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failed to find the "canes." At last they were actually found by Simon Kenton, who stealthily planted a little patch of corn, to see how the stalk that bore the yellow grain would grow beside its "brother" of the wilderness. He was one day leaning against the stem of a great tree, watching his little assemblage of sprouts, and wondering at the strange fruitfulness of the earth which fed them, when he heard a footstep behind him. It was the great Daniel Boone's. They united their fortunes for the present, but subsequently each of them became the chief of a considerable settlement. Kenton's trail had been down the Ohio, Boone's from North Carolina ; and from both those directions soon came hunters, warriors, and settlers to join them. But the Indians had no thought of relinquishing their fairest hunting-grounds without a long and desperate struggle. The rich carpet of natural grasses which fed innumerable herds of buffalo, elk, and deer, all the year round; the grandeur of its primeval forests, its pure fountains, and abundant streams, made it even more desirable to them than to the whites. They had long contended for the possession of it; and no tribe, or confederacy of tribes, had ever been able to hold it to the exclusion of the rest. Here, from time immemorial, the northern and southern, the eastern and western Indians had met each other in mortal strife, mutually shedding the blood which ought to have been husbanded for the more deadly conflict with a common foe. The character of this savage warfare had earned for Kentucky the appellation of "the dark and bloody ground;" and, now that the whites had fairly begun their encroachments upon it, the Indians were resolved that the phrase should lose none of its old significance. White settlers might therefore count upon fighting for their lives as well as their lands.
Boone did not make his final settlement till 1775. The Lincolns came about 1780. This was but a year or two after Clark's expedition into Illinois; and it was long, long before St. Clair's defeat and Wayne's victory. Nearly the whole of the north-west territory was then occupied by hostile Indians. Kentucky volunteers had yet before them many a day
of hot and bloody work on the Ohio, the Muskingum, and the Miami, to say nothing of the continual surprises to which they were subjected at home. Every man's life was in his hand. From cabin to cabin, from settlement to settlement, his trail was dogged by the eager savage. If he went to plough, he was liable to be shot down between the handles; if he attempted to procure subsistence by hunting, he was hunted himself. Unless he abandoned his "clearing" and his stock to almost certain devastation, and shut up himself and his family in a narrow "fort," for months at a time, he might expect every hour that their roof would be given “to the flames, and their flesh to the eagles."
To make matters worse, "the western country," and particularly Kentucky, had become the rendezvous of Tories, runaway conscripts, deserters, debtors, and criminals. Gen. Butler, who went there as a Commissioner from Congress, to treat with certain Indian tribes, kept a private journal, in which he entered a very graphic, but a very appalling description of the state of affairs in Kentucky. At the principal "points," as they were called, were collected hungry speculators, gamblers, and mere desperadoes, — these distinctions being the only divisions and degrees in society. Among other things, the journal contains a statement about land-jobbing and the traffic in town lots, at Louisville, beside which the account of the same business in "Martin Chuzzlewit" is absolutely tame. That city, now one of the most superb in the Union, was then a small collection of cabins and hovels, inhabited by a class of people of whom specimens might have been found a few months ago at Cheyenne or Promontory Point. Notwithstanding the high commissions borne by Gen. Butler and Gen. Parsons, the motley inhabitants of Louisville flatly refused even to notice them. They would probably have sold them a "corner lot" in a swamp, or a "splendid business site" in a mud-hole; but for mere civilities there was no time. The whole population were so deeply engaged in drinking, card-playing, and selling town lots to each other, that they persistently refused to pay any attention to three
men who were drowning in the river near by, although their dismal cries for help were distinctly heard throughout the "city."
On the journey out, the Lincolns are said to have endured many hardships and encountered all the usual dangers, including several skirmishes with the Indians. They settled in Mercer County, but at what particular spot is uncertain. Their house was a rough log-cabin, their farm a little clearing in the midst of a vast forest. One morning, not long after their settlement, the father took Thomas, his youngest son, and went to build a fence, a short distance from the house; while the other brothers, Mordecai and Josiah, were sent to another field, not far away. They were all intent about their work, when a shot from a party of Indians in ambush broke the "listening stillness "cf the woods. The father fell dead; Josiah ran to a stockade two or three miles off; Mordecai, the eldest boy, made his way to the house, and, looking out from the loophole in the loft, saw an Indian in the act of raising his little brother from the ground. He took deliberate aim at a silver ornament on the breast of the Indian, and brought him down. Thomas sprang toward the cabin, and was admitted by his mother, while Mordecai renewed his fire at several other Indians that rose from the covert of the fence
or thicket. It was not long until Josiah returned from the stockade with a party of settlers; but the Indians had fled, and none were found but the dead one, and another who was wounded and had crept into the top of a fallen tree.
When this tragedy was enacted, Mordecai, the hero of it, was a well-grown boy. He seems to have hated Indians ever after with a hatred which was singular for its intensity, even in those times. Many years afterwards, his neighbors believed that he was in the habit of following peaceable Indians, as they passed through the settlements, in order to get surreptitious shots at them; and it was no secret that he had killed more than one in that way.2
Immediately after the death of her husband, the widow
abandoned the scene of her misfortunes, and removed to Washington County, near the town of Springfield, where she lived until the youngest of her children had grown up. Mordecai and Josiah remained there until late in life, and were always numbered among the best people in the neighborhood. Mordecai was the eldest son of his father; and under the law of primogeniture, which was still a part of the Virginia code, he inherited some estate in lands. One of the daughters wedded a Mr. Krume, and the other a Mr. Brumfield.
Thomas seems to have been the only member of the family whose character was not entirely respectable. He was idle, thriftless, poor, a hunter, and a rover. One year he wandered away off to his uncle, on the Holston, near the confines of Tennessee. Another year he wandered into Breckinridge County, where his easy good-nature was overcome by a huge bully, and he performed the only remarkable achievement of his life, by whipping him. In 1806, we find him in Hardin County, trying to learn the carpenter's trade. Until then, he could neither read nor write; and it was only after his marriage that his ambition led him to seek accomplishments of this sort.
Thomas Lincoln was not tall and thin, like Abraham, but comparatively short and stout, standing about five feet ten inches in his shoes. His hair was dark and coarse, his complexion brown, his face round and full, his eyes gray, and his nose large and prominent. He weighed, at different times, from one hundred and seventy to one hundred and ninety-six. He was built so "tight and compact," that Dennis Hanks declares he never could find the points of separation between his ribs, though he felt for them often. He was a little stoop-shouldered, and walked with a slow, halting step. But he was sinewy and brave, and, his habitually peaceable disposition once fairly overborne, was a tremendous man in a rough-and-tumble fight. He thrashed the monstrous bully of Breckinridge County in three minutes, and came off without a scratch.
His vagrant career had supplied him with an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes, which he told cleverly and well. He loved to sit about at "stores," or under shade-trees, and “ spin yarns," a propensity which atoned for many sins, and made him extremely popular. In politics, he was a Democrat, a Jackson Democrat. In religion he was nothing at times, and a member of various denominations by turns, a Free-Will Baptist in Kentucky, a Presbyterian in Indiana, and a Disciple-vulgarly called Campbellite - in Illinois. In this latter communion he seems to have died.
It ought, perhaps, to be mentioned, that both in Virginia and Kentucky his name was commonly pronounced "Linckhorn," and in Indiana, "Linckhern." The usage was so general, that Tom Lincoln came very near losing his real name altogether. As he never wrote it at all until after his marriage, and wrote it then only mechanically, it was never spelled one way or the other, unless by a storekeeper here and there, who had a small account against him. Whether it was properly "Lincoln," "Linckhorn," or "Linckhern," was not definitely settled until after Abraham began to write, when, as one of the neighbors has it, "he remodelled the spelling and corrected the pronunciation."
By the middle of 1806, Lincoln had acquired a very limited knowledge of the carpenter's trade, and set up on his own account; but his achievements in this line were no better than those of his previous life. He was employed occasionally to do rough work, that requires neither science nor skill; but nobody alleges that he ever built a house, or pretended to do more than a few little odd jobs connected with such an undertaking. He soon got tired of the business, as he did of every thing else that required application and labor. He was no boss, not even an average journeyman, nor a steady hand. When he worked at the trade at all, he liked to make common benches, cupboards, and bureaus; and some specimens of his work of this kind are still extant in Kentucky and Indiana, and bear their own testimony to the quality of their workmanship.