We recommend all visitors follow the CDC’s guidelines when visiting our sites.

SHSND Home > Archives > Archives Holdings > Archives & Manuscripts > Family/Local History > 10158
To schedule an appointment, please contact us at 701.328.2091 or archives@nd.gov.

OCLC WorldCat Logo

SHSND Photobook - Digitized images from State Archives

Digital Horizons

2019-2021 Blue Book Cover

Federal Depository Library Program

Chronicling America

Manuscripts by Subject - Family / Local History - #10158

Title: John W. Robinson               
Dates: 1867-1966

Collection Number: MSS 10158

Quantity: 1.25 ft. (and microfilm roll #6930)

Abstract: Consists of correspondence, account books, recollections, records of the Coal Harbor Stock farm and photographs of early Fort Stevenson, which were created or collected by of John W. Robinson, Coleharbor (N.D.) homesteader and pioneer veterinarian in Garrison (N.D.).  The original collection consisted of correspondence, reports, and research notes concerning the history of Fort Stevenson, Missouri River steamboats, pioneer clothing, and Coleharbor (N.D.). This file is on microfilm (roll #6930).

Provenance: The John W. Robinson papers were donated to the State Historical Society of North Dakota by Robinson in 1951-1952. Additional papers were added to the collection by Alice Robinson on May 31, 2016. 

Property rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to the collection.

Copyrights: Copyrights to materials in this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs. Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code and an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.  Permission to use any radio or television broadcast portions of the collection must be sought from the creator.

Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.


Dr. John Wade Robinson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 26, 1879, to John J. and Mary (Westenfeldt) Robinson. He was the fifth of six children. His father was of English descent, and his mother German. His father and his uncles were butchers by trade and operated a meat market and delivery service in St. Louis.

His father was also a professional market hunter, gunning the Mississippi and Illinois River bottoms for waterfowl primarily and selling the game through the shop. Undoubtedly, this was one of the reasons for Dr. John's lifelong interest in hunting.

The pioneering spirit must have been strong in the Robinson family, for at various times in the 1870s and 1880s they travelled to Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico working for wages as mule skinners building railroads.

In early 1883 hearing of the fertile land of the Red River Valley, John J. and one of his brothers shipped two carloads of mules to Grand Forks, Dakota Territory, to cover their expenses while looking for suitable land in that area. They found that they were too late- the good homesteads had all been taken. While in Dakota Territory, they made the acquaintance of a Northern Pacific Railroad land agent, who was promoting a new town and homestead in McLean County, D.T., near the Missouri River. The new town was to be named Victoria. He convinced the Robinsons to go there and settle.

In the fall of 1883, John J. and his brother, George L., came to the area, took homesteads, and started a general store in the town site of Victoria, later renamed Coal Harbor. John J.'s homestead was a short distance southeast of the town site and is the present location of the Robinson Stock Farm two miles southeast of present day Riverdale, N.D. The town site of Coal Harbor (Victoria) was approximately one mile northeast of Riverdale in the SE 1/4 of Sec. 35, Tl46, R84. The name Coal Harbor was for the lignite coal seams so evident in the river banks and for the natural harbor and steamboat landing in the nearby Missouri River.

In late 1884, after suitable living quarters had been built, the rest of the Robinson family came to Dakota Territory. The author, John W., was five years old. His early schooling was in the one room school in Coal Harbor, and later he received his secondary education at Washburn and Bismarck. His mother and father were firm believers in good educations for their children. Following the course set by two of his sisters, Dr. John attended the University of North Dakota from 1896 to 1899. As was customary in early homestead days, he left school at the end of the winter term to help with "spring's work."

Among his schoolmates at the University were Lynn Frazier, later to become governor of North Dakota; Gudmundur Grimson, to become a judge on the North Dakota Supreme Court; and Vilhjalmur Steffanson, the noted Arctic explorer. He shared bachelor quarters with some of these men. Dr. John was a runner and a member of the University track team.

In 1900 Dr. John entered Chicago Veterinary College because of the high value of the horse. His father raised and sold horses to early homesteaders. Dr. John decided the veterinary training would be beneficial in caring for their own animals. After his registration in 1903, he opened an office in the stock farm barn.

In 1905, two things happened which altered his life. He found he was getting many outside calls for veterinary services, and the Soo Line Railroad extended its rails to the present town of Coleharbor about ten miles east of the original Coal Harbor.  Dr. John decided to leave the farm that summer and move to the new town to establish a drug store and veterinary office.

Later that year, the Soo line extended its line to Garrison, and Dr. John, on the persuasion of his brother-in-law, Dr. Robert H. Ray (married to his older sister Emma) established the Robinson Drug Company in partnership with Dr. Ray. In the winter of 1905-1906, Dr. John moved to Garrison, and here he stayed.

In 1907, with drug stores in Garrison and Coleharbor, he decided he should become registered in pharmacy. he enrolled at North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU), was given credit for his veterinary training, and was registered in 1908.

In 1909, Dr. John and Elsie Boeck, also a St. Louisan, were married. They had met during the Christmas holiday  while Dr. John was visiting St. Louis in 1902. Two sons were born to this union, John Paul and Donald Wade.

Dr. John was instrumental in starting the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association in 1903. In 1907, he was appointed pointed as a charter member to the Livestock Sanitary Board by Gov. John Burke. He served almost continuously on the board until his retirement in 1960, serving as president for the last seventeen years.

Dr. John was named "Man of the Year in Agriculture" by the North Dakota State University Saddle and Sirloin Club in 1956. He brother, George M., of the Coal Harbor Stock Farm was also so recognized in 1943 - the only time brothers have received this honor.

One of the most important accomplishments highlighting his lifetime was being Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge of North Dakota in 1932-33. Always active in community affairs, he is a charter member of the Garrison Civic Club and was one of its early presidents. When Donald C. Gackle became editor and publisher of the McLean County Independent in 1963, he persuaded Dr. John to write his recollections. He did, and for eleven years they appeared regularly in the Independent. He also published an edited compilation of those articles.

Recollections by John W. Robinson


Box 1:
1 Correspondence, 1886-1921
2 Correspondence, 1922-1951
3 Correspondence with Oscar Boeck, 1917-1920
4 Correspondence with Dugald Campbell, 1931-1932
5 Correspondence with P. E. Fredendoll, 1926-1933
6 Correspondence with E. Louis Klobasa, 1913-1940
7 Correspondence with F. L. Mackey, 1927-1941
8 Correspondence with Hugh Murphy, 1933-1936            
9 Correspondence with Gunnar Olgeirson, 1917-1944
10 Correspondence with Onsrud and Robinson, 1917-1943
11 Correspondence with North Dakota Game and Fish, 1923-1932
12 Correspondence with North Dakota governors, 1906-1944
13 Coal Harbor stock farm, 1903-1942
14 Map of McLean County highlighting location of Coalharbor and Victoria town sites, n.d.
15 Account books, 1883-1900
16 News clipping, 1966
17 Correspondence, reports, research notes on the history of Fort Stevenson, Missouri River steamboats, pioneer clothing, and Coleharbor (N.D.)

Box 2:
1 "Steamboats on the Missouri" recollection, ca. 1963    
2 Recollections, February 1-November 21, 1963
3 Recollections about de Trobriand, 1867-1869
4 "Recollections of my Early Hunting Days" written for his son Paul Robinson, 1935
5 Published recollections, 1963

Box 3:    Photographs: 10158-00001 - 10158-00010


10158-00001 Dotty Casselman, Edith Rovig and Vida Ray, nieces of Dr. John Robinson, stock farm in the background, Coal Harbor (N.D.), ca. 1915
10158-00002 Group standing in front of quarters, Fort Stevenson (D.T.), ca. 1873
10158-00003 Large group outside home, probably McLean County (N.D.), ca. 1880
10158-00004 Hay wagon outside old Fort Stevenson building, McLean County (N.D.), ca. 1925
10158-00005 Boat on Missouri River, n.d.
10158-00006 – 00007 Steamboat on Missouri River, n.d.
10158-00008 Ice on Missouri River, n.d.
10158-00009 Group having picnic in the woods, n.d.
10158-00010 Krzmazik farm (damaged panorama),  J.A. Pankratz photograph, ca. 1921
10158-00011 First water wagon at Fort Stevenson, McLean County (N.D.), 1867
10158-00012 Stanley, hospital steward, Fort Stevenson (D.T.), S. J. Morrow portrait, ca. 1872
10158-00013 Portrait of Eugene (last name unknown), Fort Stevenson (D.T.), S. J. Morrow portrait, ca. 1872
10158-00014 Site of old Fort Stevenson on inspection tour, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00015 Site of old Fort Stevenson, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00016 John W. Robinson at site of old Fort Stevenson, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00017 Garrison creek near old Fort Stevenson steamboat landing, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00018 Garrison Dam construction, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00019 Site of one of officers quarters, old Fort Stevenson on inspection tour, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00020 Site of old Fort Stevenson on inspection tour, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00021 Mrs. Charles Port, John W. and Paul Robinson at site of old Fort Stevenson on inspection tour, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00022 Bluffs and Missouri River, just above Garrison Dam, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00023 Site of old Fort Stevenson on inspection tour, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00024 Missouri River just above Garrison Dam, McLean County (N.D.), photograph by Charles Port, August 1949
10158-00025 First water wagon at Fort Stevenson (D.T.) 1867
10158-00026 Weller stage stop, McLean County (D.T.) 1883-1889
10158-00027 Group standing in front of quarters at Fort Stevenson (D.T.) 1867-1883

612 East Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
Get Directions

State Museum and Store: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. M-F; Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
We are closed New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
State Archives: 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. M-F, except state holidays; 2nd Sat. of each month, 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Appointments are recommended. To schedule an appointment, please contact us at 701.328.2091 or archives@nd.gov.
State Historical Society offices: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. M-F, except state holidays.

Contact Us:
phone: 701.328.2666
email: history@nd.gov

Social Media:
See all social media accounts