Levi Robbins of Molalla

Levi Robbins, the second eldest child of Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins, was the only one of his siblings not to spend time in eastern Oregon and he was only one to stay clean-shaven!  Levi never grew a beard like his father and brothers.

He was born in 1835 in Decatur County, Indiana, joining his older brother Harvey in the small but growing family of Jacob Robbins.  Jacob had come to Decatur County, Indiana, as a boy, working first for his cousin Nathaniel and then becoming a successful farmer in his own right and a prominent hog raiser, so much so that he was sometimes called “Hog Jake.”  He and Sarah would go on to have ten children, the last child being born in Oregon.

Levi & Harvey Robbins

Levi and Harvey Robbins (c1858)

The family crossed the plains to Oregon in 1852 when Levi was seventeen years old.  A couple of stories have come down to us about Levi’s experiences on the Oregon Trail.  He was involved in the famous stampede of the Robbins wagon train on June 6th, 1852.  His brother Harvey later recounted the story:

Some of the young folks were riding and driving some of the loose stock, some of which had bells on.  When they got way behind the train and thinking to catch up, they began cracking their whips and whooping and hurrying their horses.  The cattle got the spirit of the race and away they sped, right into the train of 17 wagons.  Levi drove the family wagon all of the way and he, being the first to catch the warning, yelled, ‘Whoa Buck and Brandy!’ and they, being prompt to obey, set themselves so suddenly that the wheels ran into them with such force that Levi, the most trusted and careful of Pappy’s drivers, had to go over the top.  Mr. John Hamilton, thinking he would help Levi, reached back over his wagon and cracked his whip in their faces, at the same time losing control of his own team and away they all went in every direction, 17 covered wagons, all heavily laden with four and five yoke of steers to each.  One partnership wagon full of provisions and Mr. Hamilton’s wagon wheels struck together with such force that all of the spokes were broken out of one wheel and they had to make a cart out of the wagon.  One little girl said, as their wagon came to halt, ‘Mama! Didn’t we have a nice ride!’

Levi also went buffalo hunting with hired cattle driver and diarist John Lewis and they were able to shoot one only to return to the camp and find that two others were shot closer.

The family arrived in the Willamette Valley in very poor condition.  They were met by their cousin William Jackson Herren, son of Dosha (Robbins) Herren, who brought the hungry emigrants down to Salem.  There the family lived for several years before their move back north to Molalla.

While still near Salem, Harvey and Levi bought a farm together, raising apples and grain for the markets.  When Harvey enlisted in the Oregon militia to take part in the Indian wars, his brother Levi was left to look after their cattle.  Levi was also required to ride to their second farm in Linn County to feed the stock.

Levi and Ediff

Levi and Ediff Robbins c1859

In 1857 Levi and Harvey had purchased 480 acres and then in 1860 divided it between them.  Levi traded his share for 475 acres on the Upper Molalla near his father’s land claim at Molalla and moved his wife Ediff, whom he married in 1859, and their first child there in the fall of 1861.  Levi and Ediff remained there for the rest of their lives.  After Oliver Willard, they had seven more children after settling at Molalla:  Lyda Nettie, Ipha (noted as a family historian), Sarah Martha, Mary Linnie, Della, Levi Wayne, and Everman.

The 1880 U.S. census gives a glimpse of the farm of Levi and Ediff Robbins.  They are listed as owning 100 improved acres and 472 acres in pasture or orchards.  They owned 4 horses, 7 milk cows, 20 other cattle, 9 swine, 62 sheep, and 28 barnyard poultry.  Their farm produced 10 tons of hay, 600 pounds of butter, 1050 bushels of oats, 650 bushels of wheat, 125 bushels of Irish potatoes, and 100 bushels of apples.  The estimated cash value of the farm that year was $10,000.

In 1890, Levi and his son Willard bought the general store (Robbins & Son) with the stock of $6,000 worth of goods at Four Corners.  In 1905 Levi turned the store over to his sons to run.

Robbins brothers

Robbins brothers:  Oliver, Martin, Levi, and Harvey

Levi died in 1921 at the age of eighty-six while getting some wood from his yard.  Just shortly before his death he had been repairing the fences on his farm that were damaged from flood water.  Ediff died in November of 1933 at the age of ninety-one.

(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins II-Jacob Robbins III-Levi Robbins)

The Murder of John Dow Robbins

John Dow Robbins was the second eldest son of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins.  He was born in Bond County, Illinois (see previous post) in 1819 and never married.  He was about 32 years of age when he accompanied his parents, siblings, and other relatives west to Oregon.

No photo or physical description exists of Dow Robbins.  He was likely bearded like his brothers and probably weathered and muscled from years of working on the family farms.

JD Robbins land in survey

1860 Survey (T3S R1E: Clackamas County, Oregon) showing location of John Dow Robbins’ Donation Land Claim (note that brothers-in-law Hamilton and Sharp have claims just to the south)

Once he arrived in Oregon, Robbins applied for a Donation Land Claim.  Single individuals who arrived in Oregon after 1850 were entitled to a quarter-section, or 160 acres.  His property was located northeast of today’s Wilsonville, bounded on the west by Stafford Road and on the south by Homesteader Road.  Today much of this beautiful rolling farmland has been turned into estates for the Portland area elite who have built their mini-mansions on our ancestors’ farms.  We don’t know where on this quarter section Robbins’ cabin was, but it was in that cabin that he was found dead on May 2, 1873.

A neighbor and his son (though Dow’s niece Kate Sharp Jones claimed it was her brother Oliver Perry Sharp) discovered Dow’s body lying on his bed, underneath some clothes.  He had been shot between the eyes, the ball lodging in the back of his head.  His own rifle had been used to kill him.  A detailed news article on his death appeared in the Oregon City Enterprise:

A FOUL MURDER – On last Tuesday morning the news reached town that Mr. J. D. Robbins, a bachelor living alone on the Tualatin about four miles from this city, had been murdered.  The brother N. N. Robbins resides about two miles beyond the house of the murdered man, and on last Saturday passed the house, but not seeing anyone about, left his mail matter and went on home.

Mr. Shaw who resides close by, had not seen Mr. Robbins since Friday evening, on Monday, he concluded that all was not right, so he went to the house with his boy and finding the door locked, raised the boy up to the window to see if he was inside.  He could not see anything but the bed clothes were piled up as though somebody was under them, and he saw papers and trunks scattered about the floor.  This created the suspicion that Mr. Robbins was dead and covered up under the bed clothes.

Mr. Shaw immediately sent the boy after Mr. Robbins and when he came they effected an entrance through one of the windows which happened not to be fastened down.  When they got in they soon discovered that a foul murder had been committed.  The deceased was laying in the bed with a ball through his forehead which had entered between his eyes and lodged in the back part of the head.  His rifle had been discharged and the ball extracted from his head shown that it was the same size as the ones used in his own gun.

There is no clue as to the perpetrators of this terrible deed.  Mr. Robbins was a man universally esteemed by all who knew him and there is no doubt but he was murdered by someone who expected to get money which we learn they probably got but very little of it if any.

On Friday evening as Mr. Shaw was going to his house, he met two men going in the direction of Mr. Robbins on foot, and a short distance this side he met another on horseback.  The party on horseback was going in the same direction of the footmen and kept the road but never saw them, and it is supposed they must have gone to the house of Mr. Robbins and stayed there.

He was probably murdered while asleep with his own gun and the murderer then ransacked the premises for money or other valuables, very little of which they could have obtained as we are informed that Mr. Robbins hardly ever kept any money by him.  They then covered him up and locked up the house and taking the keys of both doors with them.

These two men have not been heard of in any direction since they were seen by Mr. Shaw and there is strong suspicion that they perpetrated the terrible deed.

An inquest was held on the body by Justice Bailey and a verdict rendered that the deceased came to his death by a gunshot wound from some unknown hand.

Mr. Robbins was about 53 years of, highly respected and has one brother residing within two miles of his late residence and another somewhere in the state.  His relatives live in Decatur County, Indiana.  We hope that the perpetrators of the terrible deed be discovered and brought to justice.

Over three months later another article appeared in the Oregon City Enterprise regarding the murder.  It seems that two men were arrested for the crime but released when it was discovered that there was no evidence to hold them and that they were apparently wrongly accused.

ARRESTED-Two men named David Wright and Warren were arrested last Saturday on a warrant issued upon the affidavit of John Dougherty, charging them with the murder of J.D. Robbins, who was killed in this county last May.  There is a great deal of feeling in this community to get the person or persons who committed this murder, and no sooner was the fact known that the arrest had been made than our citizens became very much excited, and hoped the right ones had been arrested.  But they became thoroughly disgusted when the examination took place and this man Dougherty had not the least evidence against the men he had arrested, and they were promptly discharged upon motion of the District Attorney.  the same as in the other cases.  This man John Dougherty professes to be a detective and is calculated to deceive the people.  He has shown his hand in this matter, and the general verdict is that he is unfit for the character he assumes, and unworthy of any confidence whatever.  The two first men he knew were innocent and what his object was in having them arrested we cannot tell.  but the supposition is that he was working for the reward and would as soon have hung an innocent man as a guilty.  We are informed that he offered $100.00 to one of the men to swear against the other, but failed to find a tool to help him in his foul work.  John Dougherty is well known in Oregon, and where he is it would not be well for him to attempt to establish a reputation.  The result of all is that the County will be called upon to pay the expenses of this preliminary trail amounting to about $100.00 and three men against whom this Dougherty could not produce the least evidence have been held under arrest for a most foul and bloody murder.  Dougherty had better hire his witnesses next time before he swears out a warrant.

No one ever discovered who killed Dow Robbins, but some of his clothes later turned up in a second-hand store in Portland.

Dow’s brother Norval Robbins was appointed administrator of his estate.  In his final report on the estate, Norval explained: “…the money he borrowed in the early part of his incumbency was to employ detectives and others in the effort to secure the arrest and punishment of the murderers of deceased.  He at one time believed success would crown the effort made, but all such hopes are blasted and the criminals have escaped at least for a time.”

JD Robbins estate

One of many receipts in J. D. Robbins Estate File (Clackamas County, Oregon); in this one my great-grandmother Artamissa Robbins receives her share of the estate: $2.79

On a side note about his estate, the inventory of his property describes the fairly typical rustic Oregon household of a bachelor farmer.  Among his belongings: one wagon, one yoke of oxen, one cow and calf, two steers, stove, grindstone, plow and other farming implements, axes and hatchets, bedstead, chairs and three books.  One wonders what three books he owned.  His heirs were his surviving brothers and sisters, or in cases where they were deceased, his nieces (such as Artamissa above) and nephews.  His death, coming twenty-one years after arriving in Oregon was one more tragedy that this family faced in their new western home.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-John Dow Robbins)

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 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)


Dean “Lucky” Leete – Recreating a Life

In addition to working a family back through time, looking for ancestors and the sources that document relationships and biographical information, I also work forward – trying to identify descendants of each of our lines of the Robbins families – in other words, looking for all the descendants of Jacob and Mary Robbins.  Sometimes you come across a name, perhaps a child listed in a family’s census enumeration, and after being initially stymied in the research, it all opens up.  You discover what happened to them: they married, had children, and have many descendants.  Other times you come across people who are literally the last of their line.  Such is the case of Dean Livington Leete.

To tell the story of Dean Leete we need to begin with his great-grandparents, Nathan Thomas Caton and Martha Ann (Herren) Caton.  Martha was the daughter of John and Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren and was a child when the family crossed the Oregon Trail and took the ill-chosen Meek Cutoff across central Oregon.  The Herrens settled near Salem, Oregon, and there Martha met and married lawyer Nathan Thomas Caton.  Nathan was deeply involved in the early, chaotic political history of the state of Oregon.  He appears to have been a pro-Southern Democrat and served in a number of local government positions (his biography could make an entirely separate post).  Possibly because of his politics he packed up his family and moved to Silver City, Idaho, to run a local newspaper.  Before long he and his family had moved north to Washington Territory, living in Walla Walla and Davenport.  At one point Nathan was the Speaker of the Washington Territorial House of Representatives.

The Catons had four children, three of whom lived to adulthood.  Their son, Edwin Harvey Caton, is the progenitor of all the living Caton descendants today.  Another son George was married and had two children who died in infancy or childhood.  Daughter Martha Livinia Caton was the grandmother of our subject, Dean Leete.  Martha was married to Robert E. Leete in 1877 in Dayton, Washington.  We don’t know much about Robert Leete except that he was born in New York, appears to have died before 1897, and was divorced from Martha by that time.


Robert and Martha Livinia (Herren) Leete

Robert and Martha Leete had one son Claude Caton Leete.  While Martha divorced Robert and moved to British Columbia and later remarrying, Claude was close to his grandfather Nathan Caton.  It was probably Nathan who encouraged his grandson to go into local government.  Claude served as county auditor of Lincoln County, Washington for two years as well as doing other work in the local courthouse.

Claude was married to Margaret Livingstone of Kentucky.  He had met Margaret at a Christian church Sunday School convention held in Kentucky in 1909 that Claude had attended.  Their wedding, following their “romantic” courtship, was actually frontpage news in the local Stanford, Kentucky, newspaper.  The paper reported that after the wedding the couple were returning to “their far western home” while visiting Pike’s Peak and Yellowstone on the way.

Claude and Margaret returned to Washington State, where their only child, Dean Livingston Leete was born in 1914.  Sadly, Claude Leete died in 1916.  Some reports had him dying on the train while returning from visiting his wife’s family in Kentucky, while others have him taking up work in the county courthouse in Tipton, Indiana, and dying soon after.  [In three generations the family had traveled from Indiana to the Pacific Northwest and then back to Indiana!]  Whatever the details, Margaret returned to Washington (not to Kentucky where her family was living) with her son Dean.  When Dean was about fourteen years of age, his mother Margaret died in Spokane.  Again, Dean didn’t return to family in Kentucky but was taken in by an unrelated family in Washington.

My thanks to Livingston family researcher Linde Grace who in trying to find out what happened to her mother’s first cousin Dean was able to piece together much of Dean’s life.  Dean kept in touch with his mother’s family and visited back in Kentucky occasionally.

Dean Leete rev

Dean Livingston (“Lucky”) Leete


Dean Leete attended Washington State College in Pullman where he is found in their yearbooks in the mid-1930s.  Upon graduation he went to work for the American Tobacco Company (in the 1940 census his occupation is listed as “salesman wholesale tobacco) and at that point was living in Amarillo, Texas.  In 1942 he enlisted in the military, serving in Texas, and being honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant.  It is believed that his nickname, “Lucky”, was given to him by his buddies in the military.

He was married briefly in the 1940s to a woman named Wilma (Pickering) Willard, before they divorced in 1948.  The couple had no children and Wilma passed away in 1966.

Dean was socially active in Amarillo, as evidenced by his many mentions in the Amarillo Globe-Times about his involvement in local theater as an actor.  In 1940 he appeared in a murder mystery titled “Through the Night” and “Flight to the West” in 1941.   He was also a Mason and a Shriner.

Dean Leete obit rev

Dean Leete passed away in Amarillo in 1978.  When I first located a Dean Leete (not a common name) who died in Texas, I thought I had probably found the right person.  I approached the local genealogy society in Amarillo for assistance.  They were able to get a copy of his obituary for me and also visited the local funeral home which handled his burial, where they were informed that a local woman, whose name they would not disclose, made the arrangements.  His burial plot in the very large Memory Gardens Cemetery is not marked with a gravestone (my sister was visiting Amarillo and very generously stopped by the cemetery to check out Dean’s final resting place for me!).

Dean Leete led an interesting life, sad in some respects, seemingly full and happy in others.  He was the last descendant of Martha Livinia (Caton) Leete.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Martha Ann (Herren) Caton-Martha Livinia (Caton) Leete-Claude Caton Leete-Dean Livingston Leete)


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)

Met Horrible Death: Benjamin Franklin Butler Barstow

Met a horrible death

In 1866, Joseph and Nancy (Robbins) Barstow, named their fifth child Benjamin Franklin Butler Barstow, in honor of Benjamin Franklin Butler, controversial Union Army general and future governor of Massachusetts.  Butler was a “political” general, appointed because of his political pull and had no military experience.  Why did the couple name their child for him?  Probably for two reasons.  Joseph Barstow came from Massachusetts and the Robbins family, if not the Barstows, supported the pre-Civil War Democratic Party and Butler was one of it’s preeminent leaders in New England.  In the future the child would be simply known as Ben (though he also appeared as “Butler” in several census records).

Ben Barstow was born when the family was living in the Stafford area, near the boundary between Clackamas and Washington counties, in Oregon.  He was born three years after the death by drowning of his grandfather, Dr. Nathaniel Robbins.  He had two older brothers, two older sisters, one of whom died in infancy, and two youngers sisters, again with only one living to adulthood.  Sadly Ben also lost his mother when he was about six years of age, as Nancy died from the effects of giving birth to her last child in 1872.  Ben’s father Joseph Barstow, who had come around the Horn to Oregon from New England, remained a widower until his death many years later in 1915.

Barstow family

Ben and Christina Barstow, with oldest daughter Iva, c1900

In 1899, Ben Barstow was married to Christina Groshong near the Clackamas county settlement of Wilhoit in the Cascades foothills.  Wilhoit was the location of springs which brought visitors from near and farm.  An article in the local Oregon City newspaper reported at the time: “A number of guests were present and a luxurious wedding dinner was served.  The bride has resided at Wilhoit for a number of years and enjoys a host of friends.”  Over the next several years Ben and Christina had three daughters, Iva, Harriet, and Marie, the last being born in November of 1904. They lived near Wilhoit and Scotts Mills a few miles to the south.   Farming and logging were the primary occupations of the time.

But once again tragedy struck the Barstow family.  Approximately two weeks after the birth of his last daughter, Ben Barstow was seriously injured in a logging accident.

The first newspaper mention of this incident comes from The Silverton Appeal on Friday, December 2, 1904:  “Ben Barstow of Scotts Mills, was serious injured Monday, having met with the misfortune to dislocate his hip.  He was also injured internally, and his condition is said to be critical.  A local physician has the case in charge and reports the patient in favorable way to recovery at this writing.”

Unfortunately, that was not to be.  The following Friday, the same newspaper reported: “Ben Barstow, who was injured at Scotts Mills Monday of last week, a brief mention of which was made in our last issue, died Saturday and was buried Monday.”  Ben Barstow was 38 years old.

That would be all we knew of the incident except the Oregon City Enterprise carried a lengthy description of the incident under the headline “Met Horrible Death.”  Both newspapers disagreed on which day of the week the incident happened (Monday or Tuesday) and which day of the week Barstow died (Saturday or Sunday).

The Enterprise reported,

The details of the accident and consequent suffering are harrowing in the extreme.  It seems that last Tuesday he and another man were getting out raw logs and were hauling them over to a skidway leading to Coal creek.  While hauling a big log over a rough piece of ground it made an unexpected turn and caught Mr. Barstow, who fell while the log rolled onto him, dragging for half its length across the hips and groins of the unfortunate man before the team could be stopped.  Mr. Barstow was alone at the time and when his helper finally arrived he was unable to remove the heavy log and the only thing to do was to haul the log off with the team and this was done.  The injured man could not stand to be carried, so he was dragged by the arm for about 300 yards, put on a sled and hauled home nearly a mile away.  Medical aid was hastily summoned, and an examination proved that the bones in the hips were mashed and the lower part of the abdomen was crushed, causing serious internal injuries.  He appeared to be improving at first, but he was gradually failing, and said himself that he had not long to live.  Saturday night and Sunday morning he appeared quite cheerful and was telling stories and jokes to a circle of friends and relatives.  Sunday morning he said: “Let my boy come in to rubber at me too.”  He called his oldest daughter, a child of about four, his “boy.” When she came in he took her hands, pressed them to his face and fell back on the pillow dead.

Barstow gravestone

His widow Christina later remarried to a man named John Sharp, not known to be any relation to her late husband’s uncle William Sharp.  The girls grew up and married, though Iva, or “Boy” as her father called her, died in the influenza epidemic of the early 1920s.  I was fortunate to correspond with and later meet the youngest daughter Marie who provided information about her family and the father she never knew.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Barstow-Benjamin Franklin Butler Barstow)

The Willamette Stone

Other than the original thirteen colonies, Kentucky and Tennessee, and Texas, all land in the United States is divided up through the Public Land Survey System, first laid out in the Land Ordinance of 1785.  Also called the Rectangular Land System it divides up land in sections and townships based off of a meridian and a baseline.  It’s a very easy system for describing land and it’s very easy for family historians to find their family’s land with a description from a deed.

DLC Nathl Robbins

In Oregon, the meridian and baseline were established in 1851 by John B. Preston, the first Surveyor General of Oregon.  The baseline was chosen so it wouldn’t cross the Columbia River, while the meridian was set to lay west of Vancouver Lake, a shallow waterway along the Columbia where it turns north in the vicinity of Portland.

The junction of the Willamette meridian and Willamette baseline lies west of downtown Portland in the high hills along Skyline Drive.  I recently visited the spot which is appropriately named Willamette Stone State Heritage Site.

Willimette Stone 1

The Willamette Stone

The existing marker is the third in the location.  The first, set by Surveyor Preston, was a red cedar stake.  It was replaced in 1885 by a small stone obelisk, which after being vandalized, was replaced by the current marker set in concrete with an accompanying plaque and some interpretive signage.

Willamette Stone 2

Willamette Stone set in concrete

I was interested in whether other meridians and baselines are marked and indeed they seem to be.  The Second principal meridian on which most of Indiana is divided up is located in the woods south of Paoli, Indiana.  The Fifth principal meridian in Missouri, is situated at the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers and is now in a swamp, accessed by a boardwalk trail.

Meridians map

Map of Principal Meridians and Base Lines

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this type of land description is very easy to use to locate property in the United States.  You can use a website such as Earthpoint to enter the state, meridian, township, and section and get latitude and longitude coordinates that you can enter into Google Earth to find the location on a map.  Here’s one example which shows the general area where Nathaniel Robbins’ Donation Land Claim was located in the 1850s, based on the simple description of something like “South ½ of the South ½ of section 30”.

Nathl on GoogleEarth

General location of Nathaniel Robbins land

So you may ask how were land parcels identified in the non-Public Land Survey System states? like Virginia or Kentucky?  By a system called metes and bounds.  Here’s a transcribed description from Nathaniel’s grandfather Jacob Robbins in Montgomery County, Virginia (1783):

“…Beginning at two white oaks and a red oak corner to the same and runneth thence South four degrees East sixty poles to a forked white oak corner to said Ogles [a neighbor] and runneth thence South twenty four degrees East one hundred and twenty poles crossing the River and over a Branch to two white oaks on a hillside South forty five degrees West two hundred and seventy poles to the River and down the same South seventy five degrees West eighty four poles, West fifty six poles, North forty five degrees West one hundred and ten poles to a white oak on a hillside, and thence North fifteen degrees East four hundred and seventy four poles to the Beginning…”

Which is easier to find?  Metes and bounds or Public Land Survey System?  I’ll take the latter any day!


An Ancestral Mother for Mother’s Day

The earliest Robbins “mother” for which I have a photograph is my great-great-great-grandmother Nancy Robbins.  Like a lot of photography subjects at the time she doesn’t look particularly happy, but then she had a hard life, yet a long one.  She suffered numerous tragedies but persevered and is the ancestor of hundreds of people.

Nancy Robbins (1793-1880)

Nancy Robbins was born in 1793 to Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins.  She was raised in Virginia and Kentucky and married her first cousin Nathaniel Robbins in 1813, thereby keeping her maiden surname.

Nancy’s parents, Absalom and Mary Robbins, give permission for her to marry; brothers George and Micajah are witnesses.

The first tragedy Nancy suffered was the loss of the couple’s first child, Harriet, in 1815.  After the birth of their second child, Nancy and Nathaniel left Kentucky for Bond Co., Illinois, where they lived briefly.  While there, their third child, Absalom, died in 1819 from the effects of a burn.  Moving back east to Decatur County, Indiana, the couple had ten more children, all of whom lived to adulthood.

With Oregon fever at a height, Nathaniel and Nancy made the difficult choice to cross the continent to Oregon.  Did Nancy have a voice in the decision? or did Nathaniel just announce they were leaving?  The family set out in the fall of 1851 to winter over in Missouri, before setting out on the Oregon Trail in the spring of 1852.

They left Missouri in mid-April, and they hadn’t traveled far, in what is today southern Nebraska, when the emigrants were struck with cholera.  A fast-moving disease, those stricken could be gone before they knew it.  That’s what happened with three of Nancy’s children.  Two daughters, Amanda Minerva and Bethiah Emmeline, died on May 31st, having been stricken early in the day, daughter Mahala followed the next day.   Two days after that, son-in-law Absalom Barnes, who had left his own family back in Indiana, and was married to Bethiah Emmeline, followed his wife into the grave.  Nancy and Nathaniel would now raise their orphaned Barnes grandsons.  The travelers had to keep moving and the three daughters were buried in one grave, Absalom was buried further along the trail, and the Robbins family moved on.

Family stories recount that many of the emigrants were ill, including Nathaniel, for whom the wagon train would stop until he felt better, but there is never any mention of Nancy Robbins being ill.  You can imagine her cooking, cleaning, nursing, and mourning, out in the elements month after month, along a hot and dusty or wet and muddy road.

When the wagon train arrived in eastern Oregon, Nancy lost her granddaughter Sarah Jane Robbins, aged about five or six.  And after the family arrived in Oregon City, their destination, grandson Gilman Robbins, not yet eleven years old, died and was buried in a location now unknown.

The family settled in the western part of Clackamas County and filed their donation land claims.  The couple and their children began building their lives in their new home and Nancy was the matriarch of an expanding family.  We don’t know a lot about Nancy’s personal life beyond her role as a mother.  We do know from the census that she could not read or write, not uncommon for an upbringing on the Kentucky frontier.  We also know that she made wine!  She won second prize for her current wine at the 1863 Oregon State Fair in Salem.

Tragedy continued to stalk the family however.  Oldest son William Franklin Robbins was out bear hunting in 1856, when he reached down for his rifle and it went off, killing him instantly.  Youngest daughter Angeline, who was said to be in poor health, died in 1862, at age twenty.  Then, in December of 1863, Nathaniel Robbins, Nancy’s husband of half a century, drowned in the rain-swollen Tualatin River.  Nancy endured those events, and there was more to come.

In 1872, the youngest surviving daughter, Nancy, named for her mother, died shortly after her last child was delivered.  The following year, bachelor son John Dow Robbins, was found murdered on his land claim.  His murderer was never found.  In 1877, son-in-law William Sharp died after falling from his barn’s roof.

Nancy, the tough old pioneer that she was, finally succumbed at the age of 87, to what the 1880 Mortality Schedule seems to describe as “acute pleurisy.”  By my count, she was survived by four children (five children-in-law) and 41 grandchildren.  I did not try to count her great-grandchildren.  One of her last surviving grandchildren was Nancy Lucinda Barstow, named for her mother and grandmother, who was 12-years-old when her grandmother died and who, herself, lived until 1961.  These two Nancy’s lives covered 168 years of American history, from the presidencies of George Washington to John F. Kennedy.  What would Nancy senior have thought of that?

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Robbins)

A Trip Around the World

The last couple of posts dealt with members of the John and Ruth (Anderson) Robbins family of Decatur County, Indiana.  This post does too, though the focus is more on a Robbins in-law.

John and Ruth Robbins had a small family for their time.  Instead of the large number of children farming families tended to have, this couple only had four children that we know of:  Mary Ellen, William Anderson, Sarah Ann, and Nathaniel.  The eldest, Mary Ellen, was married to Calvin Paramore and while they had seven children, all died in childhood, never married or had no living descendants.  The youngest, Nathaniel, died in infancy in 1824.  That leaves two children whose family lines continue today.  Last week’s post was about the Snooks and the Schumachers – they were descendants of Sarah Ann (Robbins) Snook.  The post before that one was about Jacob Gates Robbins, a son of William Anderson Robbins.  This post also deals with descendants of William Anderson Robbins.

John Robbins and family

William Anderson Robbins had several children besides Jacob Gates.  The two that had descendants were William Marion Robbins and Charles Francis Robbins.

Charles Francis Robbins, Sr., was the proverbial small-town boy made good.  Born in Decatur County he became an attorney in Indianapolis.  He was married to Venora (“Nora”) Hammond in 1883, they had one son Charles Francis Robbins Jr. (born 1886).  The law must have been very lucrative in Indiana’s capital city, because by the late 1890’s they were touring Europe and living in France.  They do not appear to have returned to Indiana.  Not found in the 1900 census as perhaps they were still in Europe, they are in the 1910 census living on West 85th Street in Manhattan, where Charles’ occupation was listed as “own income.”  Charles Sr. died in 1914.

A.G. Spalding & Bros.

Son Charles Francis Robbins Jr. was destined for the business world and specifically the international sporting goods company, A. G. Spalding.  By the time he registered for the World War I draft in 1917 he was a manager at Spalding and in the 1920 census he was listed as vice president at Spalding.  Between those two years Charles Jr. was married to Elizabeth Brown, a niece of the company’s founder, A. G. Spalding Sr.  By 1930 Charles Jr. was president of the Spalding Company and his family had moved to Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey.  He and Elizabeth have descendants through their three sons.

But – back to Nora (Hammond) Robbins, wife of Charles Francis Robbins Sr.  After her husband’s death Nora continued her international travel.  And it was a trip in 1923 which became the basis for her small book, Hitting the High Spots of My Trip Around the World, published in 1938.

Venora Robbins passport application

In this book, dedicated to her son Charles Jr. and her three grandsons, Nora Robbins describes her trip around the world.  She crossed the continent to San Francisco, where she boarded the ship SS President Cleveland and sailed for Honolulu.  After a visit to the Hawaiian Islands, Nora continued on to Japan, then China, Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Macao, Southeast Asia (the future Vietnam and Cambodia), Indonesia and Singapore, then on to Ceylon, across the Indian ocean to the African coast, then up the Red Sea to visit the highlights of Egypt, and then on to Europe, stopping in Venice, Paris, and from London returned to her “little old New York.”  She had been gone from the United States for almost 13 months but later Nora returned to France where she had a villa on the Riviera, living there into the 1930s.

Title page of Venora (Hammond) Robbins book

What’s fascinating about Nora’s book is that she was travelling soon after the end of World War I but before some of the worst events preceding World War II.  For example, she describes visiting the “very interesting” city of Nanking, later the scene of the notorious “rape of Nanking” by Japanese soldiers a decade later.  She reported:  “The tombs of the rulers of the Ming dynasty are here.  Long rows of stone animals are on either side of the road leading up to their temple.  It was a beautiful October day and the trip out through the country in rickshaws was delightful.”

In visiting Beijing (then spelled Peking) Nora espouses her philosophy of travel:

The whole wonderful city was most impressive.  Peking! – that I had so long dreamed of – and I was there!  It is a very happy thing to have a first experience.  You have thrills of pleasure that never come with the second one.  I am sorry for anyone who has “seen everything:”  No chance to see for the first time – which is the best of all.

Towards the end of her travels, when she was in France, she describes the former battlefields of the first world war.  “We were in dugouts; saw trenches and barbed wire entanglements; the great cemeteries of the French, Italians, and Germans; the cemetery of the Americans at Belleau Woods.  Where the English are buried there are the blooming roses.  Always flowers!”

At the beginning of the book she writes:

It is so commonplace a trip today, to circle the globe, that it is almost presumptuous to essay an entertainment of others with one’s own experiences.  There-fore I venture forth on even a brief recital of my own with much hesitation, as most of you have probably seen more and know more about what you have seen that I do.

I’m not so sure of that.  Overall, Nora’s book is a delightful account of travel in a bygone era.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-John Robbins-William Anderson Robbins-Charles Francis Robbins, married to Venora (“Nora”) Hammond-Charles Francis Robbins Jr.)


Dating Old Robbins Photos

It’s not always easy to determine the date when an old family photograph was taken.  We look at the type of photograph it was (daguerreotype, tintype, carte de visite, cabinet cards, etc.), the dress of the subjects, and other clues to provide a date.  Sometimes the only information we have to go on is an individual’s lifespan.  One such photo is that of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins, Oregon emigrants of 1852.  While Nancy lived until 1880, we know that Nathaniel Robbins died in December of 1863 so the only photograph we have of them is before that date.

Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins (by or before 1863)

Most of the Robbins family did not avoid photographers’ studios and the new technology that allowed a person’s likeness to be captured for posterity was thankfully taken advantage of by our ancestors.  Unless we know otherwise (and occasionally we will hear of a family member who refused to have their photo taken) I firmly believe that the majority of our family that lived after about 1860 had their photograph taken, whether we still have those photos today or whether we recognize those photos that lay unidentified in our photograph collections.

I received the photograph below from the late Patrick Masterson of Port Orford, Oregon.  Patrick was a descendant of Jacob and Sarah Robbins, emigrants of 1852, and a local historian with long-time connections to his small Oregon coast community.  Patrick claimed that this photograph was of Jacob Robbins’ father, another Jacob Robbins.  This Jacob would have been the brother of William Robbins, the Revolutionary War veteran, Absalom Robbins, who died at an advanced age in 1859, James Robbins of Jennings County, Indiana, and other siblings.  Jacob (of the photo) was born in 1767 but we do not know when he died.  He appeared as an 83-year-old in the 1850 Decatur County, Indiana, census.  Due to the advanced age of the subject, it could very well be that this photo truly is of Jacob Robbins in his old age.  Or is it of someone else in the family?

said to be Jacob Robbins (1767-after 1850)

Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins’ daughter Nancy, was married to Joseph Barstow in 1856 and this appears to be their wedding photograph.  As their wedding was only one month after Nancy’s eldest brother William Franklin Robbins was tragically killed while out bear hunting, the descendant of Nancy who gave me this photograph believed the sad look on Nancy’s face, during an otherwise happy event, was due to grief at her brother’s recent death.  If so, the photograph dates from 1856.

Joseph and Nancy (Robbins) Barstow (1856)

Another photograph in the Jacob Robbins line is that of Harvey and Levi Robbins, teenage brothers who crossed the plains in 1852, sons of Jacob and Sarah Robbins.  I believe this photo shows the brothers prior to their marriages.  If so, the photograph was taken by or before 1858, when Harvey married his wife Perlina (Levi married the following year).

Levi and Harvey Robbins (c1858)

In some cases, like that of Nathaniel, we know the latest date by which a photograph was taken, while in others we try to calculate, whether from age or dress or other criteria, when the image was created.  It’s not always perfect, but usually we can arrive at a general date for the photo.  These aren’t the only old photographs I have in my collection, just a few examples.  Who do you have in yours?