Businessman, Mayor, State Legislator – The Career of Jacob Harvey Robbins

It’s not often that you see a relative’s name on a bank note.  But in 1899 Jacob Harvey (J. H.) Robbins moved to the small mining town of Sumpter, in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, organized the First National Bank of Sumpter and issued National Bank Notes.  J. H. Robbins was the consummate businessman – involved in mining, banking, sales, produce distribution, and much more, and he pursued these activities in a wide variety of locations throughout the Pacific Northwest.

First National Bank of Sumpter

J. H. Robbins was born in 1859 near Salem, Oregon.  He lived with his parents in the Blue Mountains where his father Harvey was one of the first into the Granite district’s gold mining area in 1862.  He went to school in Pendleton or Baker City during the winter months, and then graduated from the Portland Business College in 1879.  What he learned at the college stood him in good stead for the rest of his varied career.  He and his wife Edith have descendants today.  A summary of J.H.’s career follows.

Jacob Harvey Robbins

He first worked in the mill and assay office at the Monumental mine in Baker County, one of the largest mines located in the steep mountain country east of Granite, which was reportedly first discovered by his father Harvey, along with Isaac Nail and Isaac Klopp.  A 2004 National Forest Service “site inspection” report on several mines in this area included a detailed map of the remains and ruins of the site.

Outline of Monumental Mine remains as drawn by National Forest Service site inspection

Then J.H. moved north to the ranching community of Pilot Rock where he managed Alexander & Lobenstein’s general store from 1880 to 1883.  In that latter year he began keeping the books for Heistad & Loveridge in Echo, Oregon, west of Pendleton, in the wide-open sage-brush country of northern Oregon.  Newton Loveridge was his uncle, having married Amanda Minerva Robbins.  For two years J. H. engaged in real estate brokerage in Pendleton and then he was elected Umatilla County Treasurer in 1888, which office he held until 1893.  In 1889 he was appointed assistant cashier of the Pendleton Savings Bank, which he retired from in 1893.  From then until 1899 he worked as a receiver at the La Grande Land Office and was vice-president and director of the Farmer & Trader National Bank.

J. H. Robbins in Oregon State Legislature

In 1899 Jacob Harvey Robbins moved to Sumpter, back in Baker County, but not far from the Granite mining community in which he had grown up, now completing a circle from Grant county, north to Umatilla county, then down to Union county (La Grande), and to Baker county back on the border with Grant.  In Sumpter he organized his bank and issued his bank notes.  In addition he served as mayor of Sumpter and then was elected to the State House of Representatives from Baker County in 1903.  Sumpter was a booming city in the early 1900s but was already in decline when a large fire swept through in 1917.  Today, Sumpter is the center of both outdoor and historic recreation, with the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, an old railroad, and the remaining buildings from the town’s heyday, being a big draw for tourists.

But J. H. Robbins didn’t stay many years as in 1904 he moved north to Spokane, where his parents Harvey and Perlina Robbins were already living.  That year he organized Robbins, Pratt & Robbins Co., a furniture store, in Spokane with his brother Chester Robbins. All of his business activities after that are less well known.  In 1910 he was in Yakima, then he was back in Spokane and associated with the Northern Pacific Fruit Distributors, and later in Ashland where he worked for the Ashland Fruit & Produce Association.  In the 1940 census, at the age of 80, J. H. Robbins is listed as an inmate in the Oregon Masonic and Eastern Star Home for the Aged.  And yet, he continued to live until 1953, when he finally died after 94 years of a very long and eventful life.

He studied in the large city of Portland, he worked in the predominantly ranching and farming communities of Pendleton and Pilot Rock, he lived and worked in the small mining communities of Granite and Sumpter, conducted business in the city of Spokane, and later distributed fruit in the southern city of Ashland.  At one point he considered relocating to Boise.  He ended his life in McMinnville, a small city west of Portland.  Many of our ancestors lived their entire lives in one single town or county, but Jacob Harvey Robbins explored all the opportunities that the (inland) Pacific Northwest had to offer.

(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Harvey Robbins-Jacob Harvey Robbins)

National DNA Day

DNA Day, celebrated on April 25th each year, honors the discovery of the DNA double helix by James Watson and Frances H. C. Crick, and the beginning of DNA research as we know it.  But, more immediately for us, it’s an excuse for all the DNA testing companies to offer great price-saving deals.  If you were thinking of taking a DNA test, now is a great time to save some money.

The companies always reduce their fees during events such as this, as well as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, during the summer, and around the Christmas holiday.  Check out the websites for Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage for deals this week or even special one-day-only deals tomorrow.

One of the companies. FamilyTreeDNA, promotes various projects, as their site describes: “Projects create opportunities for people to work with others to explore their common genetic heritage. Family Tree DNA encourages customers’ participation in projects. Membership is free and voluntary.”

One of the projects they promote is the Robbins/Robins DNA project.  Their website is:  There are no restrictions on membership in this project and while the focus is on Y-DNA (passed from father to son), the results from mitochondrial (passed from mother to children) and autosomal (the DNA we receive from both of our parents) tests can also be included in the project’s results.  That’s good news for those of us who are not Robbins surnamed males – our Robbins descent comes down one of the many other lines of our family tree – who otherwise would not be able to use Y-DNA results to trace a direct male-Robbins ancestry.  I’m no expert in DNA and genealogy, despite attending lectures and seminars (such as the one last week my local genealogy society put on), and am always learning something new about it’s complex role in genealogy.

DNA projects and research are an important focus of today’s family history, but the science goes hand in hand with the paper trail that genealogists develop from their research.


A Robbins Family in Galt, California

I can never take a vacation where I don’t visit at least one family cemetery going or coming to my destination.  This year was no different.  During a trip to California I stopped by the Galt Cemetery in the town of Galt.

Robbins family plot in Galt Cemetery, Galt, California

Last June I wrote a blog post titled “Serious Trouble at Millhousen” about the death of Fount Robbins, shot in bar in Decatur County, Indiana.  For the longest time I had been unable to find much information about Fount and his wife Lovisa’s children, Daniel and Emma.  Family historian Mary Kate Horner had some information and Decatur County historian and cousin Dale Myers added more.  Emma, I learned, remained in Decatur County and was married to Everett Logan; they had two children and it is not known if there are descendants today.  There was also a family story that Dan Robbins only had one arm, but where did he end up?  Well, he was far away from Indiana.

I finally discovered him living in Galt, California, just south of Sacramento.  In fact, Daniel had been living there with his wife and children by the 1880s, long before his father’s death in 1893.  I now have an outline of the Robbins family of Galt, still not a lot of details, but more than I had before.

Daniel Henry Robbins was married to Louisa Armstrong in May of 1880 in Gaynorsville, Indiana – a small community in Decatur County – by Justice of the Peace Enoch Proctor.  The following month they were enumerated in the federal census living in the household of his parents, Fount and Lovisa Robbins.  Daniel was not listed as having an occupation, but there was a notation that he had “left hand off,” thereby collaborating the family story about a physical impairment.

According to Daniel’s obituary the couple moved to California the fall of 1880, while Louisa’s indicates it was in 1889, when the family first lived in Elk Grove before moving to Galt.  In fact, at least two of their children were born in Indiana.  What brought them west at that time and to that community?  They had four children: Charles Augustus (born in Indiana), Jessie H. (born in Indiana), Gracie (birth date and place unknown – she died in infancy), and Ella May (born in California).

In 1890, 1892, 1894, 1896 and 1898 Daniel Robbins is found in the voter registration rolls of Sacramento County.  In the 1900 census the Robbins family is found in Dry Creek Township of Sacramento County, which includes the town of Galt and surrounding area, and Daniel is listed as a farm laborer.  The family seems to have attended the local Methodist church.

Of the children, Charles Augustus Robbins was married to Lura Oldham about 1902, possibly in San Francisco.  Daughter Jessie was married to James Humphrey and Ella was married to Lloyd Dooling.  Only Charles had children, one daughter Dorothy Robbins (1919-1998).

Daniel Robbins gravestone

Daniel Robbins died in 1909.  His obituary reported:  The sudden and unexpected death of Daniel Henry Robbins occurred here last Sunday morning, January 24th.  Death resulted from tumor on the brain.  The deceased had been ill for only about one month.”  He was fifty-four years old.

Louisa Robbins gravestone

All of the children of Daniel and Louisa, strangely enough, died before the death of their mother.  Charles died in 1938, Jessie in 1919, and Ella in 1927.  Louisa Robbins, however, lived until 1942.  All of the family are buried in the Galt Cemetery, and I found their graves this past week.  Each member of the family has a similar type of gravestone and they are enclosed in a low concrete outline with lawn inside.  The family plot was clearly marked but it took a couple of searches through the cemetery to locate it.

excerpt from Louisa Robbins obituary

It’s not often that you find the following included in an obituary, as this was in Louisa’s:  “Although her husband and all four children preceded her in death, she maintained a cheerful attitude and devoted her life to helping others.  She was one of the best friends this writer ever had, and will be sorely missed, not only by me, but scores of others.”

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Fountain Robbins-Daniel Henry Robbins)