“there I Grew Up”

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In the winter of 1850-51, while old Tom Lincoln lay dying in his dismal cabin, Abraham Lincoln, married and a lawyer in Springfield seventy miles away, ignored two letters about his father’s condition before he finally wrote, in answer to a third, “My business is such that I could hardly leave home now”; and five days later, when the old man died, he made no effort to attend the funeral. The usual explanation of this apparent lack of feeling is the mutual dislike that existed between father and son, but Abe Lincoln loved his stepmother and must have known that his presence at the death and funeral would have been a great comfort to her. What prevented his travelling those seventy miles was more likely a reluctance to visit his father’s wretched home, a reluctance that amounted to revulsion because it would remind him of the “loghole” in which he had grown up, across the Wabash in southern Indiana.

“Miserable little log-holes” were the words an English traveller used in 1819 to describe the backwoods cabins he saw in southern Indiana at the time Lincoln lived there. That half-faced camp and the dark little cabin left such an impression on Abraham Lincoln that, years later, when he was a candidate for the Presidency, his autobiographical account of those fourteen years in Indiana summed them up in four words: “There I grew up.” When his campaign biographer asked him to elaborate upon that period, he said: “Why, Scripps, it is a great piece of folly to try to make anything out of my early life. It can all be condensed into a single sentence and that sentence you will find in Gray’s Elegy —’The short and simple annals of the poor.’”

After his departure in 1830, Abraham Lincoln did not set foot on Indiana soil again until 1844, when he came to Rockport to make a speech for Henry Clay. At that time he spent a day in Gentryville as a guest in the home of his old employer, William Jones, and visited the Little Pigeon Creek neighborhood and the unmarked hollow in the earth that was the burial place of his mother and her friend Nancy Brooner. Afterward, he wrote a stilted, melancholy poem about the visit, which tells how he was “saddened with the view” and felt as if he were “living in a tomb.”

That was the last time he ever saW southern Indiana. On his way to his first inauguration he paused twice in the central part of the state, at Lafayette on February 11, 1861, and the next day, his fifty-second birthday, at Indianapolis. After his assassination, his funeral train wound its way slowly across the state to Springfield, Illinois, but it never went near Little Pigeon Creek, or the hillside grave near Tom Lincoln’s “darne little half-face camp.”