William Franklin Robbins: Family Historian

At the 1922 Robbins reunion, celebrating 100 years of the Robbins family being in Decatur County, Indiana, a man named William Franklin (W. F.) Robbins read a history he wrote about the family.  This history was also published in the newspaper along with the story about the reunion.

William Franklin (W. F.) Robbins (photo courtesy of Joyce King Higginbotham)

When I first started researching my family history in the late 1970s, my parents and I visited Greensburg, Indiana, where we met up with Melvin and Rosalie Robbins.  Rosalie had a done a lot of family history and she gave me my first copy of W.F. Robbins’s history.  I say, first copy, because over the following years, each time I made contact with another Robbins family researcher, they usually sent me, uninvited, another copy of the W.F. Robbins history, until I had quite a collection!

The typed copies all mentioned that they were transcribed from the history as printed in the Greensburg newspaper, but no one seemed to have a copy of the actual article.  It was only in the 1990s, with the assistance of interlibrary loan of microfilm, that I was finally able to find the article in the newspaper and make a fresh transcription.

Now, more recently, I have been given a copy of the physical newspaper that contains the history, by Robbins cousin Sherrill Beck.

In transcribing and reading the history I did notice that W. F. got some things wrong, but in general the story of a large family moving into a county, with some folks staying for decades, with others moving on to new locations, was accurate.  Considering that the man was compiling a family history without the Internet and online collections of genealogical material, genealogy libraries, or easy access to near or distant record collections, he wrote a good introduction to our family’s history.

So, who was William Franklin Robbins?  He was born in 1850 in Decatur County to Jonathan and Margaret (Spilman) Robbins and was reared near the small community of Westport.  Jonathan was the son of George, the third child of Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins.  Margaret Spilman was the sister of Sarah Spilman, wife of Jacob Robbins, who emigrated to Oregon in 1852.  The close, first-cousin, relationship between W.F. and his cousins in Oregon is reflected in his knowledge of his Pacific Northwest kin and their knowledge of Decatur County happenings.

W.F. Robbins was raised among the many, many Robbins family members that lived in Decatur County at that time.  He, himself, was one of nine siblings, while his father Jonathan was one of eleven, and each in turn had large families.  He was married to Julia Elizabeth Miller in 1873 and the couple had seven children of their own, five of whom lived to adulthood: Mary Cordelia (Robbins) Morgan, Elizabeth Leota (Robbins) Davis, Emma Flora (Robbins) Williams, Henry Cleveland “Cleve” Robbins, and Courtland Carlysle “Todd” Robbins.

W. F. was educated at Hartsville College, in neighboring Bartholomew County, just about ten miles to the northwest.  (The school was in Hartsville from 1850 to 1897, when the college building was destroyed by fire in January of 1898).

He taught school in Sandcreek Township in the 1870s and in 1886 was elected trustee of that township and served for eight years.  Besides a lifetime of farming he also worked as an attorney in Westport, and after moving into Greensburg about 1912, he served as the Decatur County prosecuting attorney from 1913 to 1915.  Politically he was a Democrat and a supporter of temperance, helping to “banish the saloon.”  A wealthy landowner, according to a local newspaper he was referred to as “Squire” Bill.  At the time of his death he and his wife Julia resided at 410 North Broadway in Greensburg.

His death made the front pages of the Greensburg newspapers, The Evening Times and the Greensburg Daily News

Seven months after the 1922 reunion, and just four weeks after he and Julia’s 50th wedding anniversary, William Franklin Robbins was killed when his automobiile was struck at the Mulberry Street crossing in Westport by a B. & O. passenger train detouring over the Big Four tracks.  The newspapers reported that the car was carried about 50 feet down the tracks.  He had been visiting one of his sons outside Westport before coming into town to conduct some business.

One of the newspapers stated:  “It is believed that Mr. Robbins, being familiar with the regular train schedules on the track which he was crossing, did not take the extra precaution to look up and down the track as he approached it.”

The train…..”hit the Overland car which he was driving and smashed it to pieces.  The body of Mr. Robbins was carried about fifty feet and he lived but a few minutes.  The body was taken to the Hamilton undertaking parlors” [now known as the Bass & Gasper Funeral Home in Westport].

“Because of telephone trouble the word did not reach Mrs. Robbins in this city for more than an hour after the accident.  A Times reporter who called carried the first word to her of a report that her husband had been injured.  She stated that she had already become uneasy because of having no message from him after his arrival in Westport as she had expected and had made an unsuccessful attempt to use the telephone.  It was left to a daughter to convey to her the death message.”

Not only was the news slow to reach his wife, but due to the fact there were multiple William Robbins’ in Decatur County there was confusion about who exactly had been in an accident.  The newspaper reported:  “When the news first reached Greensburg it was reported it was William H. Robbins of southeast of Greensburg. Later it was reported that it was Will S. Robbins of Horace.”

William Franklin Robbins, the very accomplished early historian of the Robbins family, is buried in the Mapleton Cemetery in rural Decatur County.  The gravestone he shares with his wife Julia has their photograph embedded in the center.

[Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Jonathan Robbins-William Franklin Robbins]

1922 Robbins Centennial Reunion

On June 11, 1922, the Robbins family celebrated 100 years in Decatur County, Indiana.  So many people showed up that the event made the front page of the local newspaper, The Evening Times.  The headline read:  “1,000 People at Reunion: Sixty-Two Families Were Represented at the Robbins Annual Assemblage Yesterday.”

The actual 100-year-old newspaper was given to me by Sherrill Beck, a descendant of Jacob Robbins (1809-1896), a leader of the 1852 Robbins wagon train to Oregon.  The Robbins family in Oregon kept in contact with their Decatur County relatives for many decades.  In fact, Harvey Robbins, brother of Sherrill’s ancestor Levi, reportedly went back to Indiana to attend the this reunion.

The article states:

One thousand persons, it was estimated, participated in the annual reunion of the Robbins families of Decatur county held Sunday at the Liberty Baptist church and at which the one hundredth anniversary of the pioneer Robbins settlement in Decatur county was celebrated………the descendants of the pioneers who attended the reunion yesterday were representatives of practically every field of human endeavor.  At the reunion 62 Robbins families were represented.

The newspaper went on to state:

One of the big features of the all day meeting was the dinner which was served at noon in the grove adjoining the church.  With the exception of one table at which the elder members of the Robbins descendants were served, the dinner was served in cafeteria style.  Two hay wagon loads of food were served during the noon hour.  Twenty gallons of ice cream in cones was consumed during the day.

The program which was given in two sessions, morning and afternoon was excellent and included a number of exceptionally fine features.  “A History of the Early Robbins Pioneers,” read by Squire William F. Robbins [a descendant of Absalom Robbins], was of special historical value and will be printed The Times tomorrow.  Roy C. Kanouse, who claims he is one of the Robbins descendants by marriage [he was the husband of Elizabeth “Nell” Pleak, a descendant of William Robbins], was in charge of the program which was given as follows.

While this was a special, centennial reunion, the Robbins family had been having reunions for years and were so well organized they had officers.  The newspaper reported the following were elected:

W. S. Robbins was elected president of the organization of the descendants for the coming year.  Other officers elected were:  Frank R. Robbins, vice-president; Earl Robbins, secretary; Mrs. J. B. Kitchin, assistant secretary; committee on time and place for holding next reunion, C. F. Wright, Frank Kitchen, and John E. Robbins of Horace; corresponding committee, J. B. Kitchin, W. F. Robbins, John E. Robbins, of Greensburg; tables and eats committee, Robert McCoy, George Robbins, L. W. Gillespie, Londa Wright, Arthur Lemmon, John Gilchrist; committee on entertainment, Roy C. Kanouse, Hal Kitchin, Harry Robbins; finance committee Walter B. Pleak and W. H. Robbins; advising and assisting committee, F. B. Kitchin, Charles M. Woodfill, John E. Robbins of Horace; committee on parking, Ira Rigby, Calvin Thornburg, William Sefton Robbins, Bernard Kitchin, and Greely Robbins.

In the summer of 2022 we may not have 62 separate families represented, nor 1,000 attendees, but those of us who attend can be assured of an unforgettable bicentennial reunion.

I might add that William F. Robbins’ History was a great resource for me getting started in Robbins genealogy.  My next post will discuss the life of William and his sad death only six months later.

Robbins Bicentennial Reunion – 2022

We now have a date and a place for the Robbins Bicentennial Reunion in 2022. Saturday, July 30th, at the Westport Community Center in Westport, Indiana, about 20-minutes south of Greensburg, will be the location for the event. The Robbins family first arrived in Decatur County in 1822; a 1,000-person reunion was held in 1922; and we hope to have a great attendance at this once-in-a-lifetime event. Decatur County is also celebrating it’s bicentennial next year and there will be county-wide events.

In 1822 the children of William, Absalom, and Jacob Robbins arrived in Decatur County, with their parents and other relatives arriving over about the next ten years. They were later joined by some of the families of their younger siblings James Robbins and Margaret (Robbins) Robbins (she was married to Thomas Robbins). Other members of the family settled in nearby Jennings, Scott, Bartholomew, Washington, and Jefferson counties. I will highlight some of the Decatur County families in upcoming blog posts.

With the date and venue scheduled, we can now begin more serious planning. Safety considerations for Covid, publicity, food and catering, cemetery and local history excursions, and more, all remain to be planned. Any blog readers who would like to help, in any way at all, can contact me at “mittge @ yahoo.com.” If you have Facebook an Events page has been set up by cousin Laura Robbins Miller. Contact me for an invitation to this private group. And keep reading this blog for further updates!

Robbins Bicentennial? – An Update

Last year I had proposed that there should be a Robbins reunion in Decatur County, Indiana, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the family being in that county.  In 1922 there was a large (1,000 attendee reunion according to the local newspaper) reunion and it would be nice to see another special reunion next year.  Several blog readers expressed an interest in helping organize such an event.  Unfortunately, none of us actually live in Greensburg or Decatur County.

Earlier this summer I contacted Russell Wilhoit of the Decatur County Historical Society and asked if something could be added to one of their upcoming newsletters.  While he said he would see if he could get something in the next issue, the Fall 2021 newsletter doesn’t include any mention, but, and this is important:  2022 is also the bicentennial of the founding of Decatur County and there will be activities planned around that.

In August I visited with my cousin Janet Ketchum Armbrust in Kalispell, Montana.  While a Myers descendant not a Robbins (my ancestor William Franklin Robbins was married to Melvina Myers and Janet descends from one of Melvina’s sisters) she did suggest a contact in Greensburg who writes for the Greensburg Daily News.

As result of contacting Pat Smith in Greensburg there was an article in the September 8, 2021, edition of the newspaper, describing our interest in a reunion and asking three questions:  (1) is anyone already planning a bicentennial reunion for 2022?  (2) or are there any plans for a regular annual Robbins family reunion that would welcome relatives from across the country to make a larger, special event?  (3) or if not either of those two are there Robbins family descendants in Greensburg/Decatur County who would be interested in helping plan such an event with cousins from around the country? as it would be very helpful (and probably necessary) to have someone local to advise about venues, dates, etc.

In my email to Pat Smith I had described myself as “befuddled” about making contact with local family members who could assist.  Sadly my last contact were Melvin and Rosalie Robbins, who have both passed away.  “Befuddled Genealogist” then made it in as part of the headline of the story.  Oh well!  But it was great to have the question of a bicentennial reunion out there.  The article provided just about every possible way to contact me.

The upshot is so far I have not heard from anyone in Greensburg or Decatur County.  While cousins in Decatur County may still be thinking about responding, at this point if we wish to have an event, even if it just includes us from “away”, we will probably have to plan it without local assistance.  I have the list of folks from last year who were willing to help plan an event but if anyone else would like to help, please let me know (it’s probably a good idea for those who replied last year to confirm their wish to be involved).  I have a few ideas but I’m sure others will have great input too.

Regardless of a formal reunion, I am planning on visiting Decatur County sometime in the summer of 2022.  At the very least it would be great to coordinate a visit with others, get together to talk family history, and maybe take field trips to local family history sites (for example, the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery where William and Bethiah Robbins are buried).  For easiest contact my email is “mittge @ yahoo.com”.  Perhaps we can discuss this together, one way or another, in October!

George Thomas Robbins

George Thomas Robbins was born in Decatur County, Indiana, to Jonathan and Margaret (Spilman) Robbins (my previous post featured his brother Theodore Irvin Robbins).  He grew up among numerous Robbins and Spilman cousins in Decatur County.  In fact, his aunt Sarah Spilman, was married to Jacob Robbins, and his first cousins in that family crossed the plains to Oregon in 1852.  His younger sister Nancy Jane (Robbins) Meredith, would tell her children the story of the Robbinses leaving Indiana in 1852. As later recorded by her son James:

Mother [Nancy] had a cousin, the daughter of Jacob and Sarah Robbins, a few years older than my mother [Nancy Jane (Robbins) Gilliam].  They would play together very often, and for some years they kept up a correspondence between Indiana and Oregon.  Mother told that she could remember the folks loading the great wagons.  They baked a lot of bread and packed it away in boxes.  They killed hogs and salted away the meat, they loaded a great variety of dried foods as well as household goods in the wagons.  She said she and her cousin would help take bundles to the wagons for the others to pack away.

George himself would leave Decatur County and strike out west, but a couple decades later and he would only go as far as Iowa and Kansas, but in the latter state he would become a prominent community member.

George Thomas Robbins (courtesy of Joyce King Higginbotham)

In October 1864, late in the war and at the age of 22, George Robbins would enlist as a private into Company G of the 35th Indiana Infantry as a “substitute.”  That is, he was paid to substitute for a draftee who could afford to supply a replacement.  The 35th Indiana regiment was serving that autumn in the Nashville campaign – an ill-fated attempt by Confederate General John Hood to try to draw William Tecumseh Sherman and his army away from Georgia to come rescue Nashville.  Sherman didn’t bite and Hood was defeated outside the city in December of 1864 and his army retreated and disintegrated.  George’s service in the Indiana regiment would have seen some serious, but successful, fighting in Tennessee and Alabama.  Later after the war ended the regiment was ordered to New Orleans and Texas, before returning to Indiana for discharge in September of 1865.

According to his obituary, George attended Hartsville College, a United Brethren school in Indiana.  The college was established in 1847 by the citizens of Hartsville, which is located just to the west of Decatur County in Bartholomew County, but in 1850 turned the college over to the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.  His connection to that denomination must have lasted his lifetime as his funeral was conducted at his local Brethren church in Kansas.

Compared to many people of the time, George married late.  He was 33-years-old when he would marry the young widow Mary Elizabeth (Vanderbur) Huddleston.  The Vanderburs were a large and prominent family in Decatur County and she was not the only member of the Vanderbur family to marry a Robbins: her cousin William Thomas Vanderbur was married to George’s cousin Jennie Robbins.

Robbins-Vanderbur relationships

At the time of their marriage, the couple were living in Lucas County, Iowa  George was there as his oldest brother James H. Robbins had moved there with his family as early as 1867.  Whether he moved with James or came to visit is not known but there he encountered another Decatur County acquaintance, Mary Vanderbur.  Mary had been married to a younger man, John Huddleston, in the same county in 1873 but John died in Kansas in 1874 (he and Mary had no children), and Mary was back in Lucas County marrying George Robbins in 1875.  George and Mary would be the parents of seven children.

In 1877 George, wife Mary, and their first child, Charles Leonidas Robbins, moved to the town of Russell situated almost in the center of Kansas in Russell County.  Over the following years more children came along including Ethel Laverne (Bratt), Earl, Floyd Joseph, Olive (Treiber), Meredith, and Roy Stone Robbins.

In Russell county George Robbins worked as a teacher, a carpenter and a bookkeeper.  He was a member of the local school board and he served as postmaster of Russell from about 1893 to 1897, during the administration of Grover Cleveland.

Official Register of the United States Containing a List of the Officers and Employees of the Civil, Military, and Naval Service….(Vol. II, p. 119), 1 July 1887.

George Thomas Robbins died in Russell in 1913.  Most of his children seemed to have moved away from Kansas with the exception of youngest son Roy.  His widow Mary died in 1942 in Canton, Ohio, where daughter Olive Treiber was then living.  Both George and Mary are buried in Russell, Kansas.

Obituaries of the time were typically effusive in their praise of prominent citizens, but even allowing for hyperbole, it is clear that George was a well-liked individual.

He was a man of first class habits, whose conduct and walk in life was not only a good example to his children but to the community as well.  He built up a fine reputation for honesty and integrity and was most highly respected in the community.  He leaves to the world a legacy in the way of a splendid family of sons and daughters which would well be a credit to any man.  His cheery disposition and agreeable nature made a pleasant association and valued friend.

[Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Jonathan Robbins-George Thomas Robbins]

A Letter from Theodore Robbins

I’m not sure from whom I obtained photocopies of several letters from Theodore Robbins of Indiana to his cousin Levi Robbins in Oregon.  I was going through my files and came across these recently and thought I’d share.  One letter copy is very clear and easy to transcribe.  The others are very faint and if I can puzzle them out I’ll include them in future posts.

Theodore Irvin Robbins
(photo courtesy of Joyce King Higginbotham)

Theodore and Levi were actually double cousins – Theodore’s parents were Jonathan and Margaret (Spilman) Robbins and Levi’s parents were Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins.  Jonathan and Levi Robbins were cousins, while Margaret and Sarah were sisters, daughters of Thomas and Nancy (Love) Spilman.  There are a lot of similar connections between Decatur County families. 

I don’t have a lot of information about Theodore Robbins. He was born in 1856 in Decatur County and apparently died in Galveston, Texas, in 1899.  It is not known if he was ever married or had any children.

Family members referred to in the letters are Robbins and Spilmans, but it’s not entirely clear sometimes who is who.  After the letter I’ve added some comments about the names mentioned.  I’ve found that letters of this time usually covered two topics: family news and farm prices!

Gaynorsville, Ind.

June 7th, 1875

Dear Cousin1,

I received your letter of the 14th of May a few days ago.  We were glad to hear from you and know you are all well.  We have had a small amount of sickness in our family this spring although none serious.  We are all well at present.  We got a letter from George2 at the same time we got yours.  Himself and James’s3 folks were all well with the exception of colds.  Aunt Polly’s4 folks are living in Greensburg.  They were all well the last time we heard from them.  Jane5 died last fall of consumption.  I don’t know whether you have heard it or not.  Uncle Franks6 folks are living near Greensburg.  They have had a great deal of sickness in their family for the last year but they are all able to get around now.  Times here is pretty hard.  Corn is worth from .90 cents to $1.00 per bushel.  Hogs are worth six and seven centers per pound.  The coming crop of wheat will not be more than one half of a crop on account of the cold winter.  We had a very backward spring but corn in this locality looks very well considering the time it was planted.  The Taylor you spoke of, I have found out nothing about them yet.  [Line at bottom of page is missing]…time you write.  Father and mother have lost the track of them.  Tell Uncle,7 now that he has sold out he might come to old Hoosier and see us.  We would like to see him very much.  In deed we would like to see all of you.  Well I must quit for this time.

Write soon and often,

Your cousin

Theodore I. Robbins

P.S.  Enclosed you will find Fathers and Mothers pictures.

Notes:

  1. I am assuming that the letter is to Levi Robbins.  One of the other photocopied letters I have included the envelope addressed to Levi.  Levi was a first cousin via the Spilmans, and a second cousin, once removed through the Robbins family. 
  2. George Thomas Robbins, brother of Theodore.  In 1875 was in Iowa and in 1877 moved to Russell, Kansas.
  3. James Harvey Robbins, brother of Theodore.  He lived in Lucas Co., Iowa.
  4. Not sure who he is referring to, possibly the older sister of Margaret and Sarah?
  5. Again, I do not know who this is.
  6. Probably referring to Frank Spilman, Margaret and Sarah’s brother.
  7. Jacob Robbins, father of Levi, husband of Sarah Spilman (thus both uncle and cousin to Theodore).

I’ll consider posting additional letters if I can transcribe them from the very faint copies I have.

[Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Jonathan Robbins-Theodore Irvin Robbins]

August Miscellany: Reunion, Allied Families, and DNA

Robbins Bicentennial Reunion Update 

I have received a number of messages and emails about a possible 2022 Robbins Bicentennial Reunion in Decatur County, Indiana.  It’s wonderful to see the interest in this idea and I appreciate the offers to help.  While I don’t believe any of the people who contacted me are folks who actually live in Decatur County I’m going to continue to let the word spread and percolate and will come back to the project in the fall.  

Other Decatur County Surnames 

There are a lot of descendants of Jacob and Mary Robbins in Indiana, the United States, and around the world.  Focusing just on Decatur County descendants I wanted to list some of the “allied” families, that is, families who married into the Robbins family, no longer have the Robbins surname, and may or may not know of their Robbins ancestry.  There are likely Robbins descendants with these or other surnames in the county and some of you might recognize them.  

The list below is divided by the children of William, Absalom, Jacob, and James Robbins.  Besides those who moved out of state, a lot of family members moved next door to Bartholomew, Shelby, or Rush counties, or northwest to Indianapolis.  But this list, which is not complete, focuses solely on Decatur County. 

Children of William Robbins

Marmaduke:  House, Knarr, McCracken, Ralston, Scripture, Vanderbur

Elizabeth:  Owens

William:  Barnes, Evans, Kitchen, McCoy, Mendenhall, Mozingo, Pleak, Smiley, Smith, Stewart, Styers, Thornburg, Whipple, Wright 

Children of Absalom Robbins

Micajah:  Holcomb, Mozingo

Elizabeth:  Guthrie, Pavey

George:  Bower, Espy, Gannon, Giddings, Hood, Kutchback, Leisure, Meredith, Scripture, Shoemake, Stone, Voiles

Charity:  Allen, Jessup, Purvis, Skinner, Stout, Whipple 

Children of Jacob Robbins

William:  Harrison, Hartley, Miller, Spencer, Taylor 

Children of James Robbins

Matilda:  Terrell 

There are a lot of family members still in Greensburg and Decatur County but in compiling this list I was struck by how many families, especially since about 1940 or 1950, have left Decatur County.  Besides the neighboring counties mentioned above, and Indianapolis, many have moved on to Fayette, Boone, Scott, and other Indiana counties.  Much earlier in a time a very large group of descendants moved to Breckinridge County, Kentucky, while others moved on to Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, California, and the Pacific Northwest.  I hope to discuss some of these families in future blog posts.

Ancestry to Remove 6-8 cM Matches Soon 

As they do every few years, Ancestry is making changes to DNA results.  If you are an Ancestry DNA customer you may have noticed that they periodically update and change your ethnicity estimates – sometimes the results seem reasonable and sometimes they seem way off.  It’s a continual effort to make the results more accurate.  Each DNA testing company does this. 

This time Ancestry is planning on removing any match you have where the centimorgans (cM) are less than 8.  Or I should say the segment is less than 8.  Because you could have a match at 10 cM on two segments.  That would likely go away because both segments would probably be under the 8 cM threshold. 

Now, I’m no expert in using DNA results, though I have tried to teach myself as much as possible.  If you want a good overview of Ancestry’s proposed changes (now postponed to the end of August due to push back from the genealogy community), I’d highly recommend you read the DNAeXplained blog written by Robert Estes.  In particular, her first post, which describes ways to preserve these smaller matches:  DNAeXplained.

DNAeXplained screen shot

 Ancestry will not delete these smaller matches if you have (1) exchanged messages through Ancestry with that individual; (2) assigned the match to a “group”; or (3) added a comment on that match. 

My method is to pull up the matches (and I also do this with my siblings’ DNA results that I manage on Ancestry) and then filter for “Common Ancestors.”  The “common ancestor” listed is not necessarily accurate, because the information is based on members trees, and trees are not always accurate.  I’ve run cross a few of those lately.  But out of all your thousands and thousands of matches, I’d rather spend my time on those who have trees – whether public or private – and that’s why I do a “Common Ancestors” filter. 

Common Anc cM sort DNA

 You will probably still have a lot of matches in this group.  You can filter further.  You will notice that you can enter a custom cM range.  I started with 6 cM.  Note that on the right hand side of the entry for each match you can assign them to a group.  These are color coded.  A while back I created a “group” for each of my great-grandparents surnames.  In most cases I can identify each match to that level and assign them to a group.  By clicking on each match I can add a comment too, such as how they descend from our common ancestor.  I’ve been doing that with all of my matches, but starting at the top end, with those who I share a lot of DNA with. 

With these small matches, of which there are many, I may not have time right now to look at each individual match with a “Common Ancestor,” especially with an Ancestry deadline approaching and me planning on being away for a couple weeks of socially distanced camping and hiking.

2nd screen shot

So as Roberta Estes suggested, I created a group called “Holding Group.”  I can go straight down the list of these matches (without opening each one up) and put each one in my “Holding Group”, so Ancestry won’t discard them, and I can review them later at my leisure.  After working the 6 and 7 cM matches, I move up to 8 cM, then 9, and so on until I’m confident that the matches will survive Ancestry’s upcoming purge. 

What am I finding in these small – 6 and 7 cM – matches?  Between myself and my siblings I’m finding DNA matches with almost every branch of the Robbins family – not only through every child of William and Absalom Robbins of Decatur County, but also through their brother James Robbins of Jennings County and their sisters Martha and Mary who married Chastains and lived in Washington and Scott counties. And, surprising to me, even more distant cousins who descend from brothers or cousins of our most distantly documented ancestor, Jacob Robbins.  And I’m finding matches with descendants of the siblings of Bethiah Vickrey (who married William Robbins) and Mary Ogle (who married Absalom Robbins), as I descend from both of those couples.  I might have not found any of these if I had ignored these smaller matches. 

So, if you’ve tested with Ancestry, and have the time and interest, I’d highly recommend preserving those small cM matches.

John Robbins and the Mt. Pleasant Church

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

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

Mt Pleasant church area

Google Earth view of Mt. Pleasant area

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

mt-pleasant-ara-1882.jpg

Mt. Pleasant area in 1882

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt Pleasant church

Mt. Pleasant church today (courtesy of Google Maps)

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

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-John Robbins)

 

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)

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)