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)