Biography of William E. Robb

William E. Robb. The thriving and prosperous Town of Neal in Greenwood County stands on land which a number of years ago William E. Robb plowed and cultivated and ranged his stock over. From his farm he furnished the townsite, and while he had still extensive farming interests in that locality his main business is as a merchant in the Town of Neal. More than any other individual he had had a direct influence upon the growth and development of the community.

Mr. Robb had an unusually interesting family history. From the data he had collected from time to time it is possible to record somewhat in detail the story of his lineage and the family fortunes in America. His ancestry is traced back by a somewhat devious line to Scotland. The Robbs went out of Scotland with the Protestants who settled in Northern Ireland. From the North of Ireland three of the Robb family, Andrew, James and Alexander, came to America and settled in Massachusetts in the year 1840.

A descendant of one of these original Robbs was David George Robb, great-grandfather of William E. He located in New Hampshire. He had a family of six sons, all of whom were in the volunteer army of the War of 1812 under General Hull and Gen. William Henry Harrison. Their names were Andrew, John, David, Thomas, James and Scott. Scott Robb was grandfather of William E. Robb. Andrew Robb after coming out of the army was crossing a pasture one day, when he was gored by a bull. His entrails were torn out and strewn around, but he gathered them up in his arms, went to the house, had the viscera washed and restored to their proper place, and after the opening was sewn up he got well and lived five years longer. He died at Fort Defiance, now Defiance, Ohio. John Robb, another of these military brothers, died in California. He was taken a prisoner at Detroit when General Hull so weakly surrendered that post, but subsequently was paroled. All the six brothers subsequently served under Gen. William Henry Harrison. At the close of the war they marched home together into Dayton, Ohio, then a small village, and were discharged at Dayton. They and their comrades were a sorry looking set of men, nearly all of them were barefooted, and had rags wrapped around their feet. They had cut the buttons from their clothes and had used the strips to tie up their sore and bleeding feet. During part of the campaign they had lived on frozen potatoes roasted in the ashes and coals of their camp fires. Gen. William Henry Harrison himself rode at the head of this tattered army into the Town of Dayton. The spectators all cried for joy and every man, woman and child cheered until hoarse, waving handkerchiefs and towels, rags or anything that could be snatched up in the moment as a means of signifying the joy and jubilation over the returning veterans. All of the Robb brothers came out of the war without a scratch, except John, who had been wounded in the leg. Both John and James Robb died in California. They had gone West in 1849 during the gold excitement, and they spent the rest of their years on the Pacific Coast. James subsequently sent for his family. John’s wife died, and he afterwards married a Spanish woman who was very wealthy. He did not long survive the second marriage. Thomas Robb, another of the brothers, died at Tippecanoe, Indiana.

Scott Robb, grandfather of William E., was born July 12, 1784, in New Hampshire, and died November 13, 1846, at Durand, Winnebago County, Illinois. He was with General Hull at Detroit at the opening of the War of 1812, but a short time before the fort was surrendered had been sent out with a detail of men after some cattle. The party comprised twenty-six men, and when they heard that Hull had surrendered at Detroit they ran away in order to escape the British. One of their number named Lee was elected captain, and under his guidance the twenty-six men started across the country to join the troops under Gen. William Henry Harrison, then in camp at or near Fort Meigs. They subsequently served with General Harrison until the close of the war. With the exception of this military service, Scott Robb spent his active career as a farmer.

On March 27, 1822, he married Lavina Root, a widow, whose maiden name was Preston. She was born October 5, 1794, and died February 5, 1877, at Durand, Illinois. She was of English descent. Her ancestors were English Puritans who took refuge in Holland at the time of the religious persecution in England, and from there came to America.

Scott Robb and wife had two sons and two daughters. Calistia Christiana Robb, born July 22, 1823, died at Durand, Illinois, August 19, 1884. She was married August 4, 1842, to Elisha Harris, who was born July 19, 1817, and died at Durand, Illinois. Mary Malinda Robb, born May 5, 1826, died at Durand, Illinois, October 4, 1902. September 12, 1850, she married William Furlong. William Furlong spent five years in the regular United States army. He served through the War with Mexico and in 1861 enlisted in Company B of the Seventh Illinois Cavalry for service in the War of the Rebellion. He was taken prisoner November 3, 1863, and was kept thirteen months in Andersonville and Florence, South Carolina, where he died December 3, 1864. He had been captured by General Forrest’s Cavalry at Queens Mills on the Cold Water River at a point about eighteen miles from Memphis, Tennessee. The third of the children of Scott Robb and wife was Thomas Newell Robb, mentioned below. William Scott Robb, the youngest of the family, was born November 1, 1833, and died March 10, 1864. He married Malinda Young. He also enlisted in Company B of the Seventh Illinois Cavalry, and was taken prisoner the same time as his brother-in-law, William Furlong. He was a prisoner of war for sixteen months at Andersonville, and was finally sent to Wilmington, North Carolina, to be exchanged. Soon after his exchange he died as a result of over eating.

Thomas Newell Robb, father of William E., was born near Elkhart, Indiana, December 29, 1830. The date of his birth fixes the fact that the Robb family were among the very earliest settlers in that part of Northern Indiana. Thomas Newell Robb married Caroline Isabell Carrick, a widow whose maiden name was Stevenson. Her father was Chester Stevenson, and her grandfather had served with the Connecticut troops at Yorktown where Lord Cornwallis surrendered and brought to a close the Revolutionary war. An interesting account of this concluding scene of the Revolution had been preserved in the family annals. The Americans were drawn up in line on one side, with the French under Lafayette on the other, and in the lane or alley between the two lines the British soldiers marched with Lord Cornwallis at their head to the point where they stacked their arms. Chester Stevenson had three brothers who were also soldiers in the War of 1812 and were present at the battle of Niagara where the Americans surrendered to the British and the Indians. The American soldiers were drawn up in line, and were counted off by twos. Thus there were formed two columns. When all were enumerated the English took one column as their share of the prisoners, while the Indians took the other column. The prisoners who fell to the mercy of the Indians were immediately tomahawked and killed. The English paid the Indians $8 for each scalp torn from the head of an American prisoner. As a result of this grim lottery two of the three brothers of Chester Stevenson met death as being in the line of prisoners turned over to the Indians. Chester Stevenson had four sons and five daughters: David, William, Simon, Lewis, Caroline, Mary, Lucy, Maria, and Almira.

When Thomas Newell Robb was six years old, in 1836, his parents, Scott and Lavina Robb, left Northern Indiana and moved to Durand, Winnebago County, Illinois. They went around the southern bend of Lake Michigan and passed through what was then the small Village of Chicago. At Rockford, Illinois, they crossed the Rock River. They experienced considerable trouble in getting their stock over the stream at the ford, and one hog was drowned in crossing, though they finally got the rest of the cattle and hogs over safely. Thomas N. Robb lived at Durand, Illinois, with his father, Scott Robb, until the latter’s death on November 13, 1846. Thomas N. was then sixteen years of age. In 1852 he left Durand and went west for the purpose of locating a land warrant owned by his mother and granted because of Scott Robb’s services in the War of 1812. With this warrant he proceeded to Chickasaw County, Iowa, and in Deerfield Township laid claim to 160 acres of land. His military land warrant was numbered 6215, and the title to the land was given in the name of Lavina Robb, his mother. This land was the southeast quarter of section 5 in township 96 north, range 14 west. The land office was at Dubuque, Iowa. He reached the land office October 22, 1852. On the morning of that day when he entered the office he found men lined up waiting their turn, and when the office was opened for business one of the number stepped forward and said he would take all the vacant land left in Howard and Chickasaw counties. This statement produced consternation, and for a time it looked as if the other men seeking claims would have all their trouble for nothing. Then ensued considerable talk among the men and the land officials, and it was finally decided to allow each man to settle on the claim he had picked out for a home. Thus Thomas N. Robb became the possessor of 160 acres. After getting title to the land he returned to Durand, Illinois, and the next summer, on July 3, 1853, he married Caroline Isabell Carrick. In the spring of 1855 they moved to Chickasaw County, Iowa, to the new home where he put up a log house about 18 by 22 feet. The land was covered by timber and hazel brush, and the family occupied the old log house about twelve years until it was replaced with a frame dwelling.

To the marriage of Thomas N. Robb and Caroline Isabell Carrick were born five children, three sons and two daughters. The oldest of these is William Eugene Robb, reference to whose career may be reserved for a later paragraph. The second was a daughter, Calistia Lavina Robb, who was born January 18, 1856, at Deerfield, Iowa. She was well educated, taught two terms of school in Iowa, and at the age of fourteen returned to Illinois to live with her grandmother, Lavina Robb, and her aunt, Calistia Harris. He was married December 23, 1875, to John Jay Cleveland, who died in 1905. She died in 1906.

The third of the children was a daughter, Rosalia Melissa Robb, who was born June 13, 1857, at Deerfield in Chickasaw County, Iowa. She lived there and taught several terms of school until the fall of 1875, when she came with her parents to Neal, Greenwood County, Kansas. She taught several years in Kansas, and on February 21, 1883, married Nelson Elhanen Turney. They lived at or near Neal until the Cherokee strip was opened in the fall of 1893. Mr. Turney made the run and secured 160 acres near Enid, Oklahoma, about five miles from Hunter. He still owned that land, but he and his wife now live in their home at Wichita, Kansas.

The next child of the family was a son, Walter Montville Robb, born May 3, 1861, at Chickasaw, Iowa. He lived in that locality until the fall of 1875, when he came with his parents to Greenwood County, Kansas, and helped in the work of the home until 1891. In that year he entered the Northwestern College at Des Moines, Iowa, spending two years there and also attended Oldbergs University at Chicago in 1894. After graduating he was given a druggist’s diploma. April 17, 1895, he married Lilly Almira Christian of Plymouth, Worth County, Iowa. He now lives on his farm three-quarters of a mile east of Neal in Greenwood County.

The next child, also a son, was Harry Elmer Robb, born at Deerfield, Iowa, January 1, 1867. He was eight years of age when he came to Kansas with his parents in October, 1875, and lived at home in Greenwood County until 1888. In that year he entered the State Agricultural College at Manhattan, spending four years, and graduating. After his return home he was elected county surveyor in 1892 for the four-year term. August 5, 1896, he married Olive Robbins of Eureka, Kansas. They now live at Millertown, Oklahoma, where he owned property and in the county had eight log and lumber yards.

The family had many interesting experiences in their pioneer life in Chickasaw County, Iowa. The first winter Thomas Newell Robb moved to Iowa the snow was deep, the winter was a hard and cold one, and during the winter he killed twenty-five deer. Deer were very numerous through the woods, and on some mornings when the family would get up and throw hay to the cattle, the deer would come out of the woods and eat along with the domestic animals. But immediately the door of the house was opened the deer would be gone. The following spring the snow began melting about March 20th, and then for six weeks there was almost continuous mud and slush before the weather settled down to agreeable conditions. Near the Robb home was the Wapsiepinicon River. Great quantities of fish would come up the stream every spring. Fish traps or dams were made, and by these means it was possible to secure tubfuls of suckers, redhorse, bass and pickerel. At times the family would see a wagonload of fish, caught in the lakes north and west, going by the house. The minnows were the chub and shiner, horned ace, punkin seeds and bull trout, as they called them. The pickerel and bass were the game fish, were caught with a hook, and made a great deal of sport. Then there were prairie chickens, partridges or pheasants, which would drum on the logs and make sounds like distant thunder, quails and wild pigeons. The wild pigeons roosted in the woods and built their nests in great numbers. When the young squabs reached considerable size the limbs would often bend under the weight and break and the young ones would fall to the ground. William E. Robb says he had seen flocks of wild pigeons in the spring flying north in an unbroken stream reaching from horizon to horizon and requiring thirty minutes to pass overhead. There were countless thousands in such flocks. The wild geese and ducks, brants and sandhill cranes would fly north in the spring and south in the fall, and they also seemed to number millions. Hundreds of them would light on the ponds and the Wapsiepinicon River. Squirrels, both gray and red, were also plentiful. Along the Wapsiepinicon grew large patches of wild plums, both red and yellow, wild crab apples, red haws and black haws, and thornapples. More wild fruit would ripen than all the neighbors could gather and use, and much of it would rot or spoil on the ground. The Wapsiepinicon made a bend to the east about a quarter of a mile from the northeast corner of the Robb farm, circled around and came west again about three-quarters of a mile south. At the latter point was built a bridge. Leading up to the bridge was a long turnpike with nine sluices or culverts. This was known over all the country around as the Wapsie bridge, and was one of the first bridges put up in that section of Iowa. North of the bridge was a low smooth piece of land called bottoms or sloughs. Grass grew on it very tall, and was burned off every fall. In 1850, two or three years before the Robb family located there, a battle had occurred on this flat land between two bands of Indians, the Sioux and the Winnebagos. The bodies of the slain were left lying on the battlefield, and afterwards the Robb children and many older people would go over the ground after it had been burned off and would gather up the beads, tomahawks, arrow points and sometimes a gun barrel was found. The Sioux Indians had been up to Fort Atkinson to draw their blankets and supplies, and on coming back had met the Winnebagos. The latter did not want the Sioux Indians to pass their camp, where they had left their old men, squaws and papooses. They bargained with the Sioux, giving them some blankets and ponies, if the Sioux would agree not to pass the camp. The Sioux proved traitorous to their agreement, and going to the camp along the Wapsiepinicon they killed most of the Indians found there. The Winnebago warriors returned too late, but followed the Sioux west and had a running fight with them. The Robb children would find bones and skulls near hazelbrush patches at intervals all the way across the country to the Little Cedar River, six miles west of the camp on the Wapsiepinicon. At the north end the battleground was a ford with a narrow trail called the cattle ford, and about midway was the old ford. At the south end was the bridge. Each place had a road, and these roads were known as the Cattle Ford Road, the Old Ford Road, the Bridge Road, the Culvert Road and the Wood Road. A fringe of timber grew along the banks of the Wapsiepinicon of soft maple, ash, willow and basswood. One of the early improvements in the community was the erection of a schoolhouse on the Thomas N. Robb land in 1858. The children of the family attended school there.

In July, 1861, Thomas N. Robb enrolled in Company H of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry. On October 25 he was mustered into the United States service, and about November 1, 1861, was made a corporal. He was ward master through almost the entire period of his service with the regiment, and also hospital steward and nurse part of the time. His captain was Dewitt C. Crawford and his first lieutenant was Edwin A. Haskell. On December 21, 1863, he was discharge and veteranized on December 25, 1863, Christmas day. The regiment was mustered in as a veteran regiment and enlisted for three years more or during the war. The captain then was Samuel S. Troy. The engagements and skirmishes in which Thomas N. Robb had a part were: Little Red River or Brown’s Ford June 3, 1862; Jones Lane or Lick Creek, October 11, 1862; Marianna, November 8, 1862; the campaign against Vicksburg, May 1 to July 4, 1863; Grenada raid August 10 to 25, 1863; from Vicksburg to Memphis; Baker’s raid February 4, 1864, to June 11, Price’s raid, including the battle of Independence October 22, 1864, the Big Blue October 23, 1864, Big Blue Prairie October 23, 1864, the Trading Post, October 25, 1864, Marias des Cygnes or Osage and Mine Creek, October 25, 1864; Charlotte Prairie, also called Marmaton, October 25, 1864. The last campaign of the war was Jackson, Canton, Tuscaloosa, Champion Hill, Helena, Selma and Fike’s Ferry, April 8, 1865; Columbus, April 16, 1865; and Macon, Georgia. Thomas Robb was discharged at Atlanta, Georgia, August 8, 1865, and mustered out August 24, 1865, at Davenport, Iowa.

After the war he returned to his home and resumed farming. In the meantime the country had been much improved. It was nearly all fenced and divided up into farms, and no Indians were seen in that part of Iowa after 1865. However, the cold winters were a great objection to residence there, and every such season Thomas N. Robb suffered more or less with pneumonia, or diphtheria. Having spent about four years in the warmer climates of the South while he was a soldier he thought that a more southerly residence would be greatly beneficial to his health. He then decided to try Kansas. In November, 1874, Thomas N. Robb came to Greenwood County, near where Neal now stands, and spent the winter. He liked the country so well that after considerable prospecting and investigation he bought 160 acres in section 33, township 25, range 12 east. In the summer of 1875 he returned to Iowa, sold his farm, and in October had a sale of his personal property. He then immediately started for Kansas with his family, consisting of wife, three sons and one daughter. He brought three teams and three covered wagons, and two loose colts. The family arrived in Greenwood County about the end of October. The land he had bought was unimproved, and it was impossible to rent a house in which to spend the winter. Under those conditions the two women in the family lived with W. E. Harris, who had a small rock house, while Mr. Robb and the boys lived in a wagon backed up against a hay stack. In that way they got along through November, and about the first of December they had finished the frame house 16 by 24 feet and 12 feet high. The frame had been hewed out of logs with a broadax, and William Hurd was employed to do the carpenter work.

Thomas N. Robb afterwards built a stone house at a cost of $1,000. He kept two teams busy hauling stone for two years. For two weeks after coming to Kansas he looked around for a milch cow, but found none. Finally he had a chance to trade a team of horses and a wagon and harness to Kye Hobbs for fifteen cows and heifers. Mr. Hobbs was selling in order to move back to Indiana. These cows and heifers gave Mr. Robb his start as a cattle man. By keeping the increase he soon had 100 head of cattle, and in those years there was almost an unlimited supply of grass for hay and pasture. The winter after the family arrived they cut and hauled forty cords of four-foot wood to Eureka, selling it at $4 a cord. Money was extremely scarce and there was no opportunity to secure work. A. Kerr was hiring hands at $16 a month, but at the time he had all the help he needed. Thus Mr. Robb and the boys turned their labor to the task of making rails, and during the first winter they made enough to fence the 160 acres and they also built some stone wall. In the spring of 1876 they broke forty acres of land and planted twenty acres to sod corn. The planting was done by chopping a hole in each sod with an axe, and from this plnating they secured a crop of 400 bushels of big yellow ears. After the corn had grown up and practically matured the grasshoppers came in great numbers about the first of September, ate off all the leaves and husks, but left exposed the yellow ears, and these golden ears of corn could be seen at a considerable distance away.

In the early days of the family’s settlement in Greenwood County, the Indians, the Sac and Fox and the Caws would go North in the spring and South in the fall, sometimes camping for a week at a time. After the Missouri Pacific Railroad was built through in 1882, crossing the county from east to west, the country was rapidly developed and fenced and the Indians no longer passed this way.

When the railroad was surveyed the county was thrown into a fever of excitement. The original survey was through Yates Center, Greenwood City and to Eureka. The original name of the railroad was the Fort Scott, Wichita & Western. The company wanted $10,000 in bonds in return for putting the road through from Yates Center through Greenwood City to Eureka. An election was called, but the bond proposition failed to carry in the Township of Pleasant Grove. Col. John Foley then proposed to divide the township, calling the north part Quincy and the south part Pleasant Grove Township. This was done, but it did not help the situation, since at the second election the bond issue again failed to carry. About that time the Town of Toronto agreed to give the railway company $28,000 in bonds if the road would be built five miles south and through Toronto. The railway accepted these terms, the road was built through Toronto, and Greenwood City, being left isolated, soon ceased to be a village. Not long afterward a railroad was built north and south along the Verdigris River, crossing the first road at Toronto. These two roads made a good-sized town there.

Thomas Newell Robb kept his residence on the old farm until his wife died on May 15, 1889. In a couple of years he rented the farm and then made three trips to Seattle, Washington, and one to Southern Oklahoma to visit his son, Harry, also to Mena, Arkansas, and another trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas. When he was a young man he spent two winters in the pineries of Wisconsin and Michigan, and one summer fishing on a vessel in Lake Michigan. He made trips from Green Bay to Grand Traverse Bay, the Manitou Islands, Sturgeon Bay and made a trip to Duluth, visiting the pictured rocks along the shores of Lake Superior. He had been in thirty-one states of the Union. During the War of 1861 he was with Sherman on the famous march to the sea and went to Pensacola, Florida. On going out to Seattle, Washington, he made the trip one time along the Santa Fe to Southern California, and came back through Vancouver, British Columbia, then to Winnipeg, and south to Kansas. He used to say that he had been across the United States north and south and would like to go across it east and west. While in Washington he bought forty acres of land and tried farming, but soon gave it up and returned to Neal, Kansas, where he lived until his death, which occurred September 15, 1907. He was a republican in politics, served on the local school board, and was long an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Many of the experiences pictured in the preceding paragraphs were part of the early life of William E. Robb, who was born May 25, 1854, at Durand, Illinois, and was only an infant when he was taken by his parents to Deerfield, Chickasaw County, Iowa. He grew up in that community and became familiar with all the scenes which have been described above. In 1875, when he was twenty-one years of age, he came with his parents to what is now Neal, Greenwood County, Kansas. Here he continued to live at home on the farm with his father, assisting in the cultivation and care of the crops until he was twenty-eight.

On April 28, 1887, Mr. Robb married Nia Lenora Snowden. Her parents, Thomas and Elizabeth (Stitt) Snowden, are both deceased. Her father was for many years a merchant in Kentucky. Mr. and Mrs. Robb had one child, Newell Snowden Robb. He spent four years in the Kansas State Agricultural College at Manhattan, afterwards taught in the high schools at Breckenridge, Minnesota, and at Meridian, Idaho, and was professor of agronomy in the State University of Idaho at Moscow. At the present writing he is serving as county agent for Lane County at Eugene, Oregon.

In 1881 Mr. Robb bought a 160-acre farm in Greenwood County. This land had originally been acquired from the Government in 1865 with college script by Amos A. Lawrence, the man for whom the City of Lawrence, Kansas, is named. After Mr. Robb bought the land the railroad was surveyed through and a depot was established on his ground, and he was a prime mover in the building of both the railroad and depot here. The town was given the name Neal in honor of Moses Neal, who was the manager of the right of way. Mr. Robb still lives on his farm near Neal, retains 100 acres adjoining the town on the southwest, and had 160 acres to the north of the original farm. He owned his home in town, another dwelling house and four store buildings. As a merchant he handles a general stock of goods, though most of his business is in notions and school books.

Mr. Robb had always supported the republican candidates and principles. He served three times as justice of the peace, and also served on the school board. Mrs. Robb is a democrat and served as postmistress of Neal during Cleveland’s second administration. Mr. Robb is affiliated with Woodson Lodge No. 121, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and was formerly a member of the Sons of Veterans. He had also dealt extensively in cattle and hogs and horses. His farm is named Wildwood, and the Wildwood Park and Library are one of the most attractive points of interest in the county, and many people from a distance have visited them and sought acquaintance with the genial proprietor.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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