Portraits of Jacob Robbins (1809-1896)

Of all the grandchildren of Jacob and Mary Robbins of Kentucky, the third generation, the one individual who seems to have had the most photographs taken, is Jacob Robbins (1809-1896).  This was the Jacob who married Sarah Spilman and emigrated with his family to Oregon in 1852 along with his cousin Nathaniel Robbins and his family.

That multiple photographs of Jacob were taken is a testament to his long life as he lived until 1896, long after photography became common place.  His wife Sarah, on the other hand, died in 1865 and only one known photograph of her exists, as also occurs with his cousin Nathaniel Robbins, who died in 1863.

Here is a summary of the six photos or drawings I have of Jacob and Sarah Robbins and who originally shared the photos with me (all three contributors have since passed on).

Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins (Margaret Davis, Yakima, WA)
Jacob Robbins (Margaret Davis, Yakima, WA)
Jacob Robbins (Patrick Masterson, Port Orford, OR)
Jacob Robbins (Lloyd Robbins, Vancouver, WA)
Jacob Robbins (Lloyd Robbins, Vancouver, WA)
Jacob Robbins (Patrick Masterson, Port Orford, WA)

If anyone has additional photos of Jacob and Sarah Robbins, or of anyone from that generation – children of William Sr., Absalom, James, Jacob Jr., Mary Chastain, Martha Chastain, and Margaret Robbins, I’m always happy to get a scanned copy!

[Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins]

An Eddyville (Oregon) Family

As I do periodically, I recently returned to a family group that I had not looked at in some time to see if I could find any new information.  In this case I looked at Richard N. Robbins, a son of Stephen Robbins (c1831-1874), in turn a son of Micajah Robbins, all of Decatur County, Indiana.

According to loose family history notes, coming down from W. F. Robbins, Marvin Robbins Davis, and others, Stephen Robbins and wife Mary Jane Scripture lived in the community known as Scripture Bridge along Sand Creek.  From those notes and from census records I knew that Stephen and Mary Jane Robbins had three children:  sons Richard and Francis and daughter Gloria (Lora) Ann (Robbins) Monroe.  Of these three families, other than one marriage record for Richard, it was only Gloria for whom I had any kind of information and had identified descendants.

The above history notes provided only this when it came to eldest son Richard N. Robbins:

I did have the marriage record for Richard and Melissa E. Luckey from 1877:

After that, other than the 1880 census, I had been unable to find them in any other records.  And then, when I took a fresh look at some of Ancestry’s leaf hints for Richard last month these were the two that made me sit up and take notice:

Wow.  Those opened up a whole new avenue (and geographic area) of research.  Other than Melissa E. Luckey being called Emmaline E. Luckey, I knew I had two children of Richard and Melissa (aka Malissa, Emmaline, Elizabeth, etc.).  Building on those hints about two children of the couple I was able to answer some questions, though others remained. 

The most amazing discovery was that Melissa and her two children ended up in a wide-spot in the road known as Eddyville, about an hour north of me, just inland from the Oregon coast.  The biggest question, still unresolved, is why did this family move from Decatur County, Indiana, to Eddyville, Oregon, of all places?

Eddyville – between Newport and Corvallis, Oregon

This is what I now know:  Richard and Melissa had two children:  Estella A. and LeRoy (“Roy”) Finley Robbins, both born in Decatur County, Indiana.  Estella Robbins was married to Harvey Bowler Huntington in 1898 in Lincoln County, Oregon (the county in which Eddyville is located).  Also, about 1898, Melissa (Luckey) Robbins married Moran Weltin.  Finally, in 1909, LeRoy Finley Robbins was married to Mamie Wakefield.

I was able to find occasional mentions of the Robbins, Weltins, and Wakefields, in the local newspaper, of which these articles are an example.

Identifying Estella and LeRoy allowed me to follow their lives and work their family lines down to the present day.  Estella (Robbins) Huntington died in 1960 in Tacoma, Washington, her husband Harvey having died in 1947.  Their oldest child, Agnes Melissa, was born in Eddyville while the rest of their children (Lola Myrtle, Herbert Harvey, and Clyde Samuel) were born in Portland.  There are quite a few descendants of this family.

LeRoy Finley Robbins died in Lincoln County (probably Eddyville) in 1949, his wife Mamie having predeceased him in 1938.  The couple had a daughter Myrtle Ruth who married and had one child. LeRoy and Mamie also appear to have had an unnamed baby for whom there is a gravestone in the cemetery. There are only a couple of descendants of LeRoy.

Melissa (Luckey) (Robbins) Weltin, Richard N. Robbins’ wife, died in 1946, while her second husband Moran Weltin died in 1926.

The Weltins, along with LeRoy Finley Robbins and his wife, are buried in the Eddyville Cemetery.  Being only about 90-minutes away, it was time for a road trip!  The small cemetery is up a steep drive, beginning right next to a house, barely off Highway 20.  Through the gate and up the hill I found Melissa and her Oregon family.

The question is:  what happened to Richard N. Robbins?  We have no records between the birth of LeRoy in Decatur County, Indiana, 1883, and the marriages of Melissa and Estella in Eddyville, Oregon in 1898.  Or do we?  There is a record of a Richard N. Robbins marrying in Kentucky in 1893 (that would jibe with the history of W. F. Robbins, et al, mentioned above), but I don’t know if it is the same man.  Is it possible that Richard and Melissa were divorced?  Does that explain why Melissa and her two children went from Indiana to Oregon?  and why there is no mention of their father in the records of Estella and LeRoy?  But why Eddyville?  I have found no connection in either family with that small settlement.

Perhaps one day these questions will be answered.

[Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Micajah Robbins-Stephen Robbins-Richard N. Robbins]

The Previous Pandemic (1918-1920)

During the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about our last big worldwide disease scourge, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.  Some aspects of that disease were similar to Covid: the worldwide nature of the disease; masks and resistance to masks; differences in the way various countries, states, and cities responded to the crisis; and more.  Then there are the differences: there was no vaccine for the disease in 1918; group quarantines were a larger part of the disease-fighting effort; and the disease really struck at young adults harder than other age groups.  There are members of the Robbins family that lost their lives from influenza one hundred years ago and I thought I’d highlight just one of those tragic cases for this blog.

Martha E. (“Nellie”) Morris was the granddaughter of Levi M. Herren, who at the age of nine crossed the continent on the Oregon Trail with his parents and siblings.  Theirs was the wagon train that became lost in Central Oregon on the Meek Cutoff.  Levi and his wife had a small family and there are only a handful of descendants of this line today.  One of Levi’s daughters, Ida Angeline Herren, grew up and married Ralph Morris and they, in turn, had three children, one of whom was Nellie.  The Morris family lived primarily in the Albany, Salem, and Portland areas, with Ralph being a farmer, rancher, farm implement salesman, grocer, and more.

Geer-Morris wedding announcement

In 1913 Nellie married Guy Geer, a young Minnesota native, who lived out east of Salem in the beautiful pastoral Waldo Hills area.  I’ve not seen a photo of Guy, but his 1917 World War I draft registration card describes him as medium height, medium build, brown eyes, and dark hair.  (The following year when he enlisted in the Oregon Militia he was described as being 5-feet 8-inches tall.)  Nellie’s father Ralph was living on his ranch in the Lookingglass Valley down south of Roseburg in 1916 when he passed away, and Guy’s 1917 draft registration lists the young couple, with one child, also living there, with Guy listed as a farmer.

The Waldo Hills east of Salem

Also in 1917, the Salem City and Marion County Directory lists Guy Geer, with an assessed valuation of personal property in the amount of $305, and his post office being Shaw, Oregon.  Shaw is a tiny community near Sublimity in the Waldo Hills.  So the young family appears to have been somewhat mobile, moving between the Sublimity area, Lookingglass valley about 145-miles to the south, and then, after they sold their Douglas County farm, to Portland where they appear in the 1920 census. 

The enumeration date of the 1920 census was January 1st and it was on January 9th that the Geer family was visited by the census taker. It turns out that an unexpected number of family members were living together at their address in Portland.  Ida Morris, a renter, was listed as head of household.  In that household were her son Harland Morris, her daughter Ruth Morris, her daughter Nellie Geer, Nellie’s husband Guy, and two children Morris and Elma L. Geer.  Boarders included Iza L. Geer (Guy’s younger sister) and Merle Matthews, another possible relative.  Interestingly enough, the house was owned by Selvina Stephenson.  Selvina had been the widow of Perry Herren, Ida’s uncle who died by suicide in 1874 (46 years before!).  Obviously family ties remained strong over the years.

Guy Geer’s occupation was a mechanic in a garage, while his 22-year-old brother-in-law Harland was a mechanic for the railroad and his 22-year-old sister-in-law Ruth was a clerk for Western Union.  Unfortunately this seemingly happy multi-generational family unit was not going to remain intact.

The first cases of the misnamed Spanish Flu were identified in the United States in March of 1918 at Camp Funston, Kansas.  Due to wartime censorship the disease was minimized by the allied nations in World War I, but neutral Spain had no such reason for censorship and after the Spanish king became ill, the name “Spanish Flu” stuck.

From the spring of 1918 until the spring of 1920 there were worldwide an estimated 500 million cases with deaths estimated anywhere from 17,000,000 at the low end to 100,000,000 on the high side.  The first case in Oregon was identified in September of 1918 and when the pandemic ended the state had suffered 50,000 cases and 3,675 deaths.  (To compare with Covid, Oregon, to date, has had 219,755 cases and 2,858 deaths).

Headline from the Oregon Statesman (Salem)

Influenza struck the world in four waves (early 1918, late 1918, 1919, and 1920).  The Geer family were struck down near the tail end of the pandemic.

On February 16, 1920, at her mother’s house Nellie (Morris) Geer passed away, leaving her husband, and two small children.  Three days later on the 19th, Guy Geer passed away, now leaving his children orphaned.  One can only imagine the extreme sorrow that enveloped the Morris/Geer household in Portland.  A double funeral was held there on Sunday, February 22nd

The Oregon Statesman, the Salem newspaper, announced on the front page “Two of Family Pass Same Day”, which while not accurate, reflected the shock of the family’s sudden loss.  A Silverton newspaper mentioned that the parents died along with an infant child, but I’ve found no record of a child – only Morris and Elma were mentioned in the census, and the parents obituary, and there is no death record for a child.  

The young couple were brought back to the Waldo Hills and buried together in the Union Hill Cemetery.

Geer gravestone in the Union Hill Cemetery

The two orphaned children, Morris and Elma Louise, continued to live with their grandmother Ida (Herren) Morris in Portland, graduating from Lincoln High School, until both moved to California in the late 1930s where they married, raised families, and lived until their own deaths.

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Levi M. Herren-Ida (Herren) Morris-Martha (“Nellie”) (Morris) Geer]

The Drowning of Eugene Leonard

On a hot summer day in 1909, Eugene Leonard dove into the rapid Deschutes river in an attempt to save his wife and others from drowning.  Instead, he became the only victim of the chilly waters.

Eugene Leonard occupies a special place in the family tree as he was the youngest child of the youngest child of the youngest child: being a son of Sarilda (Herren) Leonard and a grandson of Dosha (Robbins) Herren and great-grandson of William Robbins.  His mother Sarilda was born after the family arrived in Oregon and she met and married Thomas Sylvester Leonard in 1868.  In just a few years the family had moved to southeastern Washington, settling in the small town of Dayton.  The had four children, a smaller family than average for that time period. The oldest was Caroline Eloise (“Carrie”), followed by Edgar Harvey, Inez Olive, and finally Eugene K. Leonard, born in Dayton in 1887.

Eugene Leonard as child

Eugene Leonard

The parents, Thomas and Sarilda, remained in Dayton for the rest of their lives, while the two daughters moved around quite a bit once they were married.  The sons, Edgar and Eugene, remained in southeast Washington. Edgar worked as foreman, manager, and vice-president of milling companies in Waitsburg and Prescott, Washington, including the Portland Flouring Mill Company, and his younger brother Eugene followed in his footsteps.

Eugene Leonard was married to Goldie Thorington in 1907 in Walla Walla.  During their short marriage they had no children.

In 1909 Eugene was working as the manager of the Sandow Milling Company, a branch of the Portland Flour Mill Company, in the small town of Wasco, Oregon.  Wasco is located about 9 miles south of the Columbia River, in the heart of north-central Oregon’s wheat country.

On July 3rd, 1909, Eugene Leonard and his wife Goldie left their home in Wasco for an automobile drive down to Bend for a trout barbecue.  They were traveling with friends, including R. C. Atwood, the agent for the Wasco Warehouse & Milling company, V. H. Smith, a farmer from near Wasco; and G. W. Berrian, agent at Moro for the Eastern Lane company, and the three men’s wives (who in all the newspaper articles are simply referred to as “Mrs.” with no first names provided).

Deschutes or Crooked R view

Near the confluence of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers

The party decided to stop near Cove for a rest and to do some fishing.  Cove was a location along the Crooked River near where it enters into the larger Deschutes River, which drains much of the east side of the Cascade Range.  Today the entire area is inundated behind Round Butte Dam and is part of Cove Palisades State Park.  According the book Oregon Geographic Names (2003, 7th edition):

The place on Crooked River known as Cove is not inappropriately named.  At this point, which is about two miles south of the old river mouth, the stream was in a canyon with an overall depth of some 900 feet.  About halfway down from the bluffs west of Culver, there is a bench or shelf, and this shelf is closed on the east by rock walls, forming a natural cove.  Farther down into the canyon there was another natural cove near the river.  The county highway from Culver to Grandview crossed Crooked River at the Cove Bridge and, after passing over a rocky divide several hundred feet high, made a second descent, this time to cross the Deschutes River.  [This must be approximate location of the events in this story.]

According to newspaper reports the women were wading in shallow water when Mrs. Smith let out a cry, having stepped into a deep hole.  Both Goldie Leonard and Mrs. Berrian rushed to help and were themselves caught in the deep water.  Mrs. Berrian, a good swimmer, was able to get one of the women to shore, and then the men entered the water to save the remaining woman.  Mr. Berrian succeeded in getting the women to shore but Eugene Leonard, who had gone in to try to save his wife, was caught in the swift water and disappeared.  Goldie Leonard was pulled out by Mr. Berrian but was unconscious.  She was taken to the small town of Shaniko on the road back to Wasco to recover.  (Today’s Shaniko is a noted “ghost town” but in 1909 was an active community with a hotel.)

Eugene Leonard’s body traveled down the Deschutes and then down the Columbia before it was found ten days later twelve miles downstream from The Dalles.

The youngest member of the Leonard family, Eugene was the first to pass away, and was returned to his parent’s town of Dayton to be buried in the local cemetery.  He was later joined by his parents (Thomas in 1921 and Sarilda in 1924).  He wasn’t the first Robbins descendant buried there though, as his cousin Nettie Herren (daughter of Noah Herren) was buried in the Dayton Cemetery at the age of 20 in 1882. Years later the Leonards would be joined by more family, the Turners, descendants of Nathaniel Robbins, Dosha’s older brother, but whether they knew one another is doubtful.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Sarilda (Herren) Leonard-Eugene Leonard)

Robert Bird Pioneer Cemetery Marker Dedication

On September 14th of this year, the Tualatin Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) dedicated a marker in the historic Robert Bird Cemetery outside Wilsonville, Oregon.

DSCN2115 resized

DAR marker placed 14 September 2019

The marker notes it is placed “in memory of the early Oregon pioneers buried here” and specifically calls out pioneers Robert Bird, for whom the cemetery is named (he provided the land for the cemetery), and Nathaniel Robbins, “signatory of the Oregon State Constitution ratified in 1857.”  It might also be noted that several Robbins married Birds!

DSCN2067 resized

Barbara Stinger, descendant of Nathaniel Robbins, tells the story of the Robbins trip west

Barbara Stinger, great-great-great-granddaughter of Nathaniel Robbins, spoke at the dedication and read portions of a letter that Nathaniel Robbins’ son, William Franklin Robbins, wrote to and was published in The Decatur Press (Greensburg, Indiana) on the 2nd and 9th of September 1853.  One of the excerpts from William’s letter included this statement:  “I have only one thing to regret in coming to this country, that is the loss of my poor children, and relations; I will say to you as William Herren [first cousin, son of Dosha (Robbins) Herren] said to me, the country is good enough, the great trouble is in getting to it.”

DSCN2085 resized

Grave of Nathaniel Robbins in the Robert Bird Cemetery

While the Oregon Trail proved deadly for some of the family, most of the Robbins and Herren pioneers (seven related Robbins families emigrated to Oregon between 1845 and 1865) went on to lead productive lives in their new home, over 2,300 miles from Indiana.

It was an honor to attend this marker dedication, the first formal recognition, I believe, for Nathaniel Robbins, pioneer of 1852 and delegate to Oregon’s Constitutional Convention of 1857.

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins]

An Oregon Surveyor

I was recently contacted by Jerry Olson, the owner of an engineering firm and a man who has a deep interest in the history of surveying and surveyors of the Pacific Northwest.  Jerry was asking about Daniel S. Herren, a son of John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren, who, and this was new information to me, was an early Oregon surveyor.  We were able to provide new information to each other.

We have an eclectic mix of documentation about the life of Daniel but no photographs of him have been identified to date.  He died when most of his children were still young and, as frequently happens, after his death his children began to lose contact with the rest of their father’s family.  In compiling my family history, The Oregon Trail Families, I only found a couple of correspondents among Daniel’s descendants.

Daniel S Herren signature

Daniel S. Herren was born in 1829 in Decatur County, Indiana.  His middle name has been given in family records as “Simpson” and according to his obituary he was called “Sim.”  The Herren family left Indiana for Platte County, Missouri, where they resided for a few years before coming across the Oregon Trail in 1845.  They were the family that took the ill-fated Meek Cutoff that wandered without direction or food across Central Oregon.

In the 1850 census, at the age of 21, Daniel was listed in the household of his parents in Marion County, Oregon, and it was noted that he attended school during the year.  This was unusual for most 21-year old’s living on their parents farm in the days when most students ended their formal education by age sixteen.  Perhaps Daniel was receiving training in surveying.

The following year Daniel was married to Susan Sabina Caton.  Susan was the sister of Nathan Thomas Caton who later married Daniel’s sister Martha Herren.  Daniel and Susan had at least ten children:  Mary Catherine, Ulysses, Marcellus, Oliver Perry, John R., Ruby Y., Thomas, Susan Lavina, Jennie, and one unnamed child.

Daniel, a Democrat, served as the Sergeant-At-Arms for the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1858, a position that was dependent on being a member of the majority party, with the Surveyor General being a Democrat.

survey map note

Note on 1860s era survey map, indicating previous survey done by Daniel S. Herren

By 1859 Daniel Herren was working under contract to the Oregon Surveyor General’s Office and in 1860 was the surveyor for the Calvin Hale donation land claim in Lane County, Oregon, apparently the only claim that Herren was responsible for laying out.  The location of this claim is interesting as it lays along highway 126, the route between Florence and Eugene, a route that I take frequently driving between the coast and the valley!  In addition, two of his brothers, Noah and James, were employed as land office surveyor crewman, performing “ax” duty, in the 1850s.

The family lived in Marion County until about 1868.  By 1870 they were established in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, a huge change from the now well-settled Willamette Valley they came from.  Within a few years the family had moved further east to Granite County, settling near the community of New Chicago, and living a few miles east at the Perkins Ranch near Pioneer in Powell County.  This area was the location of gold placer mining activity.

Montana newspapers of the era had a number of details about Daniel and his family’s activities.  In 1874 it was noted:  “For the bridge over the Big Blackfoot, D. S. Herren put in a bid to build a new bridge and repair grade for $2,500.”  In 1876:  “It is reported that D.S. Herren has discovered a copper lode on Woodchuck creek that is sixty per cent. pure copper.”  In 1877 Daniel was mentioned peripherally:  “Richard Childs, of Missoula, formerly Probate Judge of that country, died at the residence of Mr. D. S. Herron, at the Perkins ranch on Saturday last.  Mr. Childs, accompanied by his family, were on their road home from Helena, and on Wednesday last, reaching Mr. Herron’s, was unable to travel further.  He was there but three days when he died.”

Then there was this advertisement in the Deer Lodge New North-west in March of 1878, reporting that the Herrens’ were throwing a party:

Herren ball ad

In 1878 the local newspaper reported a census of the Deer Lodge County schools and reported that Oliver, Ruby, John and Thomas Herron moved from the Pioneer school to the New Chicago school.  In 1881 it was reported that Daniel Herren had “bought T. H. Morse’s blacksmith shop at Pioneer and leased it to T. H. Hunsuscker, a skillful workman.”  It was around this time that Daniel Herren and his oldest son Oliver Perry Herren edited a newspaper for a very short time in Washington.  At his death, a newspaper reported sardonically that Daniel “…edited a marvelous paper at Spokane Falls for a few days…”

One of the strangest newspaper mentions of Daniel Herren occurred in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in February of 1883.  As he died only a couple of months later, one cannot help but feel this story about a tapeworm was related to his cause of death.  Note that his surname is spelled two different ways within the same article.

“On Monday Dr. Blalock set his trap the second time and catching hold of the snake worm relieved D. S. Herrin of twenty feet of the critter, making 101 at two hauls.  Mr. Herren had previously given up thirty-six feet and eight inches of the varmint and thinks there are 100 feet left.”

Herren tapeworm article

A few months later, while visiting his family back in Oregon, Daniel Herren died at his brother’s home.  One descendant had heard the story that he had died during a train robbery near Salem, but the real story was more mundane except perhaps that a tapeworm was involved.

Daniel is buried in the Herren family cemetery near Turner, Oregon.  His widow Susan was married two more times before disappearing so far from the historical record after 1910.  Two of his children that survived to adulthood married and have many descendants, but the majority of his children either died in infancy, childhood, or as adults without issue.

Daniel S. Herren – farmer, politician, miner, newspaper editor – and a surveyor.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Daniel S. Herren)

Jacob Green Robbins: A Late Emigrant to Oregon

In some earlier posts I shared some of the reminiscences of David Ransom Robbins, a grandson of Ransom Robbins, who was the subject of much of the family stories.  David’s parents were Jacob Green and Jane (Force) Robbins and they are the subject of this post.

Born in Indiana in 1827, Jacob Green Robbins was the fourth child of Ransom and Rebecca (Green) Robbins.  He was raised in Jennings County and married Jane Force, a native New Yorker, there in 1851.  To this union were born twelve children.

Grand Review of Union Army (1865)

Jacob enlisted in the 82nd Regiment of Indiana Infantry Volunteers on 9 August 1862in Indiana and served through the duration of the Civil War.  The 82nd was involved in the battles of Perryville, Stone’s River, Chickamauga, Atlanta, and was with Sherman when he marched across Georgia and up through the Carolinas to Confederate General Johnston’s surrender.  This regiment, with Jacob, participated in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., where Jacob was discharged, honorably, on 9 June 1865.  Like many soldiers, Jacob suffered from illness, including diarrhea, piles, and cataracts in the eyes, brought on by exposure to the elements and unclean water and food.  His later application for a pension would describe these conditions.

Upon return from the war, Jacob, along with other members of the Robbins family, emigrated from Indiana to Minnesota.  A friend of his, whom he had grown up with and served in the same infantry company with, owned land in Minnesota but decided to remain in Indiana and offered the Minnesota place to Jacob.  Once the Robbins’ Indiana farm was sold, Jacob and Jane purchased the Minnesota land, and moved there to Scott County.

Jacob and Jane’s son David Ransom Robbins wrote about the family’s arrival in Minnesota:

Uncle Jim Robbins lived about four miles northwest of Waterville…we finally got to Uncle Jim’s.  They knew that we was on our way, but did not know when we would arrive.  Grandfather [Ransom Robbins] and Aunt Julia’s house was only a short distance from Uncle Jim’s, and they had gone to bed.  Uncle Jim called them and they came over.  My cousin Ransom was not married yet, and was at home.  He was a volunteer soldier in the Fourth Minnesota Regiment and served till the war ended.  You can imagine that it was quite late when we got to bed that night.

Initially the Robbins’s lived near Fish Lake.  David Ransom Robbins described building their house there.

After father got the house logs made, he took one of the mares and snaked them out of the woods to where he wanted to build the house, and sometime in the last or first part of April of 1866 he had a house raising, and the neighbors came and put up the body of the house, and about that time Uncle Nelson Force (Mother’s brother) came.  Then he, father, and Grandfather Robbins made rafters out of saplings by hewing them on one side, then put them up and nailed sheeting on them, which was one inch lumber.  And then they put the roof on which was three foot clapboards they had riven out of oak timber.  They also made all the joists out of small trees.  When they got the floors laid and doors and windows in, and as the weather was quite warm by that time, we moved into our new house before the cracks between the logs were chinked and plastered.

Jacob Green & Jane (Force) Robbins

After living at Fish Lake for about six years, Jacob bought a farm a little to the southwest in Lexington Township of Le Sueur County, and that’s where he and Jane remained until 1911.  In that year, at the ages of 83 and 74, Jacob and Jane moved to Oregon!  Both family and newspaper articles state that it was in search of a “milder” climate that caused the couple to make the move.  Certainly Cottage Grove, Oregon, is much, much milder than Cordova, Minnesota.

Cottage Grove Sentinel (24 October 1912)

The very next year, the Cottage Grove Sentinel spotlighted the elderly Robbins couple, one-year residents of their community, with a headline that stated “Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Robbins Sweethearts Still and Hale and Hearty at Advanced Ages of 85 and 76.”  A couple of their many children lived nearby and helped take care of the couple in their last years.  When they passed away, they did so within weeks of one another.  Jacob Green Robbins died in March of 1918, while Jane passed away two months later, in May of 1918.  Both Jacob and his wife Jane are buried in the Brumbaugh Cemetery outside Cottage Grove.

(Jacob Robbins-James Robbins-Ransom Robbins-Jacob Green Robbins)

Chauncey Del French: Author

I have wanted to write about Chauncey Del French for some time, and I was reminded of his place as an Oregon author, after spending the last several days at a book sellers trade show in Portland, where other Oregon, northwestern, and national, authors were in attendance.

As far as I know, Chauncey French wrote just two books, one of which was published posthumously.  But before I get to the story of his writing, let me provide a little background.

Chauncey French (and I far as I know we have no one else named Chauncey in the Robbins family, but I may be wrong), was the son of Henry Clay French and Minnie Elmira Francisco, and the grandson of Isaac Francisco and Sarah Catherine (“Cassie”) Robbins.  Cassie came across the Oregon Trail from Decatur County, Indiana, in 1852 as a 6-year-old, with her parents James Anderson and Minerva Elizabeth (Hamilton) Robbins, her grandparents Nathaniel and Nancy, and other relatives.

Chauncey, also called Chat, was born in Portland in 1890.  His father, Henry French, was a lifelong railroad worker, ending his career working for the Union Pacific in the Pacific Northwest.  According to Chauncey, his father fled the Great Plains because he was tired of tornadoes.  Though growing up in railroad camps, Chauncey got a good education, and was sent off to the Vashon Military Academy at a young age.  He worked in the woods, he worked on the railroad, worked in fruit orchards, and eventually began to write.

Chauncey Del French

Along the way he met and married a woman named Jessie Robbins.  He knew he was a member of the Robbins family.  His grandmother was a Robbins, and his great-grandmother, Minerva (Hamilton) Robbins, died when Chauncey was thirty years of age.  But did he know he was his wife Jessie’s third cousin, once removed?  Jessie Robbins was the daughter of George H. Robbins, and granddaughter of Marquis Lindsay Robbins (discussed in a previous post).  Did they compare notes about their ancestry? or did they just think the names were an interesting coincidence?  Both Chauncey and Jessie were descendants of Absalom Robbins Sr.

The couple were married in 1914 and they never had any children.  Living most of their life in Salem, Oregon, Chauncey passed away there in 1967 and Jessie in 1970.

Chauncey French was said to have written for pulp magazines under assumed names, including Chat French, Chet Delfre, and Samuel Del.  I do know he wrote a story called “Once Too Often” for Railroad magazine in 1938 under his own name.  That same year, Macmillan Publishers in New York released Chauncey’s book Railroadman, a biography of his father, written by Chauncey but in his father’s voice.  The book was a minor best seller.

Signed title page of The Railroadman

H. Talmadge, the “Sage of Salem,” a columnist for the Oregon Statesman, wrote upon the book’s release:

I reckon that most of us at one time or another do things we should not do.  And, by the same token, I reckon also that most of us do not do things we should do.  Which reflection is prompted by the fact that I have read a book during the week—Chauncey French’s biography of his father, “The Railroad Man.”  I said to myself, a bit patronizingly perhaps, when I picked up “The Railroad Man,” with a view to glancing at its contents, that I must be considerate of my eyes, which have been very good friends for a long time, and more faithful that might have been expected of eyes which have been compelled to look at things which were not entirely wholesome in their nature and have not always been given the rest spells that they deserved.  Well, as usual, it being difficult for me to take advice.  I visited that book continuously until I reached the cabboose end of it, and I reckon it is not necessary to say that I enjoyed it.  “The Railroad Man” is a well-written story of a long and strenuous life—a close-up of a strong and interesting character.

In 1942, during World War II, both Chauncey and Jessie got work at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland and Vancouver.  He began his memoirs of working in the shipyards at the same time.  After the war, the couple returned to their home in Salem.  The manuscript that Chauncey had written was turned over to the Kaiser Company.

Cover of Waging War on the Home Front

It was later discovered by Ted Van Arsdol, a Washington State newspaperman and historian, and was finally published as Waging War on the Home Front: An Illustrated Memoir of World War II by the Oregon State University Press and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission in 2004.  And if I had remembered in time, while I stopped by the OSU Press table at the trade show, I would have thanked them for publishing this wonderful memoir about “war on the home front.”



(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Robbins-James Anderson Robbins-Sarah Catherine (Robbins) Francisco-Minnie (Francisco) French-Chauncey Del French)


(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-Marquis Lindsay Robbins-George Henry Robbins-Jessie (Robbins) French)

William Franklin Robbins (1816-1856)

William Franklin Robbins, not to be confused with another of the same name (the family historian in Decatur County who read his noted history at the 1922 Robbins reunion), was the eldest surviving child of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins and an Oregon Trail emigrant of 1852.

No photographs were ever taken of William and for the longest time his personality and thoughts were hidden to us, with only his name, dates, and tragic death being passed down through family.  In 1999 while searching through Greensburg newspapers looking for any mention of my family’s trek to Oregon, I came across a letter written by William describing in detail the events of that trip.  Titled “Journey to Oregon,” the letter appeared on the front-page of two issues of the The Decatur Press in 1853.  Suddenly, I had an impression of a man who for so long seemed to hide in the shadow of his parents and much longer lived siblings.

William Franklin Robbins was born in Henry County, Kentucky, to Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.  Nathaniel and Nancy were cousins – Nathaniel’s father William was the brother of Nancy’s father Absalom.  After a few short years in Bond County, Illinois, the family came back east and settled in Decatur County where they lived until the fall of 1851.

Melvina (Myers) Robbins

William was married in 1836 to Melvina Myers, a woman whose sad photo does survive, the daughter of George and Margaret Myers of Decatur County.  The Myers had a large family, and one of George’s descendants was Dale Myers, long-time historian of Decatur County and a good friend.

Not found in the 1850 Decatur County census, it is possible that William was already en route to Missouri with his family, where he was going to rent a place to winter over before moving to Oregon.  In the fall of 1851, Nathaniel and Nancy and all their children, in-laws, and grandchildren, arrived in Missouri and stayed at the son’s rented farm.

While not a day by day journal of the trip, it is a very complete account, and William describes in detail the events, not to mention the daily health issues, of the members of the family.  The biggest event, of course, was the death of three of his sisters from cholera in Nebraska, and I’ll post more excerpts from William’s letter in later articles about this tragic event but today I’ll just describe William’s heartbreaking description of the death of his 11-year-old son Gilman once the party arrived in Oregon in November.

“Gilman was able to walk out of doors without help, which he had not been able to do for some time, and he appeared to be a little better until Thursday morning, when he was taken with a severe diarrhoea, and he being very weak with the fever it soon ran him down, and Friday morning about breakfast time he died.  This was the hardest stroke that ever fell on me, he was such a good boy in our train; he received several presents as a reward for his good behavior and attention to business.  When I found he was dying I ran for some of the neighbors to come in, I went first to old Mr. Moors, Mrs. Moor went back with me, and the old man went for others, in a few minutes Mrs. Divas came; Mrs. Moor closed his eyes, when she came to me and asked me if we had any clothes to put on him, I told her that we had none but what was dirty and ragged, and nobody able to wash any, she told me to cheer up and she would be my friend.  She went home and brought clothes clean, washed and ironed, that fitted him, then her and Mrs. Divas laid him out.  She gave me money and told me to go to Mr. Barnes and get a coffin, and Nat went to Willamette city to get his uncle Dow and Norvil to dig a grave as there was no chance to get help here.  Dow and Norvil came back with Nat, all as wet as they could be.  It was as hard a days rain as I have seen in Oregon; it rained so hard, and was so late in the day that there was no chance to get a grave dug that day; the days being very short, much shorter then they ever get in Indiana.  This was the 17th day of November; next day they dug a grave and buried him on a bench in the bluff above Lynn city, in a beautiful spot that had been selected by the citizens of Lynn city as a graveyard; there had been two or three buried there before.” [note: no cemetery has survived and Gilman’s grave is now lost].

Once in Oregon, the job of building a new life began.  William joined his family members in taking out a Donation Land Claim west of the Willamette River in the current area of Wilsonville and Tualatin.  But a long life was not to be for this intrepid traveler.  In 1856, in one more tragedy for this family less than four years after arrival in Oregon, William lost his life in a hunting accident.  His daughter Melissa wrote years later of that event and William’s funeral:

“But how soon happiness can be turned to sorrow for when I was but four years old Father was taken from us by death in the accidental discharge of his gun while trailing a Bear in company with his Brothers, tho so young I could always remember seeing his body carried from the forest and of being lifted up to view him for the last time as he lay in his casket.  There being no horse teams in our community except Grandfathers [Nathaniel Robbins] which  hitched to a wagon in which was placed the casket and in which Mother [Melvina], baby sister [Artemissa] and I also rode with the rest of the crowd walking we proceeded to the Cemetery one half mile distant and there without a Minister of God to offer a last prayer or to speak one word of comfort to the grief stricken ones his body was laid to rest and while I was too young to realize my loss yet Mother’s heart broken sobbings at that time has followed me through life.”

Fatal Accident

William Franklin Robbins may have died before his time, but his legacy lives on in one of the largest groups of descendants of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel/Nancy Robbins-William Franklin Robbins)

Harvey Robbins and the Rogue River Indian War

A recent trip to southern Oregon got me thinking about cousin Harvey Robbins and his experiences in the 1855-56 Rogue River Indian War.  The route I traveled, along Interstate 5, is pretty much the same rugged route that Harvey traveled with his state militia company in rain and snow.  Today the freeway climbs and descends four passes between Grants Pass and Canyonville.  In Harvey’s time each of the intervening valleys had a fort that played a part in the war.

By 1855 the Takelma Indians were living on their treaty-established Table Rock Reservation in southern Oregon.  After a massacre by miners that year the Indians began taking revenge against miners and settlers in the area, which led the tribe to flee west down the Rogue River Valley and into the Coast Range.  Other related tribes to the north attacked isolated cabins in the valleys of Jump Off Joe Creek, Graves Creek, Wolf Creek, and Cow Creek.  The fear of Indians moved north into the Umpqua country and ultimately the Willamette Valley.  Governor Curry called up several companies of volunteers from the upper Willamette and Umpqua area counties.

Brothers Levi and Harvey Robbins (1850s)

Harvey Robbins, born in Decatur County, Indiana, in 1833, came across the Oregon Trail at the age of 19, with his parents Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins, all his siblings, as well as his cousin Nathaniel Robbins and his large family.  The family settled initially in Marion County, with some later moving on to Molalla, in Clackamas county.  Harvey, however, took out a donation land claim in Linn County, near Harrisburg.

As Harvey described the situation in the fall of 1855:

“By this time I had become of age and had taken up a parcel of land in Linn county.  When the call reached Linn County the news spread rapidly, runners going in all directions.  One came to me where I was plowing on the prairie and informed me of the urgent need for haste.  I at once unhitched my team from the plow and turned them loose to find their way home while I went to the claim of a young friend a couple of miles away.  He had two excellent saddle horses and I secured one of them and we rode hastily to the nearest assembly point.  We then met a number of other young fellows and all of us at once signed the necessary papers.  We were then ready to fall into line when called out.”  (Pioneer Reminiscences by Harvey Robbins).

We are lucky that Harvey Robbins kept a journal which survived and which was published in 1933 in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, as well as having written up his reminiscences.  In the journal Harvey describes the events of October 1855 to January 1856.

After marching south to Roseburg, Harvey described the “lack of respect” that the local residents affording the volunteers.  “The citizens of this place seem to treat the volunteers with but little respect.  One man has even forbade our cutting wood on his claim.  We just went to his wood that was already chopped and helped ourselves.”  The following day he reported: “Rained all night.  We have no tents yet.  The citizens will not even let us sleep in their barns.  A person may very easily imagine what kind of respect the volunteers begin to have for Umpquaians.”  (Oct. 29-30, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

The various companies elected a battalion officer and then they were on their way south, marching to Fort Bailey (now the location of the historic Wolf Creek Tavern).  There Harvey and his fellow soldiers learned of the army’s defeat at the hands of the Indians at the Battle of Hungry Hill.

Oregon vigilantes

Harvey’s company left Fort Bailey for Fort Leland (today situated next to Interstate 5 in the Sunny Valley) and then they were marched west down Grave Creek to the Rogue River, and then down the rugged Rogue, where the river plunges into canyons inaccessible to anyone but foot soldiers.

“The spy of yesterday morning arrived at camp, reported that the Indians were, he thought from all appearances, preparing to fight.  Capt. Keeney’s company was ordered to cross the river with [the] Southern battalion.  While preparing rafts to cross the river we were attacked by the Indians from the opposite side of the river.  Killed one man, wounded 22 more, Capt. Keeney’s company.  The river runs here in a deep canyon.  The side on which the Indians were is covered with fir timber and brush so thick that we could not see them.  The side on which we were was open with the exception of a few scattering trees.  As soon as the firing commenced Capt. Keeney ordered his men, every one to choose a position behind something to shelter us from their sight.  10 minutes before he advised us, all that were not at work, to get behind something and keep a close lookout for Indians, but the boys disposed to laugh at him.  The firing commenced at about 1 o’clock, continued till 8 o’clock at night, when seeing it was impossible to accomplish our object or even do any good in any way, we left the field, carrying our killed and wounded with us to our camp.”  (Nov. 26, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

The soldiers stayed where they were, firing back and forth with the Indians for several days, but after a storm left 10 inches of snow, and with provisions running low, the officers decided to return to the safety of the forts.  Once there the soldiers proceeded to vote for a Colonel and Lieutenant-colonel, Harvey writing: “The candidates have been shouting here today, telling us their views and what they would do if elected.  If they make their words good, woe unto the Indians.”  (Dec. 5, 1855, in Journal of Rogue River War, 1855)

Rugged Rogue River country near Indian battle sites

On December 16, Harvey reported that provisions were again running low.  “This morning we are out of meat, and having made several applications to the quartermaster for meat, and could not get it, Captain had discovered in the quartermasters house a keg of syrup which he called for, and the quartermaster swore that he should not have it.  Captain swore that he would.  He came to camp and took a few boys with him and just walked in, carried it out, and said “Here boys, take it,” and Mr. Quartermaster took care not to cheep.”

As the month wore on, and the weather worsened, and the supplies were running out, Harvey reported on Christmas Eve “Today there is considerable of murmuring in camp about the way we are getting treated here.  We are very poorly clad, and in fact we have no suitable equipment for a winter campaign and it seems there is no exertion used for our relief with the exception of Captain.”  On Christmas the soldiers received “a bucket full of brandy” from the quartermaster.  Captain Keeney asked for a furlough for his men, was denied, and he marched them anyway to Roseburg, for which he was temporarily suspended from command by the Governor.

So ends Harvey Robbins’ involvement in the Rogue River Indian War.  But we’ll be hearing more from Harvey later – he also participated in the Yakima Indiana War, ran a freighting service in eastern Oregon, mined and ranched in Oregon and Washington, and late in life returned to Decatur County, Indiana, to attend the 1922 Robbins Family Reunion.

(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins II-Jacob Robbins III-Harvey Robbins)