Rogues’ Gallery

My first brush with Chris Robinson was made quite by accident several years ago in White Rock Cemetery.  After finding the headstone for Thomas Lovewell’s daughter “Julany" Robinson, I caught sight of one nearby for Aggie M. Robinson, the two-month-old daughter of "C. C. & C. A. Robinson.”  I did not know at the time that “C. C.” was a cousin of mine and one who probably has an interesting story to tell.  His wife’s initial’s may have been reversed on the headstone, since her first name was Anna, although she did prefer to be known as “Cate."  Years later while spooling through the microfilmed pages of the Courtland Journal, I found the death notice for the Robinson baby and mentioned it in an email to my friend Barb in Escondido, who knew exactly who Chris Robinson was.

Christopher Columbus Robinson was one of the sons of Hepsabeth Lovewell Robinson, Thomas Lovewell’s sister.  After the death of her husband, John Lester Robinson, the family underwent what I’ve come to think of as a ritual clearing of the nest, pushing out children of the late husband, particularly the boys, to make room for new hatchlings.  Soon after their father’s death in 1879, John and Oren Robinson left their mother’s Illinois farm and came to White Rock to live with their uncle Thomas.  Their older brother Christopher was already on his own, but within a few years he had also drifted to Republic County with his wife and their two small children.  It’s possible that he was the same Chris Robinson the local press pointed to as a scourge to public morals.   

You see, there was trouble, my friends, trouble right there in Republic County, and the May 25, 1894 edition of the Scandia Journal was not afraid to name the troublemakers:

Several of Courtland’s all round tough citizens were in and about Scandia on circus day and evening.  Among these was Chris Robinson, jointest and keeper of house of prostitution, who was across the river with a supply of liquor, another was Kelly, the jointest, gambler and general tough.  He did a bootlegging business until far in the night;  it is almost certain that he got his supply of liquor from M. Curren’s place.  He had rather a close call for the lockup, and should he come back it will keep him thinking to keep on the outside of bars.  Scandia and Courtland have a few of the most disreputable, worthless people who ever cursed the earth with their existence.

"Christopher Robinson" was a common name, but how many could there have been in little Courtland?  The 1895 Kansas census names only one, Thomas Lovewell’s nephew, Christopher Columbus Robinson.  Perhaps being fingered by the paper, correctly or not, as a “jointest” and worse, made life in Republic County intolerable.  Chris moved his family to Idaho in 1899 and lived out the rest of his days near Pocatello, where as far as I can tell, he was regarded as a stand-up citizen.

In Republic and Jewell counties there seems to have been a feeling that some who had helped tame the frontier, remained a bit too rough around the edges themselves to fit into polite society at the turn of the century.  Witness this excerpt from an item printed in the Jewell County Monitor in 1901, which Marjorie Slaughter posted on a message board a few years ago:

Lovewell, the metropolis of Sinclair township is a thriving little town situated on the Atchinson [sic] and Santa Fe road where it crosses the White Rock valley. This town has been called “hard luck town” and been dubbed “Gumbo” and been looked down on because she had the misfortune to have a number of her transient citizens photographed for the rogues’ gallery.  But this was in the past and Lovewell has profited by her past experience and with the passing of this element other and better citizens have come who are interested in building up the town...

Considering the lengths to which entrepreneurs were willing to go to peddle alcohol, the city fathers of Scandia may have been kidding themselves if they thought they could make their town a safe haven from demon rum.  While burrowing to see how widespread the term “jointest” was, I found a story in the September 30, 1904, edition of the Barton County Democrat from Great Bend, explaining a new method of dispensing liquor that was replacing expensive bars, which made easy targets for police and hatchet-wielding reformers.

A “jointist” opens up a real estate or some other kind of an office.  His office furniture consists of a roller top desk and a couple of chairs.  The desk is placed in the rear of the office with its back to the front window.

A bottle of whisky is kept in the righthand lower drawer.  A liquor glass is there also.  The “jointest” fills the glass and leaves it in the open drawer.  He then goes to the front door or window to gaze on the passing throng.  The customer goes back to the desk, ostensibly to write a letter.  He drinks the glass of whisky, leaves 15 cents in the drawer and walks out.  The “jointest” then loads the glass for the next customer, and so on. 

With men so eager for a drink that they'd pretend to write letters, the prohibitionists must have known they were battling a lost cause. 

© Dale Switzer 2023