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table or for furnishing forth the scanty wardrobe of the settlers. None need starve, so long as snares and ammunition were handy for the hunter and trapper. But it was a hard life, hard for children, and hardest of all for women. No neighbor dropped in for a few minutes' friendly gossip, with the small news of the day. No steamboat vexed the waters of the Western rivers, the first steam craft of any kind having been put on Lake Erie as late as 1818.
A letter, provided the rude settler knew how to write, took weeks, even months, in a leisurely journey of one hundred miles. Only as a faint echo from out of another world came the news of domestic politics, foreign complications, and national affairs. James Madison was President of the United States, and Congress and the country were stirred greatly over the admission of Missouri, the extension of slavery westward of the Mississippi River, and other matters of great moment then and thereafter.
It was in the autumn of 1816 that the Lincolns took up their abode in the wilds of Indiana. In February of the following year, Thomas Lincoln, with the slight assistance of little Abe, felled the logs needed for a substantial cabin. These were cut to the proper lengths, notched near the ends so as to fit into each other when laid up; and then the neighbors from far and near were summoned to the
raisin',” which was an event in those days for much rude jollity and cordial good-fellowship. A raising was an occasion for merry-making, as well as for hard work; and these opportunities for social gatherings, few as they were, were enjoyed by young
and old. The helpful settlers "snaked” the logs out of the woods, fitted the sills in their places, rolled the other logs up by means of various rude contrivances, and, before nightfall, had in shape the four walls of the log cabin, with the gables fixed in position, and poles fastened on with wooden pins to serve as rafters, and even some progress was made in the way of covering the roof.
The floor of this primitive habitation was the solid ground, pounded hard. The cracks between the bark-covered logs were “chinked” with thin strips of wood split from the plentiful timber. Similar labor "rived” or split the "shakes” with which the roof was covered and from which the swinging door was made. Later on, after his second marriage, when Thomas Lincoln felt in a more industrious mood, huge slabs of wood, split from oak and hickory logs and known as “puncheons, were laid on floor joists of logs and were loosely pinned in place by long wooden pegs. In mature life, years afterwards, when the pioneer boy had become the tenant of the White House at Washington, he could remember how he lay in bed, of a cold morning, listening for his mother's footsteps rattling the slabs of the puncheon floor, as she came to rouse him from a pretended sleep.
Boys who have never lived in the Western wilderness can have no notion of the meagre fare, the rudeness of the furniture, and the absence of those things which we call the necessities of life, that characterized the humble homes of the Indiana settlers of those distant days. In one corner of the cabin, two of its
sides formed by the walls thereof, was built the bedstead of the father and mother. Only one leg was needed, and this was driven down into the ground, a forked top giving a chance to fit in the cross-pieces that served for foot and side of this simple bit of furniture. From these to the logs at the side and head of the bedstead were laid split “shakes," and sometimes thongs of deerskin were laced back and forth after the fashion of bedcording. On this was placed the mattress, filled with dried leaves, corn-husks, or whatever came handy. The children's bed, a smaller contrivance, was sometimes fixed in another corner, but when the wintry wind whistled around the cabin, and the dry snow sifted through the cracks, the little ones stole over to the parental bed for warmth.
In making all these preparations for home-life under their own roof, little Abe took an active part. He early learned the use of the axe, the maul, and the wedge. With the "froe,” a clumsy iron tool, something like a long wedge with a wooden handle fitted into one end, he was taught to "rive” the shingle from the slab; and with maul and wedgesa highly-prized possession-he mastered the art of splitting rails and billets of wood for building purposes from the logs drawn from the forest. In labors like these the lad hardened his sinews, toughened his hands, and imbibed a knowledge of woodcraft and the practical uses of every variety of timber which he never lost while he lived. He knew every tree, bush, and shrub, by its foliage and bark, as far as he could see it. The mysterious
juices that gave healing to wounds and bruises, the roots that held medicinal virtues in their sap, and the uses to which every sort of woody fibre was best adapted, were all familiar to him.
It was impossible that a boy, so imaginative and full of fancy as young Abe certainly was, should grow up in these forests and shades without imbibing some queer notions, as the country folk said, about men and things. The times were superstitious. Men saw all sorts of signs and omens in clouds, in plants, and in other objects of nature. To the ignorant, the woods were peopled with strange and uncanny creatures, and Indian legends and stories were told of many a stretch of trackless forest. Even to the ear of the most practical of mankind there is an awesome solitude in unexplored forest wilderness; and the sighing of the winds, the roar of nightgrowling animals, the hollow murmur of distant streams, and the indescribable hum that goes up continually from the hidden life of the forest are ever after in the memory of those who have spent much of their childhood in scenes like these. It was from the trackless forest that stretched around their home, only faintly scarred by the woodman's axe, that the Lincoln family drew their sustenance and their clothing, even the simple remedies that they required in time of sickness. And it was a school in which the brooding lad took in many a lesson, and which suggested many a thought that could not be expressed in words. Here he acquired habits of reflection, for it must be confessed that he did not like work any better than other boys of his age, and he did like to
spend idle hours in roaming the wild-woods; and Lincoln never to the latest day of his life forgot the traditions and the scenery of the wilderness in which his childhood was spent, never lost the lesson of God's greatness and man's insignificance that the boundless forest, with its occasional glimpses of blue above and far-reaching vistas ahead, taught him.
It was during their first year in Indiana, and when Abraham was in his tenth year, that the children suffered their first great sorrow and loss. Hard work, exposure, and continual anxiety had told on the good mother, and when, during the summer of 1818, a mysterious disease called “the milk-sick" appeared in the region, the overworked woman was stricken down with it. Exactly what “the milk-sick” was, nobody nowadays seems to know. No physician acknowledges any such form of sickness; but there are traditions of it yet extant in the Western States, and Mr. Lincoln, later in life, described it as resembling a quick consumption. Cattle as well as human beings were destroyed by it, and in the far-off wilderness it was not then uncommon to find an entire household prostrated with the disease, while flocks and herds were dying uncared for. It was a sad and gloomy time all through southern Indiana and Kentucky when "the milk-sick” raged.
Nancy Lincoln, smitten with the disorder, was nursed and tended by her husband and children. No doctor ever came into that distant wilderness, and no help could be procured from any source.
In the preceding autumn, Mrs. Betsy Sparrow and her