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)

A Trip Around the World

The last couple of posts dealt with members of the John and Ruth (Anderson) Robbins family of Decatur County, Indiana.  This post does too, though the focus is more on a Robbins in-law.

John and Ruth Robbins had a small family for their time.  Instead of the large number of children farming families tended to have, this couple only had four children that we know of:  Mary Ellen, William Anderson, Sarah Ann, and Nathaniel.  The eldest, Mary Ellen, was married to Calvin Paramore and while they had seven children, all died in childhood, never married or had no living descendants.  The youngest, Nathaniel, died in infancy in 1824.  That leaves two children whose family lines continue today.  Last week’s post was about the Snooks and the Schumachers – they were descendants of Sarah Ann (Robbins) Snook.  The post before that one was about Jacob Gates Robbins, a son of William Anderson Robbins.  This post also deals with descendants of William Anderson Robbins.

John Robbins and family

William Anderson Robbins had several children besides Jacob Gates.  The two that had descendants were William Marion Robbins and Charles Francis Robbins.

Charles Francis Robbins, Sr., was the proverbial small-town boy made good.  Born in Decatur County he became an attorney in Indianapolis.  He was married to Venora (“Nora”) Hammond in 1883, they had one son Charles Francis Robbins Jr. (born 1886).  The law must have been very lucrative in Indiana’s capital city, because by the late 1890’s they were touring Europe and living in France.  They do not appear to have returned to Indiana.  Not found in the 1900 census as perhaps they were still in Europe, they are in the 1910 census living on West 85th Street in Manhattan, where Charles’ occupation was listed as “own income.”  Charles Sr. died in 1914.

A.G. Spalding & Bros.

Son Charles Francis Robbins Jr. was destined for the business world and specifically the international sporting goods company, A. G. Spalding.  By the time he registered for the World War I draft in 1917 he was a manager at Spalding and in the 1920 census he was listed as vice president at Spalding.  Between those two years Charles Jr. was married to Elizabeth Brown, a niece of the company’s founder, A. G. Spalding Sr.  By 1930 Charles Jr. was president of the Spalding Company and his family had moved to Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey.  He and Elizabeth have descendants through their three sons.

But – back to Nora (Hammond) Robbins, wife of Charles Francis Robbins Sr.  After her husband’s death Nora continued her international travel.  And it was a trip in 1923 which became the basis for her small book, Hitting the High Spots of My Trip Around the World, published in 1938.

Venora Robbins passport application

In this book, dedicated to her son Charles Jr. and her three grandsons, Nora Robbins describes her trip around the world.  She crossed the continent to San Francisco, where she boarded the ship SS President Cleveland and sailed for Honolulu.  After a visit to the Hawaiian Islands, Nora continued on to Japan, then China, Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Macao, Southeast Asia (the future Vietnam and Cambodia), Indonesia and Singapore, then on to Ceylon, across the Indian ocean to the African coast, then up the Red Sea to visit the highlights of Egypt, and then on to Europe, stopping in Venice, Paris, and from London returned to her “little old New York.”  She had been gone from the United States for almost 13 months but later Nora returned to France where she had a villa on the Riviera, living there into the 1930s.

Title page of Venora (Hammond) Robbins book

What’s fascinating about Nora’s book is that she was travelling soon after the end of World War I but before some of the worst events preceding World War II.  For example, she describes visiting the “very interesting” city of Nanking, later the scene of the notorious “rape of Nanking” by Japanese soldiers a decade later.  She reported:  “The tombs of the rulers of the Ming dynasty are here.  Long rows of stone animals are on either side of the road leading up to their temple.  It was a beautiful October day and the trip out through the country in rickshaws was delightful.”

In visiting Beijing (then spelled Peking) Nora espouses her philosophy of travel:

The whole wonderful city was most impressive.  Peking! – that I had so long dreamed of – and I was there!  It is a very happy thing to have a first experience.  You have thrills of pleasure that never come with the second one.  I am sorry for anyone who has “seen everything:”  No chance to see for the first time – which is the best of all.

Towards the end of her travels, when she was in France, she describes the former battlefields of the first world war.  “We were in dugouts; saw trenches and barbed wire entanglements; the great cemeteries of the French, Italians, and Germans; the cemetery of the Americans at Belleau Woods.  Where the English are buried there are the blooming roses.  Always flowers!”

At the beginning of the book she writes:

It is so commonplace a trip today, to circle the globe, that it is almost presumptuous to essay an entertainment of others with one’s own experiences.  There-fore I venture forth on even a brief recital of my own with much hesitation, as most of you have probably seen more and know more about what you have seen that I do.

I’m not so sure of that.  Overall, Nora’s book is a delightful account of travel in a bygone era.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-John Robbins-William Anderson Robbins-Charles Francis Robbins, married to Venora (“Nora”) Hammond-Charles Francis Robbins Jr.)


Snooks, Schumachers and a Librarian Too!

Enola Snook was a great-granddaughter of John and Ruth (Anderson) Robbins of Decatur County, Indiana.  Her parents William Snook and Emma Elliott were married in Jennings County in 1868, but spent most of their lives Altamont, Illinois, where they were joined by William’s brother John Snook.  Their one sister, Mary Alice Snook, was married to William H. Rybolt and remained in Decatur County.

Enola’s uncle John Snook, a Civil War veteran like his brother, founded a commission business with William, which they engaged in until 1900, when John was named postmaster of Altamont, and later served as alderman and mayor of that town.  John and his wife had no biological children but did “foster” one son, Benson Snook.

Enola Snook was an only child and must have been joyfully welcomed fourteen years into her parent’s marriage.  Before that event her father William had been very busy supporting his wife.  They initially farmed in Jennings County, then moved to Altamont where William engaged in the furniture and hardware business.  By 1874 he was engaged in the grain and stock business, becoming a partner of H. A. Carter in the firm Carter & Snook.  He and Emma appear in the 1880 census in Kansas, where he is listed as a cattle buyer, but they were shortly back in Altamont when Enola came in 1882.  Around that time William Snook joined in partnership with Charles Schumacher and the men dealt in grain and livestock.

Excerpt of William Snook biography in a history of Effingham County, Illinois (1883)

Frank Schumacher, Charles’s son, married Enola Snook in 1908.  Charles continued in the grain dealing business started by his father and father-in-law, engaged in other businesses as well, and the Schumacher couple were quite prominent in the small farming community of Altamont.  In addition to his businesses, Frank served on the city commission, served as a director of the Altamont Building and Loan Association, and served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce.

A 1925 article in the local newspaper recounted how Frank was injured while working on his new creamery.  “The scaffolding on which Mr. Schumacher was standing gave way and he fell to the ground, breaking one rib from the back bone, and splintering another rib.  As a result he will be confined to his home for a week or two.  Mr. Schumacher is owner of the new creamery, which he hopes to have in operation some time in December.”

Enola was also involved in community activities.  She was vice-president of the Altamont Women’s Club, treasurer of St. Elmo Rebekah’s Lodge, was a director, like her husband previously, of the Altamont Building & Loan Association, and attended the First Methodist Church.

Gravestone of Enola (Snook) Schumacher (photo taken Sept. 14, 2011 by author)

One remarkable thing about Enola (Snook) Schumacher was that she served 30-years as city librarian.  The Altamont City Library opened in 1908 and then closed in 1920 when the materials were given to the public schools.  The library was re-opened in 1937 in a room above the fire station and two years later Enola Schumacher was named city librarian.  In 1948 the library was moved to a new location and Enola remained as city librarian until her retirement in 1969 at the age of 86!  She passed away only four years later and is buried in Altamont’s Union Cemetery with the Snook family.  Of Frank, we do not know what happened to him, when he died, or where he was buried (if in Union Cemetery his grave is unmarked).  The couple had no children and this Schumacher-Snook line ends with Frank and Enola.

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-John Robbins-Sarah Ann (Robbins) Snook-William L. Snook-Enola (Snook) Schumacher)


Jacob Gates Robbins (1845-1883)

William Anderson Robbins and his wife Rebecca Gates had five children, several with very interesting biographies.  The oldest son, Jacob Gates Robbins, never married and passed away at a young age but his passing was noted in Decatur County, Indiana, where he had lived his entire life.

Born in 1845, Gates Robbins, as he was known, engaged in farming with his father.  The family specialized in raising Poland China hogs and were said to have made the family firm “an enviable reputation and decided success.”  Poland China hogs were developed in the United Sates about 1816, being derived from several other breeds.  They are known for their extremely large (as in record-breaking large) size.

China Poland hogs

The raising of these hogs must have been very lucrative because William A. Robbins is listed in the 1860 census as having a substantial $8000 value of real estate (up from $1500 in 1850) and $2300 in personal estate.  And by 1870 the real estate value had increased to $15,000.  In each of these census years Gates Robbins was always listed as being a member of the household; he never left home.

At the time of his death, it was reported “Mr. Robbins was a single man in the prime of life.  He was full of energy and business and had acquired a considerable little fortune by his own exertions.  Whether it was business, politics or enjoyment he was engaged in, he engaged in it with all his might.”

The story of Gates’ death was reported in the November 17, 1883, Greensburg, Indiana, Saturday Review, in two stories: a notice of his death and an obituary, both appearing on the same page.  The newspaper reported:

“During the day [Wednesday, November 14] he had been working on the farm and was in apparent good health.  He ate a hearty supper and was sitting by the fire talking to his father.  Suddenly he drew a long breath or two and expired in his father’s arms.”

The Review continued:  “The shock comes to his aged parents and to his brothers and friends as a clap of thunder from a clear sky.  He will be missed and mourned.  He was a good man.  Truly does death love a shining mark.  The funeral services too place yesterday [November 16] and the body was followed to its last resting place by a large concourse of friends.”

J. Gates Robbins gravestone

It was also reported:  “His sudden taking off can only be accounted for on the usual theory of heart disease or apoplexy.  The Review unites with his other friends in their sorrow and regrets, for he has been its strong friend.”

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-John Robbins-William Anderson Robbins-Jacob Gates Robbins]


Dating Old Robbins Photos

It’s not always easy to determine the date when an old family photograph was taken.  We look at the type of photograph it was (daguerreotype, tintype, carte de visite, cabinet cards, etc.), the dress of the subjects, and other clues to provide a date.  Sometimes the only information we have to go on is an individual’s lifespan.  One such photo is that of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins, Oregon emigrants of 1852.  While Nancy lived until 1880, we know that Nathaniel Robbins died in December of 1863 so the only photograph we have of them is before that date.

Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins (by or before 1863)

Most of the Robbins family did not avoid photographers’ studios and the new technology that allowed a person’s likeness to be captured for posterity was thankfully taken advantage of by our ancestors.  Unless we know otherwise (and occasionally we will hear of a family member who refused to have their photo taken) I firmly believe that the majority of our family that lived after about 1860 had their photograph taken, whether we still have those photos today or whether we recognize those photos that lay unidentified in our photograph collections.

I received the photograph below from the late Patrick Masterson of Port Orford, Oregon.  Patrick was a descendant of Jacob and Sarah Robbins, emigrants of 1852, and a local historian with long-time connections to his small Oregon coast community.  Patrick claimed that this photograph was of Jacob Robbins’ father, another Jacob Robbins.  This Jacob would have been the brother of William Robbins, the Revolutionary War veteran, Absalom Robbins, who died at an advanced age in 1859, James Robbins of Jennings County, Indiana, and other siblings.  Jacob (of the photo) was born in 1767 but we do not know when he died.  He appeared as an 83-year-old in the 1850 Decatur County, Indiana, census.  Due to the advanced age of the subject, it could very well be that this photo truly is of Jacob Robbins in his old age.  Or is it of someone else in the family?

said to be Jacob Robbins (1767-after 1850)

Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins’ daughter Nancy, was married to Joseph Barstow in 1856 and this appears to be their wedding photograph.  As their wedding was only one month after Nancy’s eldest brother William Franklin Robbins was tragically killed while out bear hunting, the descendant of Nancy who gave me this photograph believed the sad look on Nancy’s face, during an otherwise happy event, was due to grief at her brother’s recent death.  If so, the photograph dates from 1856.

Joseph and Nancy (Robbins) Barstow (1856)

Another photograph in the Jacob Robbins line is that of Harvey and Levi Robbins, teenage brothers who crossed the plains in 1852, sons of Jacob and Sarah Robbins.  I believe this photo shows the brothers prior to their marriages.  If so, the photograph was taken by or before 1858, when Harvey married his wife Perlina (Levi married the following year).

Levi and Harvey Robbins (c1858)

In some cases, like that of Nathaniel, we know the latest date by which a photograph was taken, while in others we try to calculate, whether from age or dress or other criteria, when the image was created.  It’s not always perfect, but usually we can arrive at a general date for the photo.  These aren’t the only old photographs I have in my collection, just a few examples.  Who do you have in yours?

“Respected by All Who Knew Him:” Nathaniel Spencer Robbins

Nathaniel Spencer Robbins, called “Uncle Nat” in my family (he was my great-grandmothers oldest brother), was born in Decatur County in 1837 and was fifteen-years-old when his family crossed the plains on the Oregon Trail.  His father William Franklin Robbins took a Donation Land Claim approximately where today’s Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 intersect, southeast of Tualatin, and not many miles west of Oregon City.  According to his obituary he lived there his entire life.  My mother remembered as a child and teenager hearing about “Uncle Nat” as though he just lived down the road.  However, by that point he’d been dead for 40-plus years.

Soon after arriving in Oregon in the late, rainy autumn of 1852, most of the family was ill.  Nat’s family was living on the west side of the Willamette River in Linn City.  When his little brother Gilman became sick and died, teenage Nat, one of the few healthy family members, was sent off to Oregon City to find his uncles Dow and Norval to come dig a grave.  Soon, however, Nat was ill along with his uncle Dow and grandfather Nathaniel and his father reported that “Nat was the lowest I ever seen anyone to recover.”  Later his sister Nancy Adeline wrote “…for two weeks he couldn’t speak above a whisper.  Just laid on a bed on the floor.  But at last he got well.”

Nathaniel Spencer Robbins

Some information about Nat’s three wives, such as all of their birth and death dates is not known.  He was first married to Sarah Evans about 1873.  She died in 1880 at approximately thirty years of age.  Together they had three children:  Clara, Hampton (“Hamp”), and Stella.  After Sarah’s death he married Martha Jane Rodgers in 1882.  No additional information is available about her except that she was the mother of Nat’s youngest son William Berry Robbins.  Thirdly, Nat married Anna Marie (Mary) Kunst, who survived him.

The 1870 agricultural schedule of the U.S. census provides a little detail of Nat’s farm in Washington County.  In the year leading up to the census enumeration he had 14 improved acres, 306 acres of woodland, two horses, three milk cows and four other cattle, and eight swine.  He produced 63 bushels of spring wheat, 108 bushels of oats, 83 bushels of barley, 50 pounds of tobacco (not the most common crop in Oregon!), 40 bushels of Irish potatoes, 7 tons of hay, and 200 lbs of butter.  That is a lot of produce for 14 improved acres of land.

N. S. Robbins signature (1892)

According to his obituary Nat Robbins, who passed away in 1895, died of “la grippe” followed by typhoid fever, just short of his 58th birthday.  What is “la grippe?”  That’s another term for influenza.  Medical experts of the 1890s sometimes reported that it was hard to differentiate between the two diseases, and whether one really followed the other. Whatever the real diagnosis, his death saddened his family and the community.  The Portland Oregonian reported Nat “was an upright man and respected by all who knew him.”

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-William Franklin Robbins-Nathaniel Spencer Robbins)

Law Runs in the Family

There were a number of ties between the Robbins and Anderson families.  Both families lived in Shelby and Henry counties, Kentucky, and both seem to have come to Decatur County, Indiana, at the same time.  There were at least four Robbins-Anderson marriages.  Among the children of William and Bethiah Robbins, their son William married Eleanor Anderson, son John married Ruth Anderson, and daughter Charlotte married Abram Anderson.  Another marriage, an Absalom Robbins to Elizabeth Anderson, likely was a second marriage for Absalom the brother of William, after Absalom’s first wife died.  Other Anderson children married members of the Vest, Pruitt, Parsley, Bowler, and White families, some of whom are buried in the historic Mount Pleasant Cemetery south of Greensburg.

This post will discuss the family of Abram and Charlotte (“Lottie”) (Robbins) Anderson.  The couple were married in 1827 in Decatur County, Indiana, one of the earliest marriages of the Robbins family in that county since the family moved there in the early 1820s.

The couple had four children, possibly more, but only four names have come down to us.  The oldest child, Sarah Elizabeth Anderson, was only three years when she died and was buried in the Mount Pleasant cemetery.  The next child, Susannah Anderson, may have died young or may have lived to marry someone named “Songer” – the family record hint at a marriage, but no documentation exists.  A son, William James Anderson, was born in 1833, married twice, and died possibly around 1859 or 60, at less than 30 years of age.  With his second wife Maria Catherine Myers he had a son John Abram Lastly Anderson who we lose track of after the 1880 census in which the 21-year old is listed as a farm laborer in the household of his mother and step-father.

The youngest child of Abram and Charlotte was Nancy Bethiah Anderson born in 1838.  Her middle name comes from her grandmother Bethiah (Vickrey) Robbins, who was living with the family in 1850.  Nancy Bethiah Anderson’s family is where we find descendants today of Abram and Charlotte.

Charlotte Anderson died in 1874 and two years later, at the age of 71, Abram married Olivia Morgan.  When Abram died in 1891 at the age of 87 he was the very last of his generation of children and children-in-laws of William and Bethiah Robbins.  For years the Andersons had farmed in Decatur County, living south of Greensburg, and both found their final rest in the Mount Pleasant cemetery near so many of their family members, both Andersons and Robbins.

Nancy Bethiah (Anderson) Shane

The youngest daughter, Nancy Bethiah Anderson, was married to Christopher Shane in 1860.  When I first started working on this family’s genealogy, I had about as much information on the couple as I did on the possible marriage of sister Susannah and at first thought this would be one of those families that just sort of fade out of the records. but between, the Washington State Digital Archives, and a descendants’ wonderful website (the photos here are courtesy of Michael Shackleford) it really didn’t take long to discover much more concrete information about the couple and their descendants.  It helped that Chris Shane was prominent: he served as mayor of Greensburg, Indiana.

Chris Shane

Chris Shane, though a native Hoosier, worked for four years as a clerk in the pension bureau in Washington, D.C.  According to a county history he began practicing law in Decatur County in 1865 with William Moore, however in the 1860 census he is already listed as an attorney.  In 1867 Shane was elected mayor of Greensburg, which position he held for six years.  He later served as both city and county attorney.

Before she died at the early age of 39, Nancy (Anderson) Shane had five children: Elizabeth, Charlotte, Charles, Warren, and Martha.  They suddenly disappeared from Decatur County records but with a little searching I discovered that in the early 1890s Chris Shane and his children moved across the country to Tacoma, Washington.  There Chris apparently engaged in the insurance business for a brief period but he died in 1896, only a few years after arriving in the Pacific Northwest.

Of the children, Elizabeth Shane never married but worked as a teacher her whole life.  Charlotte was married to John Shackleford, while her sister Martha was married to John’s brother Lewis Shackleford.  Both Shackleford men were attorneys and later served as judges and assistant U.S. Attorneys and other high offices in Washington State.

Charles Shane worked as a clerk in the Shackleford’s law office and was later listed in the census as an attorney himself, though he seems to have ended up on the opposite side of the law.  According to several newspaper articles Charles embezzled money from the city of Tacoma (he was then municipal court clerk).  What the resolution of his legal troubles was is not known and he disappears from census and other records. Perhaps he’s still on the run? It’s doubtful that his upstanding brothers-in-law, as well as the rest of his family, approved of his behavior.  Finally, brother Warren Shane married, but had no children, and died as a widower in Chicago in 1942.

The Shacklefords, both couples, had children, but only Martha and Lewis’ son John married and has descendants today.  Charlotte and John Shackleford had three daughters, none of whom married, but each of whom had notable careers.  Charlotte was a teacher and Martha earned three degrees, including a Ph.D., and was a professor of biology and chair of the science department at Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts.

Middle daughter Elizabeth Shackleford, however, followed a family tradition and went into the law.  She was the only woman admitted to the Washington State Bar in 1922, worked as an attorney in Tacoma for many years, and was appointed a Pierce County Justice Court judge in 1954, the title changing to District Court Judge, and serving until 1967.  She then continued to practice law until she retired at the age of 85 in 1981!

Judge Elizabeth Shackleford, great-granddaughter of Charlotte (Robbins) Anderson

At the time of her death the Tacoma Morning News Tribune wrote:

In those days [1927], there were only five female lawyers in the area, and clients were scarce.  So she took a job with the federal tax collection agency, which later became the Internal Revenue Service, while struggling to build her practice.  During the 1950s and 1960s, Shackleford was the only female attorney practicing in the area and one of the few to take on black clients.  She is credited with helping an association of black women and a group of black businessmen to establish clubhouses in Tacoma and providing free legal assistance to blacks.  She was active with the local League of Women Voters.  For her efforts, she was honored by black, Indian, and religious groups in a special ceremony in 1981.

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Charlotte (Robbins) Anderson and descendants]

Frank Heater: Police Chief

Among our cousins was a highly respected police chief in the eastern Oregon city of The Dalles.  The subject of numerous newspaper articles about his exploits, including that of his marshal’s start stopping a bullet, Frank Heater is a family member we should know and honor.

The Dalles (Oregon) in 1884

Frank Heater was born in 1875 to Lorenzo Peter (“Pete”) and Judith Amanda (Robbins) Heater.  His mother was born shortly after the family arrived in Oregon, and after marrying Pete Heater the couple moved to eastern Oregon, settling in The Dalles along the Columbia River.

As a boy, Frank herded the neighborhood cows to grass, then back home again in the evening.  He earned 50¢ a month from each cow owner.  He worked as a cowpuncher, a sheepherder, and a “buckeroo.”  By 1910, he as operating a saloon with Frank Brown at 106 First in The Dalles.  They had sawdust floors to catch the blood and falling bodies from the fights that broke out.

Chief of Police Frank Heater

On July 1, 1918, Frank Heater joined The Dalles city police force.  The following year, after the city marshal had been killed by bank robbers, Frank assumed the position, usually referred to as “chief of police”, and held it until his retirement in 1946.  He was highly regarded in The Dalles.

One of the more spectacular episodes of The Dalles history that Frank Heater participated in was the Chinese Tong War of 1921.  The fight began when one group of Chinese heard that gunmen from Portland were coming to kidnap the leaders of their tong.

About 11 p.m., October 20, 1921, two railroad policemen stopped to interrogate one of the Chinese lookouts, who mistook the white men for the hired gunmen expected from Portland.

Reinforcements quickly came to the guard’s aid, and the railroad police, now joined by city officers, retreated along 1st street, between Court and Union, under a fusillade of fire.  About this time Heater, who had been routed out of bed, arrived on the scene.

As Heater hurried along Court street toward the railroad tracks, a Chinese with gun in hand ran out of the alley, then ducked back in, firing at Heater as the marshal gave chase, shooting the latter in the chest.  Another Oriental opened fire behind Heater and shot the officer in the left leg.  A third shadowy figure moved and Heater shot him in the hip.

By this time all hell had broken loose and slugs from Lugers, revolvers and shotguns were peppering the fronts of the old McCoy garage, Williams’ second hand store at 206 Court Street and the old Baldwin saloon.  A general alarm had been sounded on the fire bell and a large crowd of heavily armed white men appeared on the scene, but were later dispersed.

Not until cooler heads among the tong men realized the mistake being made did the firing cease.  By that time Heater, a Chinese man and Robert Saunders, then a high school senior, had all been shot and rushed to the local hospital.

It turned out that Frank Heater had been shot twice, once in the leg and once in the chest.  The bullet to the chest was stopped by his marshal’s star.

A bullet did not literally ‘lodge over his heart.’  Fired from a gun at close range the pellet struck the center of his metal star and would have gone through but for the fact its nose mushroomed and the metal of the star crumpled up around it.  The point of the bullet went through the chest wall, just entering the cavity.  Another inch now and this story wouldn’t be written today.

‘I knew I had been shot,’ Heater reminisced recently at police headquarters.  ‘From the way the bullet walloped me I thought it was pretty bad and that I was done for.  I don’t know when I was shot in the leg.  I never felt that at all until later.  There was too much excitement and shooting going on to notice it when it happened.

Heater’s granddaughter, in a biography for the Oregon State Archives, states that the damaged marshal’s star was given to The Dalles Police Department in 1966 by her mother, Charlotte (Heater) Proudfoot.

Another newspaper story, this one from 1933, reported “A bullet wound in his right hand, Fred Jackson, transient, was taken to The Dalles hospital this morning after attempting to flee from Police Chief Frank Heater on a downtown street.  Heater shot Jackson when the latter failed to heed the officers warning to stop, after the itinerant had been discovered in possession of stolen property.”

The following year when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt motored by car (by her own hand) through The Dalles, Chief Heater offered her an escort through the city, which Mrs. Roosevelt refused.

City of The Dalles Police Department (Chief Heater sitting, far right) in an undated newspaper clipping

In an undated news article entitled “Jest-a-Minute” by “K.W.” the author writes:

“And why don’t we tell people oftener how much we think of them, and how much they have meant in our lives?  I think today, I’ll throw a bouquet, in the direction of…

Frank Heater—The best gosh darned chief of police this community ever had, who maintained law and order when everyone else thought The Dalles had to be part of the accent on the WILD West, and who still bears bullet scars to prove that he was afraid of nothing.  Maybe he did always call me “Benny,” which never was my name.  I always felt my family was safe, in the old days, with him on the job.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel/Nancy Robbins-James Anderson Robbins-Judith Amanda (Robbins) Heater-Frank Heater)