The red brick Liberty Church stood tall on the flat farmland near Greensburg, Indiana. On a hot Sunday in June, 1922, one thousand people gathered to celebrate the first Robbins family reunion in the county, a special event, it being the centennial of the family being in Decatur County. In 1822 the first Robbins family members settled in Decatur County. James Gilman Robbins, the oldest in attendance at the reunion, celebrating his 94th birthday the day before, was born a few years after the first settlers arrived.
Among the reunion attendees was 88-year-old Harvey Robbins, who had left Decatur County as a 17-year-old in 1851, on the start of a year-long trek to Oregon. This was his first visit back to his birthplace to visit family. Now an elderly white-bearded man supported by a cane, Harvey was still an adventurer at heart and a noted raconteur, telling stories of crossing the plains, fighting Indians, and mining and freighting in the inland Northwest.
An elderly family historian, William Franklin Robbins, a double-cousin of Harvey, through his father’s (Robbins) and mother’s (Spilman) family lines, and not that different in appearance though fifteen years younger, read out a long history he had written of the Robbins family and their presence in Indiana. He pointed out some of the surviving grandchildren of the original settlers, including the visiting Harvey. He also told a humorous story to demonstrate the large number of family members in the county:
“A man traveling from Greensburg to Vernon on horseback about this time found a Robbins family at every house along the way. So when he arrived at a blacksmith shop at the foot of the hill beyond Gaynorsville he addressed the smith as Mr. Robbins. The owner of the shop, surprised, said, “You are mistaken, my name is Lucky.” And the traveler rejoined with “You surely are Lucky not be a Robbins.” It is said that the Mr. Lucky had married a Robbins.”
Seven weeks later, and 1900 miles west, on another hot Sunday, there was a Robbins reunion of the western branch of the family. A smaller but no less enthusiastic group gathered in the western woods at Molalla, Oregon. The elderly Harvey, possibly still in Indiana, or perhaps recovering from his long journey, was unable to attend.
His niece Ipha Robbins, another early family historian, wrote to a cousin who was unable to attend about the Oregon reunion, as well the sharing of the centennial story from Indiana: “We had some pages of the Robbins history of a hundred years from Indiana with the group present at their anniversary in June last…They had 1000 present and 62 families of us represented. It is a wonderful picture and a revelation to me. I thought we were some bunch of the Jacob R. strain but Indiana far outnumbers us!” There was a realization that there were still many family members outside Oregon, but even Ipha had no idea of the true extent of the family in 1922.
Time and Distance
These were two of many reunions, held across the nation and over decades to gather family together for remembrance and re-acquaintance. Some were mentioned in newspaper articles and family reminiscences, but the reunions of 1922 were special, in memorializing the family’s residence in one place for a century.
In those hundred years a lot had happened to the Robbins family. People were born, married, had children, and passed from the scene. Successful farms and businesses were established in Decatur and surrounding counties, family members served in America’s wars and took part in political and religious life. And, many family members left “home” and set out for parts near and far. Some moved to other points in Indiana, some returned to Kentucky, where the family had been before Indiana, while others went west to Illinois, and Missouri, and Iowa. Others joined the pre-Civil War rush to Kansas, and some made the long trek to the Pacific Northwest and California. And some traveled further still, to foreign countries.
They all had their stories and this blog will share as many as possible. Most will focus on those hundred years, 1822 to 1922, but some will stray earlier and some later, and they will cover great distances. Stay tuned and keep reading!