Bond County, Illinois: A Brief Stay

The Robbins family followed a east-to-west migration pattern in the late 1700s and early 1800s, always seeming to move further west, looking for better land or other opportunities.  There was one exception to this and that was a two-year period spent by several of the Robbins families in Bond County, Illinois, before they turned around and traveled directly east to settle in southeastern Indiana.  This emigration has always intrigued me.

Bond County was formed in 1817 as part of the Illinois Territory.  At its start it was oddly shaped, only twenty-six miles wide and stretched all the way from southern Illinois to Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.  In 1818 Thomas Kirkpatrick was one of the representatives from Bond County to serve on the state’s constitutional convention, which earned statehood in December of that year.  Bond County’s boundaries began to be cut back until it was one of the smallest counties in Illinois.

Bond County Illinois 1818

Illinois in 1818, showing location of Bond County

In 1818 the Robbins family had been living in Henry and Shelby counties, Kentucky, for about 18 years.  There was already some interest in moving north to Indiana, with a couple of the family arriving around 1812 though official records are sketchy.

So it’s a question as to why several children of William and Bethiah Robbins decided to break away from the family group and travel almost 400 miles west to Bond County, Illinois.  Two sons, Marmaduke (age 32) and Nathaniel (age 25), made the trek by wagon on primitive roads and arrived in Bond County sometime in 1818 or 1819.  Their sister Polly (Polly being the nickname for Mary), according to family sources, went to Illinois to visit her brothers.

Only one land record has been found for either of the two brothers, and that was for 49.12 acres that Marmaduke Robbins purchased for $98.28 on 3 March 1820.  I’ve been unable to find when he sold the land.  I’ve found no land record for Nathaniel.

While in Bond County, Nathaniel and his wife Nancy celebrated the birth of their son John Dow Robbins (on 12 August 1819) but lost one of their other children, Absalom W. Robbins just a month later (September 1819).  Their previous children had been born in Kentucky and subsequent children would be born in Indiana.

Marmaduke and his wife Elizabeth, meanwhile, had two daughters while living in Bond County.  Permelia was born about 1820 and Docia was born in March of 1821.  This Docia is not to be confused with Marmaduke, Nathaniel and Polly’s youngest sister Dosha (Robbins) Herren.

Meanwhile, Polly Robbins (age 27) arrived in Bond County to visit her brothers and while there met and married John Hope Kirkpatrick in November of 1820.  There were a number of Kirkpatricks in the county (as evidenced by their representation at the constitutional convention as mentioned above).  It is probable that in the 1820 census John was listed in the household of his father, another John Kirkpatrick, as there is no other enumeration for a John of the right age, and senior had several males above the age of 21 in the household.  Both Marmaduke and Nathaniel also appear in the 1820 census for Bond County.

Illinois 1818 map

1818 map, showing Robbins migration from northern Kentucky to Illinois, then back east to Indiana (1818-1821)

Soon after the birth of Docia in the spring of 1821, the two brothers, their families, as well as their newly married sister and her husband, moved east to join family in Decatur County, Indiana.  What led them to go east?  Their parents, William and Bethiah, their uncles Absalom and Jacob, their other siblings and cousins, all seemed to moved north from Kentucky to Indiana, without making the detour to Illinois on the way.  Was it the pull of family? and the desire to live nearby?  What led John Kirkpatrick to leave his family behind in Illinois to follow his wife’s family?  We’ll probably never have answers to these questions.

By the fall of 1821 or spring of 1822 these three families had settled in Indiana, where Marmaduke Robbins and Polly Kirkpatrick would remain for the rest of their lives, while Nathaniel would stay until 1851 when he began the trek to Oregon, this time going much further west and never returning to the east.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins, Polly (Robbins) Kirkpatrick, Nathaniel Robbins)





North to Alaska

For some of the descendants of the Robbins family living in the Pacific Northwest, the Alaska Gold Rush was a seminal event.  Members of our family traveled to Alaska and the Yukon to search for gold, some stayed to work in non-gold rush related occupations prior to returning home, and some didn’t return home at all.  One of the more prominent miners was Frank Keizer.

Frank Keizer was born in 1857 to John Brooks and Mary Jane (Herren) Keizer, and was a grandson of Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren.  The Keizers were a prominent family in the Willamette Valley and today’s growing city of Keizer is named for them.  Frank grew up in the agricultural surroundings of Oregon’s capital city, Salem.  The namesake city and most of the family spelled the name Keizer; others spelled it Keizur or Kaiser. (I will use “Keizer” here except when quoting news articles).

In 1883 he was married to Mabel Zieber, and the couple had five children, Russell, Philip, Cornelia, Grace, and Ellen, who were all prominent in their own right, and who grew to adulthood without their father.

In September of 1898, gold was discovered near Nome, Alaska, and the rush was on.  One of the unusual aspects of the Nome gold rush was that gold was soon found in the beach sand along the coast, making mining very easy.  Ships were soon unloading miners from Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland.  On board one ship from Oregon, the Nome City, was Frank Keizer.

Nome in 1900

Nome in 1900

Frank went to Alaska with his brother John B. Keizer Jr. and on the same ship was the newspaperman Fred Lockley, later to gain fame with his “Thoughts and Observations of a Journal Man,” which appeared in the Oregon Journal newspaper for many years.  Previous to this ships arrival, another brother Walter Keizer and his wife Rosa had arrived in Nome.

It was only a couple of weeks later when a letter from his brother John was received by their mother, Mary Jane, reporting the sad news of his death.

Frank was sick all the way from Portland.  He was not strong enough to live.  He lived only one day after landing here.  We had all the medical skill in attendance on him that could be had anywhere.  There were two doctors aboard ship, and we had them all the way, and when we brought him ashore we got another doctor, Dr. Derbyshire, and he was a good physician, well recommended by lots of the boys we know, so you see we did all we could, and we nursed him ourselves, and “Gus” is just as good a nurse as there is on earth, and he did his very best; besides we had a lady nurse who has had years of experience, and she did everything she could, but he could not be saved.

But for now it is all over.  We buried him up on the hill overlooking Behring Sea, where there are at least sixty ships moored.  I would have like to have got a picture of the place, for it was pretty.  But no one knows how I felt to leave him there.

Walter and Rosa have done all they could.  The reason we did write to you about him being sick, we thought there was a show for him to get well, and did not want to worry you and Mabel and the rest of the folks.

Fred Lockley wrote an article, later in July, entitled “With the Argonauts” which appeared in Salem’s Weekly Oregon Statesman.  Lockley wrote:

On the crest of a hill overlooking the Bering Sea stood, with bared heads and tear-dimmed eyes, a group of Salemites, on June 23rd.  Above, the white fleecy clouds drifted by:  under foot was the soft, springy tundron.  Above the splash of the waves on the beach, rose our voices as we sang, “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” over the grave of one of our number, Frank Kaiser.  He was sick most of the time on the voyage to Nome.  The doctor pronounced his malady typhoid fever.  He died at 11 o’clock a.m., June 22nd.  He was unconscious for several days preceding his death.  Everything that could be done for his comfort was done.  Rev. W. A. Lindsey conducted the funeral services.  A fragrant cedar coffin was made.  Inside the coffin were placed pure white wild flowers.  On his coffin we wrote: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.  I go to prepare a place for you.”  It was a very sad funeral.  God grant that no more of our number lay down their life so far from home and loved ones.

Mabel Zieber Keizer

Mabel (Zieber) Keizer

The surviving Keizers in Nome returned to Oregon.  John Keizer married his late brother’s widow Mabel in 1908, but the couple had no children.  John passed away in 1927 in North Bend, Oregon, where several of the children had ended up, while Mabel survived to 1946.


Frank Keizer’s name is not found in any lists of burials in Nome.  A recent article in the Nome Nugget (13 July 2018) describes work by the city of Nome to clean up the existing cemetery.  There are many difficulties with burials in Nome:  there are no casket manufacturers, no undertaker, no funeral home, and the burial “season” is only from late May to October due to the frozen ground, so bodies must be stored at the morgue (located at the cemetery) until the ground thaws.  Over the years ownership of the cemetery has changed hands, a fire in 1934 destroyed cemetery records, and many grave locations are unidentified.  An Alaska company, specializing in ground penetrating radar, is in the process of locating all existing graves.  Perhaps one day Frank Keizer’s resting place will be identified.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Mary Jane (Herren) Keizer-Franklin Sylvanus Keizer)



John Robbins and the Mt. Pleasant Church

In the early years of the history of the state of Indiana there were several Protestant religions which built small community churches, usually beginning their existence in someone’s log cabin until the membership was large enough to support their own church building. One of these groups, the Methodists, who were known for their circuit riding ministers, covering many miles on horseback preaching across the states of the Midwest, played a huge role in the lives of our pioneer ancestors.

The origins of the Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church began in the log cabin of John Robbins, son of William and Bethiah Robbins. John, born in 1795, was married to Ruth Anderson down in Henry County, Kentucky, and then came north to Decatur County with much of the rest of the family around 1821. He settled south of today’s Greensburg, his property located just north of todays intersection of County Road 60 Southwest and County Road 400 South, which includes the site of the historic Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.

Mt Pleasant church area

Google Earth view of Mt. Pleasant area

The image above marks the Mt. Pleasant Church (bottom) and the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (top), located on private property.  John, his wife, children, parents, and many other relatives are buried in the cemetery.  Compare that to an image from the 1882 Decatur County Atlas below.


Mt. Pleasant area in 1882

Lewis Harding’s History of Decatur County, Indiana (1915), is the source for the history of churches in Decatur County.  Several stories discuss John Robbins and Harding quotes an early source entitled History of Methodism in Greensburg, Indiana:

John Robbins, who is living at this date (September 13, 1881) states that he settled near Mt. Pleasant Methodist Episcopal church, March 28, 1822, four miles south of Greensburg.  The first Methodist sermon he heard in the county was about September of the same year by Rev. James Murray, of the Connersville circuit-then of the Ohio conference-at the double log cabin of Col. Thomas Hendricks [in Greensburg].  Mr. Robbins immediately afterward received authority by letter from Mr. Murray to organize a class, which he did at his own house, and from this [grew] the first religious organization in the county.  After this he [Robbins] attended the organization of the Baptist church at Sand Creek.

The members of this first Methodist class were John and Ruth Robbins, Robert Courtney, Elizabeth Garrison, John H. Kilpatrick (sic) and Mary his wife—seven persons, and soon afterward they were joined by Jacob Steward, A. L. Anderson, Mary Garrison, Tamzen Connor, Lydia Groendyke, Rev. Wesley White and wife Elizabeth, and James and Polly Armstrong.

Besides John and Ruth Robbins, other members of our family included John Kirkpatrick, married to Polly Robbins (John’s sister); Abram L. Anderson, married to Lottie Robbins (John’s sister); Elizabeth Anderson (Ruth’s sister, married to the Rev. White).  The Garrisons mentioned were related to John Daniel Herren, husband of Dosha Robbins, who emigrated to Oregon in 1845.

In his chapter on churches in Decatur County, historian Harding later writes:

The story is told that John Robbins, one of the early settlers, was at work near his cabin, when two men approached on horseback and bid him the time of day.  They talked for a while and then Robbins said: “You men look like Methodist ministers.”  The strangers admitted that they were and said that they were on their way to attend conference.  Robbins wanted them to stop a while and organize a class, but they stated that they had no time to spare then, but that they would gladly do so on their return.  One of these horsemen was John Strange, an early minister.  When conference was over the men returned and organized a class in Robbins’ cabin.

Harding provides another list of the early members of John Robbins’ church and includes the additional names of Nat Robbins (his brother) and Nancy Anderson (sister of his wife Ruth).

The first church was built in 1834 and called Mt. Pleasant.  It was described as a log building, 24 feet wide and 30 feet long.  In 1854 a new church was built.  A story in the Greensburg Daily News in 2008 [“Mt. Pleasant Rising Anew From Ruin” by Pat Smith, 18 December 2008], reported that in 1858 the church paid $50 for the deed to the property.  After a 100-year-old hickory tree fell and damaged the church in 2008, money was raised to repair the damage and the church was back in service.

Mt Pleasant church

Mt. Pleasant church today (courtesy of Google Maps)

John Robbins was associated with the Mt. Pleasant Church from 1822 until his death in December 1881, just months after the History of Methodism in Greensburg, Indiana was compiled.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-John Robbins)


Charles Oscar Robbins

In some previous posts, such as last month’s about Dean Leete, I’ve written about “dead end” lines of the family, those branches where the family members died out and there are no living descendants.  Here is another case of one of those ended lines.  (What I call “lost family” lines are another matter – in those cases there are likely descendants but I’ve yet to identify and find them.)

Charles Oscar Robbins was born in Iowa in 1859 and was about six years of age when his parents Samuel and Eliza Robbins brought him across the Oregon Trail.  The family lived initially in Yamhill County, where they appear in the 1870 and 1880 censuses.  Their property was near the Yamhill-Polk county line in Amity precinct.  Charles, the oldest son, was living in 1880 in the household of his cousin Emma (Robbins) Reese, daughter of John Hudson Robbins, where he worked as a farm laborer.

In 1882 Charles Robbins was married to Florinda (“Flora”) Hubbard in Polk County.  Did Charles realize that his third cousin Fannie Keizer (granddaughter of Dosha (Robbins) Herren) was married to Flora’s brother Thomas Henry Hubbard?  or were the cousins too distant to each other to know about the relationship?

Charles and Flora had their first child, Ipha Elizabeth Robbins, while still living in Polk County in 1885.  The young couple and daughter then moved north to Clatsop County, taking out a 160-acre homestead near the tiny community of Jewell.  There, in 1887, son John Downing Robbins was born.   Could the name “Downing” come from Charles’ uncle Moses Downing back in Iowa, married to Martha Robbins?  The name doesn’t seem to appear in the Hubbard family.

We don’t know much about the life of Charles and Flora, and Ipha and John, up until 1888, but that year tragedy struck the family when Charles was mortally wounded in a work-related accident leaving behind his widow Flora, 3-year-old daughter Ipha, and 9-month-old son John.

c o robbins obit

I have been unable to locate where exactly F. W. Smith’s logging camp was, though Smith was a prominent logger and pioneer of the lower Columbia river.  He seems to have made his home on the Washington side of that river.  Also unknown is where Charles Robbins was buried.  No cemetery listing for Clatsop county includes his name.  Could he have been buried near other family members in Polk County or elsewhere?

c o robbins inv

His widow Flora remarried in 1892 to William Lewis but was later divorced after having three or four more children.  In 1900 she is listed in the census with her children, and as being married but with no husband in the household.

The next tragedy in this family was the death of Ipha Robbins in 1904 of typhoid fever.  The 19-year-old was living in Yamhill County at the time, working as a housekeeper, and is buried in Brookside Cemetery in Dayton.  Could her father Charles been buried there, unmarked?

John Downing Robbins appears in the 1910 census living in Humboldt County, California, working as chain tender in a logging operation.  In 1917, John was married to Ruby Manna in Vancouver on June 6; the following day, June 7, he registered for the World War I draft in Portland, as a married man.  The couple later divorced.

In 1920, John was listed in the census as being married but living and working with his partner Herman Knudson as a “head brakeman” in rural Columbia County, Oregon.  It appears that he was married again, around 1920, to a Grace Driskell. The couple lived in Portland where John worked as a conductor for the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway Co.

The year 1928 saw the third and fourth tragedies in this family’s story.  John and Grace had a daughter Wanda Jean who was born in March of that year and sadly died in September, barely five months old.  (The daughter listed in John’s obituary appears to be Grace’s child).

john d robbins obit

Several weeks later, just like his father, John Downing Robbins suffered an accident at work.  He fell beneath the trucks (wheelsets) of a railroad car and suffered crushing injuries to his abdomen, fracture of his left femur, and shock.  He died soon after at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland.

Grace Robbins, John’s widow, died in 1968, never having remarried.  John’s mother, Flora (Hubbard) Robbins lived until 1945.  With John’s death in 1928, the biological family line of Charles Oscar Robbins was at an end.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-Samuel Robbins-Charles Oscar Robbins)

Dean “Lucky” Leete – Recreating a Life

In addition to working a family back through time, looking for ancestors and the sources that document relationships and biographical information, I also work forward – trying to identify descendants of each of our lines of the Robbins families – in other words, looking for all the descendants of Jacob and Mary Robbins.  Sometimes you come across a name, perhaps a child listed in a family’s census enumeration, and after being initially stymied in the research, it all opens up.  You discover what happened to them: they married, had children, and have many descendants.  Other times you come across people who are literally the last of their line.  Such is the case of Dean Livington Leete.

To tell the story of Dean Leete we need to begin with his great-grandparents, Nathan Thomas Caton and Martha Ann (Herren) Caton.  Martha was the daughter of John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren and was a child when the family crossed the Oregon Trail and took the ill-chosen Meek Cutoff across central Oregon.  The Herrens settled near Salem, Oregon, and there Martha met and married lawyer Nathan Thomas Caton.  Nathan was deeply involved in the early, chaotic political history of the state of Oregon.  He appears to have been a pro-Southern Democrat and served in a number of local government positions (his biography could make an entirely separate post).  Possibly because of his politics he packed up his family and moved to Silver City, Idaho, to run a local newspaper.  Before long he and his family had moved north to Washington Territory, living in Walla Walla and Davenport.  At one point Nathan was the Speaker of the Washington Territorial House of Representatives.

The Catons had four children, three of whom lived to adulthood.  Their son, Edwin Harvey Caton, is the progenitor of all the living Caton descendants today.  Another son George was married and had two children who died in infancy or childhood.  Daughter Martha Livinia Caton was the grandmother of our subject, Dean Leete.  Martha was married to Robert E. Leete in 1877 in Dayton, Washington.  We don’t know much about Robert Leete except that he was born in New York, appears to have died before 1897, and was divorced from Martha by that time.


Robert and Martha Livinia (Herren) Leete

Robert and Martha Leete had one son Claude Caton Leete.  While Martha divorced Robert and moved to British Columbia and later remarrying, Claude was close to his grandfather Nathan Caton.  It was probably Nathan who encouraged his grandson to go into local government.  Claude served as county auditor of Lincoln County, Washington for two years as well as doing other work in the local courthouse.

Claude was married to Margaret Livingstone of Kentucky.  He had met Margaret at a Christian church Sunday School convention held in Kentucky in 1909 that Claude had attended.  Their wedding, following their “romantic” courtship, was actually frontpage news in the local Stanford, Kentucky, newspaper.  The paper reported that after the wedding the couple were returning to “their far western home” while visiting Pike’s Peak and Yellowstone on the way.

Claude and Margaret returned to Washington State, where their only child, Dean Livingston Leete was born in 1914.  Sadly, Claude Leete died in 1916.  Some reports had him dying on the train while returning from visiting his wife’s family in Kentucky, while others have him taking up work in the county courthouse in Tipton, Indiana, and dying soon after.  [In three generations the family had traveled from Indiana to the Pacific Northwest and then back to Indiana!]  Whatever the details, Margaret returned to Washington (not to Kentucky where her family was living) with her son Dean.  When Dean was about fourteen years of age, his mother Margaret died in Spokane.  Again, Dean didn’t return to family in Kentucky but was taken in by an unrelated family in Washington.

My thanks to Livingston family researcher Linde Grace who in trying to find out what happened to her mother’s first cousin Dean was able to piece together much of Dean’s life.  Dean kept in touch with his mother’s family and visited back in Kentucky occasionally.

Dean Leete rev

Dean Livingston (“Lucky”) Leete


Dean Leete attended Washington State College in Pullman where he is found in their yearbooks in the mid-1930s.  Upon graduation he went to work for the American Tobacco Company (in the 1940 census his occupation is listed as “salesman wholesale tobacco) and at that point was living in Amarillo, Texas.  In 1942 he enlisted in the military, serving in Texas, and being honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant.  It is believed that his nickname, “Lucky”, was given to him by his buddies in the military.

He was married briefly in the 1940s to a woman named Wilma (Pickering) Willard, before they divorced in 1948.  The couple had no children and Wilma passed away in 1966.

Dean was socially active in Amarillo, as evidenced by his many mentions in the Amarillo Globe-Times about his involvement in local theater as an actor.  In 1940 he appeared in a murder mystery titled “Through the Night” and “Flight to the West” in 1941.   He was also a Mason and a Shriner.

Dean Leete obit rev

Dean Leete passed away in Amarillo in 1978.  When I first located a Dean Leete (not a common name) who died in Texas, I thought I had probably found the right person.  I approached the local genealogy society in Amarillo for assistance.  They were able to get a copy of his obituary for me and also visited the local funeral home which handled his burial, where they were informed that a local woman, whose name they would not disclose, made the arrangements.  His burial plot in the very large Memory Gardens Cemetery is not marked with a gravestone (my sister was visiting Amarillo and very generously stopped by the cemetery to check out Dean’s final resting place for me!).

Dean Leete led an interesting life, sad in some respects, seemingly full and happy in others.  He was the last descendant of Martha Livinia (Caton) Leete.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Martha Ann (Herren) Caton-Martha Livinia (Caton) Leete-Claude Caton Leete-Dean Livingston Leete)


“Rufe” Robbins

Last week I had a post about Nathaniel Norval Robbins.  This is a short post about his son Rufe Robbins who died at the age of nineteen.

Rufus Merritt Holman Robbins was born in 1873, while Norval and Permelia were still living in the Stafford area, just west of Oregon City.  It was an eventful time in the life of the Robbins family.  His uncle John Dow Robbins was found murdered on his nearby land claim one month after Rufe’s birth and Norval Robbins was the administrator of his brother’s estate.  Rufe’s aunt Nancy (Robbins) Barstow had passed away in 1872.  Nancy Robbins, his grandmother, was getting older and in 1870 was living in Norval Robbins’ household and was probably still there when Rufe was born.

We don’t know much about Rufe’s short life.  In the 1880 census he was 7-years-old and not listed as attending school.

Rufe Robbins

Rufus Holman Merritt Robbins

Sadly almost the only official notice of his life was a short death notice in the Oregon City Enterprise in February of 1893:

“Died:  Rufe Robbins died as a result of an accident while working on the new sash and door factory in Oregon City.  It happened between 3 and 4 weeks ago.  He was 19 years old.”

Was he injured three or four weeks prior and had finally died? or was the newspaper reporting three or four week old news?  We don’t know.  So far I’ve been unable to locate other newspapers that might have reported an accident.  We do know he was buried in the Robert Bird Cemetery, named for his great-grandfather.

Rufus Robbins gravestone

Gravestone of Rufus Robbins

We do have one other story passed down about Rufe Robbins and a fiddle he owned.  Apparently after his death, his nephew Norval Kirchem (son of Laura (Robbins) Kichem) went to a local market to sell butter and while there purchased a fiddle.  He showed it to his grandfather, Norval Robbins, when the elder man came for his daily bucket of milk.  Robbins identified it as formerly belonging to his son Rufus as Rufus’ name had been scratched into the case and then scratched off.  Norval Kirchem would get it out every now and then to play for his grandfather, Norval Robbins.

[Jacob Robbins-William/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel/Nancy Robbins-Nathaniel Norval Robbins-Rufus Merritt Robbins]

Nathaniel Norval Robbins (1832-1926)

Nathaniel Norval Robbins, usually called Norval but sometimes listed as N. N. or Nathaniel, was the youngest son of Dr. Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins, and was an Oregon Trail pioneer in 1852.  Born in 1832 he started out on the trail as a teenager and upon arrival in Oregon City had just turned twenty years of age.  He became one of the longest lived of all the pioneers.

His name comes up several times in the reminiscences and stories of the wagon train trek.  The most entertaining, though somewhat fictional, was the story Destination Oregon written by his niece Kate (Sharp) Jones.  Kate began her story with a reimagining of the Robbins family at breakfast during their last day in Decatur County.  Here is an excerpt:

Early one morning in October, 1851, the family of Dr. Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins was seated around the breakfast table.  It was to be the last meal in the comfortable big kitchen of their Indiana home.  For on this day they were leaving it — leaving to join the great westward migration that was slowly wending its way over mountains, plains, and deserts toward the land of great promise, the Oregon Country, where they hoped to establish new farms and homes that might in time prove to be more prosperous and comfortable than the ones they were leaving behind.

A hearty meal had been prepared that morning by Zobeda and Nancy, the two younger daughters, a good old Hoosier family breakfast of griddle cakes made with buckwheat, honey fresh from the hives, sweet potatoes, and homemade sausage.  Jane, the third daughter of the family, hovered around the table filling the heavy mugs with fresh sweet milk and urging them all to eat a good breakfast.

Norval, 17 years old and the youngest boy, ate only a few mouthfuls, then pushed back his chair and left the table.  Taking his hat from a peg by the door, he danced a few steps around the kitchen, whistling a gay tune.  “Don’t forget to bring my fiddle,” he called to the girls as he scooted through the door.

“What is Norval so excited about?” Mrs. Robbins asked, eyeing her husband suspiciously.

“I didn’t notice that he was unusually excited,” he answered her, “probably in a hurry to get his cattle yoked up.”

“Do you mean to say you have given that boy permission to drive a team of oxen all the way across the plains?” she asked looking worried.

“I mean to say he is going to make the attempt and I think he will succeed very well.  Why, he has been breaking in oxen since he was 15 years old.  Don’t worry about Norval, he will be a full fledged bull whacker by the time we cross the great mountains,” he answered, laughing at her concerns.

OxenNorval next appears in the stories as causing the wagon train to slow or stop due to illness not long after the family left their wintering place in Missouri.  His oldest brother, William Franklin Robbins, later wrote a long story that was published in the Decatur Press the following year:  “We started from Randolph county, Missouri, the 15th day of April last, (1852.)  Brother Norval was sick, and we had to lay by with him, one place or another, near two weeks, before we reached the Missouri river.”  This was supported by cattle drive John N. Lewis’ diary entries which recorded on April 20th of that year “this day we laid in camp on the account of Norvel Robbins being sick” and on the following day “his day we crost a very broken part of the country far about 7 m. and put up on the acount of Norvel being sick…”

All of the accounts tell the story of a cattle stampede that occurred causing some of the wagons to overturn.  Kate (Sharp) Jones reported a recovered Norval whose experience with oxen came in handy.

After a few days of travel the cattle were becoming more and more restless and hard to control.  At last the leaders, a pair of sleek young steers, raised their heads, sniffed a few breaths of the cool, damp air and made a run for it.  The others quickly followed.  Many of the wagons were overturned, some on their sides and some bottom side up.  The one in which Zobeda was riding with the two little orphaned boys, Norval and William Barnes, was one that turned completely over.  They escaped, however, with only a few minor scratches and bruises.  It was during the stampede that 17-year-old Norval proved his manhood.  He ran in front of his cattle, whipped and lashed their heads and held them until they quieted down.  His was the only team that was held back.

Kate also reported that both her uncles Norval and James were fiddle players and somewhere near the continental divide put on a concert: “One night when they made camp near the summit, the sky was so clear the stars and moon seemed close at hand.  Norval and James brought out their fiddles.  ‘We are going to serenade the moon and stars,’ they said, ‘we will probably never be any nearer to them.’”  He was probably one of the several young members of the wagon train who inscribed their names on Chimney Rock, which they rode and walked out to after the wagons camped for the night by the Platte River.

Norval and Permelia

Norval and Permelia (Bird) Robbins

After the family arrived in Oregon, Norval took out a Donation Land Claim near other family members in the Stafford area, north and east of present-day Wilsonville.  There he met and married Permelia Bird, a member of another pioneer family: she was the granddaughter of Robert Bird, the namesake for the Bird cemetery where many of the Robbins family are buried.  The were married in the winter of 1858 and again Kate (Sharp) Jones has the story:  “It was the coldest day they had seen in Oregon and Benjamin Athey, one of the wedding guests, remarked that he thought the Robbins and Birds were mating out of season, since the guests nearly froze on their way to the wedding.”

On October 15, 1855, Norval Robbins enlisted as a private in Samuel Stafford’s Company in the 1st Regiment of Oregon Mounted Volunteers.  In his enlistment papers he was described as being six feet tall, with dark hair, hazel eyes, and light complexion.  His occupation was given as farmer.  Norval was sent to the Simcoe Valley in south central Washington where the Yakima Indian war was beginning.  Years later in Norval’s pension application, a friend named Caspar Hinkle stated that Norval “received a wound or hurt of some character and was sent by the sergeant with me to Oregon City.”  Norval saw little action, therefore, as he took sick on 22 November, a little more than a month after enlisting.  He never missed a reunion of the Indian War veterans however!

Norval and Permelia had five children, of whom four lived to adulthood.  The oldest son was named Oren Decatur Robbins, in honor of his father’s birthplace.  Next came Absalom Allen Robbins, named after a grandfather; little Absalom died at just under one year of age. Next in the family was Laura Leanna Robbins, then Christopher Carll Robbins, and finally Rufus Merritt Robbins.  Oren, Laura, and Chris were married but only the latter two had children.  Rufus died at the age of nineteen.  You will note similarities between the names of Robbins family members in Oregon with those back in Indiana; the family carried their naming patterns with them.

After living in the Stafford area until 1877, Norval and his family moved to eastern Oregon and were said to have settled about thirty-five miles east of Canyon City.  When the Snakes, Bannocks, and other local Indians began attacking settlers Norval removed his family from area.  They sought refuge at Heppner (perhaps with their Herren cousins?), and then returned to western Oregon for good.  In 1880 they settled in Logan east of Oregon City.

Norval and Permelia older

Norval and Permelia (Bird) Robbins

In 1899, the following “personal mention” appeared in the Oregon City Enterprise:

“N. N. Robbins, janitor at the Barclay school had his leg broken on July 4th.  He attended the celebration at Logan and during the day his horse got loose and in attempting to catch him Mr. Robbins was kicked on the leg with the above result.”

I have some notes compiled by Robbins family historian Margaret Davis who was able to interview Kate (Sharp) Jones, as well as Lulu (Kirchem) Ward and Irene (Kirchem) Doust, granddaughters of Norval, in the 1960s.  Among the stories are the following, which provide a small flavor of the man.

Norval was a great practical joker, but like many practical jokers he couldn’t take a joke on himself.  He loved to tease his grandsons.  One day two of his grandsons tied a crow in a tree and ran yelling in the house for grandpa to get his gun.  Norval came running and shot the bird.  When it didn’t fall from the tree he realized he had been part of a ‘joke’, but he didn’t think it was very funny.

Another time he had been having trouble with animals getting his chickens.  Hearing a ruckus one day he went running to the chicken coop, where by the noise coming from the coop he realized that the animal was still inside.  Permelia had followed him and kept yelling at him not to get near as she was sure it wasn’t a weasel but a skunk, but, Norval was down on his stomach reaching into the hole to pull the animal out.  It was a very sad Norval a few minutes later when he found to his regret that it wasn’t a weasel but a very potent skunk.

Norval Robbins, the tough pioneer that he was, died on Christmas Eve 1926 at the age of 94, while his steadfast wife Permelia lived until 1932, dying at the age of 93.  Both are buried in the cemetery named for her grandfather, the Robert Bird Cemetery.

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

A Married Woman’s Property Register

I was finishing up some deed research in the Grant County, Oregon, courthouse one day, tired from handling the heavy deed record books, when I decided to take a look at a few miscellaneous record books the clerk had on a small dusty bookcase.  One of those was a small ledger titled Register of Married Womens Personal Property Book “A”.  Hmmm – looked interesting.  Leafing through the book I found that, of the few pages of entries, one page actually listed a Robbins family member:  Nancy C. Hinton.

Nancy Hinton

Nancy C. (Hamilton) Hinton

Prior to 1839 in the United States, a woman’s property, her wages, her ability to enter into contracts, and more, was considered to be subsumed under her husband’s control.  This system came down to us through British common law.  Wikipedia quotes an Illinois Supreme court decision which stated: “It is simply impossible that a married woman should be able to control and enjoy her property as if she were sole, without practically leaving her at liberty to annul the marriage.”

As the nineteenth-century progressed this idea came under increased scrutiny and was considered, rightly, oppressive to women.  In 1839, Mississippi, not considered particularly progressive today, was the first state then to allow women to own property.  Other states followed suit and the western states, just as later they were among the first to give women the right to vote, began to pass laws allowing women to own property in their own right.

Register BookIn Oregon there was a debate during the 1857 Constitutional Convention as to whether a married woman’s property act should be among its provisions.  Matthew Deady, later a conservative federal judge, was against the idea.  He said the act made “two persons of the husband and wife,” and caused “family alienation.”  Delazon Smith retorted that it was not ownership of property that led to divorce, it “was the want of affection—the want of marriage of the heart.”  The best response was Frederick Waymire who said “If we should legislate for any class it should be for the women of this [Oregon] country.  They worked harder than anybody else in it.”  The upshot was that the provision protecting women’s property was included in the constitution.

Unfortunately, it took a while, and a number of court cases, for the intent of the provision to become permanent in law.  In fact, in 1866, the legislature passed a new law that said women could only register personal property, not real estate.  A woman was encouraged to register her personal property and if she didn’t, in the event of a dispute, the property would be considered her husbands.

Which leads us to Nancy Hinton’s registration of her personal property in 1895.  Why it took her 22 years after her marriage to register her property is unknown, but on 16 April 1895 she appeared before M. M. Brierly, Justice of the Peace in Grant County, and listed horses and cattle that she owned prior to her marriage to her husband John J. Hinton.


Further she made the following statement:

I Nancy C. Hinton being duly sworn, depose and say, that the foregoing list of personal property is a true list and description of the cattle and horses owned by me

That the cattle therein described were owned by me prior to and at the time of my marriage with J J Hinton

That the horses therein described were acquired by purchase of A. C. Frink and that I am now the owner of all of the above described personal property.

Nancy was the daughter of John H. and Mary Jane (Robbins) Hamilton, pioneers of Grant County, and a granddaughter of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.  Since Nathaniel served on Oregon’s Constitutional Convention, one might ask what his view was on the question of women’s ownership of property.  Would he have supported his granddaughter’s property rights or not?  We have no way of knowing today for sure, but it might be noted that Nathaniel was a Democrat and a probable supporter of fellow southern-leaning Democrat Matthew Deady – the opponent of women’s property rights.

Thus, a little-known record source, while not answering any particular genealogical question, does provide a look into the property owned and registered by a frontier woman in the 19th century.

This post relied upon an article entitled “Late Nineteenth Century Married Women ‘ s Property Law: Reception of the Early Married Women ‘s Property Acts by Courts and Legislatures” by Richard H. Chused, which appeared in The American Journal of Legal History 29 (1), 1985.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-Mary Jane (Robbins) Hamilton-Nancy Catherine (Hamilton) Hinton)

Met Horrible Death: Benjamin Franklin Butler Barstow

Met a horrible death

In 1866, Joseph and Nancy (Robbins) Barstow, named their fifth child Benjamin Franklin Butler Barstow, in honor of Benjamin Franklin Butler, controversial Union Army general and future governor of Massachusetts.  Butler was a “political” general, appointed because of his political pull and had no military experience.  Why did the couple name their child for him?  Probably for two reasons.  Joseph Barstow came from Massachusetts and the Robbins family, if not the Barstows, supported the pre-Civil War Democratic Party and Butler was one of it’s preeminent leaders in New England.  In the future the child would be simply known as Ben (though he also appeared as “Butler” in several census records).

Ben Barstow was born when the family was living in the Stafford area, near the boundary between Clackamas and Washington counties, in Oregon.  He was born three years after the death by drowning of his grandfather, Dr. Nathaniel Robbins.  He had two older brothers, two older sisters, one of whom died in infancy, and two youngers sisters, again with only one living to adulthood.  Sadly Ben also lost his mother when he was about six years of age, as Nancy died from the effects of giving birth to her last child in 1872.  Ben’s father Joseph Barstow, who had come around the Horn to Oregon from New England, remained a widower until his death many years later in 1915.

Barstow family

Ben and Christina Barstow, with oldest daughter Iva, c1900

In 1899, Ben Barstow was married to Christina Groshong near the Clackamas county settlement of Wilhoit in the Cascades foothills.  Wilhoit was the location of springs which brought visitors from near and farm.  An article in the local Oregon City newspaper reported at the time: “A number of guests were present and a luxurious wedding dinner was served.  The bride has resided at Wilhoit for a number of years and enjoys a host of friends.”  Over the next several years Ben and Christina had three daughters, Iva, Harriet, and Marie, the last being born in November of 1904. They lived near Wilhoit and Scotts Mills a few miles to the south.   Farming and logging were the primary occupations of the time.

But once again tragedy struck the Barstow family.  Approximately two weeks after the birth of his last daughter, Ben Barstow was seriously injured in a logging accident.

The first newspaper mention of this incident comes from The Silverton Appeal on Friday, December 2, 1904:  “Ben Barstow of Scotts Mills, was serious injured Monday, having met with the misfortune to dislocate his hip.  He was also injured internally, and his condition is said to be critical.  A local physician has the case in charge and reports the patient in favorable way to recovery at this writing.”

Unfortunately, that was not to be.  The following Friday, the same newspaper reported: “Ben Barstow, who was injured at Scotts Mills Monday of last week, a brief mention of which was made in our last issue, died Saturday and was buried Monday.”  Ben Barstow was 38 years old.

That would be all we knew of the incident except the Oregon City Enterprise carried a lengthy description of the incident under the headline “Met Horrible Death.”  Both newspapers disagreed on which day of the week the incident happened (Monday or Tuesday) and which day of the week Barstow died (Saturday or Sunday).

The Enterprise reported,

The details of the accident and consequent suffering are harrowing in the extreme.  It seems that last Tuesday he and another man were getting out raw logs and were hauling them over to a skidway leading to Coal creek.  While hauling a big log over a rough piece of ground it made an unexpected turn and caught Mr. Barstow, who fell while the log rolled onto him, dragging for half its length across the hips and groins of the unfortunate man before the team could be stopped.  Mr. Barstow was alone at the time and when his helper finally arrived he was unable to remove the heavy log and the only thing to do was to haul the log off with the team and this was done.  The injured man could not stand to be carried, so he was dragged by the arm for about 300 yards, put on a sled and hauled home nearly a mile away.  Medical aid was hastily summoned, and an examination proved that the bones in the hips were mashed and the lower part of the abdomen was crushed, causing serious internal injuries.  He appeared to be improving at first, but he was gradually failing, and said himself that he had not long to live.  Saturday night and Sunday morning he appeared quite cheerful and was telling stories and jokes to a circle of friends and relatives.  Sunday morning he said: “Let my boy come in to rubber at me too.”  He called his oldest daughter, a child of about four, his “boy.” When she came in he took her hands, pressed them to his face and fell back on the pillow dead.

Barstow gravestone

His widow Christina later remarried to a man named John Sharp, not known to be any relation to her late husband’s uncle William Sharp.  The girls grew up and married, though Iva, or “Boy” as her father called her, died in the influenza epidemic of the early 1920s.  I was fortunate to correspond with and later meet the youngest daughter Marie who provided information about her family and the father she never knew.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Barstow-Benjamin Franklin Butler Barstow)

An Oregon Surveyor

I was recently contacted by Jerry Olson, the owner of an engineering firm and a man who has a deep interest in the history of surveying and surveyors of the Pacific Northwest.  Jerry was asking about Daniel S. Herren, a son of John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren, who, and this was new information to me, was an early Oregon surveyor.  We were able to provide new information to each other.

We have an eclectic mix of documentation about the life of Daniel but no photographs of him have been identified to date.  He died when most of his children were still young and, as frequently happens, after his death his children began to lose contact with the rest of their father’s family.  In compiling my family history, The Oregon Trail Families, I only found a couple of correspondents among Daniel’s descendants.

Daniel S Herren signature

Daniel S. Herren was born in 1829 in Decatur County, Indiana.  His middle name has been given in family records as “Simpson” and according to his obituary he was called “Sim.”  The Herren family left Indiana for Platte County, Missouri, where they resided for a few years before coming across the Oregon Trail in 1845.  They were the family that took the ill-fated Meek Cutoff that wandered without direction or food across Central Oregon.

In the 1850 census, at the age of 21, Daniel was listed in the household of his parents in Marion County, Oregon, and it was noted that he attended school during the year.  This was unusual for most 21-year old’s living on their parents farm in the days when most students ended their formal education by age sixteen.  Perhaps Daniel was receiving training in surveying.

The following year Daniel was married to Susan Sabina Caton.  Susan was the sister of Nathan Thomas Caton who later married Daniel’s sister Martha Herren.  Daniel and Susan had at least ten children:  Mary Catherine, Ulysses, Marcellus, Oliver Perry, John R., Ruby Y., Thomas, Susan Lavina, Jennie, and one unnamed child.

Daniel, a Democrat, served as the Sergeant-At-Arms for the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1858, a position that was dependent on being a member of the majority party, with the Surveyor General being a Democrat.

survey map note

Note on 1860s era survey map, indicating previous survey done by Daniel S. Herren

By 1859 Daniel Herren was working under contract to the Oregon Surveyor General’s Office and in 1860 was the surveyor for the Calvin Hale donation land claim in Lane County, Oregon, apparently the only claim that Herren was responsible for laying out.  The location of this claim is interesting as it lays along highway 126, the route between Florence and Eugene, a route that I take frequently driving between the coast and the valley!  In addition, two of his brothers, Noah and James, were employed as land office surveyor crewman, performing “ax” duty, in the 1850s.

The family lived in Marion County until about 1868.  By 1870 they were established in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, a huge change from the now well-settled Willamette Valley they came from.  Within a few years the family had moved further east to Granite County, settling near the community of New Chicago, and living a few miles east at the Perkins Ranch near Pioneer in Powell County.  This area was the location of gold placer mining activity.

Montana newspapers of the era had a number of details about Daniel and his family’s activities.  In 1874 it was noted:  “For the bridge over the Big Blackfoot, D. S. Herren put in a bid to build a new bridge and repair grade for $2,500.”  In 1876:  “It is reported that D.S. Herren has discovered a copper lode on Woodchuck creek that is sixty per cent. pure copper.”  In 1877 Daniel was mentioned peripherally:  “Richard Childs, of Missoula, formerly Probate Judge of that country, died at the residence of Mr. D. S. Herron, at the Perkins ranch on Saturday last.  Mr. Childs, accompanied by his family, were on their road home from Helena, and on Wednesday last, reaching Mr. Herron’s, was unable to travel further.  He was there but three days when he died.”

Then there was this advertisement in the Deer Lodge New North-west in March of 1878, reporting that the Herrens’ were throwing a party:

Herren ball ad

In 1878 the local newspaper reported a census of the Deer Lodge County schools and reported that Oliver, Ruby, John and Thomas Herron moved from the Pioneer school to the New Chicago school.  In 1881 it was reported that Daniel Herren had “bought T. H. Morse’s blacksmith shop at Pioneer and leased it to T. H. Hunsuscker, a skillful workman.”  It was around this time that Daniel Herren and his oldest son Oliver Perry Herren edited a newspaper for a very short time in Washington.  At his death, a newspaper reported sardonically that Daniel “…edited a marvelous paper at Spokane Falls for a few days…”

One of the strangest newspaper mentions of Daniel Herren occurred in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in February of 1883.  As he died only a couple of months later, one cannot help but feel this story about a tapeworm was related to his cause of death.  Note that his surname is spelled two different ways within the same article.

“On Monday Dr. Blalock set his trap the second time and catching hold of the snake worm relieved D. S. Herrin of twenty feet of the critter, making 101 at two hauls.  Mr. Herren had previously given up thirty-six feet and eight inches of the varmint and thinks there are 100 feet left.”

Herren tapeworm article

A few months later, while visiting his family back in Oregon, Daniel Herren died at his brother’s home.  One descendant had heard the story that he had died during a train robbery near Salem, but the real story was more mundane except perhaps that a tapeworm was involved.

Daniel is buried in the Herren family cemetery near Turner, Oregon.  His widow Susan was married two more times before disappearing so far from the historical record after 1910.  Two of his children that survived to adulthood married and have many descendants, but the majority of his children either died in infancy, childhood, or as adults without issue.

Daniel S. Herren – farmer, politician, miner, newspaper editor – and a surveyor.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Daniel S. Herren)