides the usual records that lay out his life’s timeline, a county history (A Genealogical and biographical record of Decatur County, Indiana, a compendium of national biography by Lewis Publishing Company) provide some additional details about his career, in the typical language of 1900 local histories:

“James G. Robbins was educated in the common schools and by hard work gained a practical knowledge of agriculture. He remained under the parental roof until he was twenty-five years old assisting in the farm operations of the homestead until he be came of age, when he and his brother Merritt (now dead) rented the place and managed it on their own account.”

“A few years later [after his marriage to Elmira] he went back to his father’s homestead, at his parents’ request, to afford them the care they required in their old age, and later inherited the place, which he subsequently gave to one of his own sons. He early gave intelligent attention to general farming and to the handling of stock, in which he was so successful that he gradually acquired a large amount of land. He has given to each of his children a good-sized farm and retains a fine home for himself.”

Picture2 75%

James G. Robbins was a large land owner in Decatur County, with his land laying southeast of Horace, in Sand Creek Township.  He needed land for his next business venture.

“In 1876 he began breeding thoroughbred shorthorn cattle, purchasing stock in Kentucky for that purpose. He has made purchases since, always of first-class stock, and now owns the finest herd of cattle in eastern Indiana. He has made exhibits at various fairs and has always proven a formidable competitor, He has sold calves in about every state and territory in the United States and is known throughout the entire country as one of America’s leading stockmen. He is an honorable, enterprising, successful and public-spirited man, independent in his views, and influential as an earnest Republican who has never sought and would not accept any public office.”

Shorthorn cattle were developed in Britain in the 18th century and had become a popular breed, with both a dairy and a beef variety, with the American Shorthorn Association established in 1874.  James’s interest in cattle was passed down through his family.  In fact, his grandson-in-law Arthur C. Stewart, with his sons Gilman and John, established Stewart Select Angus in Greensburg in 1954, with descendants of James Gilman Robbins carrying on the business and the tradition to the current day.  You can read about their history at the Stewart Select Angus website.

James outlived his wife, his siblings and all his in-laws.  He was, without a doubt, the “grand old man” of the Robbins Reunion in 1922.

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-William Robbins Jr.-James Gilman Robbins]

Adam Robbins – Farming the Desert

I was looking for Adam Robbins, a Posey County, Indiana, resident, trying to determine when he might have died or where he was buried.  As far as I knew he was, after being born in Kentucky, a life-long Hoosier.  Imagine my surprise to discover that about 1890 he moved to Harney County, Oregon.

Posey County, Indiana, is located in the southwest part of the state, a green farming area, nearby to the city of Evansville.  Harney County is a wide open high-desert region in south-eastern Oregon.  What made Adam Robbins move to such a dramatically different place?  It was probably the opportunity to obtain land, but we don’t know for sure.

First some background.  Adam was the son of Micajah and Elizabeth (Vickery) Robbins, born about 1822 in Henry County, Kentucky.  The family soon after moved north to Decatur County, Indiana.  That’s where Adam married his first wife Mary Stevens and they appear in the 1850 census.  By the 1860 census Adam and Mary and their children are in Posey County, Indiana. According to the 1860 and 1870 census, Adam and Mary had seven children:  Mary E., William H., Rebecca A., Margaret C., Charles, Adam Jr., and Mary (“Polly”) E.  After first wife Mary’s death, Adam Sr. married Margaret Williams in 1878 and they appear together in the 1880 census.  With the 1890 census non-existent, my hope was to find the family in 1900.  I did – at least, I found Adam Robbins Sr. and son William H. Robbins living in Harney County, Oregon.

Subsequent research located Adam Robbins Jr. as living in Harney County too (though not found in the 1900 census).  Adam Sr.’s daughter Rebecca was married to Joseph Armstrong Cash in Indiana, had two sons, died, and her widowed husband and sons moved to Grangeville, Idaho, in the 1890’s too.  Did they all move west together? or did one move first, and then report back about available land?

The upshot is I have not found when or where Adam Sr. (or Adam Jr. for that matter) died.  I did find that son William H. Robbins moved to Idaho near his Cash brother-in-law and nephews and died there in 1914.

I ordered the federal land records from the National Archives for both Adam Robbins and received a lot of information about their home in the desert.  Adam Robbins Jr. appears to have arrived first, in 1889, while his father Adam Sr. arrived in 1890.  Both are listed as unmarried.  Adam Jr’s land is located southwest of the town of Burns, in the well-watered (sometimes flooded) area north of Malheur Lake.  Adam Sr.’s land was directly south of Burns, in poorer land, on the road between Burns and Frenchglen, not far from the infamous Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters where 2016’s anti-government militant standoff took place.

In his 1898 “Testimony of Claimant” for his homestead, Adam Robbins Sr., who couldn’t write, reported about his arrival and improvements: “In the fall of 1890; Established residence about the 20 of October; House 12 by 13, addition 7 by 13, 2 miles barb wire fence; Corralls; valued at $300.”  He further stated that he was “unmarried” and one unmarried son lived with him (probably William H. Robbins). Further, Adam Sr. stated that there was about 40 acres cultivated “except for one year on account of high water” [Malheur Lake varies widely in extent and depth between dry and wet years] and the land was used for growing hay and grazing.  A survey map from 1896 shows a “JH Robbins” located where Adam’s property was – as I cannot find any evidence of a J.H. Robbins here, this seems to be an error.




Adam Robbins Jr.’s property and house is clearly marked on a survey map for his location.  His neighbor “witnesses” reported in their 1898 “testimony” for his homestead that the land is “used exclusively by claimant for farming and grazing purposes,” that he is a farmer with 6 acres broken for grain and vegetables, and that “he worked for himself most of the time [and] worked for a neighbor [haying] a few days.”  Further, that he had a “lumber house” (built by a previous occupant in 1886) of three rooms 16 x 20 feet with shingle roof and plank floors and one window and “habitable all seasons of year.”.  And Adam Robbins Jr. reports that he has no family.

Adam Jr. doesn’t appear in the 1900 census; Adam Sr. and William H. do.  William H. Robbins appears in the 1910 Idaho census and dies in 1914.  What happened to Adam Sr. and Jr.?

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

U.S. Army Transport Service Records

In honor of the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I (April 6, 1917), has released records of the U.S. Army Transport Service (1910-1939), which includes troop transport records from the First World War.  Ancestry explains that:

The U.S. Army Transport Service (ATS) was established in 1899 as part of the Army Quartermaster Department. It was originally created to manage the transport of troops and cargo on Army ships that travelled between U.S. and overseas ports during the Spanish-American War. During World War I, the Quartermaster Corps managed the Army’s deepwater fleet.

As always happens when new WWI-era records become available I immediately check for my grandfather, Perry Carl Thompson, a son of Charles and Artemissa (Robbins) Thompson, who served in the 20th Engineers (U.S. Army), the largest regiment in the history of our country’s military.  The 20th Engineers was also called the Forestry Regiment as one of its primary responsibilities was providing timber and lumber for the Allied armies in France.  I had to play around with Ancestry’s search form a bit to find my grandfather, but I finally found him in the troop transports both coming and going from France.

I learned that Carl Thompson was in Company D of the 10th Battalion, of the 20th Engineers.  He sailed on May 10, 1918, from Hoboken, New Jersey, on the USS Pastores.  He was a corporal and the person to notify in case of an emergency (something very important for a soldier to provide) was his father Charles Thompson of Sherwood, Oregon.  A quick Internet search provided a photograph of his ship.

A year later, Carl Thompson sailed from Brest, France, on the USS Rhode Island in June of 1919.  He is still a corporal though he’s recorded as belonging to the 28th Company of the 20th Engineers.

Another example is Carl Thompson’s second cousin Carll Kirchem’s transport record.  Kirchem, a son of Walter and Laura (Robbins) Kirchem, was a private in the 20th Balloon Company organized under the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps, which acted as observation balloonists on the western front.  Carll Kirchem shipped out on the SS Duca d’Aosta on 21 October 1918, departure port not named.  The ship had been used as a passenger vessel before the war, transporting many European emigrants to Ellis Island.

After serving in Europe, Kirchem boarded his return ship, the USS Otsego, in Pauillac, France, located in the southwestern part of the country.  The ship sailed on 4 April 1919 and landed in Hoboken, New Jersey on April 18th.  The Otsego was originally the German steamship SS Prinz Eitel-Friedrich but had been taken over by the U.S. government during the war.  His emergency contact is his father Walter Kirchem in Oregon City.

These records don’t necessarily add new information in terms of family relationships but they do provide a small snapshot of service records and ship transport to and from Europe during the First World War, and the possibility of finding a photograph of the ships on which our ancestors crossed the Atlantic.  I’ll include more of these records in upcoming posts.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-William F. Robbins-Artemissa (Robbins) Thompson-Perry Carl Thompson)
(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-Nathaniel Norval Robbins-Laura (Robbins) Kirchem-Carll Kirchem)

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Moses Riley Robbins

A picture is worth a thousand words – which is good because I don’t have a thousand words to write about this one.  It’s one of my favorite photos, shared with me by cousin Linda Esquibel.  This is Moses Riley Robbins, born in Decatur County, Indiana, in 1838, and taken to Missouri and then Iowa at a young age.  He and his first wife Catherine and their two children left Iowa for Oregon in 1865, with brother Samuel Robbins and his family.  They settled in Benton County, Oregon, but sometime after 1880 moved to Victoria, British Columbia.  What inspired the move to Canada is not known, but Moses lived out his life there and has many descendants.

Linda reports that Moses was probably about 70 years of age when he was photographed riding an ostrich, which would date the photo to about 1908.  She also reports it was probably taken in Enderby, British Columbia, which is in the south-central part of the province, in the Okanagan region.  I tried to research ostriches specifically in Enderby but came up with a blank.  I did find that the early 1900s saw a lot of unusual animal-raising for food and other purposes in North America.  Ostriches were raised because their feathers were popular for women’s hats.

Strangely enough, when I shared this photo with my local genealogy society, at least one member said “I have one of my ancestor riding an ostrich too!”  Apparently, as I discovered searching Google Images on the Internet, it was very popular to ride ostriches and there are lots of old, early 1900s, photos of this activity.  Who knew?

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-Moses Riley Robbins)

Which William Was It?

You don’t have to research the Robbins family very long before you notice some first-names were used over and over again.  Even familiarity with the outline of the family doesn’t prevent confusion in trying to determine if it one Jacob Robbins or another which appears in a record.

William “Spectacle Billy” Robbins

Some of the names are common ones:  Jacob, William, Absalom, John, and Nathaniel, Nancy, Mary (or Polly), Elizabeth and Catherine.  Some names are less common, but still got repeated frequently:  Marmaduke, Micajah, Harrison, Norval, Bethiah, Theodoshia, and Mahala.

Early family historian William F. Robbins wrote about the naming patterns in the family and how nicknames were given to tell people apart from one another:


“Owing to the custom of giving one of the sons the name of the father, there came to be much confusion of names and many nicknames were used to distinguish them.  William the elder was “Old Billy,” and his son was known as “Spectacle Billy.”  Then there was “Rock Creek Billy,” Uncle Nat’s William, and Wilcord.  Of the Johns there were “Old Johnnie,” “Rockcreek Bill’s John,”   “Big Toe Jake’s John,” “John Henry,” “George’s Johnnie,” “Absolem’s John,” and Charity’s John Alex Purvis.  Of Jakes there were “Big Toe Jake,” “Oregon Jake,” “Old Billy’s Jacob,” “Buddy Jake,” and “William Anderson’s Jake.”  These names were not given in derision but to designate the person meant.  This confusion of names still persists as witness:  Will H., Will S., Will M., George William, Will F., William Riley, and William. Three men were known as Hence.  Dry Jake and “Aunt” Jim came from Scott County about 1849, and unless they are sons of the Uncle Jim referred to, there is no place in the family circle to which they can be assigned.  The name Hence is no doubt a corruption of Henry.  Dry Jake is said to have been so named because of want of moisture in his system, he neither spit nor sweat.  Aunt Jim earned his title by marrying a woman many years his senior who had already acquired the title of “Aunt.”

Some of these in the history we can clearly identify, others not so much.  For today, let’s take a look at some of the William Robbins’s.  “Old Billy” was William Robbins (1761-1834) while his son William (sometimes listed with a middle initial “B”) was “Spectacle Billy” (1797-1868), who apparently wore spectacles.  “Rock Creek Billy” (1801-1864) was the son of Jacob Robbins II, thus a nephew to “Old Billy” and a first cousin of “Spectacle Billy.”  “Uncle Nat’s William” was William Franklin Robbins (1816-1856) who moved to Oregon in 1852.  “Wilcord” has not been identified, at least by me (perhaps a reader of this blog knows who that is?).

We know of at least four “William Riley” Robbins’s and possibly more:  one was the son of “Rock Creek Billy” and his wife Elizabeth (Ferguson), one was the son of Jacob F. and Catherine (Myers) Robbins, another was the son of William Lewis and Mary Ann (Ferguson) Robbins, and John and Mary (Deweese) Robbins of neighboring Jennings County also had a William Riley Robbins.

Job Robbins and wife were the father of a William R. Robbins, as was John and Matilda (Barnes) Robbins, John Henry and Catherine (Ferguson) Robbins, and Jacob and Nancy Robbins of Scott County.  What do you bet each were really William Riley Robbins?

All of these William Robbins were related.  Today we struggle to sort them out and wonder if they knew each other.  Of course they did.  They had close relationships: father and son, uncle and nephew, first cousins, and second cousins, who all lived closely together.  The various nicknames helped identify them.

As I compile these family stories I’ll try to indicate which William or Jacob or Absalom I’m talking about!

Adventures of a Steamboat Captain

One of the busiest and most used transportation corridors in American history was (and still is) that of the Mississippi river valley.  Steamboats traveled the Mississippi river and its tributaries from the early 1800s up to the 20th century.  One of our kin, William Robbins of Hannibal, Missouri, was a steamboat pilot and captain on the Mississippi River, traveling between Keokuk, Iowa in the north and New Orleans in the far south.  His adventures in and around Hannibal recall the life stories of his near contemporary Mark Twain and that authors creations, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Hannibal, Missouri (1857)

Born in Kentucky in 1828, he, his parents, and his siblings moved to Decatur Co., Indiana, where they only spent a few years in the 1830’s before moving on to Marion Co., Missouri, where William was raised to adulthood.  When his father moved to Davis Co., Iowa, in the early 1850’s, William stayed behind, as he was already married and running a farm.  Within a few years he had begun piloting and then captaining the famous sidewheel steamboats.

There was danger in traveling the river: running aground, hitting snags, collisions, and scariest of all, fire!  William Robbins recounted in newspapers and reminiscences several instances of disaster on the river.

We are informed by Mr. WM. ROBBINS, pilot of the Des Moines, who arrived yesterday morning on the Hannibal City, that a terrible calamity occurred about 3 miles above St. Louis, the particulars of which we give below:  It seems that the steamers Hannibal City and Ocean Spray were running a race, both boats at the top of their speed, when suddenly it was discovered that the Ocean Spray was on fire, about midships on the lower deck.  The Pilot, with great presence of mind, turned the head of the boat towards shore and stood firm at his post until the boat was run ashore.—The pilot and his wife, with several others, jumped from the hurricane deck to the shore and escaped without material injury.  When this boat was first ascertained to be on fire, many of the passengers jumped over board and found a watery grave, many were burned to death, and we are informed by those who witnessed the appalling scene, that it was truly awful.

The shrieks of men, women and children, were heard above the din of the roaring elements, and though they could render no assistance at that time, still all on board the Hannibal City were anxious to do all in their power to alleviate the sufferings of the unfortunate passengers of the Ocean Spray.  There was a heavy wind blowing at the time, and had the Hannibal City attempted to have approached her, except with the greatest of caution, she must inevitably been burned too.

The steamer Keokuk, which was laid up immediately opposite the scene of action, was also set fire by the Ocean Spray in making her land, and was burnt to the waters edge.  The hulls of both boats, then floated down to the Island opposite St. Louis, when the ferry boat run out into the river, caught them and towed them to shore.

We are told that the entire blame of the whole affair rests on the officers of the Ocean Spray, as they had been for some time bantering the Hannibal City to a race, and thus it ends!

(“Terrible Accident!” Hannibal (Mo.) Messenger, Sat., 24 April 1858, p. 2, col. 2.)

Another time Robbins remembered when he was taking a trip on a river boat as a passenger:

“After he retired from the River, in 1877, he took a trip on the Golden Eagle with his friend Captain Dave Asbury from Canton, Missouri, who had also become a pilot in 1853.  Captain Asbury was in charge of the Golden Eagle at the time of this happening.  On that particular down-river trip to St. Louis, the Golden Eagle was completely destroyed by fire.  Robbins was en route to St. Louis on a business trip, and was carrying a large sum of cash in his wallet.  He was also taking a calf to market.

He was sound asleep when the cry, “Fire! Fire!” awakened him.  He hurriedly jumped up and pulled on his trousers and ran out of his stateroom and found his calf on the lower deck.  Half asleep, he had not yet realized the seriousness of the fire.  Stumbling through the darkness leading the calf, they both fell down the forward hatchway into the hold.  But they finally made their way to safety.

Captain Asbury had ordered the boat to pull to shore.  Luckily, they were close enough to the shore, all the passengers were rescued before the boat was complete destroyed.  Robbins saw other Hannibal people of his acquaintance, one of whom was Mr. Spencer Carter, a mill owner and banker. Robbins helped Mr. Carter and his daughter to shore.

Suddenly, Robbins remembered he had neglected to retrieve his wallet from under his pillow where he had hidden it.  In the old steamboat days, when men bunked down they hung their trousers at the foot of the berth.  Robbery was so common that valuables were never left in the pants pockets as thieves would naturally look in the pockets.  It was too late to go back to the boat, so he lost a large sum of money.”

(“A Steamboat Fire and Miller Township Man,” in Withers Mill—Miller Township: A Collection of Stories about a Neighborhood (1989) by J. Hurley Hagood and Roberta Roland Hagood.)

William Robbins (1828-1904)

At least through his almost twenty years of piloting and captaining river boats, and the rest of his lifetime of traveling on them, William Robbins only lost his wallet and not his life!  He was found dead of a heart attack in his farm’s pasture in 1904 and is buried in the Bear Creek Cemetery in the countryside outside of Hannibal.

(Family line:  Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-William Robbins)