Two Robbins Brothers: Dow and George

Dow and George, the two youngest sons of William Franklin Robbins, worked and lived near each other for much of their lives, and will be discussed together in this post.  Both of the boys came across the Oregon Trail at a very young age.

Benjamin Dow Robbins was born in 1843 in Decatur County, Indiana, the fourth child, but third son of William F. and Melvina (Myers) Robbins.  His older siblings were Nat, Margaret, and Gilman.  Younger siblings were Nancy Adeline and Sarah Jane, and then George Henry, who was born in 1849 also in Decatur County.  Melissa Robbins came along in 1851 just months before the family crossed the continent, and once in Oregon, Artemissa Robbins was born in 1855.

Dow was about 11 years of age when the family moved to Oregon, while George was about 3 years old.  Neither boy appears in family reminiscences of crossing the plains.  Mentions of “Dow” in their father’s Oregon Trail letter refer to William’s brother, John Dow Robbins, not his young son.  It must have been an overwhelming experience, moving from comfortable farms and surrounded by family in Decatur County, to creaking along in wagons across arid plains, with the terror of sudden death at the hand of disease or Indians always ever present in their minds.  Near the end of their journey Dow and George lost two of their siblings from disease.  George may have been three years old at the time of the trip, but as an elderly man he regaled my mother with stories about the trek (and being a child it never occurred to her to take notes!).

In the 1850s William Robbins and his family lived along the Clackamas/Washington county line, near what is today Tualatin.  Sadly William was killed in a hunting accident in 1856, and in 1859, the widow Melvina married Robert Lavery.  Even though the children eventually went their separates ways in adulthood they all seemed to have a close connection, as census records and group photos demonstrate.

Dow Robbins

Dow Robbins has only been found in a few of the federal censuses.  Williams’ family is not found in the 1850 census, where the family should have been living in Decatur County, Indiana.  In 1860 Dow is living with his sister Margaret and her husband Isaac Ball, while ten years later in 1870 he is listed in the household of his oldest brother Nat, mother Melvina, full siblings George and Artemissa, and his half-sister Olive (Melvina’s daughter with her second husband).

Dow Robbins

Dow Robbins

We know that he was in eastern Oregon (Grant county) by 1879 because he appears in the local newspaper as having drawn jury duty.  Between 1883 and 1890 Dow purchased many acres of ranch land in Grant county between the small settlement of Long Creek and the community of Hamilton, which was the home of his uncle John H. Hamilton.  Some of the land was purchased directly from Hamilton.

In 1903, at the age of 59, Dow was married to Anna Maria Born, the daughter of a Prussian miner and farmer, and the couple had three children, Otis, Aura, and Erma, all born in Grant county.  I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Otis and Aura back in the 1980s.  They were able to provide some of the information about the family included in this post.  Not finding Dow in the 1900 census, he appears finally in 1910 with his wife and children, with his brother George Robbins living them.  About that same year Dow sold his ranch and became a partner in a livery stable in Long Creek, possibly with his brother George.  Soon after Dow became ill, sold out his share of the livery, and moved in with his in-laws near the little town of Fox (Fox is miniscule and according to his death certificate he lived in Trester, which is a few miles west, and mainly a wide spot on the road).  Dow died in 1916 of liver cancer, leaving his wife of thirteen years and three young children.  He is buried in the Hamilton cemetery.

George Robbins

It’s unfortunate that we don’t have more information about the interesting life of George Henry Robbins, the future elderly raconteur and entertainer of younger generations.

George H Robbins 1

George Robbins

He first appears in the 1860 census, where he is listed with his mother Melvina, sisters Adeline, Melissa, and Artemissa, half-sister Olive Lavery, stepfather Robert Lavery, and step-siblings James, Mary, John, Joseph, and Rachel Lavery.  In 1870, when he was 21 years old, he appears in the household of Jesse Boone as a laborer.  Boone was responsible for “Boone’s Ferry” across the Willamette River, now a prominent road in the community of Wilsonville.  George has not been found in the 1880 census.

His sister Artemissa, her husband Charles Thompson, and sister Melissa, with husband Jacob Kauffman, and their families, had moved to southeastern Washington about 1880, settling in the community of Waitsburg.  According to family stories, George also moved to Washington at this time, possibly working as a farm laborer or running a livery stable.  Artemissa soon returned to the Willamette Valley, while Melissa moved north to Ritzville, but by 1900 George was still in the general area working as a farm laborer.  He was also reportedly herding sheep in central Oregon, around the now-ghost town of Shaniko.  It was there that he supposedly carved a small smiling figure in a casket which has been passed down in my family.

G Robbins carving

Carving by George Robbins

By 1910, George Robbins was living with his brother Dow and his family in the small community of Long Creek, where at age 60 he did “odd jobs.”  When Dow sold out the livery stable, George reportedly took over a homestead near Hamilton and went to work for his neighbor Curtis Jackson.

After Dow’s death in 1916, George returned to the Willamette Valley where in 1920 he was living with his sister Nancy Adeline Ball in Tigard, Oregon, where, at age 70, he is listed as a “laborer farm helper.”  The last census he appeared in was 1930 where he was staying with his sister Artemissa Thompson, along with her sons Roy and Clarence.  A photo exists from 1928 which shows George Robbins along with his siblings with his siblings Artemissa and Adeline, until he finally passed away in 1940 at the age of 90.  He is buried in the Winona Cemetery in Tualatin.

George H Robbins 2

Uncle George Robbins

At George Robbins’ death there was one remaining survivor of the 1852 wagon train:  sister Melissa (Robbins) Kauffman.  More about her in a future post.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-William Franklin Robbins-Benjamin Dow Robbins & George Henry Robbins)


A Married Woman’s Property Register

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

Nancy Hinton

Nancy C. (Hamilton) Hinton

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

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

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

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

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


Further she made the following statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Businessman, Mayor, State Legislator – The Career of Jacob Harvey Robbins

It’s not often that you see a relative’s name on a bank note.  But in 1899 Jacob Harvey (J. H.) Robbins moved to the small mining town of Sumpter, in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, organized the First National Bank of Sumpter and issued National Bank Notes.  J. H. Robbins was the consummate businessman – involved in mining, banking, sales, produce distribution, and much more, and he pursued these activities in a wide variety of locations throughout the Pacific Northwest.

First National Bank of Sumpter

J. H. Robbins was born in 1859 near Salem, Oregon.  He lived with his parents in the Blue Mountains where his father Harvey was one of the first into the Granite district’s gold mining area in 1862.  He went to school in Pendleton or Baker City during the winter months, and then graduated from the Portland Business College in 1879.  What he learned at the college stood him in good stead for the rest of his varied career.  He and his wife Edith have descendants today.  A summary of J.H.’s career follows.

Jacob Harvey Robbins

He first worked in the mill and assay office at the Monumental mine in Baker County, one of the largest mines located in the steep mountain country east of Granite, which was reportedly first discovered by his father Harvey, along with Isaac Nail and Isaac Klopp.  A 2004 National Forest Service “site inspection” report on several mines in this area included a detailed map of the remains and ruins of the site.

Outline of Monumental Mine remains as drawn by National Forest Service site inspection

Then J.H. moved north to the ranching community of Pilot Rock where he managed Alexander & Lobenstein’s general store from 1880 to 1883.  In that latter year he began keeping the books for Heistad & Loveridge in Echo, Oregon, west of Pendleton, in the wide-open sage-brush country of northern Oregon.  Newton Loveridge was his uncle, having married Amanda Minerva Robbins.  For two years J. H. engaged in real estate brokerage in Pendleton and then he was elected Umatilla County Treasurer in 1888, which office he held until 1893.  In 1889 he was appointed assistant cashier of the Pendleton Savings Bank, which he retired from in 1893.  From then until 1899 he worked as a receiver at the La Grande Land Office and was vice-president and director of the Farmer & Trader National Bank.

J. H. Robbins in Oregon State Legislature

In 1899 Jacob Harvey Robbins moved to Sumpter, back in Baker County, but not far from the Granite mining community in which he had grown up, now completing a circle from Grant county, north to Umatilla county, then down to Union county (La Grande), and to Baker county back on the border with Grant.  In Sumpter he organized his bank and issued his bank notes.  In addition he served as mayor of Sumpter and then was elected to the State House of Representatives from Baker County in 1903.  Sumpter was a booming city in the early 1900s but was already in decline when a large fire swept through in 1917.  Today, Sumpter is the center of both outdoor and historic recreation, with the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, an old railroad, and the remaining buildings from the town’s heyday, being a big draw for tourists.

But J. H. Robbins didn’t stay many years as in 1904 he moved north to Spokane, where his parents Harvey and Perlina Robbins were already living.  That year he organized Robbins, Pratt & Robbins Co., a furniture store, in Spokane with his brother Chester Robbins. All of his business activities after that are less well known.  In 1910 he was in Yakima, then he was back in Spokane and associated with the Northern Pacific Fruit Distributors, and later in Ashland where he worked for the Ashland Fruit & Produce Association.  In the 1940 census, at the age of 80, J. H. Robbins is listed as an inmate in the Oregon Masonic and Eastern Star Home for the Aged.  And yet, he continued to live until 1953, when he finally died after 94 years of a very long and eventful life.

He studied in the large city of Portland, he worked in the predominantly ranching and farming communities of Pendleton and Pilot Rock, he lived and worked in the small mining communities of Granite and Sumpter, conducted business in the city of Spokane, and later distributed fruit in the southern city of Ashland.  At one point he considered relocating to Boise.  He ended his life in McMinnville, a small city west of Portland.  Many of our ancestors lived their entire lives in one single town or county, but Jacob Harvey Robbins explored all the opportunities that the (inland) Pacific Northwest had to offer.

(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Harvey Robbins-Jacob Harvey Robbins)

John Milton Hamilton – A Rough, Western Life

After first appearing in the 1850 census as a 2-month-old, Milton Hamilton next appears in records when he was run over by a covered wagon.

“…about 5 oc this afternoon Milton hamilton fell out of the wagon and 2 wheels run over his brest but it is thought he will recover…”


So wrote John N. Lewis, a young man hired by John Milton Hamilton’s grandfather Nathaniel Robbins, in his 1852 Oregon Trail journal.  Miraculously the toddler did survive the accident on July 8th and the trip across the plains that took the lives of three of his aunts, one of his uncles, and several of his cousins.

Milton was born in 1850 in Indiana, to John Henry Hamilton and Mary Jane Robbins, both from large, well-known Decatur county families.  At a little over one year old he was taken by his parents on the beginning of their trip west, and the following year suffered his wagon wheel accident.

After the Robbins family arrived in Oregon, Milton grew up in the very northwestern part of Clackamas county, where Nathaniel Robbins and his family members settled.  John and Jane Hamilton’s 328-acre Donation Land Claim was situated on the north side of current Advance Road, between S.W. Stafford and S.W. 45th Drive, near Wilsonville, Oregon.

About 1872, all of the Hamiltons, parents and children, left the Willamette Valley and moved to Grant County, Oregon, settling in a high dry valley along Deer Creek.  The Hamilton family gave their name to the area and the small settlement of “Hamilton” grew up along the stage road.  Despite living in the back end of a remote county, they traveled a lot more extensively by horse and wagon and foot than we can imagine today.  They returned occasionally to western Oregon and on one trip in 1879 Milton married Adaletta (“Lettie”) Foreman at the home of Jasper Fuller in Portland.  His brother Sebastian Hamilton was a witness, as was his cousin Margarette Sharp’s husband John Cairns.

Father John Hamilton ranched, raced horses, and was elected to serve in the state Senate from Grant County before losing nearly everything after some bad investments.  The Hamilton boys did what many pioneers did in eastern Oregon at this time, ranched and mined.  Milton’s 160-acre ranch was located east of the family settlement.

He appeared in the local Canyon City newspaper at times, for mundane reasons such as being associated with new roads, as well as getting into, well, scrapes:

“From Mr. Henry Welch who came over last Monday from his home on the North Fork we learn just the meagre particulars of a cutting scrape that occurred at Hamilton on Saturday night last.  What the row was about we do not know but Walker Hinton cut Milton Hamilton with a knife quite severely in the arm, face, and the right side.  The preliminary examination was to have been had on Monday, but as the authorities have not arrived at the county seat with the prisoner it is presumed that he gave bonds or was acquitted.”  (Grant County News (Canyon City, Ore.), 28 March 1889)

A week later we learn:

“Hinton who stabbed Hamilton last week was placed under $1,000 bonds, we are informed, for his appearance before the next grand jury, Hamilton will soon recover, it is thought.”  (Grant County News, 4 April 1889)

While no further information on Walker Hinton was found, this was in a late June issue of the newspaper:

“Milt Hamilton who was so very severely cut and stabbed last spring is now being treated by electricity for the recovery of his injured arm.”  (Grant County News, 20 June 1889)

Milton Hamilton recovered once again and continued to ranch and work the mines.  But in 1894, at the age of 43, Milton’s luck ran out and he was killed in a mining accident.

Milton Hamilton death 1_NEW.jpg

According to the article Milton was killed at the Dunlap mine, while family stories only remembered that he died in “the mines at Fox Valley.”  Fox Valley is about 10 miles south of Hamilton.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever find the exact location of Milton Hamilton’s death, but then I came across a court case, found through Google books, in Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Oregon, Vol. 27, in which the location of the Dunlap mine is listed.  From that I was able to determine that the location of Milton’s death was on the south side of Fox Valley, where there are still some mines to this day.  A contemporary map doesn’t name the Dunlap mine but does list others, as shown here.

Grant Co Map

As an epilogue:  Milton’s widow Lettie Hamilton is found in the 1900 census, having been married for five years to Jacob Legler.  The census also sadly notes that Lettie had had two children, but neither were living in that year.  So Milton Hamilton died in 1894, his children died sometime between then and 1900, and his particular family line died out.

Hamilton Cemetery

Hamilton Cemetery, and in background site of Hamilton community

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-Mary Jane (Robbins) Hamilton-John Milton Hamilton)