Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Abraham Lincoln by J. Walker McSpadden
The Story of Abraham Lincoln by  J. Walker McSpadden

A Home in the Wilderness

"Are we nearly there, Tom?"

"Purty nigh, I reckon. If we only had a trail, we could make it easy by sundown."

The speakers were a pioneer woman and her husband, in the wilds of Kentucky. The time was a little over a century ago. The woman was perched insecurely on the seat of a prairie "schooner"—a clumsy-looking wagon with bulging white canvas top, drawn by two patient oxen. Her husband trudged on ahead of the team, striving to clear some sort of a road. But it was slow work at best; and even the lumbering beasts had to stop from time to time to await his efforts.

The man, Tom Lincoln, was clad in rough homespun with fringed leggings, moccasins on his feet, and a coon-skin cap on his head. His tall, spare, but vigorous frame was that of the typical frontiersman.

By the side of his wife, in the wagon, were two children—a girl of about seven and a boy two years younger. Nancy, the little girl, was plainly tired out from their toilsome journey; but her small brother, Abraham, still looked about him with eyes of interest.

It was a wild and picturesque country that they were traversing—one which, a few short years before, had been held by the Indians as one of their favorite hunting grounds, and occasional bands still wandered that way. The woods were full of wild fowl and other small game, to say nothing of occasional bear and deer. The land was rolling, and cut across by gullies or ravines, down one of which, as they neared their destination, a swift, clear stream made its way. Knob Creek was its name, and later on the boy was to become well acquainted with it. It formed the northern boundary of the new piece of land which Tom Lincoln was clearing, and finally flowed into Salt River, a stream which empties into the Ohio River about twenty-five miles west of Louisville.

The Lincoln family was making one of many moves. Tom Lincoln had been more or less of a wanderer all his life; and while a well-meaning sort of person, had never stuck to anything or any place long enough to "make good." He was a carpenter by trade, but lack of work had forced him back to till the soil, like all his pioneer neighbors.

A few years before our story opens, he had married a girl in Elizabethtown, a village where he plied his trade as a carpenter. Her name was Nancy Hanks, and she was a tall, dark-haired, attractive girl, with more culture and education than the average frontier lass. They had lived very happily, although not far removed from want, in a little cabin in the town, and here their first child, Nancy, was born.

Tom had managed to secure a piece of land on Nolin Creek, and he decided to try his hand at farming. His friends and neighbors gathered at the "log-rolling," as was the custom in those days, and soon they had erected a small cabin built entirely of logs. It had only one window, one door, no floor other than the hard-beaten clay, and an outside chimney made of poles and clay. But humble and plain though it was, it was quite as "homey" and comfortable as the majority of the settlers' homes in that section. Out on the frontier no one "put on airs."

This simple log cabin near what is now Hodgensville, Kentucky, was destined to fame. Its very timbers were to be lovingly preserved by a later generation. For here, on February 12, 1809, the boy, Abraham Lincoln, was born. During those first few years, he and his sister had few of the ordinary comforts of life. The cabin was bare of everything except a few cooking utensils and simple pieces of furniture, such as the father himself constructed. But a big roaring fire blazed on the hearth of cold nights; and Tom's rifle kept the table supplied with meat. Their mother, too, was a wonderful cook and a good housekeeper; and many a story did she tell them by the fireside—most often tales from the Bible. So the boy and girl were happy and contented in their wilderness home.

When Abraham was nearly five his father was again seized with the wanderlust. He found the land unproductive, and he heard of some better land about fifteen miles away, at Knob Creek. The little log cabin was accordingly forsaken for a new one of about the same pattern. Moving was a simple process, so far as household effects was concerned, but there were no roads, and the heavy, springless wagon was anything but easy to move across the rough country. It must have been a happy little family indeed, which alighted just as dusk was settling, and looked around the new clearing that was thenceforth to be "home."

"Well, we're hy'ar," drawled Tom Lincoln, as he began to unspan the oxen.

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