Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

September 20, 2012

Smith: Oregon Trail tales

Greensburg — This is a story of the trip the Nathaniel Robbins Family took from Sandcreek Township to Oregon on the Oregon Trail in 1851.

It's titled "Good-bye Indiana," written by Kate Sharp Jones, granddaughter of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins and daughter of Zobeda Robbins who married William Sharp, a driver on the wagon train.

Sharp, uncle of Bill Beard's grandmother and probably brother of Simeon Sharp, was one of the founders of Westport. Beard, subject of last week's column, helped build the bridge over the Weser River in World War II, not Rhine, as stated.

The Robbins family began the trip five years after the ill-fated Donner Party. With communications then, you must wonder if they knew about that tragic trip. Kate wrote the story in 1918 or 1920 and gave it to Margaret Davis in 1968.

 She is an excellent writer but because the story is lengthy, I'll share only what it took for families to join the great Westward Emigration that was slowly winding its way over the mountains, plains and deserts toward the land of great promise: The Oregon Country. It must have been a huge decision to pack up and leave, especially if your family had a good life here.

Nathaniel Robbins was 58-years-old when the trip began. Born in Kentucky, he and younger brothers William and John Robbins came to Decatur County in 1821. In his History of Westport, George Cann states, "É settled east of Westport, on SandcreekÉA little farther to the north, but still in Sandcreek Township, Nathaniel Robbins and John Robbins settled in 1821."

Nathaniel had studied to be a doctor but gave away most of his books intending to retire when reaching Oregon. Soon after he came here in 1821, he became one of the first superintendents for school sections, in charge of trying to get people to give land to build schools in his section. In the first election he was elected Justice of the Peace of Sandcreek Township (nine votes were cast). He was on the first grand jury of the county.

The family's trip west began early one morning in October 1851 with the Dr. Nathaniel Robbins family having their last breakfast of griddle cakes with buck-wheat, honey fresh from the hive, sweet potatoes and homemade sausage in the comfortable big kitchen in Sandcreek Township. They were headed to the Oregon Country, hoping to make the lives for their families even better than the ones they were leaving.

Nathaniel and Nancy had 13 children Harriet, William Franklin, Absolem, John Dow, Amanda Minerva, Bethia Emmaline, James Anderson, Mary Jane, Mahala, Nathaniel Norval, Zobeda, Nancy and Angeline. I don't know how many went west but several of the Robbins family died before reaching Oregon.

Can you imagine the excitement when everybody was getting packed up, but their thoughts must have also been about if they would ever see their friends and family members again.  Kate Sharp Jones wrote that was noise and hubbub in the front of the home that morning. Ox yokes clanging, the cattle bawling at one another, as they were driven in their places in front of the great covered wagons. The drivers shouting and bantering with one another and the family dog named "Old Watch" running in circles, barking and behaving like a pup in the excitement. Neighbors and relatives not going west started gathering, riding up on their horses, or in wagons, or surreys to say good-bye and wish them God-speed.

While her daughters cleaned up the breakfast dishes and packed them, Nancy went to her room to finish packing. She couldn't load down the wagons with the massive four poster bed or heavy walnut furniture. She took quilts, feather mattresses and pillows. All of their children, except the oldest, had been born in this room.

They left the fields of corn, groves of black walnut, and sugar maples, and the sugar camp. Nancy may have been thinking of the sugar, syrup, and molasses they had made at home. They were leaving the geese that Nancy had raised and the stacks of feathers. They left the old loom house with its big comfortable fireplace where they had woven all their coverlets, bed spreads, table cloths and toweling, besides yards and yards of cloth, heavy and durable, for their everyday work clothes. It was there they had spun all the yarn for knitting the socks and stockings for the family.

Twenty-two white covered wagons stood waiting in line. The cattle, sleek, young, full of life were mooing and getting restless. The ones that survived would reach the end of the long journey, tired, weary, with drooping heads, and feet worn out and bleeding.

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