New Light on Lincoln's Boyhood
"Abe Lincoln's few schooldays were spent at a 'blab school': that is, one in which the children 'read out,' Chinese fashion, at the tops of their voices."
The larger part of our information concerning Abraham Lincoln's boyhood is derived from his own brief reference to that period, and from the self-centred statements of his cousin, Dennis Hanks. These, and other historical fragments, have been worked over and presented so repeatedly that sometimes we forget how really meagre are the underlying data. In the winter of 1909 I came into possession of an entirely new source of information concerning Lincoln's boyhood. In a remote corner of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, I found a man whose mother, a cousin of Lincoln, had passed her childhood with him in his father's family, and had preserved a store of family history, tradition, and anecdote concerning those early years. Since that time I have intended to make this information public, but the nomadic and very busy life of a civil engineer has heretofore prevented.
The family of Thomas Lincoln, father of Abraham, while in their Indiana home, consisted of his two children, Abraham and Sarah, and a flock of orphaned, or partly orphaned, children from at least four different families. Among these was a niece, Sophie Hanks, just a month younger than Abraham, who lived in the family of Thomas Lincoln until she was married. The remainder of her life, except for a visit to Indiana, was spent in primitive Ozark Mountain communities, separated from the companions of her childhood. The records of her recollections of Lincoln's early years and of the family life of Thomas Lincoln are very largely separate from and independent of all other sources. Sophie Hanks died in November, 1895, but her three children, living in different localities in the Ozarks, have retained a part of the information they received from her.
Sophie Hanks's mother, Sarah or Polly Hanks, was a sister of Lincoln's mother. Though she never married she had six children, all of whom lived to maturity, bearing their mother's name.
The discovery of the family came about in this manner. The most interesting vacation adventures I ever have experienced have resulted from trips into regions unknown to me, and without any specific destination. During the winter of 1908 and 1909, while engaged in planning the reclamation of the 'Sunk Lands' of northeast Arkansas, I spent one of these vacation periods on a short trip of exploration in the Ozarks. These mountains as a whole are monotonous rounded hills covered with scrub timber; but there is one section in northwest Arkansas, of perhaps a thousand square miles, not crossed by any railroad, where one finds canons with lichen-covered walls, steep mountainsides where cedar, oak, and beech grow with a luxuriance not seen in more northern latitudes, and where the mountain scenery will compare in beauty with anything the eastern states can offer. I had heard vaguely of the attractions of this region, had once before penetrated a corner of it, and on this occasion set out in that general direction.
The next morning found me on an Iron Mountain train, following the banks of the white River toward the summit of the Ozarks, with a ticket that would pacify the conductor until about noon. Noon came, but, as the rounded, weather-worn mountain-tops seemed to offer small chance for adventure, I continued during the afternoon paying the fare in cash, a station at a time, hoping for something to turn up. Nothing did turn up, and when, about sunset, I saw a stage awaiting the arrival of the train at the little station of Bergman, I decided to rest my chances for interesting developments with this other mode of travel. The stage was bound for the village of Harrison. That we were still in the land of culture and refinement was evident from an advertisement by the roadside which read, 'When you get to town, take a bath at the Midway Hotel.'
The hotel was not disappointing, and neither was the rangy saddle horse on which I started early next morning for a trip farther into the mountains. We passed rolling hills with their groves and well-kept farms, and the little town of Gaither, a peaceful, sleepy burg at the foot of the mountain; then a long road over the mountain, with a glorious view from the top in the soft gray morning; and finally down into the valley of Buffalo Creek.
That day on Buffalo Creek would have compensated for many a futile vacation adventure. There were sheer lichen-covered walls hundreds of feet high, sweeping in great curves with the bends of the creek; crevices and smaller creek valleys densely grown with cedar and hard woods; and here and there, perched in a cranny of the hills, a log cabin overflowing with children. I stopped for dinner at one of these. There were the great stone fireplace, the hand-made hickory furniture, hand-woven baskets, and puncheon floors, all a reproduction, I suppose, of a typical English cabin of three hundred years ago; and there were archaic forms of speech which even in Shakespeare's day had disappeared from all but uncultured or primitive communities. After dinner I sat for a time by the fireplace, talking with the father and telling stories to the children, who had never heard of Mother Goose.
During the afternoon the road climbed upward, crossing the creek from side to side, and toward evening the canon was not so deep. Stopping at one of the cabins, I was informed that at Low Gap I could cross the mountain-range and reach another valley. Not wanting to retrace my path, I left the creek, and was fortunate to reach the gap after nightfall, for a heavy snowstorm came on, covering the trails. The night was spent at a log cabin, where an Irish boy from Chicago was 'holding down a government claim' during his mother's absence. The next forenoon's travel was through another valley or canon, not so deep, but more picturesque, with many shady cliffs and little waterfalls, finally widening to a flat valley, perhaps a mile wide, occupied by farms. Then, just before noon, came the little town of Jasper, the seat of Newton County, distinguished as the only county in Arkansas which has never been invaded by a railroad.
The village hotel at Jasper evidently was a residence, remodeled to care for guests. These consisted of the village schoolmaster, an occasional timber-cruiser, lawyers and litigants during terms of court, and at intervals a traveling man. Our landlady's husband served as physician--'practising physic,' he called it--for the village and for a large surrounding country. The people were so abominably healthy, however, that in a tributary population of perhaps five thousand, there was at that time but one patient, a case of chronic stomach trouble; so the doctor's wife helped out the family revenues by keeping a hotel.
It was the 15th of February, 1909, and on the hotel table lay a recent copy of the St Louis Globe-Democrat, with a description of the dinner given the week before at Springfield, Illinois, commemorating the centennial of Lincoln's birth. The doctor apparently noticed my interest in this account, and when conversation had become established, he made a remark which seemed to indicate that he knew something of Lincoln. To my direct question he replied, 'Why, yes, my mother grew up with Abe Linkhorn. When I was a baby Abe held me in his arms and nursed me.' Further questions convinced me that here surely was a man of good intentions.
A snowstorm outside, and the fact that I had already made twenty miles over mountain roads and trails, offered sufficient excuse for postponing the further journey until the next day; so, with the horse cared for, I settled down for an afternoon and evening's visit. As the doctor provided wood for the hotel and helped in the preparation of the meals, our conversation was frequently broken. The schoolmaster, too, interrupted, expressing his scorn for so humble a source of information. Ida Tarbell knew all about Lincoln, he said, and had written it in a MAGAZINE.
The doctor answered questions willingly, but I found I did not know what to ask. With but superficial knowledge of Lincoln's boyhood and family history, nearly all details were new to me, and the fragments of the latter were without special significance. When I left next morning, therefore, it was with the promise that I might come again, and I resolved in the meantime to know more about my subject.
A second visit was made in May, at which time the doctor accompanied me by horse and buggy to Limestone Valley, thirty miles farther into the mountains, where we visited his half-sister, Mrs. Nancy Davidson, and her husband. She told more of Lincoln and also allowed me to search through an old wooden chest that had been her mother's. A letter in this chest from Dennis HanKs referred to another of Lincoln's semi-adopted brothers as having moved many years before to Douglas County, Oregon. Correspondence with all the postmasters in Douglas County located this branch of the family near the little town of Riddles. My wife was about to start on a trip through the West, and stopped at Riddles, securing such information as was available from John Hanks, who also, in his boyhood, had known Lincoln, A trip through the Ozark Mountains in Missouri finally located the doctor's half-brother, John Lynch, and his wife, in a little cabin a few miles east of the old town of Iron Mountain. Mr. Lynch was very old, and while he fully substantiated the fact of his mother's early life with Lincoln, his memory was fading and he could add few new facts.
During 1909 and 1910 a search in the Congressional Library at Washington for data concerning Lincoln's boyhood was followed by correspondence with the doctor, and his remembrance was recorded touching many points of interest. Then, in July, 1910, on a third visit, we took a two days' trip by team and buggy up Buffalo Creek. On this occasion a few remaining points were discussed. The doctor's wife is much younger than he, and has a more creative memory and well-developed imaginative powers, capable of filling in any gaps which may occur in memory. The data furnished by her properly belong to a less limited type of narrative, and are not included in this account. I have endeavored fully to recognize the obligation of historical accuracy, and have striven to avoid any unjustified appearance of consistency or precision in the account. All of the information, except as otherwise noted, was furnished by the doctor.
The doctor is a tall, sparely built man, with stooping shoulders. In wearing a red handkerchief about his neck, instead of a tie, as well as in other features of his dress, he conformed to the customs of the Ozark country. He was born in Dubois County, Indiana, December 26, 1843. In the spring of 1847 he moved from Indiana to St. Francis County, Missouri. Before the Civil War he went to school two or three months each year. During the war schooling was interrupted; but after its close he had two years more of six months each. Then, from 1868 to 1874, he taught school for seven months each year, four months in the public schools and three months in 'subscription schools.' 'While I was teaching school, I was studying medicine at every chance, and in 1875 I went in with Dr. Thompson as full partner in the practice of physic, and have been in active practice ever since.'
Since 1874 he has lived in Jasper, Arkansas, until shortly after I met him, when he moved to Harrison, Arkansas, giving up his practice. As he left Jasper for his new home, he forded Buffalo Creek, and threw his medicine case away into the swift water. For nearly half a century he had fought that mountain stream, winter and summer, in flood and during low water. He told me of wild night-rides over the mountain trials, of his terror-stricken horse pursued by a panther that followed close by, but apparently did not dare to attack; of making long detours for swollen streams, leading his horse along obscure mountain paths, skirting narrow ledges, or tearing through tangles of undergrowth. Twenty or thirty miles from home these trips would sometimes take him. On reaching his patient, he generally found a primitive log cabin, open to the weather, absolutely lacking in sanitary provisions and lacking also in knowledge of cooking beyond corn-bread and pork and a few other primitive foods. He was doctor, surgeon, nurse, cook, and often housekeeper.
The doctor and his family were independent people, living within their resources and asking odds of no one. The doctor's father, although urged by his wife to vote for Lincoln, refused to do so. John Lynch, the doctor's half-brother, also voted against Lincoln in 1869. He gave as his reason that his father was a Whig, 'and you know a boy is usually what his father is.' He was a soldier in the Civil War, and nearly died there. He was proud that only once did he ever try to profit by his relationship to the President. On that occasion he whipped an officer who had insulted him, and fearing that he would be court-martialed and shot, he made known his relationship.
Such are the sources of our information. The new facts collected about Lincoln's boyhood are not numerous. As important perhaps are the information concerning his father, and an accurate picture of the conditions of family life under which he lived.
It is only by comparison with its surrounding that we can get a true idea of the character and the significance of the Lincoln home. The present-day sod-house of the far western Canadian home-steader is a self-respecting structure, housing the family and reasonably serving its purpose under primitive conditions. But if we compare it to even a poorly equipped tenement house in New York City, the sod-house, in its dirt and its lack of light, air, and sanitation, seems intolerable. The general conditions in and about the home of Thomas Lincoln have been described with reasonable accuracy, but through implied comparison with different conditions of living, they have been made to appear exceptionally poor and mean. The fact seems to be that Thomas Lincoln in his home life arrived at about the same stage of development as his neighbors. If the boy Abraham had grown up in any neighboring home, his habits of life and his physical surroundings would have been about the same. Modern life has swept away most of this primitive culture, but to-day, in out-of-the-way regions of the Ozarks, are still to be found homes where Thomas Lincoln might drop in and feel at ease.
Commerce, other than neighborhood barter, hardly existed in Thomas Lincoln's environment. The neighborhood was very nearly complete in itself, furnishing its own food, cloth, shoes, and farm-equipment. There being no market for corn, there was little incentive to raise more than could be used at home. This spirit still lingers in out-of-the-way places, where, in response to the question, 'How much corn did you raise this year?' I frequently have received the answer, 'We raised plenty of corn,' or 'All the corn that we need.' The doctor spoke of the gratification in the early days over an extra large crop, its significance being that it would not be necessary to raise so much the following year. With little to buy, and with still less to sell, the environment seemed to furnish small stimulus to commercial ambition.
Many people have asked how it could come to pass that Lincoln, growing up in a mean environment, and lacking culture and education, could become 'the first American,' and interpreter of democracy to all the world. As a primary essential, he was of sound stock, and had great personal capacity. But that was not all. Very generally, American public men before Lincoln had grown up in the environment of slave and free, master and servant, employer and employee, rich and poor, aristocrat and plebeian. How many of them were born and bred aristocrats, trying to interpret democracy to America? But Lincoln grew up in a democracy. The economic equality of his boyhood neighbors would satisfy an advanced social revolutionist to-day. None were rich, and none without food and shelter. If one man worked for another, it was to accumulate a stake, that he might soon become independent. It was not necessary for Abraham Lincoln out of his mind to create a new conception of democracy. He grew up in a democracy, observed it, and appreciated it, and then lived and spoke what was in his heart. As a man, he did his best to do away with the physical limitations of this boyhood environment by the building of roads and by encouraging industry, while at the same time endeavoring to retain equality of opportunity. He did not confuse primitive living with democracy. The primitive environment of Lincoln's boyhood strongly favored this economic equality. The country was newly settled by vigorous, adventurous men, who had brought little or no property with them. There had not been time for separation of those of greater and less natural ability. There were no immediate traditions of aristocracy or of servitude. The lack of transportation, of markets, and of cities prevented the accumulation of wealth, while free land, free fuel and building material, and abundance of wild game, prevented poverty from being acute. Everyone had to work for a living, and everyone could get a living by working.
Venison was abundant, but was considered too 'dry' to be palatable, unless cooked with plenty of pork. Potatoes were not a common food, though they were occasionally raised. As Lincoln's neighbors were not aware that they could be gathered and stored for winter use, they were dug from time to time as they were used, until they froze or rotted in the ground. Very few vegetables were known. Wild berries and, after some years, apples and peaches were available during their seasons, but there was no knowledge of canning or preserving by modern methods. Black-berries and peaches were preserved in the alcohol caused by their own fermentation, and sometimes apples were sliced and strung on strings to dry in the sun. Very little wheat was raised, as it had to be cut with a scythe, threshed with a flail, and carried to some small water-power for grinding. Corn-meal was made by grinding on hand burrs at home, and later at the water-mills that were built on small streams all through the country. A few of the most prosperous people kept milk-cows. During the fall, when hogs were fattening on nuts and acorns, pork was abundant. At other seasons there were wild turkey, bear, venison, coon, squirrels, and ground-hogs. Coffee was rare. The doctor's mother used to tell him of 'the first coffee she ever saw. Her and Abe was at Uncle Jimmie Gentry's, and they didn't know what it was.'
Clothes were as simple as the food. As the doctor related, 'Abe, after he was fourteen years old, had a pair of leather pants made from deer-hides. All the shoes they had were made at home from home-dried hides, one pair a year, and they came along about Christmas. Abe, after he was grown up, had a shirt of home-made linen, dyed with walnut bark.'
In reply to my direct question whether the recorded statements of 'Uncle Tom's' shiftlessness were true, the doctor replied, 'Well, you see, he was like the other people in that country. None of them worked to get ahead. They wasn't no market for nothing unless you took it across two or three states. The people raised just what they needed.'
John Hanks in Oregon expressed himself very strongly as to the comparative status of Thomas Lincoln. He held that 'Uncle Tom' was not poor as compared with his neighbors, but that along with them he lived under primitive conditions.
Not only did Thomas Lincoln meet the usual social and commercial standard of success, but in two instances he gave evidence of aspiring to a larger life than his neighborhood afforded. The first case was his effort to bring with him a boat-load of whiskey from Kentucky to Indiana. The doctor related this story substantially as it is given in other sources. 'Uncle Tom went ahead of the family with a boat-load of whiskey. He had several barrels. On the way down Rolling Fork, I believe it was' (on other occasions the doctor called this Roaring Fork and Little Fork), 'his boat upset and he came nigh losing all of his whiskey. He did not lose it all.'
On a later date, after the death of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and before Thomas Lincoln married a second time, he tried again to break into a larger field of activity. To use the doctor's words, 'Uncle Tom left his trade and thought he would go into the speculatin' business. He made him a flat boat, and bought a load of pork--mostly on time. Pork was cheap them days. The hogs fattened on mast' (nuts and acorns), 'and didn't cost them nothing. He started down the Patocah, and then down the Ohio. He got way down there somewhere by Devil's Island, and his flat boat upset and he lost everything, and pretty nigh got drowned himself. He didn't have no boat to come back with, and so he came back up the river on foot, all the way. Then he went to work at his trade again, and paid up all his debt.'
The fact that Thomas Lincoln paid his debts after this experience, a labor which required several years, was repeatedly impressed upon me during my various visits with the doctor. The family traditions are colored throughout with a high regard for Thomas Lincoln's character, for his patience, kindness of heart, and honesty, and his finer sensibilities. Frequent reference was made to his consideration in disciplining his children. 'Uncle Tom would not whip Abe or scold him before folk, but he would take him by himself and tend to him after they was gone. People in them days believed that whipping was good for children. Ma said she must have been pretty good, because she never got reproved or scolded very much.'
The doctor outlined Thomas Lincoln's calling in this manner. 'Uncle Tom was a wheelwright. In them days it was a pretty good trade. You see, in them days every family had to have a big spinning-wheel and a little wheel. Uncle Tom made the little wheels. In a family where there were several girls they had sometimes three or four wheels.' The doctor's sister gave a similar account, drawing particular attention to the fact that Uncle Tom was a maker of 'little wheels.'
Perhaps a year after the death of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Thomas Lincoln made a short trip to Kentucky, and while there married a widow, a Mrs. Johnson. 'Mother said she was his old sweetheart, before he ever saw Nancy Hanks,' related the doctor. 'When he went back, I guess he had her in view. When he got there she was washing in the yard. He went along just like he was walking by, and leant up against the fence and talked to her. He proposed marriage, and she said, "I owe too much." "How much?" Uncle Tom asked her, and she replied, "Two dollars and a half." Uncle Tom volunteered, "If that's all, I'll pay that"; and the match was made up right there. I've heard mother laughing about that many a time.'
While Mrs. Johnson was lacking in ready money, yet according to the doctor, 'She was right good for property. She had right smart.' And Uncle Tom brought back, not only a wife, but a wagonload of her furniture. 'She inquired and found out all about Uncle Tom, and how he stood in business.' In describing his possessions, 'Uncle Tom told her all about the bed he had, how it stood so high from the floor on four corner posts, and had a top bent over so; an' he told her all about it, like it was a wonderful bed. And I have heerd mother tell about when his new wife saw that bed. She stood there in the doorway and looked and looked at it, and then she laughed. She said everything Uncle Tom had told her was true, but she thought it was some fine bed, and it was only a hickory one he had made himself. An' the fine top was a hickory pole that come up from behind the bed, an' he had bent it over and bored a hole in the wall and put it through the hole. You see, he was a wheelwright, and could do good work at such things.'
'Mother told me many times,' said the doctor, 'about the first house Uncle Tom built when he came to Indiana. It was a three-cornered house, made out of three rows of logs, with a fireplace in one corner.' He lived just through the winter in this shanty. In talking about it, he called it his 'winter castle.' 'How I come to know what kind of a house Abe Linkhorn lived in,' said the doctor, 'mother an I was coming from Jasper to limestone Valley one night when we come to a little house this side of Limestone Valley, and she made me drive around it. She said it was just like the house Abe Linkhorn lived in. Uncle Tom built another house afterwards.'
Abe Lincoln's few schooldays were spent at a 'blab school': that is, one in which the children 'read out,' Chinese fashion, at the tops of their voices. During his boyhood nearly all schools in his neighborhood were of that type. Later the silent school competed for public approval. The supporters of the 'blab-school' idea held that it prepared for actual life; that a child who could master his lessons in such a din could think and read without distraction in any other environment. Perhaps the fact that most of these people had no place to read except in a one-room or two-room log cabin, surrounded by large family, may have added zest to their partisanship.
The doctor's mother, Sophie Hanks, attended school with Lincoln. She remembered that it was a long walk, about three and a half miles, and that going and coming Abe frequently could be heard 'reading out' in the approved manner, so that he was audible at a considerable distance from the path. Dennis Hanks went to school at the same time, though for a shorter period than Abe or Sophie. Sophie Hanks's knowledge of Abe's schooldays was limited to the period in Indiana, under the teachers Swaney and Crawford, During this period his attendance never was regular, and he sometimes would be absent for several days at a time. According to the doctor's sister, when Abe was small, 'just a slip of a feller,' he was 'to'lable lazy,' and did not like school. The doctor insisted that Abe was not lazy; 'but he was easy-going.' He was a good hand at anything he undertook, 'but he didn't hunt work.'
The doctor had a version of Lincoln's discovery of a grammar. 'A school-master told Linkhorn one day that if he wanted to talk and write correctly he ought to learn grammar; that that was a standard to show him what speech was right and correct. Linkhorn didn't know they was such a thing as a standard of speech for language; and when the schoolmaster told him this, he walked twelve miles to get a Kirkem's grammar, and he kept it right with him till he knew it by heart. They wasn't anything in it he didn't know. Kirkem's grammar was putty near a leading grammar in them days. It was a good grammar because it explained the reason for everything.'
The tradition is that Abe got so he could 'beat the teacher' at his lessons; but the doctor remarked, 'I don't reckon he was much of a teacher.' It is also a part of the account that he 'tried to teacher every day.' But if he did not like to go to school, he did like to read. He borrowed every book in the vicinity. Robinson Crusoe he knew by heart. 'You know that was an old fable years ago,' added the doctor. Among other books Abe read were one or more ancient histories, a history of the United States, and the Arabian Nights.
The usual opinions to the effect that Abraham Lincoln was a sickly child do not find support in the stories handed down by the doctor's mother, who grew up with him. 'He was very firm and straight,' both physically and morally. He 'grew up very early,' and was large for his years. Sophie Hanks evidently was much impressed with Abe's physical ability. 'If they was anyone that was an expert at any kind of athletics,' related the doctor, 'Abe could do it better. I've heerd mother say many time that Abe would stand flat on his feet and lean back till his head would touch the floor. I got so I could stand on a trundle bed and lean back till my head touched the bed, but I was always afraid to try it on the floor for fear I would fall and hurt myself. It was mother telling me about Abe Linkhorn that started me at it. One of my playmates got so he could stand on the flat of his feet and reach backwards and touch the ground.'
So much for the noble example. 'He would stand on a corn-cob and turn enunder it.' I thought to take the opportunity to correct statements which have been written to the effect that Abe Lincoln was fond of cock-fighting; but the reply I got to my inquiry was, 'Cock-fighting was very prevalent in those days, and Abe took considerable interest in it.'
He hunted a great deal. 'I remember mother telling about the first time he killed a turkey,' related the doctor. 'He brought it home and told the people all evening about killing that turkey, and when he went to sleep, he talked in his sleep most of the night about that turkey. The folks deviled him in the morning for talking about the turkey in his sleep.'
He did not use tobacco as a boy, was not profane, and did not drink whiskey' except as Uncle Tom would have all the children to drink a dram before breakfast for health.' John Hanks, of Douglas County, Oregon, remembered the only time he saw Lincoln touch whiskey. It was at a bee-hunt. Lincoln mixed some honey with whiskey, tasted it, and said, 'Den, that tastes pretty good.' His only recorded illness was an occasional attack of malaria. The nickname, 'honest Abe,' attached to him while he was a boy.
Another commonly accepted belief which the doctor vigorously resented is that which holds Lincoln to have been sober and gloomy. According to the traditions of this family, he was just the reverse--bright, full of life and of fun, and very talkative. 'He was quick to learn, forgot nothing, and always wanted to tell what he knew.' The doctor repeated many times accounts of Abe's weakness for 'putting in' or interrupting a conversation when, in the relation of some incident, the truth would be departed from, or some item of the account which he considered important would be left out. 'And when the company would leave, Uncle Tom would take Abe and talk to him about "putting in" when older people were talking.' This tendency to break into a conversation was mentioned as Abe's outstanding weakness.
He did not like girls' company, but was 'a great fellow to be with the boys.' He was known for good-nature, even temper, and for seldom becoming angry. He would go to all the dances in the country, but would not dance. Off at one side, with the boys gathered around him, he would tell jokes and funny stories, and would relate what he had read. For their further edification he would turn handsprings, stand flat-footed, and lean back until his head would touch the ground (this last item was many times related, and evidently formed a substantial part of the basis of the doctor's admiration for Lincoln), and would perform many other athletic stunts. Sometimes at such dances, 'it would be hard to get enough boys to stand for a set,' because Abe's company was more interesting. At wrestling, 'nobody ever throwed Abe unless he was a heap bigger than him.'
The commonly repeated stories about Lincoln's reading by a fireplace at night are supported by these family accounts. The doctor's sister said, 'I've heerd mamma tell about how Abe would gather brush of an evening to make a light with of a night to read by. He would lay down with his feet THERE away from the fire and his head THERE by the fire, and he would read a long time.' He was an eager listener. 'Whenever anyone was talking, Abe was right there.' He observed keenly, and never forgot.
The self-reliance so evident in later life was not absent during Lincoln's boyhood, as the following story indicates. It was at the time of Thomas Lincoln's trip down the river after the death of Lincoln's mother, and before Thomas was married the second time.
'When Uncle Tom went away, he left Abe and his sister and my mother there, and left one fat hog in the pen. It was a big, fat hog. The way she said, I guess it would weigh nigh two hundred pounds. He said if they got out of feed, they could go over and get Mr. Greathouse to kill the hog for them. Mr. Greathouse was a neighbor and a little o'kin. When the hog was needed, Abe said they wouldn't go get Greathouse to kill the hog. He said they would kill it themselves. So Abe went over to Greathouse's when Mr. Greathouse wasn't to home, and Mrs. Greathouse let him take the gun. He must have been a little feller, 'cause ma said, when she see him coming the shot-pouch hung almost to his knee.
'Abe took the gun out to the pen, and pointed it through the rails,--so,--and took aim and shot the hog dead all right. And then he and my mother went into the pen and tried to take the hog out. But they couldn't budge it. So they went and got some boards and put them down in the pen, and they had the water already hot, and they took the entrails out, an' cut it up right there in the pen, and carried it out in pieces. And they did a pretty good job.'
John Hanks, the Oregon relative, gave the very confidential information that 'Lincoln was as much of a infidel as anyone could be. I wouldn't like to say how much; but he was good and moral.' When I quoted this to the doctor on a later visit, he replied, 'There was a sense in him that he could not narrow himself to the religion of that time. In them days, if a man doubted the Bible being exactly true in everything, and if he did not believe in fire and brimstone, he was called an infidel. Lincoln said he could take some things from all the churches and make a better church than any of them. If Lincoln was an infidel, a good part of the people is coming to believe like he did.'
This family's knowledge of Abraham Lincoln fades away where our more complete knowledge of his life begins. Telling his story of how Lincoln grew up in Indiana, the doctor concluded,--
And then by and by Uncle Tom's other wife died, and he and Abe went away. They went to Sangamon County, Illinois, and Abe drove a pair of steers all the way. We don't know much about Abe's life after he left Indiana, but some of the men Linkhorn knew in Illinois has written things about his early life. And they has made mistakes. Some of the things they say is true and some ain't true.' The doctor recounted sketchily a few items of Lincoln's early days in Illinois. 'And then Abe, he got the post-office over there, an' he got work in the store, and then bymeby they got him into the legislature. One of the first things he done while he was a statesman was when they was a bill up to move the capital from Vandalia to Springfield. The legislatures used to meet then at Vandalia. One day all the friends of Springfield was away, and they was a quorum and the sargent was there and wouldn't let anybody out. And they was goin' to pass their bill while the friends of Springfield wasn't there. And Abe, he went to the window and hung out and dropped about fourteen feet. And four or five other fellows followed him, and he busted the quorum that way. But the time the people begun to find out what Abe was good for, was when he began to have them talks with Mr. Douglas.'
Several of the places and persons associated with Lincoln's boyhood were more or less familiar to the doctor. Concerning Thomas Lincoln's neighbor, Mr. Gentry, he said, 'My mother lived for a short time with him. He thought a sight of her and Abe. She never had a better friend. She always spoke of him as Uncle Jimmy Gentry. I think he was a distant relative, and was a good liver for that time. It seems to me he kept a little store, but I am not sure. Gentry-ville took its name from him.'
The Johnson boys, sons of Thomas Lincoln's second wife, did not stand high in the family estimation. Abe found it necessary to restrain his step-brothers from vulgarity and common coarseness of behavior. In case of dispute, Abe's word was always taken over theirs. When these stepbrothers tried to explain themselves out of a scrape, they frequently were confronted with the remark, 'Wait till Abe comes, and then we will know the truth about it.'
When I asked the doctor about the various reports that Abraham Lincoln was an illegitimate child, he replied, 'Those stories about Abraham Linkhorn being an illegitimate child are untrue. Aunt Nancy and Uncle Tom were married regular. But his mother was an illegitimate child. I have always understood that from what my mother said about it. But my cousin said that his mother told him that our grandmother Hanks and Linkhorn's mother were half-sisters and also cousins. My mother never told me that, but I have often heard her say that we were badly mixed.