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]

Herbert Robbins: A Death in Wichita

I was recently “working” a family, trying to identify descendants of Jacob F. and Catherine (Myers) Robbins.  I’m related to both, being a Robbins and a Myers.  Another descendant of Jacob, Mary Kate Horner of Kokomo, Indiana, was a great help to me when I first started doing genealogy forty years ago.  She and Margaret Davis of Yakima, Washington, collaborated for many years on the Robbins family history.  At about the time they “retired” from active research, I was starting up and they gave me a copy of all of their research.  Included in this was what information they had on descendants of Jacob and Catherine.

The third child of that couple was Allen Robbins, and his family was one that Mary Kate and Margaret didn’t have a lot of information about.  With today’s Internet resources I was able to find a great deal in the past several weeks, including the fact that Allen and some of his family moved to Missouri from Decatur County, Indiana.  Some of the children remained in Indiana, some lived in Missouri, some lived in Kansas, and some who had moved away, moved back to Decatur County.  What was going on with this family?  Finding an obituary for Herbert Robbins, a son of Allen, added another dimension to the sad dynamics of this family group.

Allen Robbins was born in 1841 in Decatur County, Indiana.  A record exists of his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor in 1867.  We know from the 1900 and 1910 census, that Allen was married to an Alice, and the death record of daughter Kathryn provides her maiden name, LeVaugh, which matches with fragmentary family oral history.  Allen and Elizabeth had six children, Anna, Frank, Charles, Martha, Maude, and Herbert.  With Alice, Allen had three more children: Ernest, Ida, and Kathryn.

At least Charles, Martha (married to Thornton Nuzum), and Maude (married to Elmer Scripture), lived in Decatur County, Indiana.  The other children either lived elsewhere or their final whereabouts are unknown.  But we do know where Herbert Robbins ended up.

“Unrequited Love Caused His Suicide”, Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas), Wed., 7 Aug. 1901, p. 1.

On Monday, August 5th, 1901, Herbert Robbins, checked into the Hamilton Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, under an assumed name.  Sometime around midnight, the porter heard a noise coming from Robbins room, and entered the room through the transom.  He found Robbins groaning in his bed after apparently ingesting laudanum or carbolic acid (reports varied).  A local physician was called and began to treat Robbins, but he died at about 1:30 am.  The local newspaper, the Wichita Daily Eagle, as well as other newspapers in Kansas and Indiana, reported the suicide of this young man, with the full story slow in coming.

According to the news reports, Herbert came from a very poor family, was “orphaned” at an early age, and was raised in the orphan’s home in Greensburg, Indiana.  He later went to live with a wealthy banker, William Kennedy, in nearby Hope, Indiana, who paid for Herbert to go to college in Franklin, Indiana.   Since his father was alive for several more decades, you must wonder if perhaps Herbert’s mother died at the time of his birth and possibly Allen farmed several of his children out as he was unable to care for them.  Herbert remained in Indiana until just a few months before his death.  Father Allen Robbins, stepmother Alice, and some of his siblings were living in Missouri by then.

Herbert left Indiana and appeared in Topeka, Kansas (did he visit his father Allen in Kansas City, Missouri en route?) where he attempted suicide while staying at the National Hotel.  Guests of the hotel complained about smelling gas and when investigated, it was discovered coming from Herbert’s room.  This occurred several times.  The proprietress took a motherly interest in the young man and found him room and board with a  Dr. Hamilton.  Soon after Herbert went to work for a local undertaker, Mr. Palmer, who was pleased with his work and believed that Herbert was going to go into that profession.  Then he vanished without a word to anyone until he was reported dead in Wichita.

He had made efforts to hide his identity, but a letter of recommendation from William Kennedy back in Indiana was found that led to his identification.  He did leave a note that his body should be held until the arrival of Elmer Scripture (his brother-in-law) from Westport, Indiana.  There is no evidence that Scripture arrived or that he was even able to make the trip.

Further news stories report that Herbert’s suicide was the result of “unrequited love.”  Apparently while in Topeka he wrote letters and sent telegrams to a young woman in Indiana.  A letter found there from a woman named “Edith” said she could not have anything more to do with him, and when he telegraphed her, asking if her refusal was final, she said it was.

Another story reported that his father in Kansas City called and was satisfied that the dead man was his son Herbert.  A follow up story discounts that the caller was the father, saying that he had no father.  However, Allen Robbins was living in Kansas City in 1900 and it’s not unreasonable to assume he did make the call, but for whatever reason he didn’t follow up.  Another aspect of this family’s dysfunction?  As mentioned above, it is not known what happened to Herbert’s body.  Was he returned to Indiana via Elmer Scripture? Was he buried at public expense in Wichita?

“Are Very Curious,” Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), Sat., 10 Aug. 1901, p. 5.

One final and gruesome story was reported in the Wichita newspaper.  The people of that town turned out in great numbers to visit the undertakers to take a look at Herbert Robbins’ body.  When asked why, they said they’d “never seen a man who killed himself and want to see how he looks.  Then there are others who want to see him because they think that the poison must have turned his skin blue or red or black or some other color and are greatly surprised when they find the man’s skin about the same color as any dead person.”

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Jacob F. Robbins-Allen Robbins-Herbert Robbins)