Set in the midst of a barren and desolate wilderness in the state of Kentucky, is where Abraham Lincoln first opened his eyes on the world on February 12, 1809. It was to be hoped that the new baby would grow into a strong, brave boy, for there was no use for weaklings in the rough, dangerous life that awaited him. Even his mother, who rocked him in her arms, had early learned to handle a rifle that she might defend herself and her children when the father, Thomas Lincoln, was away. They were accustomed to all sort of dangers and hardships, for there were many wild animals in the woods, and they were never quite safe from the fear of Indians.
At six years old Abe had to learn to fish and to hunt, although he was still too small to be trusted with a gun. One of his favorite amusements was to swing across the creek holding on to the branch of a sycamore tree, and one day while he and another small boy were enjoying themselves in that way, Abe lost his hold and disappeared with a terrific splash into the water below. The other boy was quite equal to the occasion, and, waiting till he reappeared, leaned over and dragged him out with the greatest difficulty. If it had not been for the presence of mind of the other child, Abe would certainly have been drowned and america would never have known one of the greatest and most famous of her Presidents.
“It is time those children had some learning,” said their father thoughtfully, when Abe was seven years old and his sister Sarah a year or so older.
“There’s a man coming to that shanty half a mile away, and he says he is going to keep a school. What do you say to sending the children to him?”
“Well,” said their mother doubtfully, ” he is a queer sort of man to be a schoolmaster. He can’t write himself.”
“He can read, so he says,” replied Thomas Lincoln, and the children could learn that, anyway.”
Thomas Lincoln had spent such a busy roving life that he had never had time to learn either to read or to write, and at the time he was married he could not even sign his own name. His wife had had a little education and was determined that he should at least learn to write his name, so with great patience she taught him how to hold a pen and make the letters, although his great strong hands were much more at home holding his gun or his ax. But nevertheless he was most anxious that his children should learn all that he had missed, although it puzzled him greatly to think where the money was to come from to pay their schooling.
SCHOOL – DAYS
There was certainly not much to be learned at this first school to which Abe was sent, and in a few weeks the children knew as much as their master, which was saying but little.
There was a better school four miles away where the master could both read and write, and although it was a long way for the children to walk, they were sturdy and strong, and set off gayly each morning, carrying their dinner of hoe cake, which was all the dinner they ever had.
The log cabin could now boast the beginning of a library, for besides the Bible and Catechism there was an old spelling book out of which the children learned their lessons. The Bible was the one book which Abe had known from his babyhood, for his mother read it aloud every Sunday and sometimes on other days too. It was both story book and lesson book, for the stories Abe knew before he could read, and his first reading lessons were spelled out from it.
it was when Abe was about eight years old that he began to learn to know what it really meant to be a pioneer boy. The farm in Kentucky was not a very successful affair, and Thomas Linclon made up his mind to try his luck in the new free State of Indiana, where there seemed better prospects of getting on.
It was a journey of a hundred miles from the old home in Kentucky to the new one in Indiana, and while the father took most of their belongings by boat, the mother and two children set out on the journey overland, with two horses to carry the bedding and on which they could ride by turns when they were tied. They were seven days on the road, and at night the little party camped out under the stars with their blankets spread on the ground. It s not a very safe way of traveling, and there was many a danger lurking around, but neigher mother nor children dreamed of being afraid. Fear was a thing with which pioneers had nothing to do.
HOW THE CABIN WAS BUILT
When at last the whole family arrived in Spence County, Indiana, the first thing to be done was to build some sort of shelter for themselves and their goods. A road had been cut through the forests, but all the clearing had still to be done, and there was plenty of work for Abe, small as he was. His little ax was needed for serious work now, and not only for play, as he was quite able to cut the poles for the cabin which his father was building. In a very short time he learned to use his ax as a pioneer boy should do. At first it was only possible to build a “half faced camp,” which was merely a cabin enclosed on three sides with one side open, and which, in spite of the log fires, was bitterly cold shelter in winter time. But when spring came and the land was cleared enough to plant corn and vegetables, a strong log hut was begun, and Abe lent a willing hand, remembering the bitter winds of the past winter.
Abe learned, too, how to make stools and table, and by this time the muscles of his arms were like whipcord, and he could swing his ax like a man.
A story is told of him in his days as president, how he visited a hospital of wounded soldiers and shook hands with three thousand of them, all eager to take the hand of their hero. Some friends wondered that his arm was not crippled by so much handshaking, but he only smiled and said, “The hardships of my early life gave me strong arms.” Then he went to the open door and took up a heavy ax which was lying there, and began to chop a log of wood so vigoroulsy that the chips flew in all directions. When he stopped he “extended his right arm to full length, holding the ax our horizontally without its even quivering as he held it.” Strong men who looked on – men accustomed to manual labor – could not hold the ax in that position for a moment.
After learning to be useful with his ax, it was only fair that Abe should be taught to handle a rifle, and his father promised to begin to teach him at once. “You’ll be able to go hunting and shoot turkey and deer, and will keep us supplied with game,” said his father. Abe’s eye glistened, and he could scarcely sleep that night in his corner of the loft, he was so delighted and excited over the thought of that rifle. A rifle is rather a difficult thing for small boy of eight to manage, but Abe was determined to learn to shoot, and in a short time he covered himself with glory.
HIS FIRST SHOT – Bang!
“Mother, mother!” he cried, busting like a small whirlwind into the cabin, “there’s a flock of turkeys out there. “I’m sure I could shoot one if I might have the rifle.”
His mother looked out through one of the loopholds of the log hut. “Sure enough,” she said, “they are turkeys. You might try a shot,” and she fetched the gun, which was always kept ready loaded. Abe bobbed up and down excitedly while his mother fixed the gun into the loophole and warned him to be careful. then he steadied himself, tried to take aim and pulled the trigger. Bang! went the gun, and back went Abe almost head over heels, but in an instant he scrambled up and rushed out. The smoke was just clearing away, and sure enough there on the ground lay a large fat turkey, shot dead. I’ve killed one,” shouted Abe, “and it’s a monster. Mother, did you ever see such a big one?” and he struggled to lift the bird on high for her to see. Just then his father came hurrying up. “What’s all this firing about?” he asked anxiously. “I’ve killed a turkey,” said Abe, bursting with pride. “Did you do that?” asked his father in amazement. “Nobody else did it,” said Abe with a chuckle. Of course it was nothing but an accident, and altogether the fault of the turkey for getting in the way of the bullet, but it was a great triumph for Abe, all the same.
ABE LEARNS TO WRITE
All the time Abe had kept on steadily with his reading whenever he had time, especially in the long winter evenings when he could read by the firelight. Lamps and candles were luxuries no settler could afford, but wood was plentiful, and it was easy to heap the fire high and make a splendid blaze.
He was careful, too not to forget his writing, and he practiced wirting his own name in the snow or with a charred stick on slabs of wood. His father was not always pleased to find every smooth surface in the house scrawled over with black marks, but he had a great respect for “learning” and when he found that Abe was teaching himself to write, he was quite proud of the boy.
Wheb spring came round and they were working together in the field, Abe took a stick and began writing his name with great care in the soft earth. “A.B.R.A.H.A.M L.I.N.C.O.L.N.” he wrote.
“What is the boy doing?” asked a neighbor who happened to be passing and stopped to talk to Thomas Lincoln. “Oh! he is writing,” said his farther carelessly.
“Its my name,” said Abe, spelling the letters out one by one and pointing to them in turn.
The two men looked with respectful admiration at the young genius and shook their heads. Such cleverness was beyond them. Little did they dream that the name of Abraham Lincoln would some day be written , not only on the soil of Indiana but in every history book of the United States.
ABE LOSES HIS MOTHER
As time went on, Abe began to long for other books to read besides the Bible, the Catechism, and the old spelling book. There must surely be many other books in the world, he thought, but the difficulty was to get hold of them.
Then a sad thing happened which for a while made him forget all about his longing for books. His mother died suddenly, and the little family in the log hut was left very desolate.
Sarah was only eleven years old and could not manage the housework very well, although Abe was very handy and helped her a good deal. The home soon began to look neglected and untidy, and Abe felt his mother’s loss keenly. Indeed it seemed as if all the sunshine had faded out of his life until one evening when his father returned carrying a parcel under his arm.
ABE BEGINS HIS LIBRARY
“I’ve found something that will please you, my boy,” he said kindly, and undoing the parcel he brought out the “Pilgrim’s Progress.”
“Where did you find it?” asked Abe wonderingly. Such things were not usualy to be found in the woods or fields, neither did they drop from the heavens.
“I didn”t exactly find it,” said his father, smiling. I saw it when I was in Mr. Pierson’s house and borrowed it for you.”
Abe was turning over the pages, and he took a deep breath of delight. “It looks good,” he said.
He was so eager to begin that he could eat no supper, and when he had finished reading it he turned back and begain it all over again. The book made him so happy that his father tried to get him another, and this time it was “Aesop’s Fables,” which charmed Abe even more than the “Pilgrim’s Progress” had done. He read it so often that he could repeat most of the fables by heart.
Abe’s mind was very good gound in which to sow such seed, and in life it blossomed out into a wonderful power of story-telling and a marvelous memory for anecdotes.
PLEASURE OR DUTY?
But although reading was very pleasant it was somewhat apt to interfere with the day’s work, and by and by Abe’s father began to grow impatient.
“come, put away your book, there’s too much work to be done to waste time over reading ,” said his father.
“In a minute, ” said Abe.
“That’s what makes boys lazy,” said the father, “reading books when they ought to be at work.”
“Only a minute, and then I’ll go,” said Abe, scarcely paying any attention to what his father was saying. That of course could not be allowed. “Put the book down and come at once, said the father sternly. Abe shut the book slowly. “Good boys should obey at once,” said his father; they should not need to be driven like cattle.”
Abe had never before shown any signs of disobedience and he did not mean to be disobedient now, but those books seemed to lay a spell upon him which it was difficult to resist.
His father began to fear he was growing lazy, and everyone shook their heads over the boy and his books. His cousin Dennis declared that “Abe was always reding, scribbling, ciphering, writing poetry, and such like,” and that he was “awful lazy”; but it was a curious kind of laziness, for it meant seizing every scrap of spare time between work to study, and sitting up late into the night to read his beloved books. He was so hungry for knowledge that he could not keep away from books although “he had not a lazy bone in his body.” He could not help dreaming a little, and sometimes the threshing and chopping and other work suffered, but who could help dreaming over the delight of “Robinson Crusoe” and the “Life of Washington” which just then, at ten years old,, opened a whole new world to Abe.?
A NEW MOTHER FOR ABE
After a while life became more cheerful in the log hut, for Thomas Lincoln married again, and the stepmother brought brightness and comfort into the home once more. She was a widow with three children, which made a merry party in the log cabin, and she also had a quantity of furniture and household goods, so that in a short time the log hut was transformed into quite an elegant home.
The first thing the new mother insisted upon was that a wooden flooring shuld be laid down, and also that there be real glass windows and a door with hinges. The children’s clothes, too, were made neat and tidy, and there was something else for dinner besides hoe cakes.
Abe’s stepmother was not inclined to call the boy lazy as other people did when he pored over his books. She was anxious to help him, and when for the first time a school was open in Indiana, she was anxious that all the children should be sent to it
It’s a good chance for you, Abe,” she said. “You ought to learn something about arithmetic as soon as you can.”
It was a curious kind of school and a very queer set of pupils. The school was a rough log hut with a roof so low that the master could scarcely stand up-right, and the windowns were only holes covered with greased paper which did not allow much light to filter through. The one cheerful thing was the huge fireplace built to hold four-foot logs.
The children were gathered from far and near, all sizes and in all sorts of garments. Abe rather fancied himself in his new suit, made by his stepmother for the occasion. He had a linsey-woolsey shirt, buckskin breeches, a cap of coon skin, and no coat, for “overcoats” were unknown.
WHAT THE SCHOOLMASTER THOUGHT OF ABE
There was much for Abe to learn, and the schoolmaster, Andrew Crawford, found it a delight to teach anyone so eager and intelligent.
“Abe is a wonderful boy, the best scholar I ever had,” he said to Thomas Lincoln. He wants to know everything that anyone else knows, and does not see why he can’t.”
“That’s Abe exactly,” said his father.
“I sometimes wish he like work as much as he does a book.”
“He wouldn’t be such a good scholar if he did,” said the schoolmaster.
“Maybe,” answered his father, “but work is more important than books in the backwoods.”
“But Abe is not going to live always in the backwoods,” said the master.
“He is a boy who is sure to make his mark in the world. he is an honest, straight boy too, as well as being clever. Only the other day I found someone had broken off a buck’s horn which I had nailed to the schoolhouse, and when I asked who had done it, Abe immediately owned up and confessed that he had been hanging on to it.”
“Ah!” said his father, “that’s like him. He’s been reading the Life of Washington,” and thought a deal of that story about him cutting the cherry tree with his new hatchet and then owning up hamdsomely.”
“Well, he’s a good boy,” said the schoolmaster, “‘and he’ll go far.”
He meant to do his very best for the boy, and besides other things he began to teach his pupils manners and how to behave nicely “in society.” The schoolroom was turned into a parlor for the time being, and the children were supposed to be laidies and gentlemen, as they came in one by one and made their bow and were introduced to each other.
It was no easy matter for Abe to learn drawing-room manners. although he was scarcely fifteen he was six feet tall, and he did not in the least know what to do with his long arms and legs. His feet, too, were very much in the way, and he never realized before how huge his hands were or what a long distance of bare legs there was between his buckskin breeches and his shoes.
Abraham was certainly an awkward looking boy, for those legs were out of all proportion to his body, and his small head looked almost comical set on the top of such a tall maypole. People when they looked at him would smile and ask what he meant to be when he was a man.
“I am going to be President of the United States,” he said with a chuckle. and everyone thought it was a very good joke.
The tall,ungainly boy, in his queer, shabby clothes, living in the backwoods, willing to do the hardest work for the smallest pay, what would he ever have to do with the ruling of a great nation, or the fate of thousands of his countrymen? No wonder they thought it a good joke; but a litter more than forty years afterward the whole world was mourning the loss of Abraham Lincoln, the Noblest President American had had since the days of Washington. .