John Hudson Robbins: Oregon Pioneer of 1862


This is the second of two posts about the life of John Hudson Robbins (1833-1912), a native of Decatur County, Indiana, who moved as a child to Missouri and Iowa, from where he set off for Oregon in 1862.  The first post dealt with John’s life prior to coming to Oregon and what information we had about that trip west.

John Hudson Robbins rev

John Hudson Robbins

Upon arrival in Oregon, John Hudson Robbins was virtually bankrupt.  (The trip west was not done cheaply – there were a lot of expenses in equipping a wagon, buying enough food for the journey, having some money left upon arrival in the Pacific Northwest, and more).  Therefore, John put his children with relatives and neighbors:  son Ben with his uncle Lindsay Robbins, daughter Sarah with the Tom Hayter family, and daughter Emma with the George Eiler family.  Now, John had to go about earning some money.  Somehow he received twenty-five bibles from an eastern book company representative to sell.  According to his son William:

[He] started out with a knapsack full of bibles on his back, and worked his way up thru the Willamette Valley to a point near Wheatland, Oregon.  It is interesting to note that he purchased the bibles for $1.50 each and sold them for $5.00 each, so that by the time the bibles were disposed of he had assembled a substantial fund of $87.50.  At Wheatland he crossed the Willamette River and sold the remaining books along the west side of the river, and ultimately arrived at Dallas, Oregon, where his brother Lindsay was living.

By the following year John Robbins had bought two lots in Dallas and worked as a farmer, hired hand, and carpenter.  He was also sought after for his fiddling and he taught vocal music.

Mary Margaret Robbins

Mary Margaret (Harvey) Robbins

In 1864 he was married to Maggie Harvey by George Eiler, justice of the peace, in Bethel, Oregon, and gathered his children back from where he had them boarded out.  Maggie Harvey was the daughter of Amos and Jane (Ramage) Harvey.  Amos had worked for Dr. John McLaughlin of the Hudson Bay Company after a servant girl had robbed the Harveys of all their belongings.  Later Amos, a Quaker, served as Indian Agent at Alsea in the 1860’s and was one of the first trustees of the Bethel Institute.

John H. Robbins developed a wheat farm on his claim near Zena in Polk County and eventually planted fruit trees.  In 1874 he moved his family to Portland where he opened the J.H. Robbins & Son Music Store.  When he was traveling to Seattle, Tacoma, or Roseburg peddling organs, his son Ben ran the store.  In 1888 the family moved to eastern Oregon (Baker County) where they owned and ran the Robbins-Elkhorn mine.  John stayed there until 1895, when due to pending litigation he lost his interest in the mine.

He then returned to his Bethel farm which he sold in 1902 for $8000.  John Robbins then purchased a farm two miles west of Amity and lived there until his death in 1912.  His widow Maggie moved to Portland to stay with their daughter Estella (Robbins) Gillespie.  She died there in 1931.

John Robbins was an inventor.  He secured patents on a side hill plow, an improved well-boring machine, and a combined harvester.  His son, William Arthur Robbins, in a short history of his father, told of an interesting experience John Robbins had when he went to Washington, D.C., once to secure a patent:

Upon his return, he told his wife that he had decided to give up the patent business.  She inquired why, and he said, ‘While in Washington I met a young man who was certainly ‘non compos mentis’ since he told me he could light all the street lamps in New York City by merely pressing a button in the central plant, and blow them all out by the same operation.  If this is the way inventors are affected, it is time for me to get out of the business.’  In later years it developed that he had been talking to Thomas A. Edison, the inventor of the present electric lighting system.  Mr. Robbins and his friends derived a great deal of amusement out of his experience with Mr. Edison.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-John Hudson Robbins)

John Hudson Robbins: Oregon Pioneer of 1862


This is the first of two posts about the life of John Hudson Robbins (1833-1912), a native of Decatur County, Indiana, who moved as a child to Missouri and Iowa, from where he set off for Oregon in 1862.  The second post will discuss John’s varied life once he arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

Born in 1833, John Hudson Robbins was the son of John and Eda (Sanders) Robbins, and a grandson of Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins.  John and Eda had twelve children (John Hudson was number eight), who were born between 1819 and 1843, and from Henry County, Kentucky, to Monroe County, Missouri.

John Hudson Robbins was in Davis County, Iowa, at least by 1850, where he is recorded in the federal census.  His mother died soon after, in 1854, and his father, John Robbins, followed not long after in 1857, leaving John Hudson without parents by the time he was 24 years old.  Most of his siblings also lived in Davis County, though several stayed in Missouri and there was quite a lot of travel back and forth between the two areas.  John’s oldest brother, Marquis Lindsay Robbins, emigrated to Oregon in 1853.  John and his family were to follow in 1862, while two younger brothers Moses Riley Robbins and Samuel Robbins were to follow in 1865.

In 1854 John was married to Hester Elizabeth Minnick and the couple had three children prior to making the trip to Oregon.  At the time of the trek, John and Hester’s children were Sarah Jane (age 7), Emma (age 3), and Benjamin Franklin (age 1½).  Hester was expecting her fourth children when they left Iowa.  In preparation for the trip, the Robbins’s grafted apple and cherry tree stock and visited relatives for the last time.

John Hudson Robbins 1

John Hudson Robbins

The details of the 1862 trip were recorded by William Chambers (elected as captain of the wagon train) in a  journal, later give to John ‘s son William Arthur Robbins, who copied and edited parts of it.  Robbins descendant Marjory Cole generously provided a typescript copy of this journal to me many years ago.  It is important to remember that the journal has gone through some editing and may not reflect Chambers daily entries exactly as he wrote them.

The party left Floris, Davis County, Iowa, on April 14, 1862 and intercepted the Oregon Trail near Kirkville, Missouri.  Their first days out were not easy.  Within one week John had replaced his lame cow for an iron gray pony called “Lightening.”  Encountering the flooding Medicine Creek (in Missouri) on April 28, the emigrants had some difficulty in crossing that stream.  It was only after considerable effort were they able to get the wagons and stock across the creek.  Two days and 38 miles of further rough riding induced the journal author to write:  “Never again will I laugh at my grandmother for sitting on a pillow.”

Crossing across Missouri river

On May 3 they encountered “two miles of canvas covered wagons slowly moving like soldiers going to war.”  The Robbins and Chambers party attempted to pass the other wagon trains but failed, leaving three lengthy caravans in front of them.  It had been decided to bypass St. Joseph but they had to take on more supplies and repair the wagons, so they camped about three miles out of town.  In town, all the men bought “six-shooters” as they were warned about the Indians they would meet on the trail west.

After stocking up on supplies the party headed west on the Oregon Trail.  By May 18 they had reached the Big Blue River in Nebraska – probably not far from where their Robbins cousins had died ten years before.  In fact, they passed a number of graves in this area and several of the company were ill with what they called “plains cholera.”

Capt. Chambers wrote on May 27:

Last night we had a dance in the new covered bridge across the Little Blue River.  John Robbins played the violin and called the dances.  About midnight a party of eight men on horseback demanded that we vacate the bridge so the could cross.  After crossing, they came back and dance with us until daylight.

The emigrants stopped at Ft. Kearney to inquire about Indian conditions on the trail and the following day they crossed the Platte River with surprisingly little difficulty, having been warned of the quicksand that had caught emigrants before.  On June 12 they passed the famous Chimney Rock and Court House Rock, but the following day they had to remain in camp due to dysentery among the emigrants.  The doctor in the caravan (Dr. Thomas A. McBride) treated them with “burnt flour.”

The Robbins and Chambers families arrived in Ft. Laramie on June 18.  There they again restocked their supplies (and camped northwest of the famous fort.  Crossing the North Platte River on June 27, the pioneers lost two calves and a horse in the swift water.  The river was too deep to ford so everything had to be ferried across.  Once across the river and onto the high, dry country of Wyoming, they encountered poison water again and had difficulty keeping the cattle and horses from drinking it.

On Sunday, June 29, the party reached Independence Rock, where they read the names of previous emigrants scratched and cut into the surface and undoubtedly added their own.  A few days later (July 3) the party came upon a small settlement where the people had gathered to celebrate Independence Day.  On the 4th Dr. McBride read the Declaration of Independence, Capt. Chambers delivered the oration, and John Robbins sang and led the choir.  French traders roasted a steer in an open pit which provided the dinner.  It was learned that the steer had been stolen from a previous wagon train.  After all the wrestling, pistol and rifle contest, and all the eating was finished, they went to a nearby house and danced until daylight.  John Robbins was head fiddler and caller.

trail camp

Camp on the Oregon Trail

In the following weeks the emigrants were plagued by Indians.  On July 7, Shoshone Indians visited the evening campsite wishing to trade horses, gamble, beg and steal.  Two days later the party camped near a trading post, where the Indians tried every means they could to obtain alcohol, even offering to trade their wives or children.

After years of hard use the Oregon Trail was marked by deep ruts which the wagons would frequently get stuck in.  Hot and thirsty, the cattle frequently gave out in the arid lands of Wyoming and Idaho.  Steep hills were another problem.  In descending a steep ridge called the “Devil’s Backbone,” it was necessary to lock the wagon’s wheels and everyone had to walk down, with the exception of the driver.  At the bottom of the “Devil’s Backbone” the party came across five fresh graves of a family that had been killed in a runaway wagon the month before.

On July 15, the Chambers-Robbins party had some excitement in the trial of Dixie Johnson.  As written in the Chambers journal, Dixie Johnson was a miner returning from California.

The previous night the California party enticed a number of Shoshone squaws into their camp and after they had imbibed a large amount of fire water, Dixie Johnson engaged in a quarrel with another member of the party, claiming that he was attempting to steal Johnson’s squaw.  As a result of the argument, Johnson stabbed and killed the other member of the party.  A jury was impaneled and Johnson was tried and found guilty of murder.  The volunteer judge sentenced Johnson to be shot by one member of the jury.  Each of the six jurors was given a rifle, only one of which was loaded, the five other guns containing blanks.  The murderer was then taken over a hill beyond the camp, stood up against a tree, and the six men pointed their guns at his heart and fired.  Johnson refused to be blindfolded or tied and smiled at his executioners and gave the order to fire.  He was buried under the tree with a headboard stating ‘Here lies Dixie Johnson, murderer, who died July 15, 1862.

Upon reaching the Portneuf River the party was disheartened to find that they were short of funds to pay for a ferry crossing.  For a plug of tobacco, however, they were able to get a trapper to lead them to an easy fording place.  A couple of days later they arrived at Fort Hall, which was not in the condition they expected.  The buildings were quite shabby and traders ran the fort, serving the passing trappers, Indians, and emigrants.

On July 29 they reached a campsite on the Snake River where they had been told they could catch salmon.

They limbered up their fishing tackle, and soon succeeded in catching a large supply of salmon which were making their way from the Pacific Ocean to the headwaters of the Snake River to spawn.  The salmon were badly bruised by jumping over falls and riffles in the lower snake River and were really unfit for human consumption.  The party had been living for many days off of side meat and were very anxious to secure fresh meat to replenish their depleted larders.  They ate an excess of salmon, which made many members of the party ill…

Other hazards awaited the party.  On August 21 one of the oxen died after being bitten by a rattlesnake.  That night most of the emigrants slept in the wagons and not on the ground as they usually did.  The trail they were following alongside the Snake River was narrow; occasionally cattle or horses would slip off the narrow trail to their death.  Once, a wagon train almost tipped over, lodging against a rock.  Three hours later, the men were finally able to pull it upright.

On September 12 tragedy struck.  Hester Robbins, wife of John, died after giving birth to a still-born daughter.  Hester had been sick since July 29 with salmon poisoning.  Hester and her daughter were buried in a wagon box on a “knoll overlooking the Powder River Valley.”  The grave was marked by a stone cairn and wooden head board.  At the same time this terrible event occurred, John Robbins’ last team of oxen died.

Part of the wagon train decided to remain in the Powder River valley while John Robbins was able to obtain a team of oxen to help carry him through to the Willamette Valley.  He and his small children started out once again on September 17th.

On Sunday, September 21, the party caught up with three of the preceding wagon trains in the Blue Mountains, where they were preparing to hold church services. As the journal author wrote:

John Robbins was asked to lead the choir, but declined, saying that he felt that he could never sing again.  Dr. Withers, a Campbellite minister, told of the death of Hester Robbins and infant daughter, and preached a sermon dealing with the passing of the pioneer mother and baby.  At the conclusion of the services, there was not a dry eye in the party.

After descending the Blue Mountains into the Umatilla country, the wagon train followed the south bank of the Columbia River to The Dalles.  John Robbins and his children took the river route to Portland, arriving in that city in late September.  It is likely that he was met by his brother Lindsay Robbins or perhaps some of the other Robbins cousins in the Willamette Valley.  And there, in the Pacific Northwest, began part two of John Hudson Robbins’ life.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-John Hudson Robbins)

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.

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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!

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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.”

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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]

Hardin Robbins: Breckinridge County Patriarch

After leaving Kentucky for Indiana in the early 1800s, most of the Robbins families remained in Indiana or moved to states further west.  A few families, for some reason, returned to Kentucky, settling in Breckinridge County.  Two of the leaders of this move, Absalom Robbins Jr. and Hardin Robbins, became the patriarchs of large Kentucky families.

Hardin Robbins was the eldest child of Micajah and Elizabeth (Vickrey) Robbins and was born in 1813 in Henry County, Kentucky.  The family remained in Henry County at least through the 1830 census, but by 1834 were in Decatur County, Indiana, where Micajah received a 40 acre land patent from the U.S. government (at least it was awarded in 1834, he may have claimed the land earlier).

Hardin and Elizabeth Robbins

Hardin and Elizabeth (Stevens) Robbins (photo courtesy of “DJ” on FindAGrave)

On June 16, 1836, Hardin Robbins was married to Elizabeth Stevens.  The justice of the peace who performed the marriage was his uncle, by marriage, Nathaniel Robbins.  Nathaniel’s own eldest son, William Franklin Robbins (my ancestor), was married just three days later. I can imagine large celebrations over several days as family members gathered from miles around to celebrate these weddings. Hardin and Elizabeth went on to have twelve children. From all these children there are many descendants in Kentucky and elsewhere.

Like all of the Robbins family, Hardin bought and sold land in Decatur County, and was awarded a federal land patent of 80 acres which he also later sold.  Most of his acreage was northeast of Westport in the Pinhook neighborhood along today’s So Co Rd 60 SW.  All of the land was sold by the mid-1850s.

Hardin and his family moved to Breckinridge County by 1854, joining his uncle Absalom Robbins Jr. who was already there.  Absalom was actually only three years older than Hardin, as Hardin’s father Micajah Robbins was twenty-two years older than his youngest brother (that’s what comes of having large families over many years).  Later records indicate that Hardin and Absalom were friends from boyhood.

Hardin chart

Many of the family in Indiana visited their relatives to the south, as evidenced by family members getting married in Breckinridge County but never seeming to have lived there.  The gravitational pull of aunts and uncles, cousins, and later grandfather Absalom Sr., in Kentucky must have been strong.  We also know from Decatur County land records that Adam Robbins, one of Hardin’s younger brothers, was living in Breckinridge County in 1854 when he and Hardin sold land together and both were listed as residents of Breckinridge.  Adam was married to Mary Stevens, younger sister of Hardin’s wife Elizabeth.  Adam later returned to Indiana, living in Posey County, and then moving to Oregon in the 1890s.

We wouldn’t have much information about Hardin Robbins and his life in Kentucky if his son Thomas hadn’t died while in the Union Army during the Civil War.  The resulting paperwork from Elizabeth’s successful attempt to obtain a pension based on Thomas’ service provides insights as to Hardin’s life.  Thomas enlisted in the Union Army with his elder brother Micajah and almost immediately came down with typhoid fever which took his life in March of 1862.

In the 1880’s when Elizabeth Robbins applied for a mother’s pension, the records stated that Thomas “was a help to his parents … at least four years previous to his death [1862].”

Absalom Robbins Jr. stated that “the claimants husband [Hardin] is seventy four years of age, and is the eldest son of my brother Micajah Robbins. I am acquainted all the line of time down to date, were boys together and have lived as neighbors most of time acquainted. Hardin Robbins is an unsound man not able to labor at manual labor since 1882.”

Hardin in pension

Absalom & Jemima Robbins affidavit in support of Elizabeth (Stevens) Robbins application for a pension

Dr. A. M. Kinchloe, stated that he had “been Hardin Robbins family physician since 1879. I knew of his disability previous to this. He has paralysis agitans [Parkinson’s disease] which has been progressing for twelve or fifteen years…”  Further statements report that “…the claimants husband in 1862 was a sufferer of bronchitis and paralysis slightly….also he was prostrated by having typhoid fever, increased his paralytical affliction, that his personal manual labor was not worth more than fifty dollars for year 1862.”

Most of the sworn witnesses stated that Hardin and Elizabeth’s land was not very productive.  One report says that “the land owned by the claimant & her husband in year 1862 was thin land and unproductive except some small part of fresh ground.  They may have had 10 acres in corn and 4 acres of wheat, about 2½ tobacco 2 of hay and had some stock consisted in cattle hogs & sheep.”  The tax assessor’s records from 1863 through 1887 give a summary of the land and livestock that the family owned.  Acreage ranged from 80 to 319 acres, with a land value ranging from $150 to $1120.  Livestock occasionally included one mule, up to seven sheep, and up to seven cattle.  The total taxable property ranged from $150 to $1270 during this time period.

Thomas Robbins’ help on the farm was needed up to 1862 because in that year the family unit included, according to Elizabeth’s pension application, the two parents, Hardin and Elizabeth, and their children Micajah N., Thomas, Lucinda, Elizabeth Ann, William H., James R., Caroline, Charles E., Mahaley Emeline, and Lutitia F. Robbins.  The two older girls Louisa and Mary were already married and out of the house.  To make matters worse, when Micajah N. Robbins returned from his service in the war it was reported that his health was ruined (though he did live into his 80s).

Hardin Robbins may have had health issues but he lived a very long life.  Consider this:  he suffered illnesses and disabilities, including typhoid and Parkinson’s disease, since at least the time of the Civil War, when the enlistment of his sons Thomas and Micajah resulted in severe hardship for the family.  And yet he lived to be 87-years-old, passing away in 1900, his wife Elizabeth predeceasing him in 1895.  Both are said to be buried in the Jolly (also called Sample) Cemetery in Breckinridge County.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Micajah Robbins-Hardin Robbins)

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)

Bond County, Illinois: A Brief Stay

The Robbins family followed a east-to-west migration pattern in the late 1700s and early 1800s, always seeming to move further west, looking for better land or other opportunities.  There was one exception to this and that was a two-year period spent by several of the Robbins families in Bond County, Illinois, before they turned around and traveled directly east to settle in southeastern Indiana.  This emigration has always intrigued me.

Bond County was formed in 1817 as part of the Illinois Territory.  At its start it was oddly shaped, only twenty-six miles wide and stretched all the way from southern Illinois to Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.  In 1818 Thomas Kirkpatrick was one of the representatives from Bond County to serve on the state’s constitutional convention, which earned statehood in December of that year.  Bond County’s boundaries began to be cut back until it was one of the smallest counties in Illinois.

Bond County Illinois 1818

Illinois in 1818, showing location of Bond County

In 1818 the Robbins family had been living in Henry and Shelby counties, Kentucky, for about 18 years.  There was already some interest in moving north to Indiana, with a couple of the family arriving around 1812 though official records are sketchy.

So it’s a question as to why several children of William and Bethiah Robbins decided to break away from the family group and travel almost 400 miles west to Bond County, Illinois.  Two sons, Marmaduke (age 32) and Nathaniel (age 25), made the trek by wagon on primitive roads and arrived in Bond County sometime in 1818 or 1819.  Their sister Polly (Polly being the nickname for Mary), according to family sources, went to Illinois to visit her brothers.

Only one land record has been found for either of the two brothers, and that was for 49.12 acres that Marmaduke Robbins purchased for $98.28 on 3 March 1820.  I’ve been unable to find when he sold the land.  I’ve found no land record for Nathaniel.

While in Bond County, Nathaniel and his wife Nancy celebrated the birth of their son John Dow Robbins (on 12 August 1819) but lost one of their other children, Absalom W. Robbins just a month later (September 1819).  Their previous children had been born in Kentucky and subsequent children would be born in Indiana.

Marmaduke and his wife Elizabeth, meanwhile, had two daughters while living in Bond County.  Permelia was born about 1820 and Docia was born in March of 1821.  This Docia is not to be confused with Marmaduke, Nathaniel and Polly’s youngest sister Dosha (Robbins) Herren.

Meanwhile, Polly Robbins (age 27) arrived in Bond County to visit her brothers and while there met and married John Hope Kirkpatrick in November of 1820.  There were a number of Kirkpatricks in the county (as evidenced by their representation at the constitutional convention as mentioned above).  It is probable that in the 1820 census John was listed in the household of his father, another John Kirkpatrick, as there is no other enumeration for a John of the right age, and senior had several males above the age of 21 in the household.  Both Marmaduke and Nathaniel also appear in the 1820 census for Bond County.

Illinois 1818 map

1818 map, showing Robbins migration from northern Kentucky to Illinois, then back east to Indiana (1818-1821)

Soon after the birth of Docia in the spring of 1821, the two brothers, their families, as well as their newly married sister and her husband, moved east to join family in Decatur County, Indiana.  What led them to go east?  Their parents, William and Bethiah, their uncles Absalom and Jacob, their other siblings and cousins, all seemed to moved north from Kentucky to Indiana, without making the detour to Illinois on the way.  Was it the pull of family? and the desire to live nearby?  What led John Kirkpatrick to leave his family behind in Illinois to follow his wife’s family?  We’ll probably never have answers to these questions.

By the fall of 1821 or spring of 1822 these three families had settled in Indiana, where Marmaduke Robbins and Polly Kirkpatrick would remain for the rest of their lives, while Nathaniel would stay until 1851 when he began the trek to Oregon, this time going much further west and never returning to the east.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins, Polly (Robbins) Kirkpatrick, Nathaniel Robbins)





North to Alaska

For some of the descendants of the Robbins family living in the Pacific Northwest, the Alaska Gold Rush was a seminal event.  Members of our family traveled to Alaska and the Yukon to search for gold, some stayed to work in non-gold rush related occupations prior to returning home, and some didn’t return home at all.  One of the more prominent miners was Frank Keizer.

Frank Keizer was born in 1857 to John Brooks and Mary Jane (Herren) Keizer, and was a grandson of Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren.  The Keizers were a prominent family in the Willamette Valley and today’s growing city of Keizer is named for them.  Frank grew up in the agricultural surroundings of Oregon’s capital city, Salem.  The namesake city and most of the family spelled the name Keizer; others spelled it Keizur or Kaiser. (I will use “Keizer” here except when quoting news articles).

In 1883 he was married to Mabel Zieber, and the couple had five children, Russell, Philip, Cornelia, Grace, and Ellen, who were all prominent in their own right, and who grew to adulthood without their father.

In September of 1898, gold was discovered near Nome, Alaska, and the rush was on.  One of the unusual aspects of the Nome gold rush was that gold was soon found in the beach sand along the coast, making mining very easy.  Ships were soon unloading miners from Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland.  On board one ship from Oregon, the Nome City, was Frank Keizer.

Nome in 1900

Nome in 1900

Frank went to Alaska with his brother John B. Keizer Jr. and on the same ship was the newspaperman Fred Lockley, later to gain fame with his “Thoughts and Observations of a Journal Man,” which appeared in the Oregon Journal newspaper for many years.  Previous to this ships arrival, another brother Walter Keizer and his wife Rosa had arrived in Nome.

It was only a couple of weeks later when a letter from his brother John was received by their mother, Mary Jane, reporting the sad news of his death.

Frank was sick all the way from Portland.  He was not strong enough to live.  He lived only one day after landing here.  We had all the medical skill in attendance on him that could be had anywhere.  There were two doctors aboard ship, and we had them all the way, and when we brought him ashore we got another doctor, Dr. Derbyshire, and he was a good physician, well recommended by lots of the boys we know, so you see we did all we could, and we nursed him ourselves, and “Gus” is just as good a nurse as there is on earth, and he did his very best; besides we had a lady nurse who has had years of experience, and she did everything she could, but he could not be saved.

But for now it is all over.  We buried him up on the hill overlooking Behring Sea, where there are at least sixty ships moored.  I would have like to have got a picture of the place, for it was pretty.  But no one knows how I felt to leave him there.

Walter and Rosa have done all they could.  The reason we did write to you about him being sick, we thought there was a show for him to get well, and did not want to worry you and Mabel and the rest of the folks.

Fred Lockley wrote an article, later in July, entitled “With the Argonauts” which appeared in Salem’s Weekly Oregon Statesman.  Lockley wrote:

On the crest of a hill overlooking the Bering Sea stood, with bared heads and tear-dimmed eyes, a group of Salemites, on June 23rd.  Above, the white fleecy clouds drifted by:  under foot was the soft, springy tundron.  Above the splash of the waves on the beach, rose our voices as we sang, “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” over the grave of one of our number, Frank Kaiser.  He was sick most of the time on the voyage to Nome.  The doctor pronounced his malady typhoid fever.  He died at 11 o’clock a.m., June 22nd.  He was unconscious for several days preceding his death.  Everything that could be done for his comfort was done.  Rev. W. A. Lindsey conducted the funeral services.  A fragrant cedar coffin was made.  Inside the coffin were placed pure white wild flowers.  On his coffin we wrote: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.  I go to prepare a place for you.”  It was a very sad funeral.  God grant that no more of our number lay down their life so far from home and loved ones.

Mabel Zieber Keizer

Mabel (Zieber) Keizer

The surviving Keizers in Nome returned to Oregon.  John Keizer married his late brother’s widow Mabel in 1908, but the couple had no children.  John passed away in 1927 in North Bend, Oregon, where several of the children had ended up, while Mabel survived to 1946.


Frank Keizer’s name is not found in any lists of burials in Nome.  A recent article in the Nome Nugget (13 July 2018) describes work by the city of Nome to clean up the existing cemetery.  There are many difficulties with burials in Nome:  there are no casket manufacturers, no undertaker, no funeral home, and the burial “season” is only from late May to October due to the frozen ground, so bodies must be stored at the morgue (located at the cemetery) until the ground thaws.  Over the years ownership of the cemetery has changed hands, a fire in 1934 destroyed cemetery records, and many grave locations are unidentified.  An Alaska company, specializing in ground penetrating radar, is in the process of locating all existing graves.  Perhaps one day Frank Keizer’s resting place will be identified.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Mary Jane (Herren) Keizer-Franklin Sylvanus Keizer)



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)