Idaho History March 25, 2018

Idaho Lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins

 (Vigilantes part 2)


courtesy: Bob Hartman
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One Tough Hombre

— This Lawman Feared No One —

by Tom Rizzo

Lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins shifted in the saddle, sore and tired from nearly two months tracking escaped prisoner Charley Chambers across the Dakota and Oregon territories.

Scanning the distant horizon, the 45-year old marshal adjusted his bandana to cover the back of his neck, hoping for relief from the scorching sun.

Robbins finally caught up to Chambers in August 1882 in Portland, took him into custody, and returned him to prison in Boise — completing a journey of nearly 1,200 miles.

During his law enforcement career, Robbins achieved a reputation as the “man most responsible for bringing law and order to the Idaho Territory.”

Born in Maine, he left home at 17 following a quarrel with his father and made his way to the California gold fields for a short while.

In his mid-20s, moved to Idaho after the discovery of gold in the Salmon River area.

Robbins began working as a lawman in 1864 when Boise County Sheriff Sumner Pinkham appointed him deputy.

When Pinkham lost the next election, Robbins joined a stagecoach line and rode shotgun.

In 1865, he won an appointment as a Deputy U.S. Marshal and spent the next twenty-five years bring outlaws to justice. He also served as police chief of Boise, the sheriff of Ada County, and warden at the Idaho State Penitentiary.

Robbins also won election to the Idaho Legislature from Ada County, twice, and somehow found the time to broaden his list of accomplishments.

As a colonel in the Idaho militia, he served as a successful scout and Indian fighter, part of the command that followed the fleeing Nez Perce across the mountains of Idaho.

The lawman also became of something a local hero for his role in the Bannock War of 1878, managing to survive several close encounters with death.

He owned a cattle ranch where he also raised thoroughbred race horses. Robbins also founded a temperance lodge in Ada County.

… The well-respected lawman, considered the toughest in Idaho, died on May 1, 1908, of a heart attack. He was 72.

At the time, he was still on the job, working as a traveling guard for prisoners.

from: Tom Rizzo
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Idaho Lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins

by Bob Hartman

Born in Phillips, Maine, August 30, 1836. Story has it that 17 year old Rube came home one day to find that the oxen he used to make money with had been sold by his father, and young Rube had had enough. In January of 1854 he headed to California.

Rube mined in northern California from 1854 until the summer of 1861, when he left Yreka and headed for Elk City in northern Idaho. In 1862 he move from Elk City to the new town of Florence, where again he tried his hand at mining.

It was in Florence that a couple of rough characters called Cherokee Bob, and Bill Willoughby went gunning for Rube and Jakey Williams. They found them. As Bob lay dying he stated that both Rube and Jakey were brave men, with one difference. When Jakey shot his pistol he would jump to the side to clear the smoke for another shot, whereas Rube would jump through the smoke, so every time he shot he would be getting closer.

In August of 1863 Rube headed south to the Boise Basin, to Idaho City, to try his hand at mining once again. In 1864, with the 4th of July approaching, the southern sympathizers in town let it be known that they wouldn’t put up with any silly singing of the National Anthem. Rube strolled into the saloon that was their hangout, jumped up on a pool table, drew his pistols, and in what was described as a beautiful baritone, belted out the National Anthem. When he finished he looked around the room, giving anyone a chance to have a go at him. No one made a peep. He jumped down from the table and strolled out the door. A few days later he was sworn in as sheriff Sumner Pinkham’s deputy.

A little over a year later a new sheriff was voted in. That summer while visiting the warm springs resort outside of Idaho City Pinkham was gunned down by Ferd Patterson. Ferd hi-tailed it for Boise, but Rube caught up with him at the half way house and arrested him before the posse showed up.

Rube continued his work as a deputy, but his time deputy marshal under U.S. marshal Alvold in Boise. Several times Rube tried to give up law enforcement, but always returned. In 1873 and 1874 Rube was Ada County sheriff. He was also a member of the lower house of the eighth territorial legislature in 1874 and 1875, and a member of the legislative council in 1882-3.

Rube spent the three major Indian wars in Idaho as chief of Scouts, first for General O.O. Howard in 1877 during the Nez Perce war, and again in 1878 during the Bannock war. Rube’s exploits during these campaigns were stuff of legend even in his time, and would fill a book. The last campaign he spent as chief of scouts was the Sheep Eater war of 1879, under Col. Bernard, who was in charge of the campaign.

In the 1880’s and 90’s Rube served as Boise’s Chief of Police 1885-87, Warden of the Idaho State Penitentiary, and still worked as a U.S. deputy marshal. In the early 1900’s he worked as a foreman at the prison and as a traveling guard, transporting prisoners, a job he held until he became too sick in the winter of 1907-08. He died at 72 years old, May 1 1908. Orlando “Rube” Robbins literally always got his man. He never returned a warrant without the bad guy in tow.

source: Bob Hartman Idaho History 1860’s TO 1960’s
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Scouts of Indian War.

Top, left to right: Andrew McQuaid, George Banks, Colonel F. J. Parker, Jack Campbell. Bottom, left to right: Chas. Adams, Rube Robbins, Henry Pierce.

[Note from Bob Hartman:] Jack Campbell in the upper right was one tough hombre himself. When the scouts were ambushed in July of 1878 Jack took 5 or 6 shots to the head and neck, and survived.
Photo Copyright 2012 Idaho state Historical Society.
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Orlando “Rube” Robbins Idaho’s Fearless Lawman

by R.G. Robertson

color-rube-a(click image for larger size)

Ask most Americans to name a few intrepid lawmen from the nineteenth century, and they are almost certain to list Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

These heroes of yesteryear epitomize the bold lawmen who tamed the frontier with their six-guns and tin stars. For nearly a century, Hollywood has immortalized these valiant peacekeepers, embellishing their reputations until it is often difficult to separate fact from fantasy.

Query other Americans about which Western town was the most lawless, and they’re apt to say DodgeCity, Tombstone, or Deadwood. Thanks to the movies and the dime novels before them, the mention of these old cow and mining towns brings to mind images of gunslingers, drunken cowboys, gamblers and a gutsy sheriff or marshal who brought them to heel.

Yet, there were more wild towns and daring lawmen than those that are most often brought to mind.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Idaho Territory had its share of rowdy towns. The mining centers of Idaho City and Silver City, competed with Deadwood and Tombstone not only for the amount of rich ore their citizens produced, but also for the number of hard men they attracted. While Wyatt Earp and his brothers held sway in the Arizona desert, an equally fearless lawman faced down desperados in Idaho. His name was Orlando “Rube” Robbins.

Robbins was born in Maine on August 30, 1836. When he was a teenager, he acquired a yoke of oxen, which he valued highly. He used the oxen on his family’s farm and occasionally earned money by hiring them out to neighbors. When Robbins was 17 years old, his father sold the oxen without asking his son for permission. Raging with anger, the young man bid his father good riddance and left home for good.

Robbins eventually found his way to the California mining camps in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When he was 25, gold strikes along Idaho’s Clearwater River and in Florence Basin (a few miles northeast of Riggins, Idaho) lured him away from California. Two years later, in August 1863, he relocated again, drifting south to the new diggings in Boise Basin (about 20 miles northeast of modern-day Boise).

A year old at the time Robbins arrived, the Boise Basin gold rush was producing the largest stampede of miners and hangers-on since the heyday of California’s Mother Lode. Numerous mining camps – they quickly grew into small cities – dotted the landscape, sporting names such as Placerville, Centerville, and West Bannack. Robbins gravitated to West Bannack, which was the fastest growing of the towns with over 6,100 people. Wanting a name that fit West Bannack’s prominence as the largest settlement in the Pacific Northwest, the Territorial Legislature soon re-christened it Idaho City.


At the time Robbins moved to the boomtown, it boasted a hospital, a theater, two bowling alleys, four sawmills, a mattress factory, nine restaurants, two churches, four breweries, and 25 saloons, all opened within the first 12 months of its founding. The town also had 15 doctors and more than two dozen lawyers. But what Idaho City needed more than a horde of sawbones and shysters was law and order. And found it in Rube Robbins. In 1864 he became a deputy sheriff.

With the Civil War raging in the East, the Boise Basin miners polarized around the Union and Confederate causes. Fueled by whiskey, Northern and Southern sympathizers often bloodied one another with fists, knives, and sometimes guns as they used force to show their opinions. Many an evening, Robbins had to lock up a drunken loudmouth who was threatening to punch or shoot to demonstrate his political beliefs to an equally intoxicated opponent (who was just as certain that God was on his side). …

Robbins’ reputation soon earned him a job in Boise, where he served first as a deputy sheriff and then as a United States marshal. …

Facing down drunks and arbitrating disputes were not the only things the deputy excelled at. He also knew how to catch criminals. In February 1876, after six bandits held up the Silver City stage as it neared Boise, Robbins had them in jail within two days of the robbery.

In addition to his duties in law enforcement, Robbins also held the rank of colonel in the territorial militia and was head of scouts. During Idaho’s Camas War in the late 1870s, he and his command were part of a larger U.S. Army force that, pursued a band of Bannock and Paiute Indians, led by a Paiute war chief named Egan, into the Owyhee badlands southwest of Silver City (near the Idaho-Oregon border). For nearly two weeks, the Army chased the hostiles across the high desert, some days riding 50 miles. …

During the 1880s and ’90s, Robbins continued to pursue desperadoes across southern Idaho. In August 1882, shortly before his forty-sixth birthday, he arrested the outlaw Charley Chambers after covering 1,280 miles in just 13 days. Any criminal having Robbins on his trail might as well consider himself already behind bars.

Unlike many lawmen of his day, Robbins had a life apart from gunplay and daring. When he was in his thirties, he became a Christian and joined the temperance movement. Following his baptism in the Boise River, he was elected president of the Methodist Church Sunday School. He also served a term in the Idaho Territorial Legislature, and some years later gained appointment as its Sergeant at Arms.

When Robbins was in his late sixties, he transported prisoners for the Idaho State Penitentiary. Although he escorted men who were often one-third his age, he never allowed any of them to get away.

Idaho’s most famous lawman died of a heart attack on May 1, 1908. During his funeral, numerous dignitaries paid him homage, each attempting to take his measure. …

Like Hickok, Masterson and the Earp brothers, Orlando “Rube” Robbins was similar to a paladin of the Old West and an honor to all Americans, “in the land of the brave and the home of the free.”

excerpted from: R.G. Robertson, True West Magazine January 1, 2002
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Deputy Sheriff Orlando “Rube” Robbins

Stagecoach robberies were reported regularly in the Idaho Statesman throughout the rest of the 19th century, and almost always the Wells, Fargo & Co. box was the target, as the Statesman reported several times between Oct. 28, 1875, and Dec. 26, 1881. In May 1876, famed Deputy Sheriff Orlando “Rube” Robbins was one of the lawmen who went to Silver City and brought back a gang of four stage robbers. Robbins was often charged with tracking down road agents and other criminals and bringing them back to Boise for trial. He had a reputation for “always getting his man.”

Following the holdup of the Overland stage by a lone gunman in July 1881, Robbins was again sent in pursuit. The Statesman reported, “In the stage that was robbed were a gentleman, his wife and three children, and a hostler in the employ of the company. The box that was thrown out was the Wood River box, and contained, besides some small sums of money, six hundred dollars belonging to N. Falk & Bro.”

excerpted: Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman June 25, 2016
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Orlando “Rube” Robbins


Birth: 31 Aug 1863 Phillips, Franklin County, Maine
Death: 1 May 1908 Boise, Ada County, Idaho
Burial: Pioneer Cemetery Boise, Ada County

“The man most responsible for bringing law and order to the Idaho Territory.” 25 years as deputy US marshall, Boise chief of police, and sheriff of Ada County. Warden of Idaho State Penitentiary, traveling guard, and work foreman.

“The ex-scout was shot at hundreds of times, and nine times bullets put holes through his clothes, and even his hat, but, barring a scratch on his thumb, he was never hurt.”
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General O. O. Howard and Two of His Scouts Meet

Rube Robbins in Portland

Is Entertained by J. W. Redington, and Old Time Warriors Hold a Jolly Re-Union — Heroic Incidents Recalled.

Idaho Daily Statesman November 15, 1901

Rube Robbins came in last evening from Portland. He went there expecting to remain two or three months while his broken arm got well, but he was called back here on a business matter.

While in Portland Mr. Robbins had the pleasure of meeting General O. O. Howard, under whom he was chief of scouts during the Bannock war in 1878. He came from Portland with the general, the latter going on east.

John W. Reddington, who was a scout under Robbins but who is now a member of the staff of the Oregonian, entertained the general and Rube at dinner. The three were together for several hours in Reddington’s office, and the Telegram of the 12th gave the following notice of the meeting:

“There was an interesting three-handed reunion today of veteran Indian fighters of over 30 years ago, in an editorial room of the Oregonian. General O. O. Howard, Orlando (Rube) Robbins. chief of scouts against Bannock and Malheur Indians in ’78, and John W. Reddington, ex-scout.

“Rube Robbins’ home is in Halley, Idaho. He came to Portland a few days ago suffering with a broken arm. The injury was received in an accident recently, wherein a freighting wagon was overturned on him. The member was broken twice. Mr. Robbins is a brother-in-law of J. W. Tollman, the expert photographers now retired from that business.

“Learning that his old commander, General Howard, was visiting here, Mr. Robbins arranged to meet the general as soon as he was able to leave his room with his fractured arm.

“Rube Robbins, as he is generally called, was greeted very affectionately by General Howard, and many were the hair-lifting reminiscences the sight of one another conjured up. Robbins is now 65 years of age, and he looks not more than 50 – hale, bright-eyed and vigorous. His hair has not turned, and he declares he can ride 100 miles a day horseback, as he did 20 years ago, and not feel the worse for it.

“Robbins, who has been mining for several years, was deputy United States marshal in Idaho for 26 years. He was appointed in the time of Lincoln. He has made Boise City his home for many years. He carries a big gold watch, which carries an inscription on an inner lid recalling one of the most exciting of his experiences in Indian fighting days. The watch was presented to him by the officers and enlisted men of the First United States cavalry, and, as it states, to mark their appreciation of his services in rescuing their comrades from drowning.

“Robbins Saved Colonel William Parnell, retired, and now living in San Francisco; a trumpter, a first sergeant, and a private, who were thrown out of a, boat, while crossing the Snake river in the Big Bend country, in August, 1878, during the pursuit of the Bannocks. The capsizing of the boat occurred in 40 feet of water, and every one of the occupants would have drowned in the swift current had it not been for the expert ‘diving of Robbins. The ex-scout was shot at hundreds of times, and nine times bullets put holes through his clothes, and even his hat, but, barring a scratch on his thumb, he was never hurt.”

source: Find A Grave
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Early History of Idaho – Orlando “Rube” Robbins

Chapter 15 – Ex-Sheriff [Pinkham] Murdered (pages – 269-287)

There were in Boise county during the foregoing period [early 1860s] a few men who were as staunch and loyal to the government as others were disloyal; men who never hesitated to declare themselves and who always were prepared to meet emergencies as they might arise; men who, in fact, courted the danger of conflict. Prominent among this class was a man named Pinkham, who was the first sheriff by appointment in Boise county, serving only until an election was held and his successor qualified. He was one of Nature’s noblemen, six feet two inches tall, with the frame of an athlete. Although he was yet in the prime of vigorous manhood, his hair and beard were almost snow-white, while his cheeks were as rosy as a boy’s. Not only physically, but mentally, he was a leader among men, and although he had been marked from the first for the bullet of an assassin, the seasons there as elsewhere came and went for more than two years before a man could be found to undertake the desperate enterprise.

Pinkham-aSumner Pinkham, Idaho City Historical Foundation

Finally, Ferd Patterson who had gained notoriety in Portland, Oregon, by killing the captain of the steamship and scalping his erstwhile mistress, and who had been a sojourner in Idaho since that time, expressed a willingness to add another nick to the handle of his revolver by killing Pinkham, provided the “boys” would stand in and secure his acquittal by being present when the killing occurred and testifying afterward that Pinkham drew his weapon first, or attempted to do so, thus showing that Patterson acted in self-defense.

Patterson-aFerd Patterson, Idaho City Historical Foundation

An arrangement was accordingly made one Sunday during the forenoon, accompanied by those who were to appear at the anticipated trial, Patterson went down to the Warm Springs, a bathing resort located on the Boise City stage road about one mile below Idaho City. Prior to their starting, however, they knew that Pinkham had been invited to ride down to the Springs by a Boise City man who was there with a team and buggy. As he had planned, Patterson and party arrived first at the Springs. At once they repaired to the bar-room where liquors were dispensed.

The building in which the bath rooms were located was erected above the road on ground which sloped into the gulch, or ravine, which carried into Moore’s Creek the overflow from a large hot spring, which flowed out of the side of a steep hill above. …

When the buggy in which Pinkham rode arrived at the Springs he alighted and entering the bar-room found Patterson and his party there. Having had no previous intimation of their presence, accustomed as he was to the methods of Patterson and his friends, it doubtess flashed on his mind in an instant that the crowd was there to murder him. Patterson began an attempt to start a quarrel, but Pinkham, realizing that he was alone, among unscrupulous enemies, would not be drawn into a difficulty and remarking “That’s all right, Patterson,” brushed past him and entered one of the small bath-rooms and closed the door. Patterson and his friends soon afterwards went out through the hall, and on up to the swimming pond, where they all proceeded to take a swim.

Patterson related the succeeding events to a friend who made the story public after those who were parties to the affair left the country.

Patterson said that he and his companions were so long in the swimming pond that he thought Pinkham would be gone before they returned to the bar-room, and he hoped he was gone, as he knew that if he did not continue his efforts to force a quarrel the men who were with him would think he had weakened, and he said that he knew that if a quarrel was precipitated, he must get Pinkham quickly, or Pinkham would get him; so upon entering the hall he drew his revolver and carried it cocked in his hand as he entered the bar-room, and Pinkham not being there, he walked directly to the open door leading to the porch, and found Pinkham standing waiting for the hack which conveyed passengers to and from the Springs; raising his pistol, he said, “Will you draw, you Abolition son of a b____ ?” And as Pinkham turned his side toward him he fired. The smoke of his pistol, he said, partially obscured his view, and dropping on one knee, he leveled the pistol across his arm and fired the second shot, both bullets taking effect, although the first shot caused a mortal wound. Pinkham instinctively reached for and drew his weapon, evidently cocking it by the same motion, and as he was falling, it discharged into the ceiling. The murdered man fell to the floor and immediately expired. Thus was completed the mission on which they came.

Arrangements having been made for his speedy departure, Patterson at once mounted a horse and started to leave the country, but Pinkham’s former deputy, Rube Robbins, followed by the sheriff, were soon in pursuit, and the murderer was overhauled by Rube who came up on him first before half the distance to Boise valley was covered. His arrest was accomplished without difficulty, when, joined by the sheriff, they started back to Idaho City, and making a detour to avoid difficulty with a large force of miners who had assembled and were threatening to hang Patterson, they arrived at the county jail and succeeded in placing him behind the bars without interference, although at least a thousand men were clamoring for his blood.

But the danger-point had been reached. Meetings were quietly assembled in all the mining towns for several successive nights and couriers were kept continually on the move, carrying news from one point to another. Men gathered in whispering groups on the hillsides and in the miners’ cabins. A spirit of mystery and secrecy pervaded the atmosphere, culminating finally in a delegation from all the mining towns being sent to Idaho City for the purpose of holding a conference, looking to the organization of a vigilance committee similar to that which had accomplished such effective work in the Payette valley.

The conference was held in a large fire-proof cellar used for storage purposes, and it was concluded that before perfecting an organization a messenger should be sent to the captain of the Payette Vigilance Committee, and if possible, secure his attendance at a subsequent meeting which would be called in Idaho City at such time as would be convenient for him to attend. Orlando Robbins, or Rube Robbins, as he was generally known, was accordingly dispatched to find the captain and if possible persuade him to come to Idaho City at once. Robbins was successful in his mission and two days afterward returned with his man.

Arrangements were at once made for a meeting consisting of a few reliable men to be held the succeeding night in the fire-proof cellar which had heretofore been used for meetings. As secrecy was to be observed until an organization was perfected the cellar was wisely chosen. Ten o’clock that night was the hour named, and when the time arrived approximately two score of the most prominent men in the Basin were present, to whom was introduced the captain, who upon being informed of the object of the gathering, at the request of the chairman, gave those present an outline of the constitution and by-laws of the Payette committee, stating that it was the fault of the citizens of Boise Basin that conditions such as had heretofore prevailed were allowed to continue.

In the aggregate the men who had committed all the crimes in Idaho were few in numbers, and he thought the time had arrived for the people to put a stop to such atrocious murders as had been of frequent occurrence in the past. He stated that as the first object of the proposed organization was the punishment of Patterson, the murderer of Pinkham, he would like to be present when that event took place, and assured them that while his own affairs would prevent him from becoming a member of their organization, he would come to Idaho City at any time on receiving notice that they were ready to act.

The meeting then proceeded to organize on the same lines as the Payette committee had followed, adopting for its name “The Idaho City Vigilance Committee.” A blacksmith who had a shop on Buena Vista Bar was chosen as captain, and an executive committee of five elected who were to have entire control of the organization, issuing their orders direct to the captain whose duty it was made to carry them out. A committee on enrollment was also appointed, the duty of which was to enroll as members all persons who would be willing to act with the organization in suppressing crime and punishing murderers and robbers.

At the meeting a Methodist minister presided and none of those present ever forgot his opening address; and while the average minister is generally considered out of place in mining camps where the Sabbath is respected no more than any other day, his bold stand in favor of suppressing the lawless class did more to elevate the churches in the minds of his hearers than all the sermons they were likely to hear. Among other things he said “He could fight or he could pray, as occasion required.” The man was Reverend Kingsley, who became a permanent resident of Idaho and lived many years of usefulness to his fellows and when his final call came took his departure, loved and respected by all.

Two weeks were consumed in preparation, at the end of which time a membership of nine hundred were enrolled. Among the number were two men who had served in the navy and were familiar with explosives. They were detailed to prepare a number of hand-grenades which were intended to demolish the gates of the prison. It had been determined by the executive committee that the entire force would advance to the door of the jail where Patterson was confined and demand that he be delivered up to them, and if denial was made then the walls were to be scaled and the place captured by assault.

For the purpose of carrying out the foregoing plan, the members were notified to appear fully armed at the city cemetery at two o’clock on a morning named, it being the object to advance on the jail at daybreak. The cemetery was located but a short distance above the jail but it was doubtless chosen as a rendezvous not solely on account of its contiguity to the object of their attack. The leaders apparently counted on the effect which the newly-made graves, and they were all comparatively new, would have on the friends of the murdered men who slept beneath those sodless mounds, as it was well known to the executive committee that many of those who slept their last sleep in that hallowed ground had died from the knife or bullet of an assassin, and from the hearts of a hundred friends, those who were assembled in the haze of that star-lit morning, meeting around those silent mounds, arose a cry for vengeance. At least an hour before the time named in the call the men, in groups of two, three or more, began to arrive, and by two o’clock nine hundred men were on the ground awaiting the order to advance, while on the side nearest to the jail, an emergency field hospital was improvised, with two surgeons in attendance, showing that the serious nature of this enterprise was fully understood by all.

The assembling of so many men could not be accomplished secretly even in the night time – in a place like Idaho City, where many of the inhabitants were night-hawks, men who worked on the night shift, and, while doing so, worked the other fellow. Consequently, as so many men were noticed slipping out in little groups, it was readily surmised that their object was an attack on the jail, so the sheriff was at once apprised. It is more than probable that the news of the intended movement had leaked, and that he was informed in advance. Consequently, in line with his duty, he had garrisoned the jail with practically all the thugs and tin-horn gamblers in the city, and was prepared to defend his prisoner, Patterson. Thus a comical side was presented by even the serious condition that existed at that moment, and this was, that the majority of the men whom the sheriff had engaged as defenders of the jail, and consequently of the law, were many of them, for the first time in their lives, its defenders. But the sheriff was unquestionably right in employing such help as was at hand, it being clearly his duty, as an officer of the law, to protect his prisoner.

The men who were expected to defend the jail from assault were ensconced behind its walls and were provided with arms, besides, judging by the yells and pistol shots, they were also furnished an ample supply of nerve tonic, “the cup that cheers.” Immediately prior to the time set for the advance, a man who had been reclining on the ground, well to the rear of the others, arose, and threading his way carefully toward the center of the cemetery, mounted a log and in a voice that could be distinctly heard by all present, said, “Gentlemen: You all know me – at least by reputation; I am the man whom the Payette Vigilance Committee calls captain; I am here tonight upon invitation of your executive committee. Up to the present time I have taken no part in advising, or managing your affairs, but the time has arrived when human lives are in the balance, and I feel that although there are many older and, doubtless wiser men here than I, yet I feel that at this critical moment that it is due you that I should express my views, and whether you concur with me or not, my duty so far shall have been performed.

“You have assembled here for the purpose of demanding from the sheriff and his deputies in charge of the jail, their prisoner, Patterson, your object being not only to punish him for the murder of Pinkham, but in so doing, impress upon the lawless classes the certainty that, hereafter, no murderer shall escape. The only object you could have in assembling here in the night and advancing on the jail at daybreak was that you might surprise the guard and capture them without resistance, but as is evident, your plans are known and the sheriff has made provisions for the defense of his charge. You can storm the place and take it by assault, but in so doing many lives will be lost, and I cannot see the philosophy of sacrificing perhaps forty or fifty good men’s lives to hang one criminal. A mistake, has been made in calling out so many men; I can take Idaho City with ten men; I would go through it like a cyclone, and take whomever I wanted.”

Some one in the crowd immediately spoke up and said “That is the man for our captain.” The words were scarcely uttered when they were repeated by hundreds of voices. The man who had been in charge up to this time was a blacksmith who worked at his trade on Buena Vista Bar. He at once came forward and asked the Payette visitor to take charge, stating that he was “not qualified for such work.”

To this he replied: “Gentlemen, under the circumstances I will assume the responsibility and issue my first orders now. They are that you all go home. When I want any of you, I shall let you know. Before you separate, however, I desire to say that Patterson killed my friend, and the earth is not big enough to hide his murderer.”

The crowd at once began to disperse, and when day dawned there was no evidence that such a gathering had taken place, except the trampled weeds and ground in the cemetery.

Thus ended the first crisis in the history of Idaho. Had an attack been made on the prison many lives would have been lost in the battle that would have followed, and it would not have ended until vengeance had been wreaked upon every man in Boise Basin who had unlawfully taken human life.

It was Saturday morning when the gathering dispersed. During the day following business was practically suspended. Men gathered in groups in the streets and in the miners’ cabins, the one subject of their discussion being what was likely to occur now that a new leader had been chosen. It was generally believed that a way would be found to punish Patterson, but how was it to be accomplished? No one seemed to be informed on that subject.

During the day warrants were issued for the arrest of Rube Robbins, Elder Kingsley and one other, and they were placed under arrest. It was generally believed that the arrests were made under the impression that the new captain would undertake to rescue the prisoners, in which event it was probably planned that he would be shot by some one concealed for the purpose. But he paid no attention to the matter, in fact did not appear in the crowd that immediately gathered. The prisoners were at once paroled by the federal judge who was in the city. Thus, under high tension, passed that day and the succeeding night. That the leader had formulated some plan which was known to not more than two or three persons, was considered certain. But what was the plan? All was shrouded in mystery.

Buena Vista Bar (L) and Idaho City (R)BuenaVistaBarIdahoCity-a(click image for larger size)
courtesy Bob Hartman

Sunday afternoon he and Rube Robbins appeared on the street, both mounted, and rode across to Buena Vista Bar and down the road past the warm springs toward Boise City – the cynosure of all eyes. Soon afterward a group of miners and others began to assemble at the blacksmith shop on Buena Vista Bar, owned by the former captain, and when the assemblage had grown to such a size as to attract attention, the sheriff approached and demanded that they disperse within thirty minutes, or he would arrest them all.

They were doing nobody any harm, being merely there on the public road, each one being intent to learn all he could concerning the probable outcome of the pending difficulty. Some of those present were doubtless members of the Idaho City Vigilance Committee, but many were not, and as the observations of all alike had caused them to have but little respect for sheriffs and their deputies as peace officers, they did not propose to be ordered off the public highway, or arrested, because they did not see fit to go. So they at once began the erection of barricades along ditches that crossed near the shop.

John C. Henly, an attorney, happening along on horseback, took in the situation at a glance, and at once galloped down the road after Robbins and the captain. Fortunately, he met them on their way back to town, and spurring up their horses, they were soon at the scene of the proposed hostilities. From here could be seen the sheriff and his deputies assembling their forces on a sawdust pile near the jail, preparatory to making a descent on the miners.

Attracted by the unusual sight of a large force of men tearing down ricks of cordwood and building barricades, many persons had congregated, who knew nothing about the approaching conflict. Among this number was a company from Payette Valley, consisting of, approximately, twenty men, all of whom were members of the Payette Vigilance Committee, who had come to Idaho City to look for their captain, fearing something had happened to him.

On their arrival they had placed their saddle animals in a feed-yard and started out in quest of the object of their search, arriving at Buena Vista Bar in time to meet him at the barricade. A hurried conference followed, in which he requested them to take no part in the coming conflict, if one occurred, but to remain where they were, and they would probably see the prettiest fight they had ever witnessed. He told them his plan was to draw his men off to the other side of Moore Creek and take possession of a large dry ditch which girdled an ox-bow point, and there make a stand, since the ditch was a breastwork already prepared, and, furthermore, if a battle ensued, it was far enough removed from town or dwelling houses to insure the safety of non-combatants.

He would listen to no remonstrance, but turning from them to the trenches and barricade, sang out, “Boys, this is no place to make a stand; I will show you a better one; follow me,” and immediately started across the creek bottom for the ditch on the opposite side. Arriving there he instantly threw his men into line and dividing them into three squads, placing Rube Robbins in charge, of one, and Al Hawk another, while he took command of the third, placing them in front at the apex of the bend, sending Rube to guard one flank with his men and Hawk the other.

By the time these dispositions were made the sheriff had started his men on the double quick from where they were assembled, to make an attack. When they reached Moore Creek they were halted by the captain, and told “if they had an officer to send him forward to talk matters over, and if not, they had best come no nearer.” A man who was mounted on a horse at once rode out and across to where the captain stood awaiting him, and on gaining speaking distance, exclaimed, “The only terms I have to propose to you is that you stack your arms and disperse, or the last divvil of you will be kilt.”

To this salutation the captain responded: “The h___ you say. What is your name?” the answer being, “My name is German; I am under-sheriff.” The captain then said: “Mr. German, you had better return to the ranks; you and I cannot settle anything – send your chief up here. I will talk to him.” Mr. German quickly complied with the suggestion, and within a few minutes the sheriff approached, exclaiming as he came near, “My God, cannot this be stopped?” To this the captain replied, “It is stopped. I’ve stopped right here. Don’t you think I’ve got a good place? If you had wanted to arrest me, or any of my men, we respect your duty as an officer, and would submit to your authority, as was done yesterday; or, if you had needed a posse, and had secured one composed of respectable citizens, I or any of my men would surrender to you, but instead of such a posse, you come with all the cutthroats in the country.”

To this the sheriff answered that “when he chose men with a fight in view, he picked fighting men.” The captain replied that there had always been a doubt in his mind “as to whether blow-hards and murderers could fight better than decent men. We have a chance to settle the matter now. The responsibility rests upon you – fire the first gun and not a man of you will ever cross that bar alive.”

The sheriff then proposed that “they all deliver up their arms to him, and he would pledge his word of honor that in thirty days they would be returned, and the men could all go home.” The captain in reply said, “I have a very pretty gun here; it was sent me by a friend in Centerville when he learned that these boys had chosen me to be their captain. He thought, when he sent me the gun, that I would not surrender it while I lived, and he was not the least bit mistaken.

“You have sent Holbrook around with a body of men to get in my rear, and I have sent some boys over there who will hurt him, and we shall be obliged to hold another election. You had better send men to call him off at once, and you go back to town with all your force, and try to make them behave. I am not going to attack your jail. You may rest easy on that score – for I would not sacrifice the life of even one man for the sake of hanging a murderer. You may give Patterson his trial without hindrance, and, since the evidence has been arranged to secure his acquittal, he can go forth into the world, but the world is not big enough to hide him.”

Thus ended the second crisis. The sheriff withdrew his force and left the captain and his men in undisputed possession of the field.

A calamity was happily averted, for, had a single hostile shot been fired that day, the few decent men who were with the sheriff’s party would have paid the penalty for being in bad company, because it would have been impossible, in the battle which would have ensued, to distinguish them from their allies; and as a force even larger than that with the captain had assembled on Buena Vista Bar, and joined the company from the Payette, the sheriff’s force would have been between two fires – meaning their total extermination. The promise made to the sheriff, not to attack the jail and allow the trial to proceed, became generally known during that and the following day, hence the excitement subsided and business was resumed.

A short time afterward court convened and the trial of Patterson began, culminating, as he had prearranged, in his acquittal. That he would eventually receive punishment for his crimes merited, no one doubted; but when or where he was to pay the extreme penalty was known only to the executive officers. He took his departure from Idaho City soon after his acquittal, going to Walla Walla, where there happened to be, at the time of his arrival, the man who was on the police force in Portland when Patterson scalped his paramour, and whom he had threatened to kill for arresting him. The ex-policeman having faith in Patterson’s intent, as well as ability to keep pledges of that character, was on the lookout for him, and seeing him enter a barber-shop soon after his arrival in Walla Walla, followed him in, and finding Patterson seated in a barberchair, shot and killed him instantly – after the same manner he had been in the habit of killing his victims. Thus ended a career of crime, relieving the Idaho City committee of the task they had set for themselves.

The writer of the foregoing narrative was the captain of the Payette Vigilance Committee, hence he was in a position to know the details of what transpired during those turbulent days and nights.

WJMcConnell2W. J. McConnell Captain of Vigilantes 1864

Chapter 20 – Indian Wars in Idaho (pages 355-368)

During the year 1879, central Idaho, including the Salmon river country, was afflicted with what proved to be but a miniature Indian war, but insignificant as were its proportions it cost the lives of many persons, and required the employment of several companies of regular soldiers accompanied and aided by volunteer scouts, to suppress and capture the “hostiles,” which was finally accomplished.

The Indians who were engaged in this outbreak were what were known as “Sheep Eaters,” a small aggregation composed of Shoshones, Bannocks and renegades from other tribes. It is doubtful whether they numbered more than one hundred and fifty, all told, but they were mountain Indians, and like all of that type, were strong, active men and women, capable of enduring great hardship, and if need be, could subsist for days on very meager rations; born and reared as most of them had been among the canyons and crags of the Salmon river mountains, they were familiar with every gorge, defile and trail, from the Rocky Mountains on the east to the Blue Mountains on the west; consequently the task of overtaking and capturing them was an arduous one.

The regular troops detailed to make the capture were reinforced by a body of Umatilla Indian scouts, and a company of citizen scouts under the command of Colonel Orlando Robbins, than whom no better trailer or fighter could have been chosen; and the men directly under his command were of the best the country could afford, all trained in the use of arms, and experienced in Indian warfare, good trailers, good shots, and brave to the verge of recklessness. It is not possible in this narrative to mention the name of each individual scout who distinguished himself while serving under Colonel Robbins in this or the two preceding campaigns; as a troop, as a unit, no body of men could have performed better or braver service; always at the front, theirs were the posts of greatest danger. This tribute to their gallantry and worth is not designed to detract from the merit of the brave officers and men of the U. S. army who served through the same campaigns; there were no drones, no cowards, in the field during those strenuous years.

I would be doing less than my duty to the memory of an old comrade and one-time fellow officer if I closed this synopsis of Idaho’s Indian wars without making more particular mention of the brave chief of scouts who fought through them all. Col. Orlando Robbins, who was widely and familiarly known as “Rube” Robbins. He first appeared prominently before the people of Idaho Territory during the summer of 1862. He was chosen to act as one of the floor managers at a ball to be given in Florence July 4th that year, his associate manager being a man named Jakey Williams.

Florence at the time named for the ball was in the heyday of its mining prosperity, and the giving of a ball was designed to provide amusement and entertainment for the respectable element in the town; those wives who had accompanied their husbands to the new Eldorado in search of wealth were to supply the respectability.

To manage such a ball as the one proposed, and preserve a proper semblance of decorum was a difficult problem, owing to the cosmopolitan character of the population of Florence at that time. It was the recognition of that fact which led to the selection of Rube and Jakey to act as managers.

It was after the festivities had fairly commenced and many eyes spoke love to other men’s wives, that a noted gambler made his appearance in the ball room, bringing with him the well known mistress of another gambler. The indignation of the ladies present was made known to the floor managers with the request that the two objectionable characters be requested to leave the room. The floor-managers complied with the request, and the gambler and his partner, when told that their presence was not agreeable, quietly left the hall. The foregoing episode resulted in an attack being made by the paramour of the woman who was requested to leave the ball, and the man who took her there, on the managers. The difficulty was precipitated the following day, and resulted in a double funeral, both gamblers being killed in the pistol duel which ensued. Cherokee Bob chose Rube as the object of his wrath and in doing so made a fatal mistake. The ball given on the evening of July 4th, 1862, and its attendant tragedy, was a prominent event in the history of that erstwhile city, and has been recorded in a former chapter.

Rube Robbins’ name was a synonym for honesty and bravery, and during his eventful and useful life he filled many positions of honor and trust. He was feared, yet respected by every bad man and “gun-fighter” who ever sojourned in Idaho, and it is doubtful if any officer made more arrests of that class than he. He was brave to the limit, yet tended-hearted as a child; vigorous of mind and body, he endured the hardships of the frontiers, survived the dangers of many battles, and finally followed the majority of his pioneer friends and comrades who had preceded him. He now lies peacefully in the beautiful Boise Valley, awaiting the final call. He was in life a sturdy and brave comrade, a true and loyal friend.

excerpted from: “Early History of Idaho” by William John McConnell, 1913
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[Note: for another version of the story of Ferd Patterson shooting ex-sheriff Sumner Pinkham, see South Fork Companion and search for “Gambler Patterson Shoots and Kills Ex-Sheriff Pinkham”]
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Owyhee War

1868 Silver City
1868SilverCity-a(click image for larger size)

When the first hasty reports of the Owyhee War reached Boise, Governor D. W. Ballard concluded that firm action was needed. Two casualties had resulted from the initial skirmish, and law and order seemed to him to have broken down. After dispatching Idaho’s most renowned deputy marshal and Indian fighter, Orlando Robbins, to the battleground with a proclamation commanding both sides to desist and to settle the dispute according to the processes of law, Ballard himself set out for the scene of hostilities. In a record six-hour trip Robbins reached Silver City, consulted the sheriff, rounded up the leaders of the two companies, and within an hour of his arrival on March 26, [1868] read them the proclamation. No one in Owvhee had asked Governor Ballard to intervene, but the results of this effort were certainly effective.

By late that night, a new agreement had been reached, with formal deeds drawn, so that the matter did not even have to go to court. Unfortunately, during a drunken brawl on April 1, [1868,] J. Marion More became the final casualty of the war. More’s friends, in turn, were about to lynch their Golden Chariot opponents, but Governor Ballard, addressing the citizens of Silver City on April 2, insisted that the law continue to take its course. Matters looked so threatening that the Governor at this point summoned troops from Fort Boise. Marching to Owyhee with a brass cannon, ninety-five soldiers occupied Silver City from April 4 to 8. But, by then, largely as a result of Ballard’s firm action, the Owyhee War was over.

If the deals which led to the Owyhee War were intended to avoid the expenses of mining litigation, it is dubious just how much they saved. For the Ida Elmore, $200,000 out of the $600,000 of the first year’s production is reported to have gone into paying the cost of the war and the litigation. The Golden Chariot, which in its first year realized only $200,000 because it had shut down to install new hoisting works, had to devote all this initial gain to covering the expenses of the battle. The conflict served to emphasize again the waste and inefficiency of having rival companies develop short, adjacent segments of the same vein with separate and duplicating shafts, hoisting works, and company organizations.

excerpted from page 43: “Gold Camps & Silver Cities – Nineteenth Century Mining in Central and Southern Idaho” by Merle W.Wells, 2nd Edition, 1983. Published in cooperation with the Idaho State Historical Society and assisted by a National Park Service Historic Preservation Planning Grant
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Orlando Robbins

OldRobbins-acourtesy Bob Hartman (personal correspondence)
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Historical Society of Idaho Pioneers

The Statesman lamented on Jan. 30, 1883, that what had begun with such enthusiasm two years earlier had now lapsed into “a state of apathy,” since the society had not met in nearly two years.

In February 1884, two of the pioneers responded by hosting a pioneer reunion of their own. The Statesman wrote, “Mr. James H. Hart, more familiarly known as ‘Jimmy,’ of clam chowder fame, and Colonel Orlando Robbins, whom the irreverent sometimes call ‘Rube,’ gave a glorious entertainment last evening in Turn Verein Hall, to which their old-time friends were made welcome. Jimmy and Rube represent different party organizations, but this occasion was strictly non-partisan and non-sectarian. There was a goodly number of pioneers present, who did ample justice to the good things provided and all had a way up good time.” (Democrat Hart was a saloon keeper and Republican Robbins was a lawman who had been a scout for the Army in the Indian wars of the 1870s.)

excerpted: Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman March 4, 2017

Vigilantes Series

Henry Plummer (Vigilantes part 1)

Orlando “Rube” Robbins (Vigilantes part 2)

Idaho Vigilance Committees (Vigilantes part 3)

Dave Updyke – First Sheriff of Ada County (part 4)

page updated September 18, 2020