IDAHO HISTORY: Rube Robbins was the army's chief scout in the Indian wars

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANMay 18, 2014 

'HOSTILE INDIANS IN NORTH IDAHO" read a Statesman headline on June 19, 1877. Sub-headlines read "TWENTY-NINE SETTLERS MURDERED. INDIANS MAKING FOR THE WEISER. Two Companies of Soldiers in Pursuit."

The first thought of everyone who read the Statesman's story that day was who could stop the Indians before they reached Boise Valley. Maj. Collins, commander at Fort Boise, was ordered by commanding Gen. O.O. Howard at Fort Lapwai to intercept them, but he told Idaho Gov. Mason Brayman that he had neither the men nor the resources to do so. Brayman called for 100 volunteers, pointing out that the Territorial Legislature had thus far not seen fit to create a militia. "It is hoped that by a prompt movement the savages may be intercepted and our settlements rescued from peril."

The Statesman was impressed by "the brave pioneers of this country - old and young alike" that turned out at a mass meeting and signed up. The list published that day confirms that they were indeed among the earliest settlers of Boise, and many of them prominent men in the community. The first name on the list was John Hailey, pioneer stage line operator, Idaho Territory's representative in Congress in 1873-75 and 1885-87 and, later, the first director of the Idaho Historical Society. In 1910, guest of the state Legislature, he wrote a history of Idaho.

Not surprisingly, Orlando Rube Robbins was elected captain of the group of 27 volunteers who rode north out of Boise to the relief of the settlers on Slate Creek and Salmon River. "They will have the prayers and best wishes of every man, woman and child in Idaho for a successful and glorious campaign," said the Statesman.

John Hailey's narrative of the Idaho volunteers' part in the 1877 Nez Perce War is the best we have. It reveals that Milton Kelly, publisher and editor of the Idaho Statesman, although 59 at the time, took an active part in organizing the community's defenses by riding north to Weiser Valley with guns and ammunition for the settlers there - who, it turned out, had not yet heard of their peril. Kelly also rode 30 miles east with a small party to meet a band of Bannock warriors and invite them to come into town to meet with Gov. Brayman.

Rube Robbins went north to join Gen. Howard's command as chief of scouts on the long and dangerous journey of 1,000 miles from the Clearwater River in Idaho to the Bear Paw Mountains in Montana where Chief Joseph and his band were forced to surrender. Gen. Howard said that Capt. Robbins had rendered "very valuable services on that long, tiresome and dangerous trip." John Hailey wrote, "We knew Captain Robbins well, and for untiring energy, good judgment and bravery he has no superior."

The legend of Rube Robbins, along with that of Joseph and the Nez Perce, only grew with time. In his long career, Robbins was a deputy U.S. marshal, was elected sheriff of Ada County, was warden of the State Penitentiary, and on July 4, 1890, was grand marshal of the parade celebrating Idaho statehood.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

IDAHO HISTORY

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