By john g. Nioolay and john hay

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chap. ii. who will never be constables. But there is evi­dence that he felt too large for the life of a farm­hand on Pigeon Creek, and his thoughts naturally turned, after the manner of restless boys in the West, to the river, as the avenue of escape from the narrow life of the woods. He once asked an old Mend to give him a recommendation to some steamboat on the Ohio, but desisted from his pur­pose on being reminded that his father had the right to dispose of his time for a year or so more. 1828. But in 1828 an opportunity offered for a little glimpse of the world outside, and the boy gladly embraced it. He was hired by Mr. Gentry, the proprietor of the neighboring village of Gentry-ville, to accompany his son with a flat-boat of produce to New Orleans and intermediate land­ings. The voyage was made successfully, and Abraham gained great credit for his management and sale of the cargo. The only important incident of the trip occurred at the plantation of Madame Duchesne, a few miles below Baton Rouge. The young merchants had tied up for the night and were asleep in the cabin, when they were aroused by shuffling footsteps, which proved to be a gang of marauding negroes, coming to rob the boat. Abraham instantly attacked them with a club, knocked several overboard and put the rest to flight; flushed with battle, he and Allen Gentry carried the war into the enemy's country, and pur­sued the retreating Africans some distance in the darkness. They then returned to the boat, bleed­ing but victorious, and hastily swung into the stream and floated down the river till daylight. Lincoln's exertion in later years for the welfare of


the African race showed that this nocturnal battle chap. n. had not led him to any hasty and hostile general­izations.

The next autumn, John Hanks, the steadiest and most trustworthy of his family, went to Illi­nois. Though an illiterate and rather dull man, he had a good deal of solidity of character and conse­quently some influence and consideration in the* household. He settled in Macon County, and was so well pleased with the country, and especially with its admirable distribution into prairie and timber, that he sent repeated messages to his friends in Indiana to come out and join him. Thomas Lincoln was always ready to move. He had probably by this time despaired of ever own­ing any unencumbered real estate in Indiana, and the younger members of the family had little to bind them to the place where they saw nothing in the future but hard work and poor living. Thomas Lincoln handed over his farm to Mr. Gentry, sold isso. his crop of corn and hogs, packed his household goods and those of his children and sons-in-law into a single wagon, drawn by two yoke of oxen, the combined wealth of himself and Dennis Hanks, and started for the new State. His daughter Sarah or Nancy, for she was called by both names, who married Aaron Grigsby a few years before, had died in childbirth. The emigrating family consisted of the Lincolns, John Johnston, Mrs. Lincoln^ son, and her daughters, Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Hanks, with their husbands.

Two weeks of weary tramping over forest roads and muddy prairie, and the dangerous ford­ing of streams swollen by the February thaws,


chap. ii. brought the party to John Hanks's place near De-catur. He met them with a frank and energetic welcome. He had already selected a piece of ground for them a few miles from his own, and had the logs ready for their house. They num­bered men enough to build without calling in their neighbors, and immediately put up a cabin on the north fork of the Sangamon River. The family thus housed and sheltered, one more bit of filial work remained for Abraham before assuming his virile independence. With the assistance of John Hanks he plowed fifteen acres, and split, from the tall walnut-trees of the primeval forest, enough ^ rails to surround them with a fence. Little did either dream, while engaged in this work, that the day would come when the appearance of John Hanks in a public meeting, with two of these rails - on his shoulder, would electrify a State convention, and kindle throughout the country a contagious and passionate enthusiasm, whose results would reach to endless generations.



Lincolns arrived in Illinois just in time JL to entitle themselves to be called pioneers. When, in. after years, associations of " Old Settlers " began to be formed in Central Illinois, the qualifi­cation for membership agreed upon by common consent was a residence in the country before "the winter of the deep snow." This was in 1830-31, a season of such extraordinary severity that it has formed for half a century a recognized date in the middle counties of Illinois, among those to whom in those days diaries and journals were unknown. The snowfall began in the Christmas holidays and continued until the snow was three feet deep on level ground. Then came a cold rain, freezing as it fell, until a thick crust of ice gathered over the snow. The weather became intensely cold, the mercury sinking to twelve degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, and remaining there for two weeks. The storm came on with such suddenness that all who were abroad had great trouble in reaching their homes, and many perished. One man relates that he and a friend or two were out in a hunting party with an ox-team. They had collected a wagon-load of game and were on their way home


chap. III.

Rev. J. M.

Sturtevant, "Address

to Old

Settlers of





of McLean



chap. in. when the storm struck them. After they had gone four miles they were compelled to abandon their wagon; the snow fell in heavy masses "as if thrown from a scoop-shovel"; arriving within two miles of their habitation, they were forced to trust to the instinct of their animals, and reached home hanging to the tails of their steers. Not all were so fortunate. Some were found weeks afterwards in the snow-drifts, their flesh gnawed by famished wolves; and the fate of others was unknown until the late spring sunshine revealed their resting-places. To those who escaped, the winter was tedious and terrible. It is hard for us to under­stand the isolation to which such weather con­demned the pioneer. For weeks they remained in their cabins hoping for some mitigation of the frost. When at last they were driven out by the fear of famine, the labor of establishing communi-cations was enormous. They finally made roads by " wallowing through the snow," as an Illinois historian expresses it, and going patiently over the same track until the snow was trampled hard and rounded like a turnpike. These roads lasted far into the spring, when the snow had melted from the plains, and wound for miles like threads of silver over the rich black loam of the prairies. After that winter game was never again so plenti­ful in the State. Much still remained, of course, but it never recovered entirely from the rigors of that season and the stupid enterprise of the pio­neer hunters, who, when they came out of their snow-beleaguered cabins, began chasing and killing the starved deer by herds. It was easy work; the crust of the snow was strong enough to bear the




weight of men and dogs, but the slender hoofs of chap. m. the deer would after a few bounds pierce the treacherous surface. This destructive slaughter went on until the game grew too lean to be worth the killing. All sorts of wild animals grew scarce from that winter. Old settlers say that the slow cowardly breed of prairie wolves, which used to be caught and killed as readily as sheep, disappeared about that time and none but the fleeter and stronger survived.

Only once since then has nature shown such ex­travagant severity in Illinois, and that was on a day in the winter of 1836, known to Illinoisans as "the sudden change." At noon on the 20th of December, after a warm and rainy morning, the ground being covered with mud and slush, the temperature fell instantly forty degrees. A man riding into Springfield for a marriage license says a roaring and crackling wind came upon him and the rain-drops dripping from his bridle-reins and beard changed in a second into jingling icicles. He rode hastily into the town and arrived in a few minutes at his destination; but his clothes were froz^i like sheet iron, and man and saddle had to be taken into the house together to be thawed apart. Greese and chickens were caught by the feet and wings and frozen to the wet ground. A drove of a thousand hogs, which were being driven to St. Louis, rushed together for warmth, and became piled in a great heap. Those inside smothered and those outside froze, and the ghastly pyramid remained there on the prairie for weeks: the drovers barely escaped with their lives. Men killed their horses, disemboweled them, and crept into vol, I—4


chap. in. the cavity of their bodies to escape the murderous wind.1

The pioneer period of Illinois was ending as Thomas Lincoln and his tall boy drove their ox-team over the Indiana line. The population of the State had grown to 157,447. It still clung to the wooded borders of the water-courses ; scattered settlements were to be found all along the Mississippi and its affluents, from where Cairo struggled for life in the swamps of the Ohio to the bustling and busy min­ing camps which the recent discovery of lead had brought to Graleria. A line of villages from Alton to Peoria dotted the woodland which the Illinois Eiver had stretched, like a green baldric, diagonally across the bosom of the State. Then there were long reaches of wilderness before you came to Fort Dearborn, where there was nothing as yet to give promise of that miraculous growth which was soon to make Chicago a proverb to the world. There were a few settlements in the fertile region called the Military Tract; the southern part of the State was getting itself settled here and there. People were coming in freely to the Sangamon country. But a grassy solitude stretched from Galena tc; Chi­cago, and the upper half of the State was generally a wilderness. The earlier emigrants, principally of the poorer class of Southern farmers, shunned the prairies with something of a superstitious dread. They preferred to pass the first years of their occupation in the wasteful and laborious work

i Although the old settlers of to cite only those incidents of the

Sangamon County are acquainted sudden change which are given

with these facts, and we have in the careful and conscientious

often heard them and many compilation entitled " The Early

others like them from the lips of Settlers of Sangamon County,"

eye-witnesses, we have preferred "by John Carroll Power,


of clearing a patch of timber for corn, rather than chap, in.' enter upon those rich savannas which were ready to break into fertility at the slightest provocation of culture. Even so late as 1835, writes J. F. Speed, "no one dreamed the prairies would ever be occupied." It was thought they would be used perpetually as grazing-fields for stock. For years the long processions of " movers" wound. over those fertile and neglected plains, taking no hint of the wealth suggested by the rank luxuriance of vegetable growth around them, the carpet of brilliant flowers spread over the verdant knolls, the strong, succulent grass that waved in the breeze, full of warm and vital odor, as high as the waist of a man. In after years, when the emigra­tion from the Northern and Eastern States began to pour in, the prairies were rapidly taken up, and the relative growth* and importance of the two sections of the State were immediately reversed. G-overnor Ford, writing about 1847, attributes this result to the fact that the best class of Southern people were slow to emigrate to a State where they could not take their slaves; while the settlers from the North, not being debarred by the State Consti­tution from bringing their property with them, were of a different class. "The northern part of the State was settled in the first instance by wealthy farmers, enterprising merchants, millers, and manufacturers. They made farms, built mills, churches, school-houses, towns, and cities, and constructed roads and bridges as if by magic; so that although the settlements in the southern part of the State are from twenty to fifty years in ad­vance on the score of age, yet are they ten years


chap. in. behind in point of wealth and all the appliances Thomas of a higher civilization."

At the time which we are specially considering,

p. aso.' however, the few inhabitants of the south and the center were principally from what came afterwards to be called the border slave States. They were mostly a simple, neighborly, unambitious people, contented with their condition, living upon plain fare, and knowing not much of anything better. Luxury was, of course, unknown ; even wealth, if it existed, could procure few of the comforts of refined life. There was little or no money in circulation. Exchanges were effected by the most primitive forms of barter, and each family had to rely chiefly upon itself for the means of living. The neighbors would lend a hand in building a cabin for a new-comer ; after that he must in most cases shift for himself. Many a man arriving from an old community, and imperfectly appreciating the necessities of pioneer life, has found suddenly, on the approach of winter, that he must learn to make shoes or go barefoot. The furniture of their houses was made with an axe from the trees of the forest. Their clothing was all made at home. The buckskin days were over to a great extent, though an occasional hunting-shirt and pair of moccasins were still seen. But flax and hemp had begun to be cultivated, and as the wolves were killed off the sheep-folds increased, and garments resembling those of civilization were spun and woven, and cut and sewed, by the women of the family. When a man had a suit of jeans colored with butternut-dye, and his wife a dress of linsey, they could appear with the best at a wedding or a quilting

illinois IN" 1830 53

frolic. The superfluous could not have been said to chap. in. exist in a community where men made their own buttons, where women dug roots in the woods to make their tea with, where many children never saw a stick of candy until after they were grown. The only sweetmeats known were those a skillful cook could compose from the honey plundered from the hollow oaks where the wild bees had stored it. Yet there was withal a kind of rude plenty $ the woods swarmed with game, and after swine began to be raised, there was the bacon and hoe-cake which any south-western farmer will say is good enough for a king. The greatest privation was the lack of steel implements. His axe was as precious to the pioneer as his sword to the knight errant. Governor John Reynolds speaks of the panic felt in his father's family when the axe was dropped into a stream. A battered piece of tin was care­fully saved and smoothed, and made into a grater for green corn.

They had their own amusements, of course; no form of society is without them, from the anthro­poid apes to the Jockey Club. As to the grosser and ruder shapes taken by the diversions of the pioneers, we will let Mr. Herndon speak—their contemporary annalist and ardent panegyrist: " These men could shave a horse's mane and tail, paint, disfigure, and offer it for sale to the owner. They could hoop up in a hogshead a drunken man, they themselves being drunk, put in and nail fast the head, and roll the man down hill a hundred feet or more. They could run down a lean and hungry wild pig, catch it, heat a ten-plate stove furnace hot, and putting in the pig, could cook it,

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