A Visit to the Nathaniel Robbins House

I had known for some time that a house built by Nathaniel Robbins about 1859/1860 still existed on land that was part of his original Oregon donation land claim.  The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.  Opened to visitors once a year, usually on fairly short notice, I had never been able to visit before.  (Being located midway between my old home in Seattle to the north and my new home in Florence to the south, it wasn’t easy to make plans for a last minute 3-hour drive).

In June of this year I received an email from Carson Ellis, who introduced herself, along with her husband Colin Meloy, as owner of the Robbins-Melcher-Schatz House (as it is formally referred to in National Register descriptions).  Carson had started producing a podcast in which she and her friend Alix Ryan discuss the history of the house, property, and the stories of the previous owners.  She invited me to visit the house and be interviewed about the Robbins family.  I was thrilled and honored for the invitation and leapt at the chance to visit.

The podcast is called “Old Bright” (after an oxen on the Robbins 1852 Oregon Trail crossing) and you can listen to the episodes on any podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher, Spotify (which I use), or even directly from the website: https://www.oldbrightpod.com.  Covering more than just the Robbins family, Carson and Alix have interesting conversations about the property, the owners, and social history.  Great conversationalists and great researchers they have discovered a lot of information about the house and it’s previous occupants.  Carson stated that she has always been interested in the history of any house she has lived in.

I visited the house, along with my sister Kathy, earlier this month, and we were warmly welcomed by Carson and Alix, with a quick hello from Colin.  Before I go any further, you should know something about Carson and her husband Colin.

Carson Ellis is an artist, children’s book illustrator, and author, and while Carson will modestly say “I didn’t win the Caldecott, just an Honor”, I know, as a librarian, that a Caldecott Honor Award is nothing to dismiss.  The Caldecott is awarded each year by a division of the American Library Association, to the “most distinguished American picture book for children.”  There is one winner each year, with three or four honors awarded to runners-up they deem worthy.  Carson received the Caldecott Honor award in 2017 for her picture book Du Iz Tak?

Carson’s husband Colin Meloy is a multi-instrumental musician, singer-songwriter, and author, and is well known as being the front man of the Portland based group, The Decembrists.  He and Carson together have authored and illustrated a number of children’s books including Wildwood.  (Colin’s sister Maile Meloy is also a well-known author whose books we carry here at my library!).  They are the parents of two children and are the perfect owners for such an historic property.

Carson Ellis Carson Ellis (left) and Colin Meloy (right) signing Wildwood at the Portland Bazaar 420 Northeast 9th Ave, Portland, Oregon, December 11, 2011 (photo by Dennis Bratland, Wikipedia Commons)

In the 1993 application to be listed on the Historic Register, the then owners didn’t have much information on the first builders, the Robbins family.  I hope I was able to fill in some details for Carson and Alix for “Old Bright.”

Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins filed for their Donation Land Claim in the 1850’s on land in the northwest corner of Clackamas County.  Their son William Franklin Robbins filed for land to their northwest, primarily in Washington County, while sons Dow, James, and Norval, and daughters (and their husbands) Jane, Zobeda and Nancy, and grandson Nathaniel Barnes, filed on land to their south.  In between was the claim of Robert Bird, an earlier settler and namesake of the Robert Bird Cemetery, where many of these early Robbins are buried.

1993 Plan of Robbins property (original Nathaniel Robbins house circled in red)

As mentioned earlier the house was built around 1859 or 1860, as a simple 2-story rectangle divided into three rooms, with an open second floor, probably used as bedrooms.  That structure still exists as the front of the house, with one of its original interior walls removed, now serving as the living room and parlor for Carson and Colin and kids.

Nathaniel Robbins house – original 1860 building from the front

As described in the National Register application:

“The one and one-half story rectangular form of the original building is approximately 41 feet long and 17 feet deep.  The low pitched gabled roof and banded eaves with heavy partial returns define the Classical Revival style that dates the house in the period from 1820-60.  The original four panel entry door and multi-light sidelights and transom are also indicative of its Revival origins.  Large boulders found on the property and hand hewn 10 inch by 10 inch mortised and pegged sills provided the house with its foundation.  Hand cut notches in the north and south sills hold the floor joints that originally supported a rough-hew plank floor.  The walls are constructed using the box method of vertical planks covered with narrow battens, then clad with wide drop siding secured with hand made iron nails and finished at the corners with corner rakes.”

The application goes on:

“The floor plan of the original house, also typically New English, is two rooms wide and one room deep, with the parlor to the left of the entrance, and the living/cooking/dining area to the right.  A wood burning cookstove was located in the center.  The stairway in the rear led to the bedrooms above.”

First Floor of 1860 Robbins House

Nathaniel Robbins drowned in the Tualatin River in 1863 and in 1876 the property was sold to Christian and Augusta Melcher, who seem to have made few changes before selling the property to Wilhelm and Elizabeth Schatz in 1894/95.  The Schatz family are responsible for much of the additions to the house as well as the massive barn (which before this summer’s heat wave served as a home to barn owls), the water tower, machine shed, nut house, a cool room (a 2-story brick addition), and more.

The Schatz’s owned the property up through the 1960s, and after the house sat empty for ten years, sold to the folks who restored it and applied for National Register Status.  Carson and Colin purchased the house in 2010 where they have found it perfect for their combined art and music interests (Carson uses the “nut house” as her art studio while Colin uses part of the machine shed for his music studio).  The interior of their house is as warm and inviting as they are.

Living Room
Living Room

If you want to read more in depth about the details of the house and property, along with viewing floor plans, it’s easiest just to Google “Robbins-Melcher-Schatz” and click on the link to the National Park Service’s PDF file of the 47-page application.

After visiting the Robbins-Melcher-Schatz house I was interested in learning about other historic family properties and was pleased to find a website, http://heritagedata.prd.state.or.us/historic/, where you can search by name or location for inventoried historic properties.  These are not just National Register properties, but includes those inventoried by each county for their historical or architectual significance.  Among the family properties in Oregon that I have been able to identify so far are:  Sharp Residence, John Aden Residence (possibly partly built by Joseph Barstow), Isaac Ball House , A. E. Thompson House, L. W. Robbins House, Willard Robbins Residence, Willard Robbins Barn, Levi Robbins Farm, Kirchem Residence, Loveridge-Cunha House, W. Arthur Robbins House, and Robert L. and Rose Herren House.  I’m sure there are more.  It may be time for another road trip!

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins]

Robbins Bicentennial? – An Update

Last year I had proposed that there should be a Robbins reunion in Decatur County, Indiana, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the family being in that county.  In 1922 there was a large (1,000 attendee reunion according to the local newspaper) reunion and it would be nice to see another special reunion next year.  Several blog readers expressed an interest in helping organize such an event.  Unfortunately, none of us actually live in Greensburg or Decatur County.

Earlier this summer I contacted Russell Wilhoit of the Decatur County Historical Society and asked if something could be added to one of their upcoming newsletters.  While he said he would see if he could get something in the next issue, the Fall 2021 newsletter doesn’t include any mention, but, and this is important:  2022 is also the bicentennial of the founding of Decatur County and there will be activities planned around that.

In August I visited with my cousin Janet Ketchum Armbrust in Kalispell, Montana.  While a Myers descendant not a Robbins (my ancestor William Franklin Robbins was married to Melvina Myers and Janet descends from one of Melvina’s sisters) she did suggest a contact in Greensburg who writes for the Greensburg Daily News.

As result of contacting Pat Smith in Greensburg there was an article in the September 8, 2021, edition of the newspaper, describing our interest in a reunion and asking three questions:  (1) is anyone already planning a bicentennial reunion for 2022?  (2) or are there any plans for a regular annual Robbins family reunion that would welcome relatives from across the country to make a larger, special event?  (3) or if not either of those two are there Robbins family descendants in Greensburg/Decatur County who would be interested in helping plan such an event with cousins from around the country? as it would be very helpful (and probably necessary) to have someone local to advise about venues, dates, etc.

In my email to Pat Smith I had described myself as “befuddled” about making contact with local family members who could assist.  Sadly my last contact were Melvin and Rosalie Robbins, who have both passed away.  “Befuddled Genealogist” then made it in as part of the headline of the story.  Oh well!  But it was great to have the question of a bicentennial reunion out there.  The article provided just about every possible way to contact me.

The upshot is so far I have not heard from anyone in Greensburg or Decatur County.  While cousins in Decatur County may still be thinking about responding, at this point if we wish to have an event, even if it just includes us from “away”, we will probably have to plan it without local assistance.  I have the list of folks from last year who were willing to help plan an event but if anyone else would like to help, please let me know (it’s probably a good idea for those who replied last year to confirm their wish to be involved).  I have a few ideas but I’m sure others will have great input too.

Regardless of a formal reunion, I am planning on visiting Decatur County sometime in the summer of 2022.  At the very least it would be great to coordinate a visit with others, get together to talk family history, and maybe take field trips to local family history sites (for example, the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery where William and Bethiah Robbins are buried).  For easiest contact my email is “mittge @ yahoo.com”.  Perhaps we can discuss this together, one way or another, in October!

The Previous Pandemic (1918-1920)

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

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

Geer-Morris wedding announcement

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

The Waldo Hills east of Salem

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

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

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

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

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

Headline from the Oregon Statesman (Salem)

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

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

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

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

Geer gravestone in the Union Hill Cemetery

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

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

George Thomas Robbins

George Thomas Robbins was born in Decatur County, Indiana, to Jonathan and Margaret (Spilman) Robbins (my previous post featured his brother Theodore Irvin Robbins).  He grew up among numerous Robbins and Spilman cousins in Decatur County.  In fact, his aunt Sarah Spilman, was married to Jacob Robbins, and his first cousins in that family crossed the plains to Oregon in 1852.  His younger sister Nancy Jane (Robbins) Meredith, would tell her children the story of the Robbinses leaving Indiana in 1852. As later recorded by her son James:

Mother [Nancy] had a cousin, the daughter of Jacob and Sarah Robbins, a few years older than my mother [Nancy Jane (Robbins) Gilliam].  They would play together very often, and for some years they kept up a correspondence between Indiana and Oregon.  Mother told that she could remember the folks loading the great wagons.  They baked a lot of bread and packed it away in boxes.  They killed hogs and salted away the meat, they loaded a great variety of dried foods as well as household goods in the wagons.  She said she and her cousin would help take bundles to the wagons for the others to pack away.

George himself would leave Decatur County and strike out west, but a couple decades later and he would only go as far as Iowa and Kansas, but in the latter state he would become a prominent community member.

George Thomas Robbins (courtesy of Joyce King Higginbotham)

In October 1864, late in the war and at the age of 22, George Robbins would enlist as a private into Company G of the 35th Indiana Infantry as a “substitute.”  That is, he was paid to substitute for a draftee who could afford to supply a replacement.  The 35th Indiana regiment was serving that autumn in the Nashville campaign – an ill-fated attempt by Confederate General John Hood to try to draw William Tecumseh Sherman and his army away from Georgia to come rescue Nashville.  Sherman didn’t bite and Hood was defeated outside the city in December of 1864 and his army retreated and disintegrated.  George’s service in the Indiana regiment would have seen some serious, but successful, fighting in Tennessee and Alabama.  Later after the war ended the regiment was ordered to New Orleans and Texas, before returning to Indiana for discharge in September of 1865.

According to his obituary, George attended Hartsville College, a United Brethren school in Indiana.  The college was established in 1847 by the citizens of Hartsville, which is located just to the west of Decatur County in Bartholomew County, but in 1850 turned the college over to the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.  His connection to that denomination must have lasted his lifetime as his funeral was conducted at his local Brethren church in Kansas.

Compared to many people of the time, George married late.  He was 33-years-old when he would marry the young widow Mary Elizabeth (Vanderbur) Huddleston.  The Vanderburs were a large and prominent family in Decatur County and she was not the only member of the Vanderbur family to marry a Robbins: her cousin William Thomas Vanderbur was married to George’s cousin Jennie Robbins.

Robbins-Vanderbur relationships

At the time of their marriage, the couple were living in Lucas County, Iowa  George was there as his oldest brother James H. Robbins had moved there with his family as early as 1867.  Whether he moved with James or came to visit is not known but there he encountered another Decatur County acquaintance, Mary Vanderbur.  Mary had been married to a younger man, John Huddleston, in the same county in 1873 but John died in Kansas in 1874 (he and Mary had no children), and Mary was back in Lucas County marrying George Robbins in 1875.  George and Mary would be the parents of seven children.

In 1877 George, wife Mary, and their first child, Charles Leonidas Robbins, moved to the town of Russell situated almost in the center of Kansas in Russell County.  Over the following years more children came along including Ethel Laverne (Bratt), Earl, Floyd Joseph, Olive (Treiber), Meredith, and Roy Stone Robbins.

In Russell county George Robbins worked as a teacher, a carpenter and a bookkeeper.  He was a member of the local school board and he served as postmaster of Russell from about 1893 to 1897, during the administration of Grover Cleveland.

Official Register of the United States Containing a List of the Officers and Employees of the Civil, Military, and Naval Service….(Vol. II, p. 119), 1 July 1887.

George Thomas Robbins died in Russell in 1913.  Most of his children seemed to have moved away from Kansas with the exception of youngest son Roy.  His widow Mary died in 1942 in Canton, Ohio, where daughter Olive Treiber was then living.  Both George and Mary are buried in Russell, Kansas.

Obituaries of the time were typically effusive in their praise of prominent citizens, but even allowing for hyperbole, it is clear that George was a well-liked individual.

He was a man of first class habits, whose conduct and walk in life was not only a good example to his children but to the community as well.  He built up a fine reputation for honesty and integrity and was most highly respected in the community.  He leaves to the world a legacy in the way of a splendid family of sons and daughters which would well be a credit to any man.  His cheery disposition and agreeable nature made a pleasant association and valued friend.

[Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Jonathan Robbins-George Thomas Robbins]

A Letter from Theodore Robbins

I’m not sure from whom I obtained photocopies of several letters from Theodore Robbins of Indiana to his cousin Levi Robbins in Oregon.  I was going through my files and came across these recently and thought I’d share.  One letter copy is very clear and easy to transcribe.  The others are very faint and if I can puzzle them out I’ll include them in future posts.

Theodore Irvin Robbins
(photo courtesy of Joyce King Higginbotham)

Theodore and Levi were actually double cousins – Theodore’s parents were Jonathan and Margaret (Spilman) Robbins and Levi’s parents were Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins.  Jonathan and Levi Robbins were cousins, while Margaret and Sarah were sisters, daughters of Thomas and Nancy (Love) Spilman.  There are a lot of similar connections between Decatur County families. 

I don’t have a lot of information about Theodore Robbins. He was born in 1856 in Decatur County and apparently died in Galveston, Texas, in 1899.  It is not known if he was ever married or had any children.

Family members referred to in the letters are Robbins and Spilmans, but it’s not entirely clear sometimes who is who.  After the letter I’ve added some comments about the names mentioned.  I’ve found that letters of this time usually covered two topics: family news and farm prices!

Gaynorsville, Ind.

June 7th, 1875

Dear Cousin1,

I received your letter of the 14th of May a few days ago.  We were glad to hear from you and know you are all well.  We have had a small amount of sickness in our family this spring although none serious.  We are all well at present.  We got a letter from George2 at the same time we got yours.  Himself and James’s3 folks were all well with the exception of colds.  Aunt Polly’s4 folks are living in Greensburg.  They were all well the last time we heard from them.  Jane5 died last fall of consumption.  I don’t know whether you have heard it or not.  Uncle Franks6 folks are living near Greensburg.  They have had a great deal of sickness in their family for the last year but they are all able to get around now.  Times here is pretty hard.  Corn is worth from .90 cents to $1.00 per bushel.  Hogs are worth six and seven centers per pound.  The coming crop of wheat will not be more than one half of a crop on account of the cold winter.  We had a very backward spring but corn in this locality looks very well considering the time it was planted.  The Taylor you spoke of, I have found out nothing about them yet.  [Line at bottom of page is missing]…time you write.  Father and mother have lost the track of them.  Tell Uncle,7 now that he has sold out he might come to old Hoosier and see us.  We would like to see him very much.  In deed we would like to see all of you.  Well I must quit for this time.

Write soon and often,

Your cousin

Theodore I. Robbins

P.S.  Enclosed you will find Fathers and Mothers pictures.


  1. I am assuming that the letter is to Levi Robbins.  One of the other photocopied letters I have included the envelope addressed to Levi.  Levi was a first cousin via the Spilmans, and a second cousin, once removed through the Robbins family. 
  2. George Thomas Robbins, brother of Theodore.  In 1875 was in Iowa and in 1877 moved to Russell, Kansas.
  3. James Harvey Robbins, brother of Theodore.  He lived in Lucas Co., Iowa.
  4. Not sure who he is referring to, possibly the older sister of Margaret and Sarah?
  5. Again, I do not know who this is.
  6. Probably referring to Frank Spilman, Margaret and Sarah’s brother.
  7. Jacob Robbins, father of Levi, husband of Sarah Spilman (thus both uncle and cousin to Theodore).

I’ll consider posting additional letters if I can transcribe them from the very faint copies I have.

[Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Jonathan Robbins-Theodore Irvin Robbins]

August Miscellany: Reunion, Allied Families, and DNA

Robbins Bicentennial Reunion Update 

I have received a number of messages and emails about a possible 2022 Robbins Bicentennial Reunion in Decatur County, Indiana.  It’s wonderful to see the interest in this idea and I appreciate the offers to help.  While I don’t believe any of the people who contacted me are folks who actually live in Decatur County I’m going to continue to let the word spread and percolate and will come back to the project in the fall.  

Other Decatur County Surnames 

There are a lot of descendants of Jacob and Mary Robbins in Indiana, the United States, and around the world.  Focusing just on Decatur County descendants I wanted to list some of the “allied” families, that is, families who married into the Robbins family, no longer have the Robbins surname, and may or may not know of their Robbins ancestry.  There are likely Robbins descendants with these or other surnames in the county and some of you might recognize them.  

The list below is divided by the children of William, Absalom, Jacob, and James Robbins.  Besides those who moved out of state, a lot of family members moved next door to Bartholomew, Shelby, or Rush counties, or northwest to Indianapolis.  But this list, which is not complete, focuses solely on Decatur County. 

Children of William Robbins

Marmaduke:  House, Knarr, McCracken, Ralston, Scripture, Vanderbur

Elizabeth:  Owens

William:  Barnes, Evans, Kitchen, McCoy, Mendenhall, Mozingo, Pleak, Smiley, Smith, Stewart, Styers, Thornburg, Whipple, Wright 

Children of Absalom Robbins

Micajah:  Holcomb, Mozingo

Elizabeth:  Guthrie, Pavey

George:  Bower, Espy, Gannon, Giddings, Hood, Kutchback, Leisure, Meredith, Scripture, Shoemake, Stone, Voiles

Charity:  Allen, Jessup, Purvis, Skinner, Stout, Whipple 

Children of Jacob Robbins

William:  Harrison, Hartley, Miller, Spencer, Taylor 

Children of James Robbins

Matilda:  Terrell 

There are a lot of family members still in Greensburg and Decatur County but in compiling this list I was struck by how many families, especially since about 1940 or 1950, have left Decatur County.  Besides the neighboring counties mentioned above, and Indianapolis, many have moved on to Fayette, Boone, Scott, and other Indiana counties.  Much earlier in a time a very large group of descendants moved to Breckinridge County, Kentucky, while others moved on to Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, California, and the Pacific Northwest.  I hope to discuss some of these families in future blog posts.

Ancestry to Remove 6-8 cM Matches Soon 

As they do every few years, Ancestry is making changes to DNA results.  If you are an Ancestry DNA customer you may have noticed that they periodically update and change your ethnicity estimates – sometimes the results seem reasonable and sometimes they seem way off.  It’s a continual effort to make the results more accurate.  Each DNA testing company does this. 

This time Ancestry is planning on removing any match you have where the centimorgans (cM) are less than 8.  Or I should say the segment is less than 8.  Because you could have a match at 10 cM on two segments.  That would likely go away because both segments would probably be under the 8 cM threshold. 

Now, I’m no expert in using DNA results, though I have tried to teach myself as much as possible.  If you want a good overview of Ancestry’s proposed changes (now postponed to the end of August due to push back from the genealogy community), I’d highly recommend you read the DNAeXplained blog written by Robert Estes.  In particular, her first post, which describes ways to preserve these smaller matches:  DNAeXplained.

DNAeXplained screen shot

 Ancestry will not delete these smaller matches if you have (1) exchanged messages through Ancestry with that individual; (2) assigned the match to a “group”; or (3) added a comment on that match. 

My method is to pull up the matches (and I also do this with my siblings’ DNA results that I manage on Ancestry) and then filter for “Common Ancestors.”  The “common ancestor” listed is not necessarily accurate, because the information is based on members trees, and trees are not always accurate.  I’ve run cross a few of those lately.  But out of all your thousands and thousands of matches, I’d rather spend my time on those who have trees – whether public or private – and that’s why I do a “Common Ancestors” filter. 

Common Anc cM sort DNA

 You will probably still have a lot of matches in this group.  You can filter further.  You will notice that you can enter a custom cM range.  I started with 6 cM.  Note that on the right hand side of the entry for each match you can assign them to a group.  These are color coded.  A while back I created a “group” for each of my great-grandparents surnames.  In most cases I can identify each match to that level and assign them to a group.  By clicking on each match I can add a comment too, such as how they descend from our common ancestor.  I’ve been doing that with all of my matches, but starting at the top end, with those who I share a lot of DNA with. 

With these small matches, of which there are many, I may not have time right now to look at each individual match with a “Common Ancestor,” especially with an Ancestry deadline approaching and me planning on being away for a couple weeks of socially distanced camping and hiking.

2nd screen shot

So as Roberta Estes suggested, I created a group called “Holding Group.”  I can go straight down the list of these matches (without opening each one up) and put each one in my “Holding Group”, so Ancestry won’t discard them, and I can review them later at my leisure.  After working the 6 and 7 cM matches, I move up to 8 cM, then 9, and so on until I’m confident that the matches will survive Ancestry’s upcoming purge. 

What am I finding in these small – 6 and 7 cM – matches?  Between myself and my siblings I’m finding DNA matches with almost every branch of the Robbins family – not only through every child of William and Absalom Robbins of Decatur County, but also through their brother James Robbins of Jennings County and their sisters Martha and Mary who married Chastains and lived in Washington and Scott counties. And, surprising to me, even more distant cousins who descend from brothers or cousins of our most distantly documented ancestor, Jacob Robbins.  And I’m finding matches with descendants of the siblings of Bethiah Vickrey (who married William Robbins) and Mary Ogle (who married Absalom Robbins), as I descend from both of those couples.  I might have not found any of these if I had ignored these smaller matches. 

So, if you’ve tested with Ancestry, and have the time and interest, I’d highly recommend preserving those small cM matches.

A Robbins Bicentennial in 2022?

Where have the centuries gone?  Did you know we are only two years away from the bicentennial of the Robbins family in Decatur County, Indiana?

In 1822 the Robbins family first came to Decatur County, Indiana.

In 1922 the Robbins family, and all related families, celebrated the first 100 years of the family being in that county.

In 2022 we could celebrate the family’s bicentennial in Decatur County.

Reunion 1



The Robbins families, and in-laws, seem to have first arrived in the area of Decatur County in 1821.  By spring of 1822 (our “official” year of arrival), many of them had filed on land claims.  We have a narrative history of the Robbins family, written and read by William F. Robbins, at the 1922 reunion.  While not always accurate in the details, the gist of the document has proven more endurable.  W. F. Robbins described the arrival of the family in Decatur County, led by children of William Robbins, Sr.:

However, the [earlier] expedition was not entirely fruitless, for our ancestors saw something of what was to them at least the unexplored territory of Indiana.  After returning to their homes, they organized a hunting and trapping expedition and again entered the wilderness exploring along the streams and following them north towards their sources until they had penetrated as far north as the present site of Greensburg, and along Clifty to the present site of Milford.  This expedition killed the last of the beavers on the extensive beaver ponds in the vicinity of Alert and along Sandcreek and Clifty Creek.

Thus, it came about that when these hardy people decided to seek a home in what was then called the New Purchase, they were not entirely strangers to the locality in which they intended to make their future residence.

In August 1821 they came to Decatur County which had then been surveyed and named, and in which a government was being organized.  Having selected their locations they went to Brookville, Ind., where the Government Land Office was then located, and filed for entry.  John filed on eighty acres just north of where Mt. Pleasant Church is located, William took eighty acres east of Horace where John E. Robbins now (1922) lives.  Nathaniel filed for eighty acres of what has since been known as the Isaac Taylor farm.

Daniel Herrin came with them and filed for one-hundred and sixty acres between the last named locations in the spring of 1822.  At the same time Sarah Anderson took up land adjoining John E. Robbins.  These people were accompanied by a number of their kin.

If their father came with them, which is not unlikely, he undoubtedly settled as a squatter, as he did not take any entry until 1832 when he filed on the eighty acres adjoining that of his son Nathaniel on the west.  Soon after, all of William’s children came except Elizabeth Wadkins and settled near the location of their father.  Jacob and Marmaduke settled on what is known as the Jesse Styer’s farm now; Polly who had been married to John Kirkpatrick, on the farm known by that name; Docia, who married John Herrin, where Burks Chapel now is; and Abe Anderson who married Lottie settled on what is now known as the Levi Whipple farm.

The family of William’s brother Absalom soon followed:

The first of Absolem’s family to come was Nancy who had married her first cousin Nathaniel.  She was soon followed by her oldest sister Elizabeth who had married Philip Starks and they constructed their first cabin just across the road from the present residence of Orange Logan in Clay Twp.  About the same time came Absolem himself and located on the Alex Purvis place.  Next came Micajah who entered forty acres of what afterwards became the DeArmond farm.  Then came Mahala who married David May, also her brother Greenburg, and located in the same neighborhood but did not purchase land, and soon afterward moved on to Missouri.  About 1830-32 the rest of Absolem’s family arrived, John and Absolem the second, located on Sandcreek west of Pin Hook where they built a mill later known as Layton’s Mill.  There is still part of a dam visible by the mill-site but no mill by the dam-site!  George came, settling on forty acres west of the Whipple Bridge, on a hill, Charity, his sister who married James Hanks was a cousin of Abraham Lincoln.  (“A history of the Robbins families,” by W. F. Robbins, Greensburg Standard, 16 June 1922).

Jacob Robbins Jr., Nathaniel’s later partner in the trek to Oregon in 1852, was the first of Jacob Robbins’ children to move to Decatur County.  The elder Jacob appears to have lived in Scott County before finally moving north.  (The parents of William, Absalom, and Jacob, probably never lived in Indiana.  The last confirmed record of Jacob the eldest is in 1804 in Shelby County, Kentucky, when he gives permission for his daughter Margaret to marry.)

Reunion 2


In June of 1922 there was a huge celebration just outside Greensburg at the Liberty Baptist Church, where the descendants of the original settlers gathered in one huge reunion.  The reunion also celebrated the recent birthday of James Gilman Robbins, grandson of William Sr.  A more recent historical article in the Greensburg Daily News (“Hard to find anyone but ‘robins’” by Pat Smith, Local Column, 12 Dec. 2018) provided some information about that reunion:

After the morning service, there was a “magnificent dinner” at noon that was spread in a huge tent on the lawn of the church. At least 500 persons attended the service, the dinner and the all-day family meeting.

Roy Kanouse, who had married into the Robbins family, presided and was said to have put a lot of “pep” and fun in to the service. Kanouse had a shoe store on the east side of the Courthouse Square and was well known for his humor. The ads he made up for his shoe store in the Daily News were said to be anticipated by readers because of his brand of humor.

The Floethlyn Orchestra was there. Many of you will remember Florine Tillson, who taught piano and played piano in that popular orchestra. She lived on N. Franklin Street in Greensburg.

The orchestra played several selections with Ethel Shellhorn Evans singing one of them. Gladys and Martha Robbins played a piano duet. Corrine Thurston and Marie Whipple sang a duet. Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Davis and son sang a selection, and the song “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” was sung by all those present.

William F. Robbins gave a history of the early Robbins pioneers that was full of reminiscences of the founding fathers of the family. He and his cousin, Will S. Robbins, agreed that the Robbins men had for a century stuck close to the farm and were regular dirt farmers. He said the first Robbins explored Decatur County before the county was settled, and when they came here in 1822 they knew the lay of the land and scattered from Westport to Greensburg so numerously that it was “ hard to find any other birds except robins.”

Family and friends came from Indianapolis, Michigan, Kokomo, Letts, Horace, Greensburg, Westport, Hartsville, Tipton, Burney, Hope, Chicago, New York City, Lebanon, Carthage, Franklin, Muncie, Milroy, Adams, and St. Paul.

Reunion 3


In two years we will arrive at the 200th anniversary of the Robbins family in Decatur County, Indiana.  Should we have another reunion to celebrate?  What do we need to do to make this happen?  Who wants to be involved?  Do we have contacts in Greensburg and Decatur County who can help work on this?

There are a lot of things to consider but initially the two most important are:

  • is the interest great enough to warrant a bicentennial celebration?
  • do we have people who are willing to work on planning the event?

We would need to create a planning committee that would set to work determining a date and venue, deal with financial considerations, create a Facebook page or website about the reunion, get the word out to family members around the country, and more.  Remote meetings in today’s climate – whether online in a format like Zoom or through email and phone – would be quite easy to do.  Who’s with me?  Such an event only happens once every 100 years!

Kevin Mittge






Two Robbins Brothers: Dow and George

Dow and George, the two youngest sons of William Franklin Robbins, worked and lived near each other for much of their lives, and will be discussed together in this post.  Both of the boys came across the Oregon Trail at a very young age.

Benjamin Dow Robbins was born in 1843 in Decatur County, Indiana, the fourth child, but third son of William F. and Melvina (Myers) Robbins.  His older siblings were Nat, Margaret, and Gilman.  Younger siblings were Nancy Adeline and Sarah Jane, and then George Henry, who was born in 1849 also in Decatur County.  Melissa Robbins came along in 1851 just months before the family crossed the continent, and once in Oregon, Artemissa Robbins was born in 1855.

Dow was about 11 years of age when the family moved to Oregon, while George was about 3 years old.  Neither boy appears in family reminiscences of crossing the plains.  Mentions of “Dow” in their father’s Oregon Trail letter refer to William’s brother, John Dow Robbins, not his young son.  It must have been an overwhelming experience, moving from comfortable farms and surrounded by family in Decatur County, to creaking along in wagons across arid plains, with the terror of sudden death at the hand of disease or Indians always ever present in their minds.  Near the end of their journey Dow and George lost two of their siblings from disease.  George may have been three years old at the time of the trip, but as an elderly man he regaled my mother with stories about the trek (and being a child it never occurred to her to take notes!).

In the 1850s William Robbins and his family lived along the Clackamas/Washington county line, near what is today Tualatin.  Sadly William was killed in a hunting accident in 1856, and in 1859, the widow Melvina married Robert Lavery.  Even though the children eventually went their separates ways in adulthood they all seemed to have a close connection, as census records and group photos demonstrate.

Dow Robbins

Dow Robbins has only been found in a few of the federal censuses.  Williams’ family is not found in the 1850 census, where the family should have been living in Decatur County, Indiana.  In 1860 Dow is living with his sister Margaret and her husband Isaac Ball, while ten years later in 1870 he is listed in the household of his oldest brother Nat, mother Melvina, full siblings George and Artemissa, and his half-sister Olive (Melvina’s daughter with her second husband).

Dow Robbins

Dow Robbins

We know that he was in eastern Oregon (Grant county) by 1879 because he appears in the local newspaper as having drawn jury duty.  Between 1883 and 1890 Dow purchased many acres of ranch land in Grant county between the small settlement of Long Creek and the community of Hamilton, which was the home of his uncle John H. Hamilton.  Some of the land was purchased directly from Hamilton.

In 1903, at the age of 59, Dow was married to Anna Maria Born, the daughter of a Prussian miner and farmer, and the couple had three children, Otis, Aura, and Erma, all born in Grant county.  I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Otis and Aura back in the 1980s.  They were able to provide some of the information about the family included in this post.  Not finding Dow in the 1900 census, he appears finally in 1910 with his wife and children, with his brother George Robbins living them.  About that same year Dow sold his ranch and became a partner in a livery stable in Long Creek, possibly with his brother George.  Soon after Dow became ill, sold out his share of the livery, and moved in with his in-laws near the little town of Fox (Fox is miniscule and according to his death certificate he lived in Trester, which is a few miles west, and mainly a wide spot on the road).  Dow died in 1916 of liver cancer, leaving his wife of thirteen years and three young children.  He is buried in the Hamilton cemetery.

George Robbins

It’s unfortunate that we don’t have more information about the interesting life of George Henry Robbins, the future elderly raconteur and entertainer of younger generations.

George H Robbins 1

George Robbins

He first appears in the 1860 census, where he is listed with his mother Melvina, sisters Adeline, Melissa, and Artemissa, half-sister Olive Lavery, stepfather Robert Lavery, and step-siblings James, Mary, John, Joseph, and Rachel Lavery.  In 1870, when he was 21 years old, he appears in the household of Jesse Boone as a laborer.  Boone was responsible for “Boone’s Ferry” across the Willamette River, now a prominent road in the community of Wilsonville.  George has not been found in the 1880 census.

His sister Artemissa, her husband Charles Thompson, and sister Melissa, with husband Jacob Kauffman, and their families, had moved to southeastern Washington about 1880, settling in the community of Waitsburg.  According to family stories, George also moved to Washington at this time, possibly working as a farm laborer or running a livery stable.  Artemissa soon returned to the Willamette Valley, while Melissa moved north to Ritzville, but by 1900 George was still in the general area working as a farm laborer.  He was also reportedly herding sheep in central Oregon, around the now-ghost town of Shaniko.  It was there that he supposedly carved a small smiling figure in a casket which has been passed down in my family.

G Robbins carving

Carving by George Robbins

By 1910, George Robbins was living with his brother Dow and his family in the small community of Long Creek, where at age 60 he did “odd jobs.”  When Dow sold out the livery stable, George reportedly took over a homestead near Hamilton and went to work for his neighbor Curtis Jackson.

After Dow’s death in 1916, George returned to the Willamette Valley where in 1920 he was living with his sister Nancy Adeline Ball in Tigard, Oregon, where, at age 70, he is listed as a “laborer farm helper.”  The last census he appeared in was 1930 where he was staying with his sister Artemissa Thompson, along with her sons Roy and Clarence.  A photo exists from 1928 which shows George Robbins along with his siblings with his siblings Artemissa and Adeline, until he finally passed away in 1940 at the age of 90.  He is buried in the Winona Cemetery in Tualatin.

George H Robbins 2

Uncle George Robbins

At George Robbins’ death there was one remaining survivor of the 1852 wagon train:  sister Melissa (Robbins) Kauffman.  More about her in a future post.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-William Franklin Robbins-Benjamin Dow Robbins & George Henry Robbins)


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)