One of the topics I’ll be covering over multiple posts in this blog are stories about the Oregon Trail and the Robbins families who crossed the continent. I’ve researched and written about them for a number of years so there is a lot to share. For those who aren’t familiar with which family groups left Indiana, or Missouri, or Iowa, for the Pacific Northwest, this post will serve as a general introduction.
Between 1845 and 1865 there were seven family groups that crossed the continent, comprising 77 family members. Nine of the 77 died en route or upon arrival in Oregon. Over the course of twenty years, the jump-off point moved north from Missouri to Iowa, and the organization and make-up of the wagon trains changed, from large formal groups with elected officers and hired guides, to solo family wagons traveling loosely with other family wagons.
The first family to make the trek was that of John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren. The couple were married back in Henry Co., Kentucky, and moved up to Decatur Co., Indiana, with the Robbins migrations in the 1820s. By 1840 they had moved to Missouri, settling in Platte County just north of Independence and Kansas City. In 1842, the Rev. Enoch Garrison, John Herren’s brother-in-law, emigrated to Oregon, and John was determined to follow.
In 1845 the Herrens joined one of the largest wagon trains, the St. Joseph Division, and set out from Missouri. William T’Vault was elected captain and John Herren was elected to the Committee of Safety, responsible for drafting wagon train rules and regulations. This year became infamous as the year of the “Meek Cutoff.” The Herrens joined a group of emigrants who followed mountain man Stephen Meek across eastern and central Oregon on what he promised was an easier route. It wasn’t. It may have been easy for fur trappers but wagons with oxen and families were different. The party got lost, then got hungry, and barely made it alive up to Fort Dalles on the Columbia. A surviving portion of John Herrens’ diary covers this route and will be the topic of a future post, as will the stories of the Herrens’ discovery of the Blue Bucket gold mine while stumbling around the Oregon desert.
The next groups to cross the continent were the families of Nathaniel and Jacob Robbins. Nathaniel’s large family group of 31 got an early start by leaving Decatur County in September of 1851 and wintering over in Randolph County, Missouri, at a farm rented for the winter by son William Franklin Robbins. During the winter Nathaniel returned to Indiana to take care of some business and when he came back west he was accompanied by his cousin Jacob Robbins and his large family, bringing the party up to 42 family members.
This was the family group that was hit so severely with cholera in southern Nebraska, losing four members of Nathaniel’s family. They had left Missouri late, probably the last people on the trail for the year, and by the time they arrived in Oregon it was November. Illness took another four members, two of Jacob’s sons and two of Nathaniel’s grandchildren, once in Oregon.
The following year they were followed by Marquis Lindsay Robbins. He was the son of John Robbins and was born in Henry County, Kentucky. John and his family lived in Decatur County only in the 1830s, moving on to Missouri and Iowa by 1840. (Another of John’s sons was the steamboat captain William Robbins covered in an earlier post.) It was from Chariton County, Missouri, that Lindsay began his trip west with his wife and four children. Strangely, he encountered two orphan boys, Orlando and Aaron Robbins, along the trail and brought them west to be taken care of by Jacob Robbins. It is not known if they were “born” Robbins or took the name from their adopted father.
The remaining three emigrant parties were brothers of Lindsay, who had all been born in Decatur County. John Hudson Robbins left Iowa in 1862 with his family, losing his wife Hester and a still-born daughter in eastern Oregon, and three years later in 1865, he was followed by Samuel and Moses Riley Robbins also leaving from Iowa. Their treks are the least documented.
There were other family members coming to the Pacific Northwest in the following years but by the time of the Civil War the Oregon Trail years had come to a close. Future travelers were more likely to come by train or, much later, by motor car!