Serious Trouble at Millhousen

As the Saturday Review of Greensburg, Indiana, headlined on October 7, 1893, there was “Serious Trouble at Millhousen Saturday Afternoon: Fount Robbins Shot by Ferdinand Miller and Can Not Recover, the Doctors Say.”  Other local newspapers had similar headlines.

Another newspaper headline.

In the 1882 Atlas of Decatur County a brief description of Millhousen is presented:

“The principal town [of Marion Township] is Millhousen, an exclusively Catholic town, situate on Squaw Run, in the southeastern part of the township, with a population of perhaps four hundred.  It contains hotels, large tannery, planning-mill and sash and door factory, several stores and saloons.  It also has a Catholic Church, with a membership of 2,000 – the largest church in Decatur County, which has been for a long time under the care of Rev. Father Pepersack.  Millhousen is the most picturesque town in the county, and does a good business, being the center of a large German population, which extends into the adjoining counties.”

This story involves a man named Fountain Ballard Robbins, not common personal names in the Robbins family of Decatur County.  Fount, as he was known, was the youngest son of Marmaduke and Elizabeth (Parsley) Robbins.  Perhaps Fount began to go off the rails when his father died when he was only four-years-old, the ninth child of a now widowed mother. Perhaps he didn’t enjoy farming, of which some of his siblings made a successful living, or maybe he just wasn’t interested in one of the other occupations available to young men in a rural county in the mid-1800s.  Fount was a problem child.  As described by one newspaper at the time of his death: “He has been in a number of unsavory affrays, was generally considered of a pugnacious disposition.”  But in his final “affray”, Fount Robbins seems to have been an innocent victim.

The Greensburg newspapers and the county coroner’s inquest records provide the story of Founts death, though they don’t agree in all details.  The event took place on Saturday, September 30th, Fount Robbins died a week later on Friday, October 6th, and the inquest took place the next day, the 7th.

Ferdinand Miller, formerly of Millhousen, now of North Vernon just to the south in Jennings county, and George Speckbaugh (variously spelled) had been visiting in Millhousen, and by one report “drinking during the day and by evening had become pretty well loaded with bad liquor.”  There were a couple of saloons in Millhousen at the time, and they decided to go visit John Witkemper’s drinking establishment.  (The location of saloons are indicated on the map – probably on the same block as today’s Stones Family Restaurant.)

Map of Millhousen (1882)

According to a witness at the coroner’s inquest, Miller asked Witkemper why he’d thrown him out of the saloon.  Witkemper said he hadn’t.  Then Fount Robbins spoke up and said to Miller “…if you have anything against me step up and I will knock seven kinds of Hell out of you.”  Miller responded with “you will, will you?” and shot at the same time, saying “damn you, take that.”

A newspaper article the following week, after the coroner’s report, gave a clearer story:

“…the facts seem to be that Ferdinand Miller and Fount Robbins, an attache of the place, were in the saloon with Witkemper when Miller asked Robbins to go with him to Spander’s saloon.  Witkemper told Robbins to attend to the stock first.  Miller objected to Witkemper’s remarks and said he was “no gentleman,” but walked out alone without making any further disturbance at that time.  Directly however he returned and again told Witkemper he was “no gentleman.”  Witkemper began trying to explain matters when Robbins spoke up: “Well I’ll tell you how it was —-“ when he was cut short by a shot from Miller’s revolver, a 32 caliber self-acting Colt.  The ball struck him just below the waist, penetrating the bowels, and inflicting a wound…”

Coroner’s Inquest

The local constable, John Pfifer, unclear as to whether the dispute was between Miller and Robbins or Miller and Witkemper and Robbins just happened to be in the way, reported that he had just entered the saloon when Miller fired.  “I then caught him by [the] coat collar and Witkemper took the pistol out of his hand. I placed him under arrest…”  Meanwhile, Fount Robbins was carried upstairs into Witkemper’s home.  The newspaper tried to be optimistic but also reported that Fount’s physicians said his chances were slim.  The physicians were right, Fount died four days later.

Fount Robbins was a widower at the time of the shooting, though his wife Lovisa’s death date is not known.  Both are buried in the Mount Aerie cemetery.  They had two children, both of whom lived elsewhere with their families, possibly to avoid their cantankerous father.  Daniel Robbins lived as far away as he could, in the Sacramento, California, area and may have never returned to Indiana.  Daughter Emma Robbins was living in Hope, Indiana, at the time of her father’s death, though later returned to Decatur County.  She was married to Everett Logan and they had a son Edgar Scott Logan, nicknamed “Peck” Logan, according to late Decatur County historian Dale Myers.  There may be descendants of Fount and Lovisa in existence but Fount’s family was so much smaller than his siblings, the few that might exist have not been located to date.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Fountain Ballard Robbins)

William Franklin Robbins (1816-1856)

William Franklin Robbins, not to be confused with another of the same name (the family historian in Decatur County who read his noted history at the 1922 Robbins reunion), was the eldest surviving child of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins and an Oregon Trail emigrant of 1852.

No photographs were ever taken of William and for the longest time his personality and thoughts were hidden to us, with only his name, dates, and tragic death being passed down through family.  In 1999 while searching through Greensburg newspapers looking for any mention of my family’s trek to Oregon, I came across a letter written by William describing in detail the events of that trip.  Titled “Journey to Oregon,” the letter appeared on the front-page of two issues of the The Decatur Press in 1853.  Suddenly, I had an impression of a man who for so long seemed to hide in the shadow of his parents and much longer lived siblings.

William Franklin Robbins was born in Henry County, Kentucky, to Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.  Nathaniel and Nancy were cousins – Nathaniel’s father William was the brother of Nancy’s father Absalom.  After a few short years in Bond County, Illinois, the family came back east and settled in Decatur County where they lived until the fall of 1851.

Melvina (Myers) Robbins

William was married in 1836 to Melvina Myers, a woman whose sad photo does survive, the daughter of George and Margaret Myers of Decatur County.  The Myers had a large family, and one of George’s descendants was Dale Myers, long-time historian of Decatur County and a good friend.

Not found in the 1850 Decatur County census, it is possible that William was already en route to Missouri with his family, where he was going to rent a place to winter over before moving to Oregon.  In the fall of 1851, Nathaniel and Nancy and all their children, in-laws, and grandchildren, arrived in Missouri and stayed at the son’s rented farm.

While not a day by day journal of the trip, it is a very complete account, and William describes in detail the events, not to mention the daily health issues, of the members of the family.  The biggest event, of course, was the death of three of his sisters from cholera in Nebraska, and I’ll post more excerpts from William’s letter in later articles about this tragic event but today I’ll just describe William’s heartbreaking description of the death of his 11-year-old son Gilman once the party arrived in Oregon in November.

“Gilman was able to walk out of doors without help, which he had not been able to do for some time, and he appeared to be a little better until Thursday morning, when he was taken with a severe diarrhoea, and he being very weak with the fever it soon ran him down, and Friday morning about breakfast time he died.  This was the hardest stroke that ever fell on me, he was such a good boy in our train; he received several presents as a reward for his good behavior and attention to business.  When I found he was dying I ran for some of the neighbors to come in, I went first to old Mr. Moors, Mrs. Moor went back with me, and the old man went for others, in a few minutes Mrs. Divas came; Mrs. Moor closed his eyes, when she came to me and asked me if we had any clothes to put on him, I told her that we had none but what was dirty and ragged, and nobody able to wash any, she told me to cheer up and she would be my friend.  She went home and brought clothes clean, washed and ironed, that fitted him, then her and Mrs. Divas laid him out.  She gave me money and told me to go to Mr. Barnes and get a coffin, and Nat went to Willamette city to get his uncle Dow and Norvil to dig a grave as there was no chance to get help here.  Dow and Norvil came back with Nat, all as wet as they could be.  It was as hard a days rain as I have seen in Oregon; it rained so hard, and was so late in the day that there was no chance to get a grave dug that day; the days being very short, much shorter then they ever get in Indiana.  This was the 17th day of November; next day they dug a grave and buried him on a bench in the bluff above Lynn city, in a beautiful spot that had been selected by the citizens of Lynn city as a graveyard; there had been two or three buried there before.” [note: no cemetery has survived and Gilman’s grave is now lost].

Once in Oregon, the job of building a new life began.  William joined his family members in taking out a Donation Land Claim west of the Willamette River in the current area of Wilsonville and Tualatin.  But a long life was not to be for this intrepid traveler.  In 1856, in one more tragedy for this family less than four years after arrival in Oregon, William lost his life in a hunting accident.  His daughter Melissa wrote years later of that event and William’s funeral:

“But how soon happiness can be turned to sorrow for when I was but four years old Father was taken from us by death in the accidental discharge of his gun while trailing a Bear in company with his Brothers, tho so young I could always remember seeing his body carried from the forest and of being lifted up to view him for the last time as he lay in his casket.  There being no horse teams in our community except Grandfathers [Nathaniel Robbins] which  hitched to a wagon in which was placed the casket and in which Mother [Melvina], baby sister [Artemissa] and I also rode with the rest of the crowd walking we proceeded to the Cemetery one half mile distant and there without a Minister of God to offer a last prayer or to speak one word of comfort to the grief stricken ones his body was laid to rest and while I was too young to realize my loss yet Mother’s heart broken sobbings at that time has followed me through life.”

Fatal Accident

William Franklin Robbins may have died before his time, but his legacy lives on in one of the largest groups of descendants of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel/Nancy Robbins-William Franklin Robbins)

Seven Families West

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!

Remembering War Dead

On Memorial Day, Americans frequently visit cemeteries and place flags and flowers on the grave of anyone who has served in America’s armed forced.  But Memorial Day is officially the day for remembering those who died while in military service.  We have many, many relatives in the Robbins family who have served in the military, and we also have those who died while in service.  An early post on this blog told the story of Jefferson Robbins and his lonely grave in southern Indiana.  This post will discuss his uncle Harrison Robbins who is buried in a more prominent location.

Gravestone of Harrison Robbins

Harrison Robbins was born about 1820 in Henry County, Kentucky, and taken by his parents Micajah and Elizabeth Robbins north to Decatur County, Indiana, sometime in the early 1830s.  Later as a young man he moved south to Breckinridge County, Kentucky, where other Robbins’ were moving from Indiana, and where in 1845 he was married to Eleanor Swink. (As an aside, in the future, various Swinks and Robbins would move to Colorado, settling in Otero County, where the small town of Swink exists to this day – but that’s a story for a future post).  There seems to have been quite a bit of travel back and forth between Decatur County and Breckinridge County.  We find many of our family living in one place one year, the other place a couple years later, then back to their original location several years after that.  And in fact, by 1847, Harrison, Eleanor, and their first-born child Elizabeth, were in Decatur County.

Harrison was not young, about 41 years old, when he enlisted on 18 September 1861.  He and Eleanor had six children by then:  Elizabeth, Rachel, Ann, Henry C., Lafayette (“Lafe”), and Stephen Robbins.  What made a man of his age, a husband, and a father, enlist in the Union Army?  He must have been motivated by patriotism and devotion to the preservation of the Union.  His enlistment came just two months after the first Battle of Bull Run, which the Union lost, and which demonstrated that the Union wasn’t going to be preserved without bloodshed.  His political views might possibly be determined by the name of one of his sons, Henry Clay Robbins, as the noted political leader Henry Clay, by then deceased, was known as “the Great Compromiser,” who stood for the Union above all else.

Whatever the reason, after enlistment, Harrison was mustered into the 37th Indiana Infantry at Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  The 37th was attached to the Army of the Ohio, and ordered to Kentucky in October of 1861.  After that the regiment was involved in the invasion of Tennessee and the capture of Huntsville, Alabama.  In June of 1862 Harrison was promoted to the rank of corporal and was then involved in the siege and capture of Nashville in the fall of 1862.  In December, the Army of the Ohio, now under the command of William S. Rosecrans, moved southeast from Nashville and took position near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The Battle of Stones River opened on December 31, 1862.  Both the Union and the Confederate commanders (Rosecrans and Bragg) planned attacks that day, but Bragg was quicker.  The Union Army was hit hard and driven back, but not driven from the field.  Over the next several days they fought off several Confederate attacks and in the end it was Bragg who led his Confederates back south.  The battle was noted for having the highest percentage of casualties on both sides.  Sadly, Harrison Robbins was one of those casualties.

Excerpt from George Puntenney’s “History of the Thirty-seventh regiment of Indiana infantry volunteers : its organization, campaigns, and battles–Sept., ’61-Oct., ’64”

The only thing we know specifically about his death is what his widow Eleanor reported in her pension application a few months later, that “….his death was caused by being shot through the bowels…”  In 1864, the 111th United States Colored Troops disinterred bodies from the Stones River and other battlefields, and reburied them in the newly established Stones River National Cemetery.  Today that is where Harrison Robbins rests.  I’ve visited that cemetery twice over the years and Harrison’s grave is a very easy one to find, just a few steps from the central flag pole.

Harrison’s children ranged in age from 3 to 15 years and Eleanor wasted no time in applying for a widow’s pension.  It’s too bad that it’s from a such a record that we have this information, but Eleanor did list all of her children and their birth dates and places, a listing we can’t find for a lot of families of the same time period.  She never remarried but the family seems to have split somewhat.  In 1870 only some can be found in the U.S. census.  Rachel and brother Lafayette, for example, are found living in the household of a C. and Rachel Kirby.

Over the years, the children separated even further.  Daughter Elizabeth (Robbins) Murray ended up in Benton County, Indiana, with her family; son Henry C. Robbins lived in Kansas and Missouri before moving to Sheridan, Wyoming; Lafayette Robbins joined some of his Robbins and Swink cousins in Colorado, where he died in 1924.  He had been married to Maleta Hubbard in 1911 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky – he returned to Kentucky from the west to marry into a family who already had several Robbins connections.  Harrison’s widow Eleanor lived with her daughter Elizabeth Murray and died in 1883.  It is not known if she died in Decatur or Benton County.

Stones River National Cemetery

Today Harrison Robbins’ grave is in a prominent national cemetery, as part of the Stones River National Battlefield.  A long way from home, but not forgotten.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Micajah Robbins-Harrison Robbins)

 

Harvey Robbins and the Rogue River Indian War

A recent trip to southern Oregon got me thinking about cousin Harvey Robbins and his experiences in the 1855-56 Rogue River Indian War.  The route I traveled, along Interstate 5, is pretty much the same rugged route that Harvey traveled with his state militia company in rain and snow.  Today the freeway climbs and descends four passes between Grants Pass and Canyonville.  In Harvey’s time each of the intervening valleys had a fort that played a part in the war.

By 1855 the Takelma Indians were living on their treaty-established Table Rock Reservation in southern Oregon.  After a massacre by miners that year the Indians began taking revenge against miners and settlers in the area, which led the tribe to flee west down the Rogue River Valley and into the Coast Range.  Other related tribes to the north attacked isolated cabins in the valleys of Jump Off Joe Creek, Graves Creek, Wolf Creek, and Cow Creek.  The fear of Indians moved north into the Umpqua country and ultimately the Willamette Valley.  Governor Curry called up several companies of volunteers from the upper Willamette and Umpqua area counties.

Brothers Levi and Harvey Robbins (1850s)

Harvey Robbins, born in Decatur County, Indiana, in 1833, came across the Oregon Trail at the age of 19, with his parents Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins, all his siblings, as well as his cousin Nathaniel Robbins and his large family.  The family settled initially in Marion County, with some later moving on to Molalla, in Clackamas county.  Harvey, however, took out a donation land claim in Linn County, near Harrisburg.

As Harvey described the situation in the fall of 1855:

“By this time I had become of age and had taken up a parcel of land in Linn county.  When the call reached Linn County the news spread rapidly, runners going in all directions.  One came to me where I was plowing on the prairie and informed me of the urgent need for haste.  I at once unhitched my team from the plow and turned them loose to find their way home while I went to the claim of a young friend a couple of miles away.  He had two excellent saddle horses and I secured one of them and we rode hastily to the nearest assembly point.  We then met a number of other young fellows and all of us at once signed the necessary papers.  We were then ready to fall into line when called out.”  (Pioneer Reminiscences by Harvey Robbins).

We are lucky that Harvey Robbins kept a journal which survived and which was published in 1933 in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, as well as having written up his reminiscences.  In the journal Harvey describes the events of October 1855 to January 1856.

After marching south to Roseburg, Harvey described the “lack of respect” that the local residents affording the volunteers.  “The citizens of this place seem to treat the volunteers with but little respect.  One man has even forbade our cutting wood on his claim.  We just went to his wood that was already chopped and helped ourselves.”  The following day he reported: “Rained all night.  We have no tents yet.  The citizens will not even let us sleep in their barns.  A person may very easily imagine what kind of respect the volunteers begin to have for Umpquaians.”  (Oct. 29-30, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

The various companies elected a battalion officer and then they were on their way south, marching to Fort Bailey (now the location of the historic Wolf Creek Tavern).  There Harvey and his fellow soldiers learned of the army’s defeat at the hands of the Indians at the Battle of Hungry Hill.

Oregon vigilantes

Harvey’s company left Fort Bailey for Fort Leland (today situated next to Interstate 5 in the Sunny Valley) and then they were marched west down Grave Creek to the Rogue River, and then down the rugged Rogue, where the river plunges into canyons inaccessible to anyone but foot soldiers.

“The spy of yesterday morning arrived at camp, reported that the Indians were, he thought from all appearances, preparing to fight.  Capt. Keeney’s company was ordered to cross the river with [the] Southern battalion.  While preparing rafts to cross the river we were attacked by the Indians from the opposite side of the river.  Killed one man, wounded 22 more, Capt. Keeney’s company.  The river runs here in a deep canyon.  The side on which the Indians were is covered with fir timber and brush so thick that we could not see them.  The side on which we were was open with the exception of a few scattering trees.  As soon as the firing commenced Capt. Keeney ordered his men, every one to choose a position behind something to shelter us from their sight.  10 minutes before he advised us, all that were not at work, to get behind something and keep a close lookout for Indians, but the boys disposed to laugh at him.  The firing commenced at about 1 o’clock, continued till 8 o’clock at night, when seeing it was impossible to accomplish our object or even do any good in any way, we left the field, carrying our killed and wounded with us to our camp.”  (Nov. 26, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

The soldiers stayed where they were, firing back and forth with the Indians for several days, but after a storm left 10 inches of snow, and with provisions running low, the officers decided to return to the safety of the forts.  Once there the soldiers proceeded to vote for a Colonel and Lieutenant-colonel, Harvey writing: “The candidates have been shouting here today, telling us their views and what they would do if elected.  If they make their words good, woe unto the Indians.”  (Dec. 5, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

Rugged Rogue River country near Indian battle sites

On December 16, Harvey reported that provisions were again running low.  “This morning we are out of meat, and having made several applications to the quartermaster for meat, and could not get it, Captain had discovered in the quartermasters house a keg of syrup which he called for, and the quartermaster swore that he should not have it.  Captain swore that he would.  He came to camp and took a few boys with him and just walked in, carried it out, and said “Here boys, take it,” and Mr. Quartermaster took care not to cheep.”

As the month wore on, and the weather worsened, and the supplies were running out, Harvey reported on Christmas Eve “Today there is considerable of murmuring in camp about the way we are getting treated here.  We are very poorly clad, and in fact we have no suitable equipment for a winter campaign and it seems there is no exertion used for our relief with the exception of Captain.”  On Christmas the soldiers received “a bucket full of brandy” from the quartermaster.  Captain Keeney asked for a furlough for his men, was denied, and he marched them anyway to Roseburg, for which he was temporarily suspended from command by the Governor.

So ends Harvey Robbins’ involvement in the Rogue River Indian War.  But we’ll be hearing more from Harvey later – he also participated in the Yakima Indiana War, ran a freighting service in eastern Oregon, mined and ranched in Oregon and Washington, and late in life returned to Decatur County, Indiana, to attend the 1922 Robbins Family Reunion.

(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins II-Jacob Robbins III-Harvey Robbins)

John Milton Hamilton – A Rough, Western Life

After first appearing in the 1850 census as a 2-month-old, Milton Hamilton next appears in records when he was run over by a covered wagon.

“…about 5 oc this afternoon Milton hamilton fell out of the wagon and 2 wheels run over his brest but it is thought he will recover…”

Picture3

So wrote John N. Lewis, a young man hired by John Milton Hamilton’s grandfather Nathaniel Robbins, in his 1852 Oregon Trail journal.  Miraculously the toddler did survive the accident on July 8th and the trip across the plains that took the lives of three of his aunts, one of his uncles, and several of his cousins.

Milton was born in 1850 in Indiana, to John Henry Hamilton and Mary Jane Robbins, both from large, well-known Decatur county families.  At a little over one year old he was taken by his parents on the beginning of their trip west, and the following year suffered his wagon wheel accident.

After the Robbins family arrived in Oregon, Milton grew up in the very northwestern part of Clackamas county, where Nathaniel Robbins and his family members settled.  John and Jane Hamilton’s 328-acre Donation Land Claim was situated on the north side of current Advance Road, between S.W. Stafford and S.W. 45th Drive, near Wilsonville, Oregon.

About 1872, all of the Hamiltons, parents and children, left the Willamette Valley and moved to Grant County, Oregon, settling in a high dry valley along Deer Creek.  The Hamilton family gave their name to the area and the small settlement of “Hamilton” grew up along the stage road.  Despite living in the back end of a remote county, they traveled a lot more extensively by horse and wagon and foot than we can imagine today.  They returned occasionally to western Oregon and on one trip in 1879 Milton married Adaletta (“Lettie”) Foreman at the home of Jasper Fuller in Portland.  His brother Sebastian Hamilton was a witness, as was his cousin Margarette Sharp’s husband John Cairns.

Father John Hamilton ranched, raced horses, and was elected to serve in the state Senate from Grant County before losing nearly everything after some bad investments.  The Hamilton boys did what many pioneers did in eastern Oregon at this time, ranched and mined.  Milton’s 160-acre ranch was located east of the family settlement.

He appeared in the local Canyon City newspaper at times, for mundane reasons such as being associated with new roads, as well as getting into, well, scrapes:

“From Mr. Henry Welch who came over last Monday from his home on the North Fork we learn just the meagre particulars of a cutting scrape that occurred at Hamilton on Saturday night last.  What the row was about we do not know but Walker Hinton cut Milton Hamilton with a knife quite severely in the arm, face, and the right side.  The preliminary examination was to have been had on Monday, but as the authorities have not arrived at the county seat with the prisoner it is presumed that he gave bonds or was acquitted.”  (Grant County News (Canyon City, Ore.), 28 March 1889)

A week later we learn:

“Hinton who stabbed Hamilton last week was placed under $1,000 bonds, we are informed, for his appearance before the next grand jury, Hamilton will soon recover, it is thought.”  (Grant County News, 4 April 1889)

While no further information on Walker Hinton was found, this was in a late June issue of the newspaper:

“Milt Hamilton who was so very severely cut and stabbed last spring is now being treated by electricity for the recovery of his injured arm.”  (Grant County News, 20 June 1889)

Milton Hamilton recovered once again and continued to ranch and work the mines.  But in 1894, at the age of 43, Milton’s luck ran out and he was killed in a mining accident.

Milton Hamilton death 1_NEW.jpg

According to the article Milton was killed at the Dunlap mine, while family stories only remembered that he died in “the mines at Fox Valley.”  Fox Valley is about 10 miles south of Hamilton.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever find the exact location of Milton Hamilton’s death, but then I came across a court case, found through Google books, in Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Oregon, Vol. 27, in which the location of the Dunlap mine is listed.  From that I was able to determine that the location of Milton’s death was on the south side of Fox Valley, where there are still some mines to this day.  A contemporary map doesn’t name the Dunlap mine but does list others, as shown here.

Grant Co Map

As an epilogue:  Milton’s widow Lettie Hamilton is found in the 1900 census, having been married for five years to Jacob Legler.  The census also sadly notes that Lettie had had two children, but neither were living in that year.  So Milton Hamilton died in 1894, his children died sometime between then and 1900, and his particular family line died out.

Hamilton Cemetery

Hamilton Cemetery, and in background site of Hamilton community

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-Mary Jane (Robbins) Hamilton-John Milton Hamilton)

Letters about Letters: An Example of Serendipity

Anyone who has done family research for any length of time has experienced serendipity, that totally unexpected and fortunate occurrence which brings forth some marvelous source or record or photograph or family connection.  So it is with three letters which unexpectedly appeared one day, describing other letters which reported a sad story of the Oregon Trail.

A distant cousin in Wyoming, Abbie Current, sent three original letters (two from 1852 and one from 1861), to cousin Barbara Stinger in Oregon, because she thought the letters were important in our family’s history of the Oregon Trail.

All the letters were addressed to Elizabeth (Robbins) Wadkins (sometimes spelled Watkins) of Scott County, Indiana.  One letter is dated August 21, 1852; it is from William Robbins (father of James Gilman Robbins of last week’s post) of Decatur County, Indiana, to his sister Elizabeth Wadkins.  The next letter is dated August 27, 1852, and it is from Elizabeth’s niece Nancy B. Anderson of Greensburg, Indiana.  The third and final letter is also from Greensburg, dated January 18, 1861, and is from Abram and Charlotte (Robbins) Anderson to Charlotte’s sister Elizabeth.  (Abram and Charlotte were the parents of the middle letter sender, Nancy Anderson.)  This post will deal with the two 1852 letters.

By the time these letters were sent to Elizabeth (Robbins) Wadkins, her brother Nathaniel, with his wife and family, had been gone from Decatur County for eleven months, and were still on the road to Oregon.  They had left in September of 1851 and arrived in Randolph County, Missouri, to “winter over” before leaving for the Pacific Northwest in the spring.  While in Missouri, they were joined by their cousin Jacob Robbins (sometimes called Jacob Jr. but more accurately Jacob III).   We know from family reminiscences that the Robbins party sent letters back “home” to Decatur County when they arrived at a place that had a post office.  Fort Laramie (in what is now Wyoming) was such a place.

But, no such letters have ever come to light.  They could have all been lost or destroyed over the years, or they could still be sitting in a wooden chest in someone’s attic or barn.  What we do have, are two letters which mention letters sent by Nathaniel Robbins.

In the first letter Nathaniel’s brother William reports to their sister Elizabeth (spelling and punctuation has not been corrected):

“I received a letter from Nathaniel on last Saturday it was dated Ft. Laramie Nebraska Teritory July the 3rd it stated that him and his family was all well that was alive.  He lost 3 of his Daughters on the 30th of May with cholera.  Mahala Died half past 7 oclock Emeline half past 9 and Amand half past 12— they was all interred in one grave on a high mound one mile west of big Sandy, they then moved forward some six or seven miles to little blew river thair Absalom Barns Died and was buried on a high mound on the road side.  I have received a letter from John Herren son William which told us that they was all well the letter was dated May the 3rd…..”

Explanation:  Nathaniel’s three daughters and one son-in-law died of cholera in southern Nebraska, a few days before reaching Fort Kearney.  William Herren of Salem, Oregon, was the son of Dosha (Robbins) Herren, another sibling of William, Elizabeth, and Nathaniel.  The Herrens had moved to Oregon in 1845.

In the second letter Nancy B. Anderson, Elizabeth and Nathaniel and William’s niece, reports:

“My granmother and aunt Mary Kirkpatrick has both departed this life since you was to see us and we have received a letter from uncle Nathaniel dated July the third he has seen a very serious time since he left he has lost four of his family Amanda Emaline Mahaly and Absalom barns with the colary but now he writes that the rest of the family are all well and he is going on his journey”

Explanation:  Nancy is referring to her grandmother Bethiah (Vickrey) Robbins who died in December of 1850 and Mary (Robbins) Kirkpatrick, who died in June of 1851.  Even though Elizabeth only lived about 50 miles to the south, she hadn’t seen her family in some time.

The source of these letters, Abbie Current, is not a descendant of any of the families mentioned in the letters.  How did they come down to her?  The letters were sent to Elizabeth (Robbins) Wadkins in Scott County, Indiana.  None of Elizabeth’s siblings lived in that county.  There were, however, many other Robbins cousins there, including several named Nathaniel Robbins, who were Abbie’s ancestors.  It is most likely that someone in the Wadkins family came across the letters, saw a reference to Nathaniel Robbins, and assumed they were connected to the Nathaniels in Scott County.  All the Robbins’ in Scott County are related to the Decatur County families, but the connection is a generation or two earlier.  Whatever miracle resulted in the letters being  preserved, we can be grateful that they survived and were shared a century and a half later!

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.

James G Robbins reunion_NEW 50%
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.”

Picture2 75%

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)
and
(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-Nathaniel Norval Robbins-Laura (Robbins) Kirchem-Carll Kirchem)