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A forgotten pioneer

One thing every History Snooper quickly learns is if you leave town too soon, history has a tendency to forget you. Even if you marry into a well-known and early arriving pioneer family, what you did and who you were fades like the sun wrapped in a summer haze of smoke.

Dr. Jesse Robinson is one of those men. On April 27, 1854, he married Lavinia Jane Constant, daughter of Isaac and Lucinda Constant. Jesse and Lavinia’s marriage was one of the earliest recorded in Jackson County. Her family settled here in 1852.

Jesse seems to have spent very little time as a doctor and was apparently more interested in politics, mining and investments.

His Robinson House was an early wooden hotel that stood in Jacksonville, right where the U.S. Hotel stands today. It was the site of that January 1854 convention of delegates from Southern Oregon and Northern California who were seeking to form a new state. Jesse was one of the 10 delegates from Jackson County.

His business interests included a gristmill that ground wheat and other grains into flour; a packing company, bringing supplies into Jacksonville; and a sawmill. He was also a partner with William Bybee and others in mining claims throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The youngest child of Jesse and Abiah Robinson, Jesse was born Aug. 28, 1825, in New York. He began medical school in Woodstock, Vermont, when he was just 18. He graduated three years later and then moved to Iowa, where he practiced medicine until leaving for California gold in 1849.

He worked as a miner and did a considerable amount of prospecting in Northern California. With the organization of Shasta County, Jesse was elected the county’s first clerk. Soon, he bought a ranch in Scott Valley and began raising cattle. In 1853, he moved to Southern Oregon, married Lavinia, and, three years later, bought Alonzo Skinner’s land claim. The claim was conveniently located right next to his father-in-law’s claim, on the east side of Bear Creek, near today’s Central Point.

When the Civil War erupted, Jesse joined as first lieutenant in the Baker Guards, the first Union regiment formed in Southern Oregon. Oregon Gov. Addison Gibbs appointed Jesse as quartermaster of the First Regiment of Cavalry, Oregon Volunteers. The unit patrolled much of the Northwest, including along the Columbia and Snake rivers. Jesse was at Fort Boise and signed the treaty between the U.S. government and the Shoshone tribe of American Indians.

Jesse sold his property and his Jacksonville home in October 1868, but held on to his mining interests. He took his wife and five children to Oakland, California, where another child was born. The town’s residents elected him Oakland Township Assessor, a position he held for six years. Retiring in 1887 to Vacaville, California, north of San Francisco, he grew fruit on his 160 acres of orchards.

There were regular visits back to Oregon for reunions with Lavinia’s family, and a time when Jesse could tour some of his mine properties, but the Robinson family remained in California.

Jesse died of heart trouble in 1899 at age 73 and Lavinia passed in 1931 at age 97.

Maybe they’ve been forgotten; however, there’s an adage that says something like, “you’re never really dead until the last person says your name.”

That’s the sort of thing we do here. Saying names and telling forgotten stories.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.

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