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)

James Anderson Robbins: Doctor and Coroner

According to a family history written by his niece, 19-year-old James Anderson Robbins met his future wife Minerva Elizabeth Hamilton at a Methodist camp meeting in Decatur County, Indiana.  Camp meetings, which were as much social as religious gatherings, were attended by hundreds of people from all around.  Both the Robbins and Hamilton families were prominent in the county so it may be that James and Minerva were aware of each other before the recording meeting, but Kate (Sharp) Jones wrote down what Minerva told her in later years:

He was riding around on a big grey horse with a watermelon under his arm. Riding up to a table set underneath the sycamore trees he laid the melon on it and proceeded to carve it. ‘Now all you girls,’ he said, ‘range yourselves around this table and you will get a slice of the best watermelon raised this year in Decatur Co. I know because I raised it myself. And remember the prettiest girl gets the biggest slice of melon.’ I knew I wasn’t the prettiest girl there, but I did get the biggest slice of that melon. From that day on I saw Jim Robbins most every Sunday afternoon.

Robbins family

Minerva and James Robbins, with daughter

The two were married in 1845 in Decatur County and before leaving for Oregon in the fall of 1851 they were the parents of three children, Sarah Catherine (“Cassie”), Nancy Jane, and Alfred Newland Robbins, though Alfred died in infancy before the family left Indiana.  Interestingly a grandson of James was named Alfred Newlin Robbins so it’s possible that the middle name of “Newland” for the first Alfred has been passed down incorrectly in the family.  Minerva’s brother John Henry Hamilton was married to James’ sister Mary Jane Robbins in 1848.  Both Minerva and John were children of James and Judy (Owen) Hamilton of Decatur County.

One of the few mentions of Indians during the family’s Oregon Trail trip involved daughter Nancy Jane.  A Wasco County, Oregon, historian later told this story about the event:

Mrs. Murray [Nancy Jane Robbins] remembers, too, that there were many Indians always about and that one of the natives was determined to buy her.  He offered her father [James Robbins] six ponies for her and followed the train of emigrants for a half day pressing the purchase.  Finally her father seized a long whip and whipped the Indian so severely that he went away.  Her grandfather, an old gray haired man [Nathaniel Robbins], came and said to her father: “Why did you do that? Now they will come tonight and massacre us all.”  The Indians did come that night in war trappings, but the party was able to pacify them with gifts from their supplies, so that no trouble was experienced.

Kate (Sharp) Jones also told the story that when the Robbinses were trying to ford the South Platte River, in today’s Nebraska, James and his brother William along with father Nathaniel, scouted for a safe place to cross.  The river was not deep but the river bottom hid quicksand that could easily trap a wagon.  The cattle had to be whipped and goaded to cross and James’ team tried to turn around in mid-stream but he was finally able to get them across.

James and Minerva and their two children survived the journey, unlike several of his siblings and other relatives.  The little family settled on a donation land claim in western Clackamas County in 1853, their land, nearly 328 acres, laying on the south side of today’s Homesteader Road and east of Stafford Road.  There they lived almost up to 1870 and where several more children were born:  Judith Amanda, Ellen, Nathaniel James (“Bud”), and Minerva Elizabeth (“Minnie”).

By 1870 the family was living further west in Yamhill County, but they didn’t stay there long because by 1872 they were already well established in The Dalles, the county seat of Wasco County, in north-central Oregon along the Columbia River.  Why did they move from the verdant green of the Willamette Valley to the hot arid country of Wasco County?  It’s not for the reasons that other family members moved east, hopes of better land, the chance to ranch or to mine for gold.  This family lived in town, where James is first listed in a county payment warrant from January of 1872 where he was paid $2 for jury service.


The Dalles (Oregon) in 1884

A mixture of sources (family, county, and newspaper) indicate that James Robbins was elected as a Democrat to the office of county coroner in 1876 and 1880 and he reportedly established and ran the hospital in The Dalles.  Wasco County warrant books list a wide variety of expenses for which James was paid, including:  jury service, physician services, providing extra clothing to a pauper, serving as “judge of elections,” various “hospital purposes,” witness at a coroner’s inquest, and in 1874 he was paid $6 for digging a grave.

As coroner, James Robbins had some interesting duties.  The local newspaper reported in February of 1884 that “Coroner Robbins received a postal yesterday from Hood River, dated the 21st.  An Indian found a dead man hanging to a tree about 3 miles from that place.  The coroner thinks the body is that of Henry Hoek, who has been missing for some time.”  There was no report as to cause of death.

Despite being a physician, James found that he couldn’t keep his close family members from dying of disease, much as his father, a country physician, couldn’t on the Oregon Trail.  In 1873, James and Minerva’s 16-year-old daughter Ellen died of “congestive fever.”  The local newspaper reported that she was “a very intelligent young lady and beloved by all who knew her.”

JA Robbins funeral

Dr. James Anderson Robbins died on Monday, 15 November 1886, at his home in The Dalles.  He had apparently been in poor health for a couple of years.  He was 60-years-old and the funeral was held at the family home two days later.  Sadly, while it is believed James was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in The Dalles, no marker or other records survive which corroborates that.

Minerva Robbins continued to live in The Dalles, where in the 1897 city directory she was listed as a widow and milliner, and then later went to live with her daughter Minnie (Robbins) Whitby in La Grande, in northeastern Oregon.  She would frequently visit other family members in the Willamette Valley where they would all reminisce about their previous life in Decatur County, Indiana, and their trek across the Oregon Trail in 1852.  At such gatherings niece Kate (Sharp) Jones recorded the stories.  Minerva outlived her husband by many years, passing away in 1920 at the age of 97.  She too is said to be buried, unmarked, in The Dalles Pioneer Cemetery.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-James Anderson Robbins)

The Willamette Stone

Other than the original thirteen colonies, Kentucky and Tennessee, and Texas, all land in the United States is divided up through the Public Land Survey System, first laid out in the Land Ordinance of 1785.  Also called the Rectangular Land System it divides up land in sections and townships based off of a meridian and a baseline.  It’s a very easy system for describing land and it’s very easy for family historians to find their family’s land with a description from a deed.

DLC Nathl Robbins

In Oregon, the meridian and baseline were established in 1851 by John B. Preston, the first Surveyor General of Oregon.  The baseline was chosen so it wouldn’t cross the Columbia River, while the meridian was set to lay west of Vancouver Lake, a shallow waterway along the Columbia where it turns north in the vicinity of Portland.

The junction of the Willamette meridian and Willamette baseline lies west of downtown Portland in the high hills along Skyline Drive.  I recently visited the spot which is appropriately named Willamette Stone State Heritage Site.

Willimette Stone 1

The Willamette Stone

The existing marker is the third in the location.  The first, set by Surveyor Preston, was a red cedar stake.  It was replaced in 1885 by a small stone obelisk, which after being vandalized, was replaced by the current marker set in concrete with an accompanying plaque and some interpretive signage.

Willamette Stone 2

Willamette Stone set in concrete

I was interested in whether other meridians and baselines are marked and indeed they seem to be.  The Second principal meridian on which most of Indiana is divided up is located in the woods south of Paoli, Indiana.  The Fifth principal meridian in Missouri, is situated at the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers and is now in a swamp, accessed by a boardwalk trail.

Meridians map

Map of Principal Meridians and Base Lines

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this type of land description is very easy to use to locate property in the United States.  You can use a website such as Earthpoint to enter the state, meridian, township, and section and get latitude and longitude coordinates that you can enter into Google Earth to find the location on a map.  Here’s one example which shows the general area where Nathaniel Robbins’ Donation Land Claim was located in the 1850s, based on the simple description of something like “South ½ of the South ½ of section 30”.

Nathl on GoogleEarth

General location of Nathaniel Robbins land

So you may ask how were land parcels identified in the non-Public Land Survey System states? like Virginia or Kentucky?  By a system called metes and bounds.  Here’s a transcribed description from Nathaniel’s grandfather Jacob Robbins in Montgomery County, Virginia (1783):

“…Beginning at two white oaks and a red oak corner to the same and runneth thence South four degrees East sixty poles to a forked white oak corner to said Ogles [a neighbor] and runneth thence South twenty four degrees East one hundred and twenty poles crossing the River and over a Branch to two white oaks on a hillside South forty five degrees West two hundred and seventy poles to the River and down the same South seventy five degrees West eighty four poles, West fifty six poles, North forty five degrees West one hundred and ten poles to a white oak on a hillside, and thence North fifteen degrees East four hundred and seventy four poles to the Beginning…”

Which is easier to find?  Metes and bounds or Public Land Survey System?  I’ll take the latter any day!


An Ancestral Mother for Mother’s Day

The earliest Robbins “mother” for which I have a photograph is my great-great-great-grandmother Nancy Robbins.  Like a lot of photography subjects at the time she doesn’t look particularly happy, but then she had a hard life, yet a long one.  She suffered numerous tragedies but persevered and is the ancestor of hundreds of people.

Nancy Robbins (1793-1880)

Nancy Robbins was born in 1793 to Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins.  She was raised in Virginia and Kentucky and married her first cousin Nathaniel Robbins in 1813, thereby keeping her maiden surname.

Nancy’s parents, Absalom and Mary Robbins, give permission for her to marry; brothers George and Micajah are witnesses.

The first tragedy Nancy suffered was the loss of the couple’s first child, Harriet, in 1815.  After the birth of their second child, Nancy and Nathaniel left Kentucky for Bond Co., Illinois, where they lived briefly.  While there, their third child, Absalom, died in 1819 from the effects of a burn.  Moving back east to Decatur County, Indiana, the couple had ten more children, all of whom lived to adulthood.

With Oregon fever at a height, Nathaniel and Nancy made the difficult choice to cross the continent to Oregon.  Did Nancy have a voice in the decision? or did Nathaniel just announce they were leaving?  The family set out in the fall of 1851 to winter over in Missouri, before setting out on the Oregon Trail in the spring of 1852.

They left Missouri in mid-April, and they hadn’t traveled far, in what is today southern Nebraska, when the emigrants were struck with cholera.  A fast-moving disease, those stricken could be gone before they knew it.  That’s what happened with three of Nancy’s children.  Two daughters, Amanda Minerva and Bethiah Emmeline, died on May 31st, having been stricken early in the day, daughter Mahala followed the next day.   Two days after that, son-in-law Absalom Barnes, who had left his own family back in Indiana, and was married to Bethiah Emmeline, followed his wife into the grave.  Nancy and Nathaniel would now raise their orphaned Barnes grandsons.  The travelers had to keep moving and the three daughters were buried in one grave, Absalom was buried further along the trail, and the Robbins family moved on.

Family stories recount that many of the emigrants were ill, including Nathaniel, for whom the wagon train would stop until he felt better, but there is never any mention of Nancy Robbins being ill.  You can imagine her cooking, cleaning, nursing, and mourning, out in the elements month after month, along a hot and dusty or wet and muddy road.

When the wagon train arrived in eastern Oregon, Nancy lost her granddaughter Sarah Jane Robbins, aged about five or six.  And after the family arrived in Oregon City, their destination, grandson Gilman Robbins, not yet eleven years old, died and was buried in a location now unknown.

The family settled in the western part of Clackamas County and filed their donation land claims.  The couple and their children began building their lives in their new home and Nancy was the matriarch of an expanding family.  We don’t know a lot about Nancy’s personal life beyond her role as a mother.  We do know from the census that she could not read or write, not uncommon for an upbringing on the Kentucky frontier.  We also know that she made wine!  She won second prize for her current wine at the 1863 Oregon State Fair in Salem.

Tragedy continued to stalk the family however.  Oldest son William Franklin Robbins was out bear hunting in 1856, when he reached down for his rifle and it went off, killing him instantly.  Youngest daughter Angeline, who was said to be in poor health, died in 1862, at age twenty.  Then, in December of 1863, Nathaniel Robbins, Nancy’s husband of half a century, drowned in the rain-swollen Tualatin River.  Nancy endured those events, and there was more to come.

In 1872, the youngest surviving daughter, Nancy, named for her mother, died shortly after her last child was delivered.  The following year, bachelor son John Dow Robbins, was found murdered on his land claim.  His murderer was never found.  In 1877, son-in-law William Sharp died after falling from his barn’s roof.

Nancy, the tough old pioneer that she was, finally succumbed at the age of 87, to what the 1880 Mortality Schedule seems to describe as “acute pleurisy.”  By my count, she was survived by four children (five children-in-law) and 41 grandchildren.  I did not try to count her great-grandchildren.  One of her last surviving grandchildren was Nancy Lucinda Barstow, named for her mother and grandmother, who was 12-years-old when her grandmother died and who, herself, lived until 1961.  These two Nancy’s lives covered 168 years of American history, from the presidencies of George Washington to John F. Kennedy.  What would Nancy senior have thought of that?

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Robbins)

John V. Travis: (Briefly) A Civil War Soldier

I don’t order Civil War pension records very often, as they are rather expensive.  Once in a while though I splurge on a case file in hope that the record will provide new information, if not in specific genealogical data such as names and dates, but in social and economic history of the family involved.  The most recent pension record I’ve received is that of John V. Travis.  His mother, Docia (Robbins) Travis, applied for a pension after his brief service in the Union army.  This pension file doesn’t include any new genealogical bombshells but does have some interesting facts not otherwise passed down in a family’s records.  Here is a summary of the information contained, with some additions from other sources.

John V. Travis was the son of Absalom Travis and Docia F. Robbins, and Docia was a daughter of Marmaduke and Elizabeth (Parsley) Robbins.  Docia was born in 1821 and married Absalom Travis in 1839 in Decatur County, Indiana.  John Travis was the couple’s third child, born about 1845 though unfortunately the pension file did not provide an exact birthdate.  Absalom Travis died 12 October 1853, leaving Docia a widow caring for six children ranging in age from 1 to 13.

According to the pension file, John enrolled as a private in company D of the 123rd Regiment of Indiana Infantry Volunteers, on Sunday, December 20th, 1863, to serve for three years or the duration of the war.  It was probably not a happy day for his mother and it would only get worse quickly.  John became ill and died on 23 January 1864, after only one month of military service.  He was approximately 19 years of age.

There is an affidavit by his doctors E. B. Swain and M. G. Falconbury, in which they,

“…say that they attended on John V Travis late a Private in Co. “D” of the 123rd Regt Ind Vols in or during his last illness and that Said John V Travis died on the 23rd day of January 1864 near Greensburgh Indiana by reason of a disease called Cerebro Spinal Meningitis and that said disease was contracted or originated three days prior to the date of his death.”

John’s commanding officer, Capt. Angus McCoy also reported that John

“…was attended in his last illness by Civil Surgeons and Physicians And that there was no Regimental Surgeon yet appointed or on duty with Said Regiment at the time of the last illness and death of John V. Travis.”

On August 8, 1865, Docia filed a “Declaration for Mother’s Army Pension.”  In that document she appoints Edwin White as her attorney, presents two witnesses to her signing the declaration with her mark “x”, Green B. Roszell and Calvin H. Paramore (the latter being married to her cousin Mary Ellen Robbins).  They also state “…that said Docia F. Travis is poor, and has no income save what is contributed by friends, or earned by her own labor; and they believe her unable to earn her subsistence, by reason of her age and also having a child (daughter) to support.”  The daughter is not named but was likely Nancy Ann Travis, then in her late teens.  This statement also seems to support the idea that her youngest child, William Travis, who appeared in the 1860 census as a 7-year-old, was deceased.

Another affidavit was filed by her nephews George Harvey and William Riley Robbins, sons of her brother Jacob.  They provided a little more information about her situation:

…that Said John V Travis did in his lifetime for a period of three or four years contributed money and other necessary articles Such as provisions to the regular support of his mother Docia F. Travis, and that Said John V Travis did not give her money and other articles as presents but that he worked for the Said G H Robbins at different times and that he the Said G H Robbins paid a part of his wages by the request of Said John V Travis to Said Docia F Travis, the same being for her regular support and that Said Docia Travis was wholly dependant upon her Said Son (John V Travis) for Support.  And that Absalom Travis the husband of Docia Travis died about the year 1855.  That he the Said Absalom Travis left to his Said widow Docia F Travis property, Real & Personal, worth the Sum of two hundred & fifty Dollars, all of which she has used to support herself and family and that she has no property of any value at this time with the exception of a cow and a little household furniture all not worth more than one hundred Dollars…

Docia Travis was approved for a pension, to receive $8 per month, commencing on 23 January 1864, the date of John’s death.  Presumably she received retroactive payments from the date of death to the approval of the pension.

By about the same time she was being approved for the pension, Docia moved to Clay County, Illinois.  She continued to collect her eight dollars each month until in 1872 she remarried, to William Nichelson.  William seems to have died sometime in the late 1880’s and Docia re-applied for a pension based on John’s service, as she was once again without support.  Her “Declaration for Dependent Mother’s Pension” was filed on 8 August 1890 with the support of her new attorney Thomas W. Kepley.  As support several of her friends filed an affidavit stating “…that she has no property other than common necessary wearing apparel and bedding.  That all the means of support she has is from her own labor which consists of doing a little light house work for others and nursing the sick which occupations she is not now able to perform only to a limited extent on account of Old age and failing health. That her annual income from all sources is not more than about Ten Dollars.”

She must have been relieved to once again be awarded a pension, this time receiving the increased amount of $12 per month, commencing in September of 1890.

As frequently happened with these pensions, the recipient was asked to provide additional or clarifying information, sometimes as the result of a routine audit.  In Docia’s case apparently there was some concern about the spelling of her second husband’s name, causing her to file an affidavit at the local courthouse that “…states as follows that she has no education whatsoever and cannot tell what is the Correct way of spelling her late husbands name.  She does not know whether it is spelled Nichelson or Nicholson, that the difference in spelling that name in her papers has been made by different officers who have done business for her. That she believes that the correct way is as it is spelled in her Original papers, Nichelson.”

We do not know when Docia died.  Family records suggest around 1903.  However a notation in the pension file indicates she was last paid in October of 1900 and had been “dropped because of failure to claim 3 yrs 3 mos.”  Was she deceased by this time? or too infirm to collect her pension?  The record is not clear.

There were no spectacular new finds in this pension file, but we did learn something about John Travis’ death, the physicians that attended him, the economic status of his widowed mother, and her education level.  That information is not usually available in any other genealogical record available to us from this time period.  I’ll write up summaries of other pension records and include the information in future posts.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Docia (Robbins) Travis-John V. Travis)