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.

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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.”

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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), Ancestry.com 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)