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.

Picture2

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)

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)

 

 

Snooks, Schumachers and a Librarian Too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jacob Gates Robbins (1845-1883)

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

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

China Poland hogs

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

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

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

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

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

J. Gates Robbins gravestone

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

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

 

Law Runs in the Family

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Bethiah (Anderson) Shane

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

Chris Shane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melvin Robbins (1924-2017)

In 1978, I first visited Greensburg, Indiana, as a teenager with my parents on a family vacation, that was only partly spent on genealogy.  We did some research at the Decatur County Courthouse, visited the local history room of the Greensburg Public Library, and visited the Mount Pleasant Cemetery south of town to find the graves of ancestors William and Bethiah Robbins.

Finding the cemetery was a chore – we ended up asking people on the country roads and once we saw a low stone wall on a hillside and couldn’t get a rise out of the then-owners of the property, parked by the road and climbed up the hill, oblivious to copperheads or whatever else lived there, to finally arrive at the cemetery.

Soon after we encountered someone who told us that Melvin Robbins of Greensburg helped clean up and take care of the cemetery.  We pulled into the driveway of the Robbins home in Greensburg and were immediately invited in by Melvin and his wife Rosalie who began sharing Robbins family history and telling us all about Decatur County.  Thus began a long friendship with distant cousins half way across the country.  Melvin was my mother’s fourth cousin.

Donna and Merrill Mittge with Melvin and Rosalie Robbins (1978)

I mention this because Melvin Robbins passed away last week at the age of 92 (he had lost Rosalie in 2015).  You can find Melvin’s obituary on the Porter-Oliger-Pearson Funeral Home website:

http://www.popfuneralhome.com/obituary/melvin-robbins.

Although our correspondence had lessened in the last years, I and my family have never forgotten the wonderful welcome we received from Melvin and Rosalie.  Years later we still recall another visit when Melvin, accompanied by local historian and cousin Dale Myers, led us on a cemetery tour around Decatur County.  We will miss him greatly!

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Job Robbins-George W. Robbins-Daniel Van Dola Robbins-Melvin Robbins), also,
(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Eliza Catherine Robbins-George W. Robbins-Daniel Van Dola Robbins-Melvin Robbins)

Serious Trouble at Millhousen

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

Another newspaper headline.

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

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

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

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

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

Map of Millhousen (1882)

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

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

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

Coroner’s Inquest

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

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

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

Letters about Letters: An Example of Serendipity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Gilman Robbins

The photo at the top of this website is a small portion of a much longer photograph of the 1922 Robbins Reunion in Decatur County, Indiana.  One of the “stars” of this reunion was the oldest attendee, James Gilman Robbins.  He was so prominent that his photo appeared on invitations to the event.

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James Gilman Robbins was the third child of William and Eleanor (Anderson) Robbins.  His siblings Sarilda (Robbins) Styers, John Everman Robbins, and Merritt Holman Robbins, were very successful and have interesting stories of their own, but this post focuses on James.

He lived his entire life in Decatur County, born there in 1829, and passing away near Horace in 1927.  He was married to a woman with the indomitable name of Elmira Stout in 1853 and they had three children.  Elmira’s father, the Rev. Joab Stout, was a Baptist minister at the Liberty Baptist Church, the later site of the 1922 reunion.

Besides the usual records that lay out his life’s timeline, a county history (A Genealogical and biographical record of Decatur County, Indiana, a compendium of national biography by Lewis Publishing Company) provide some additional details about his career, in the typical language of 1900 local histories:

“James G. Robbins was educated in the common schools and by hard work gained a practical knowledge of agriculture. He remained under the parental roof until he was twenty-five years old assisting in the farm operations of the homestead until he be came of age, when he and his brother Merritt (now dead) rented the place and managed it on their own account.”

“A few years later [after his marriage to Elmira] he went back to his father’s homestead, at his parents’ request, to afford them the care they required in their old age, and later inherited the place, which he subsequently gave to one of his own sons. He early gave intelligent attention to general farming and to the handling of stock, in which he was so successful that he gradually acquired a large amount of land. He has given to each of his children a good-sized farm and retains a fine home for himself.”

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James G. Robbins was a large land owner in Decatur County, with his land laying southeast of Horace, in Sand Creek Township.  He needed land for his next business venture.

“In 1876 he began breeding thoroughbred shorthorn cattle, purchasing stock in Kentucky for that purpose. He has made purchases since, always of first-class stock, and now owns the finest herd of cattle in eastern Indiana. He has made exhibits at various fairs and has always proven a formidable competitor, He has sold calves in about every state and territory in the United States and is known throughout the entire country as one of America’s leading stockmen. He is an honorable, enterprising, successful and public-spirited man, independent in his views, and influential as an earnest Republican who has never sought and would not accept any public office.”

Shorthorn cattle were developed in Britain in the 18th century and had become a popular breed, with both a dairy and a beef variety, with the American Shorthorn Association established in 1874.  James’s interest in cattle was passed down through his family.  In fact, his grandson-in-law Arthur C. Stewart, with his sons Gilman and John, established Stewart Select Angus in Greensburg in 1954, with descendants of James Gilman Robbins carrying on the business and the tradition to the current day.  You can read about their history at the Stewart Select Angus website.

James outlived his wife, his siblings and all his in-laws.  He was, without a doubt, the “grand old man” of the Robbins Reunion in 1922.

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-William Robbins Jr.-James Gilman Robbins]