William Robbins (Western settler)


William Robbins (Western settler)

William Robbins (1848-1933) was an early settler of the Curlew Valley of Utah and Idaho. He was a veteran of the American Civil War and assisted in the building of the transcontinental railroad.

Early life

William Robbins was born July 14, 1848 to Patrick James Robbins and Rose Ann Auclair. Patrick, according to the autobiography of his grandson, Hulbert Bross Robbins, was, " [a British] soldier, [and] after twenty years of service in England, [came to] the Canadian colony." The accuracy of his statement may be in question but it is generally believed that he served in the British Army for some time. Rose Ann Auclair, was born in Canada. William was their second child, having been born after a daughter, Mary Ann or Marie Elizabeth. Early records give a large variety of possible birthplaces. The 1860 United States census states that William was born in Canada, but in the 1870 census William reported he was born, "at sea," in American waters. In the 1880 census as well as the information recorded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints's patriarchal blessing index in 1881 William stated he was born in New Brunswick. Further confusion arises in 1885 and 1889 when William reported he was born in, "Montreal, Lower Canada," when he was given two additional patriarchal blessings. It is generally accepted that he was born in Montreal. In the following years another daughter, Rose Ann, and a son, John Ambrose, were born to the family in Canada. Rose Ann died at a young age. In about the year 1852 the Robbins family moved a short distance of 63 miles to their new home in New York State. They settled in Clinton County. By 1860 four additional sons were added to the family; Patrick Henry, James Agusta, Louis Napoleon and George. The 1860 census recorded the family as living in Saranac Town in Clinton County, with Patrick's occupation listed as a day laborer and neither he nor his wife were listed as literate.

American Civil War

On April 12, 1861 the American Civil War began when Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. On July 29, 1862, William's father, Patrick Robbins, enlisted in the 118th New York Infantry regiment as a private, serving in Company B, and then transferred to Company I at the end of August. "Our Pioneer Heritage", a collection of biographies by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Volume 8 gives the following narrative:

:" William wanted to enlist too, but because he was so young, his mother would not give her consent. He left his home and joined the New York Volunteers on November 15, 1863. He told the army authorities he was 18 years old and because he was large and strong he easily passed for that age.

:At first he served as a drummer boy. At one time he saw the man fall who was carrying the flag ahead of him. William took the flag and carried it until an officer came for it...His father did not know William had enlisted until he was told by a soldier that his son was in another company. They never met while in the service."

Family stories add further detail to the story.:"As the story goes, someone came up to Patrick Robbins in the battlefield and asked him if he had a son named William or Willie. Patrick Robbins said, “yes, why?” and the person said, “Your boy is in another infantry across the way, serving as a drummer boy for the unit.”

On March 3, 1864 William was transferred to the 2nd New York Veteran Cavalry, serving in Company L. " [He] served under Captain Thomas F. Smith and Captain Scott on General Sherman's Staff." (DUP, Vol. 8) This unit served in the defense of Washington D.C. for four months before they were transferred to Louisiana to fight in the Mississippi theater where, according to "Our Pioneer Heritage", "he contracted rheumatism while fighting in the marshes of the South, where he slept in wet trenches and suffered from hunger and also lack of adequate clothing." The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers also report that::"William received a severe injury to his back when his horse was shot from under him and fell, pinning William, who lay helpless until someone came and took him from underneath the horse."

As previously seen, family stories will also add to this narration::" [T] he person who found him leaned him up against a tree and left him there. [William] was there when he came to."

The war ended on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. At this time Company L was stationed in Louisiana, and William was mustered out of military service in Talladega, Alabama on November 8,1865.

Railroad and Early Western Life

According to "Our Pioneer Heritage" William returned home for a short time following his military service. Hulbert Bross Robbins, William's son stated that after a short stay he, "made his way westward helping to build the railroad that joined the east to the west. The crews of workmen from the east met the workmen from the west near the Curlew Valley at what was known as Promontory Point [on May 10, 1869, making the road complete from the east to California. All workers were released as far as building of the road was concerned." It is recorded in "Our Pioneer Heritage" that William witnessed the driving of the Golden Spike that symbolized the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Frederick M. Huchel, in his book, "A History of Box Elder County", stated that, "William Robbins was a Civil War Veteran who came from New York to Ogden and later moved to Snowville [in the Curlew Valley] to build a home." His son stated that, "Father, being but a young man about twenty years old, went down into the Curlew Valley." "Our Pioneer Heritage" stated that William found employment at a stage station in the valley and William must have stayed in Ogden for only a month because it is recorded that he arrived in the Curlew Valley on June 1, 1869, only a month after the completion of the railroad.

In the summer or fall of 1869 Thomas Showell and his brother-in-law, William Harris, Mormons from Salt Lake City, arrived in the Curlew Sinks. There was sagebrush as far as the eye could see, broken only by the little house which was the stage station. They soon formed an acquaintance with William, as he was the only inhabitant of the valley and had planted the first garden and had taken water to the valley from Deep Creek for irrigation. Six months later Jane, William Harris' wife, and her five children arrived from Salt Lake City. Jane Carter Harris, William Harris and Thomas Showell were all English converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had crossed the plains into Utah in 1859 in the Rowley Handcart Company. At the time of the 1870 census, William was living with the Harris and Showell family and working on their cattle ranch and Jane's mother Mary Ann Stockdale Carter Martin had joined them in the valley.Jane records in her semi-autobiographical article in "Our Pioneer Heritage" the following story::"One Friday morning, when Lucy was 16 months old, William [Harris] became ill, by Sunday he was bedfast, early Monday morning he could only speak in a whisper. He asked his wife to bless and pray for him. She knelt tearfully by him and prayed as she had never prayed before. At the close of her prayer, he said "Amen" as clearly as a well man. Then feeling easier he asked for the children to be called in. He kissed them all fondly and bade them good-bye. His last words were to his oldest son, Charlie, "Be a good boy!" and while still supported in a sitting position he bowed his head and breathed his last, leaving his little family grief-stricken. His illness had been caused by white lead which he had inhaled while working at the printing office in New York. He died April 11, 1870, thirty-one years of age."According to family stories, at this time William Robbins assisted Jane in all of the preparations for her husbands funeral, taking the majority of the preparations as to ease her suffering. Two years later, William Robbins and Jane Carter Harris were married on William's twenty-fourth birthday in Hansel Springs, Utah. The family remained at the Curlew Sinks for about the next five years and during this time three children were born; Rosella Robbins, born June 28, 1873 and died shortly after birth, Hulbert Bross Robbins, born June 29, 1874, and Arthur William Robbins, born September 18, 1876. In his own words, Hulbert Bross Robbins stated::"I was born on June 29, 1874, a very unheard of cripple being twisted in the hip joints until the knees faced each other, the legs very badly bowed, and was what was known as reel-footed. Instead of the soles of the feet being placed upon the floor, the ankle touched first. My mother had to face this terrible difficulty to start in with. There was no doctor or surgeon that would ever attempt to put the legs and feet into a natural position. In that case it was left fully up to my mother to do what might be done. To make things worse, when I was but a few days old I was attacked with jaundice and was almost despaired of, but my mother was not a woman to give up no matter how difficult things might be. She set to work with determined willpower and faith in the Lord that He would help. She learned that the hip joints could be twisted enough to almost get the knees pointing forward, and she also learned that if the feet were help in a certain position, they would gradually become more normal. With her own hands, Mother built iron braces and leather shoes out of old pieces of leather that she might gather up from discarded shoes.":"Occasionally people would come and offer suggestions of just what to do, and she told me time and again when I got older so that I could understand that anytime one would make a suggestion, she would discard the thought and do almost the very opposite of what they thought she ought to do. Instead of making a single sole to place the foot on, Mother built a double sole out of several thicknesses of tin from discarded fruit cans mashing them flat like a piece of board. She fastened the soles of the tiny shoes that she had made onto the tiny platform that she had built and laced them solidly together. After months of continued work, planning every move that she made, she got the feet into the shoes, then used her iron braces to bandage on the sides of the legs and continued to draw the feet and legs with bandages to get them nearer the normal positions.":"No one can tell with words the many days that were spent to accomplish all the different ideas that would come to her mind, but each day she could see that she was getting a mite nearer the goal and she would thank the Lord for the promptings that would come to her mind and would pray the Lord to continue. Her heart would be gladdened, her determination strengthened and she would redouble her efforts if such could be done. After eighteen months of continuous nursing, planning, and laboring, she saw the child stand with perfect feet and legs as well as any child that was born in a normal condition and walk as early as any other child could walk; no one would know that he ever had been crippled. No one would believe that such a feat could have been accomplished nor could anyone imagine that the conditions were as they were even after one had tried to explain it."About this time, "men with greedy eyes," decided they wanted the small homestead that William and his family had painstakingly built in the sage covered valley. As the government had not yet made a survey of the area and there was very little territory or county involvement those men forced the young family from their property. William's son, Hulbert Bross, stated, "At that time the government had made no survey of the country so they could only use what was known as a squatter's rights; they told him that he had to get off...and of course, in those days might was right. He had to pick up his family and move." The Robbins' soon found a new home in the new community of Snowville, Utah across the valley from their former homestead.

Involvement in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

It was here in Snowville where William Robbins was baptized and became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His wife's family had been converted in England following the tragic death of her father. When the call came for the members of the Church in England to come to Zion in the American frontier they sold their property in England and booked passage on the ship, Thornton. Jane and her first husband, William Harris, crossed the plains to Utah in 1859 in the Rowley Handcart Company. Mary Ann Stockdale Carter Martin, Jane's mother, followed a few years later with the remainder of the family. William was baptized 4 years after their marriage on August 14, 1876. In 1881, William received his first Patriarchal Blessing and by July 9, 1882 William had been ordained to at least the Aaronic Priesthood and had the opportunity to baptize his son, Hulbert Bross Robbins. In the following years, he would receive two additional Patriarchal Blessings; one in 1885, and the second in 1889. In 1904, William was ordained to the office of Seventy and called to serve as a missionary in the Eastern States mission. He was set apart on October 15, 1904 and returned almost five years later in 1909.


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