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History and Genealogy of the RoBards Family (1910) Part 15
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Col. John Lewis RoBards

The subject of this sketch, John L. RoBards, of Hannibal, Missouri, was born in Lincoln county, Kentucky, May 10, 1838.  Is a son of Capt. Archbald S. RoBards and a grandson of Capt. George RoBards, of Revolutionary fame.  He and his wife, Sarah C. Helm, are both natives of Kentucky.  He was a student of the Missouri University.  Graduated from the law department of the University of Louisville, Kentucky.  Was a vice-president of the Missouri Bar Association, also a vice-president of the Missouri Sons of the American Revolution.

The Hannibal Morning Journal, of May 13, 1908, gives an interesting accounty of the seventieth birthday of Col. John L. RoBards at the Park Methodist Sunday School, Rev. Robinson, the pastor, made the following speech in presenting birthday presents:

Brother RoBards, you remember that while Jesus was in the house of Simon the Leper, Mary came with an alabaster box of very precious ointment as they sat at meat and out of the depths of her loving

heart she anointed him.  Sir, these women members of this 'Mary Sunday School class' of whom you are teacher, each carry in their bosom an alabaster box filled with very precious ointment of love and tender regard for you as well as a deep sense of appreciation of your efficient work in the class and for the church.

Being too timid to speak out of the abundance of their hearts these women have asked me to break the alabaster box of ointment and anoint you before the burial.  These books, sir, I have been asked to present them to you, as a small token of love and gratitude.  May you find in them thoughts to inspire your noble mind and warm your noble heart, and as you reruse these pages remember that there is between the lines a heart language which no one can read but yourself.

We are told that it has been seventy summers since you started, I was about to say, on your earthly pilgrimage, I will say, on your eternal pilgrimage.  The days of your years, sayeth the word, are three score and ten, and if we continue longer, it will be but for a short time and we are soon cut off and we fly away.

We congratulate you, sir, in that the weight of these years, with their winters and storms, have left you with sunshine in your soul, melody and music in your heart.

The prayer of each of us shall be that your life will ver exhibit a brighter glow, a sweeter contentment, a purer joy, like the sunset that turns even the sullen clouds into crimson and gold."

Colonel Robards responded in a very happy manner, being moved with emotion.  At the conclusion


of his remarks the Sunday School filed into the parlor, in which the celebration was held, and shook hands with Brother RoBards, one by one.  The room was beautifully decorated, and Superintendent W.T. League furnished a most handsome floral offering.  Those who live well, live long, and our wishes are that his life may yet be extended many years.


Recollections of Col. John L. Robards of Hannibal,
Missouri, Whose Trip to California Made Him
the Wonder of Other Boys.

Hannibal, Missouri, November 6, 1909. Col. John L. Robards is said to be the youngest 49er that ever left Missouri in quest of gold in the far West.  The statement has never been challenged.*  He was born in Lincoln county, Kentucky, May 8, 1838, came with his parents to Missouri, 1843, and left Hannibal for the Pacific coast in the spring of 1849, when he was 11 years old.  His father, Archibald S. Robards, was captain of a company of fifteen Hannibalites, who made the journey with ox teams.

"Most of the boys of my age about Hannibal were ambitious to go on the river, but I had been reading the papers a great deal; they were teeming with Indian stories and gold discoveries, and when I found father was arranging for the long hike I would not give him any rest until he agreed to take me along.  I didn't care for the river; adventure was the lodestone to my boyish mind.  The folks tried to talk me out of it, but my head was set; I was bound to see whether Indians were as bad as they were painted,

*Well, I will challenge it.  The statement is patently absurd.  Babes in arms made the journey, along with thousands of small children, in the company of their parents.  For example, my third great- grandfather, Thomas THOMPSON (1797-1872), came from Missouri to California in 1849, leaving in May and arriving in September, and his youngest son was only eight years old at the time.

or whether the story books had lied.  It was the journey more than the gold at the end of the rainbow that lured me; the overland cruise through the enchanted valley.  No tale concerning its wonders was unbelievable.

"Sam Clemens stood among the boys that gathered about the wagons the day we left.  He wrote the incident up in later years.  To each boy I promised a sack of gold if luck came our way."

Ten months on the way. "We were ten months and four days traveling from Hannibal to Mariposa, where our mining operations were to be.  Father took with him one of our slaves, called Green, and later liberated him.  Green was the first slave liberated in California.*

"While in camp at Pima, Arizona, near the Gila river, a man rode in and asked permission to stay with us a while.  Hospitality was the law of the desert and father cordially welcomed him.  Next morning a swarm of Indians rode up, decked out in feathers and paint, armed with bows, arrows, lances and a few guns.  They fully came up to my youthful fancy, but they were not on the warpath not just then.  Some of them had brought corn and other produce to sell.  Father welcomed them through an interpreter, and they were soon browsing about the camp, making themselves very much at home.  There were 500 of them and 25 of us, our party having been increased by ten argonauts we had encountered on the road.  Suddenly an Indian gave a screech; then followed wildest volume of broken lingo I had ever heard.

"The braves had caught sight of the stranger's horse and were claiming it as their own.  Father

*And how could he possible know or anyone now prove that Green was the first?  Sadly, this kind of exaggeration is typical of family histories.

went to where the trouble was and the interpreter told him the horse had been stolen from the chief by some Mexicans, and the Indians were going to have it back or annihilate the white party.  Some sort of signal was given and the red warriors assembled themselves with military precision about the camp, with bows and arrows ready for action.  Father realized the gravity of the situation.  He had observed the horse had shown signs of recognizing the Indians and made up his mind they had told a straight story.  Then he directed the stranger to turn over the horse to the Indians, but that worthy, indifferent to our perilous predicament, absolutely refused; he said he had paid good money for the horse and was going to keep it."

A forced trade "The interpreter quickly translated his ultimatum to the chief, who was standing with father in the center of the camp.  The Indians, who had come on a friendly mission, now began to look ferocious.  Father whispered to me to run to the wagon and get his dueling pistol and my box of Indian trinkets beads, mirrors and some small, bright ornaments which had been given me in Hannibal by a relative of Gen. Ben Butler's.  The pistol was of the sort used by Kentucky gentlemen in settling affairs of honor.  It shot one ball, about the size of a big marble, and was as formidable as a cannon.  Handsome engravings decorated the steel parts; there was a mechanical device to set a hair trigger.  Father grasped the big pistol and trinkets and before any one realized what he was about he had thrust the weapon against the chief's head and held up the baubles in the other hand.


"'Tell him, ' he said sternly to the interpreter, 'he can take his choice.'

"The interpreter communicated.  There was a curious grimace on the bronzed face of the chieftain and then it became stolid.  Then he slowly reached out his long arm and took the beads and things.  The act signified a compact; there was no further danger, because the chief's command was the law of the tribe.  The Indians lowered their bows and arrows and were making ready to depart, but father realized that an injustice had been done them by keeping the chief's horse; he did not intend that the stranger, who had shown such indifference to our danger, should profit by the situation, and this time he went and got the horse and delivered it to the surprised Indian chief.  The stranger cussed and fumed, but it didn't help him.  The big chief said a whole lot of nice things to us and made us some much apprecited presents of provender."

Danced with Mexican Girls. "Going up the coast we stopped at Santa Barbara and camped.  A Mexican gentleman came to our camp and invited us to a fandango at his house one night.  Most of us could talk a little Spanish and we wore Mexican hats.  I had a broad red sash and fringed breeches.  Father took me along and I a boy of 11 had the time of my life dancing with the pretty Mexican girls.  They thought it quite a frolic to dance with the little 'Americano' who had traveled 2,000 miles in an ox-team caravan.  Next morning our Mexican host and his wife, who seemed to me a most beautiful woman, came out to camp again and the man laid on a box a sack containing $1,000 in silver and said:

"'My wife and I have no childrn,' he said to


father; 'you have a long and dangerous journey yet ahead of you; let us keep the boy and the money's yours.'

"It never occurred to me that I was worth anything like that amount of money, and I was just a little curious to know what father who had gone West after gold would think of such a proposition.  For a moment his eyes twinkled, and then he graciously thanked the Mexican, but informed him it was not the custom of our country to sell children."

Indian Chief for a Week. "But a little further along a greater glory came to Green, our negro slave it looked like a wonderful honor, at first.  One day he came to father and told him the Indians over at Camp Suter had elected him chief of the tribe.  You see, Green, along with the balance of us, could talk a little Spanish and had also picked up some Indian during the trip.  Father said it would never do for a slave to be ruler of a tribe of freemen, but he called five or six of our party around.  The matter was long and earnestly debated, Green watching the proceeding with great interest, as the result would decide whether he would be king or slave.  I knew how he would like to send word to the darkies at home about his wonderful rise in the world, and was glad when the conference decided that if he was to be an Indian chief he must be liberated, and father promptly assented to this, remarking that Greenhad come with him from Kentucky and had always proven a most faithful servant.

"The tribesmen waited outside the camp, and when Green was formally declared a free man they took their new leader away, utterng shouts of triumph.


 "In a week the king was back, his kinky hair full of feathers and his clothes in tatters.  He didn't say anything for a few days, and then he let father in on the secret:

"'For de fust day hit was lots o' fun,' he said; 'we just jumped 'round, singed and warwhooped.  An' den we run out o' grub an' hat ter eat grass an roots er starve.  Den ah resigned.  Ah wants ter be back whar ah was.  Hit ain't no sense in bein' a king 'thought ennything ter eat.'"

A Dishonest Pilgrim. "We mined at Mariposa and other places, run store at Sacramento and got together several sacks of gold dust.  Then father had a yearning to go back home, and I don't have to state that I had a similar feeling.  At San Francisco we joined a party homeward bound.  While there a man came to us and stated that he was broke; he had a letter from his sick wife, pleading with him to come home; would we pay his passage back?

"Such a plea was as a command to the miner of '49.  The money was quickly raised, and the man appeared overwhelmed with gratitude.  The members of the party, having business about town before the ship sailed, left their gold dust in charge of the pilgrim who was so anxious to return to his sick wife.  When they came back to the room, several sacks about $1,800 were missing.  The faithless guard was caught and confessed he had hid the gold near the edge of town; he offered to show the hiding place.  He said he never had had so much money in all is life; that he had hoped to bring some back with him, but failed to make a strike; he just couldn't resist the temptation when he saw the precious stuff so near, and nobody watching.


"They tied his thumbs together and told him to lead the way to the buried gold.  Several hundred miners joined in the march to see how things would turn out.  There was not an expression of sympathy for the thief anywhere.  The law of the West was swift and merciless.  It was executed direct by the people without the semblance of red tape.  That is why crime was a rare thing.

"When the crowd reached the outskirts of town the culprit balked.  He refused absolutely to tell where the gold was hidden.  Then the administrators of justice resolved to make him tell.  He was tied to a post, his hands above his head.  A stalwart fellow laid a cat-o'-nine-tails on the prisoner's back.  He was an accomplished workman.  The blows were well delivered.  At every stroke the confessed thief jumped as high as he could and howled.  The tears ran down his cheeks and he sobbed in agony.  He could have stopped the punishment at any moment by a word.  But he would not tell.  The cruel whip was wielded by the strong-armed man until the criminal's life was in danger.  Then they stopped, and one of the owners of the money said:

"'If they let you loose will you tell?'

"The poor wretch, unable to speak, shook his head sullenly.  Then they hunted up a big ice box, threw him in and fastened the door.  That's the last I heard of him.  If he lived he sure paid the price of his loot."

Back to Missouri. "We sailed down to Panama, crossed the isthmus and thence up to New Orleans.  There we took a steamer for St. Louis, at which point we changed for another boat going up the Mississippi.  It was the early spring of '52.  As the boat


proceeded north we encountered ice.  We approached Hannibal in the night time.  In all my journeyings nothing impressed me with greater picturesqueness than our home-coming that dark night.  Great chunks of ice were thundering against the boat, which was crowded with freight and passengers.  Sparks flew thickly among the coils of black smoke rolling out of the tall chimneys.  Two anxious pilots were on duty up in the wheelhouse using all their skill to save the boat and its precious cargo.  Late as it was, the banks were lined with people to welcome the voyagers from the west and elsewhere.  Sam Clemens was among the boys in that crowd.  The iron baskets forward were filled with blazing pine knots, which cast a weird glare across the ice through which the boat was steaming.  As we drifted slowly into shore the crowd set up a yell you could have heard a mile or more.  We had safely returned from a far journey a journey fraught with as much peril in that day as a voyage to the pole is now."

A Hannibal resident who was among the crowd of boys at the landing of the pilgrims adds this:

"The next few weeks the lads clung around John and listened with eager interest to his stories of the west.  It was a tale without end, as he could think up something new every time we met in the old lumber yard or on the creek bank.  No orator ever was honored with a more attentive audience.  For years afterwards whenever there was a dispute about the giants and hobgoblins of the mountains and desert it was passed up to John for settlement.  What he said was the finding of the Supreme Court because he had traveled and he knew."

The foregoing copy was sent to me by Mrs. Nannie Robards of St. Louis, Missouri.

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