Posted on February 9, 2015

By Al Bates

When America’s Civil War started in 1861, “Colonel” Palatine Robinson was a prominent Tucson businessman and an active Arizona politician while his lovely and fair-complexioned wife, Sarah E. Robinson, was the belle of Tucson’s small Anglo community.  Less than two years later Palatine was a fugitive, a bail jumper on his way to Confederate Texas.  Sarah was left behind in Union-occupied territory, quite likely never to see her husband again.

The Robinsons created quite a stir on their arrival in Tubac in late 1856.  He was a 32-year-old native of Virginia, a “Colonel” by courtesy, while she was a 21-year-old Kentucky beauty of notable charm and intelligence—and one of only two white women for hundreds of miles.  Several travelers through the remote area wrote of Sarah with admiration in accounts of their journeys.

Business opportunities lured the Robinsons from Tubac to Tucson in 1857 and by 1859 Robinson’s holdings in Tucson were extensive.  By his description, the Robinsons were living in “a large and elegant dwelling house, the best finished in the Territory and well furnished.”

Palatine was active in early efforts to separate Arizona from New Mexico Territory and when citizens of the Gadsden Purchase established their own provisional government in April 1860 he was named as adjutant general.

When the Union Army withdrew from the area at the start of the Civil War, intensified raids by both Indians and Mexican bandits drove many to flee for their lives.  Once-flourishing mines, ranches and farms were abandoned and smaller communities were deserted.  Palatine and Sarah were among the Anglos who remained in Tucson and they certainly were among the residents of Tucson who cheered the arrival of a small Confederate Army force in February of 1862.  The joy for Confederate sympathizers was short-lived however for the Rebels soon abandoned Tucson to Union forces led by General James Carleton.

Carleton quickly imprisoned suspected Confederate sympathizers, including Palatine who was charged with recruiting troops for the rebel cause.  He also was accused of a killing—the result of an argument over a card game—an attempted murder, and the abduction and selling of a 10-year-old Mexican girl.  He was quickly transported to the stockade at Fort Yuma and loyal Sarah went with him.

In October 1862, Palatine obtained his release by posting a $5000 bail guaranteeing his appearance for trial, and by swearing allegiance to the Union.  He was still in the Yuma area in December of 1862, but then the record becomes muddy.  He jumped bail, apparently heading to Texas by way of northern Mexico in order to avoid Union troops, leaving his wife behind.  The next known record of Palatine is one year later at San Antonio, Texas, where he engaged in plots to reopen the Civil War in the West.

But what became of Sarah?  From surviving correspondence it is obvious that she was still with Palatine at quarters near Fort Yuma when he decamped in December.  And then, nothing.  How could such a well-known and widely admired lady vanish so completely?  Here’s a possible answer.

Arizona’s Territorial census of 1864 includes an Emma Robinson, living at King S. Woolsey’s Agua Fria Ranch at Dewey.  With the exception that she had shaded her age by three years, a not unusual event, this lady’s vital statistics—place of birth, time in Arizona—match those of the Sarah E. Robinson of Tubac and Tucson.  When asked for her marital status for the census, she replied “Quien Sabe,” who knows.

There is no further record of Emma Robinson.  However, in September 1864 the Prescott Miner newspaper reported on the marriage of John M. Boggs (a member of the first Territorial Legislature and friend of Woolsey) to Miss Sarah E. Richison [Robinson?] at the Agua Fria Ranch.

Was Emma Robinson the charming Sarah?  And was she also the Sarah E. “Richison” who married Mr. Boggs?  If so, what became of her?  There is no further trace of either Emma or Sarah just as there is no later trace of Palatine.

The times were unsettled and unrecorded deaths in isolated areas—whether from illness, accident, or Indian attack—were common, but it seems a shame not to have closure on the record of this uncommon pair.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.