First to Oregon: John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren

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

John and Dosha (Robbins) Herren

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

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

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

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

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

John Herren’s Donation Land Claim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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