Eighth Judicial Circuit Stories

Here we've collected many stories from the different counties of the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Each one is a unique look into the life that Lincoln lived. You may find an old favorite or a new adventure while you search this section.

Champaign     Christian     DeWitt     Edgar     Livingston     Logan     Macon     Mason     McLean
Menard     Moultrie     Piatt     Sangamon     Shelby     Tazewell     Vermilion     Woodford

Stories From Champaign County

A Moment in Prose, A Life Poetic : Brief Repose on the Circuit Hectic

Henry Clay Whitney recounts:

I recollect that in the Fall of 1854, Mr. Lincoln, with other lawyers from abroad, drove over from Urbana the county seat to West Urbana (now Champaign) to see the embryo town and while there stopped at my law office, which had been improvised in the dining room of my father's house.  I had no law library to speak of but made a display of miscellaneous books to fill up and render less uninviting the appearance of the cupboard shelves.  Lincoln took down a well-worn copy of Byron which no boy's library at that time was without and readily turning to the third canto of "Childe Harold" read aloud from the 34th verse commencing:

"There is a very life in our despair," etc.

to and including the 45th verse:

"He who ascends to mountain tops shall find
Those loftiest peaks most wrapped in clouds and snow;
He who surpasses or subdues mankind
Must look down on the hate of those below;
Though high above the sun of glory glow,
And far beneath the Earth and Ocean spread,
Round him are icy rocks and loudly blow
Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to those summits lead."

This poetry was very familiar to him.  Evidently he looked specifically for and found it with no hesitation and read it with a fluency that indicated that he had read it oftentimes before.  I think I am justified in saying that he read it sadly and earnestly if not indeed reverently.  I have, oftentimes since, thought from this slight circumstance that he had a premonition that he was destined to ascend to the mountain tops of human achievement.

For Whom the Gong Tolls : Henry Clay Whitney, Accomplice

At the same time an extra session of the Circuit Court of Champaign County convened at Urbana, Illinois, to dispose of a large mass of unfinished business, Judge Davis held the court and Lincoln having a few cases to try attended.  At the Judge's request, I secured a room for Lincoln him and myself at the American House kept by one John Dunaway.  This primitive hostelry had three front entrances from the street but not a single hall down stairs.  One of these entrances led directly into the ladies parlor and from it an entrance was obtained to the dining room and also from another corner a flight of stairs conducted us to our room. Close by the front and dining room doors was kept a gong which our vulgar boniface was wont to beat vigorously as a prelude to meals, he standing in the doorway immediately under our windows and thereby causing us great annoyance.

While coming in one day with the paper, I met Dunaway, our host, coming down from our room, where he had been, and still was searching anxiously for his gong which some ruthless hand had alas abstracted.  When I had reached the room, I was in the presence of the culprit Lincoln, who sat awkwardly in a chair tilted up after his fashion looking amused silly and guilty as if he had done something ridiculous funny and reprehensible.  The Judge was equally amused but said to him,  "Now Lincoln, that is a shame Poor Dunaway is the most distressed being.  You must put that back," etc. etc.  It seems that Lincoln, in passing through the dining room, had seen the offending and noisy instrument and in a mischievous freak had secreted it between the top and false bottom of a center table and where no one would have thought of looking for it.  He and I immediately repaired to the dining room and while I held the two contiguous doors fast Lincoln restored the gong to its accustomed place after which he bounded up the stairs two steps at a time, I following.

Picture This!

Encouraged by his friend, Henry Clay Whitney, Lincoln visited the studio of Samuel G. Alschuler to have his picture taken.  Lincoln had on a wrinkled, white duster, which was the only coat he had with him at the time.  Alschuler loaned him his black jacket.  Because of his size, the sleeves of the jacket were 3/4 of a foot to short. The clever Alschuler simply took a picture of Lincoln's head and shoulders so the arms didn't show.  Later, in 1860, Alschuler took another picture of Lincoln while in Chicago and captured the first whiskers of Lincoln's new beard.

Slander Brings the Circus, Lincoln Brings the Compromise

One of the most noted actions for slander in which Mr. Lincoln participated was that of Spink v. Chiniquiy. Begun in Kankakee County, this is a case in which Charles Chiniquiy, a priest, was sued for having falsely charged that Peter Spink, one of his parishioners, had been guilty of perjury. The parties, and most of the witnesses, were French Catholics. Mr. Lincoln and Leonard Swett represented Father Chiniquiy. It was a well-known and warmly contested case. Father Chiniquiy was "plucky," related Henry C. Whitney, who was present and remembered the trial. They plead justification and preparations were made for a fight to the finish, not only by the two principals but also by the two respective neighborhoods, in which they lived; for eventually almost everybody became involved.

A change of venue brought the case to Champaign County and, when the term came on, the principals, their lawyers and witnesses and an immense retinue of followers came to Urbana. The hotels were monopolized and a large number camped out. After a tedious and long drawn out trial, the jury disagreed.

Next term the crowds, in no wise diminished, returned: camp outfits, musicians, parrots, pet dogs, and all. The prospect was that all their scandal would have to be aired again, but Mr. Lincoln, who abhorred that class of litigation in which there was no utility and dreading the outlook, set to work and finally effected a compromise.

The formal decree reciting the terms of the settlement of the case which follows was prepared by Lincoln and is an excellent specimen of his concise and orderly presentation of a legal proposition:

"Peter Spink
Charles Chiniquiy

This day came the parties and the defendant denies that he has ever charged, or believed the plaintiff to be guilty of Perjury; that whatever he has said from which such a charge could be inferred, he said on the information of others, protesting his own disbelief in the charge; and that he now disclaims any belief in the truth of said charge against said plaintiff. It is therefore, by agreement of the parties, ordered that the suit be dismissed, each party paying his own cost -- the defendant to pay his part of the cost heretofore ordered to be paid by said plaintiff."

Sometimes Lincoln Loses

From History of Champaign County, Illinois with Illustrations, 1878:

"The first murder in this county for which there was a trial and conviction, was that known as the Weaver-Hiltibrau Murder. On the 10th day of October 1844, William Weaver, of Urbana, a miserable, drunken, reckless wretch, shot David Hiltibrau in the right side, with a rifle, without any apparent motive, except the fiendish recklessness that often attends men who have become besotted. He was arrested and indicted at the May term of 1845, by a grand jury, of which William D. Somers, Esq., was foreman, Judge Treat being on the bench, I. A. McDougal, attorney for the State, T. R. Webber, clerk, and William Lewis, sheriff.

"The following jurors tried the case: Joseph White, Harrison W. Drellinger, Alexander Walter, Henry Sadorus, W. H. Brobst, Charles W. Pitchan, David Hammer, John Hammer, John Mead, Winston Somers, Michael Finebaugh, and Wells Edgerton.

"On the opening of the trial, Abraham Lincoln, who became before his death "the foremost man of all the world," and Ashael Gridley, were appointed by the court to defend the prisoner, but his guilt was too well established during the trial to admit of any verdict but "Guilty," and William Weaver was accordingly sentenced to be hung on Friday, June 27th, 1845. A few days, however, before the day of execution, he made his escape from jail, fled to Wisconsin, and was never recaptured. He subsequently changed his name, reformed, and lived a decent life. His near view of the gallows seems to have somewhat revolutionized him and put him on his good behavior."

Stories From Christian County
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Lincoln Waxes, But Not Philosophical

One local story recounts the tale about Lincoln's dedication to his craft or his sheer stubbornness…or just both. One evening court was running late and in the original courthouse there was no modern lighting, nor was there any way to light the proceedings rather than by candlelight and lamplight. As the darkness of the evening fell about him, the story alleges that Lincoln, rather than calling it a night, continued by candlelight, which he bore around with him in one hand; his law book in another. As he proceeded onward, the amused judge and onlookers watched as the wax melted and poured down his hand in between his fingers.

The Writ of Quietus

Headed into the warm summer months, Lincoln and the other lawyers were often exhausted and welcomed any opportunity for humor at this last stop on the circuit. The courthouse, in those days, sat up from the ground by means of blocks. Pigs from the nearby farm, noticing the encroaching heat, would seek out this alcove for their own relief and to wallow beneath the courthouse.

According to local lore, on one such occasion, the pigs were making such a commotion that Lincoln could barely hear himself speak and was eager to be done with it. Stopping dead stride, Lincoln motioned for Judge David Davis to issue a Writ of Quietus in order to silence the pigs. The courtroom allegedly broke into laughter. Commemorating this moment in Taylorville is a statue on the grounds of the courthouse on the square in the middle of town. Standing relaxed and somewhat in approval is Abraham Lincoln looking downward towards a pig that now, for all time, has a Writ of Quietus stuffed in its mouth.

Stories From DeWitt County
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The Clinton Transcript, in an issue on October 6, 1859, stated that "Old Abe handled his first cue in Smith's billiard room -here in Clinton- and he is now quite a respectable player. We think that this event -as a tradition- ought to surely entitle our village to immortality in pages of future history." Most notably, most "respectable" persons of the time period considered billiards to be a base and sinful pastime. An ordinance approved in June of 1858 stated that "Whoever shall hereafter keep in his possession or control any billiard table and shall permit the same to be used or played on shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not less than ten dollars for each and every time he permits any billiard table to be used for hire." This was later changed in July of 1859 to require a permit or a penalty of ten dollars.

His Dog, Abe

The Clinton Transcript recounted a tale that one of the last times Lincoln was in Clinton, Illinois, a man wandered up to him and apologized for naming his very ugly old hound dog, Abe Lincoln. The story goes that Lincoln responded, "Well, I don't care anything about it if the dog don't."

Obituary Remembrances

An amusing tale was recounted in the obituary of Aaron Nagley. Mr. Nagley once had a little transaction with a Tunbridge resident. The latter had failed to live up to the contract. Abraham Lincoln learned of the matter and had offered to take the case to court at no charge for his services. Mr. Lincoln made the remark, "I think you will not be able to win the suit, but I want to be able to tell that fellow before a jury just what I think of a man who will not stand up to his word." Henry Mann, a resident of Clinton and of both a Native American and African American background was reported to have been a man of substantial physical prowess in his obituary in 1891. So physically fit was he that it was recounted that Mann and Lincoln met on the front lawn one day following court and engaged in a long-jump competition to which Mann was declared the victor. This was a badge of pride with Mann until his death in 1891.

The Proof is in the Pudding

In one local legend, Mrs. Barnett, the proprietor of Barnett's Tavern regularly took care of the visiting lawyers and judges from the Eighth Judicial Circuit when Lincoln once again quipped his way into the local lore. Apparently Mrs. Barnett took to regularly making custard for the visiting judges and lawyers for whom she cared and, according to legend, Lincoln took one look at the custard and exclaimed to Judge Davis, "Did you ever see anything keep like custard? It looks just as it did when we left last fall." Mrs. Barnett must have heard this exchange because it is said she never made her visitors custard again.

Stories From Edgar County
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At Play in Paris

W.C. Slemons and William Simmons recounted the following tale:

Back in the days when the judges and attorneys rode the circuit from county seat to county seat to hold the terms of court, at one term in Paris, either in 1852 or 1853, I was engaged in a game of marbles at the east door of the old Court house. A tall spare built man, plainly dressed, came out of the door and stopped to look at the game. After looking for a few moments, he asked one of the boys engaged in the game, and I think it was Met Jaquith, gave the gentleman his marble and he participated in the game, and, by the way, he was an expert player. After finishing that game, he thanked the group of boys and passed on down toward the old Paris Hotel, where he was stopping. The man was Abraham Lincoln.

Guilty as Charged

Another story in Paris, Illinois recounts that on one occasion while Judge David Davis was presiding over court there was a sudden outburst of boisterous laughter amongst the attorneys. Davis quickly called for order, “Gentlemen, we must have better order in the courtroom.” Once the laughter subsided, Davis reportedly called on one of the lawyers and succinctly inquired, “What was Lincoln telling you this time.”

Literary Lincoln in Paris

Lucy Lamon, wife of Judge R.B. Lamon recounted the following tale:

Lamon during a slow afternoon took to talking with Lincoln about a variety of topics including preferred fiction novels. After the others had all expressed themselves and their interests on the topic, Lincoln was asked for his preference on the subject of his favorite author. Lincoln replied, “Gentlemen, I have never had time to read fiction, or poetry, excepting Shakespeare.” Of his works Lincoln was most familiar and a copy is belonging to the family of Judge Oliver Davis is reputed to be so valued on account of the markings made inside by Mr. Lincoln of his favorite passages while visiting the Davis home.

Stories From Livingston County
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Abraham Lincoln, Riding Through the Storm

Locals tell the tale that after Lincoln was done riding into town on horseback, drenched by a late spring shower, for Livingston County’s for the first regular term of Circuit Court, he stayed overnight in a log cabin that had been built by C.H. Perry on a lot by the Mill Street Bridge. The cabin also was the first store in Pontiac.

The first day of court in Livingston County was held on May 18th and 19th, in 1840, on the second floor of Henry Weed’s log cabin. The reason it was held on the second floor of the first home built in Livingston County (1833) on these two days in May was because Weed, proprietor of the town, had neglected to build the promised courthouse.

Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas Opposing Attorneys

Along the Vermilion River, sitting on saw-logs by the river, the jury held its deliberations following the county’s first regular term of circuit court in which one Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were opposing attorneys.

Local lore tells that near this river at the southeast corner of Water and Mill streets, Lincoln and Douglas debated political issues of the day during the circuit court session, after court had adjourned for the day.

Lincoln Entertains and is Entertained

Lincoln spoke to the Young Men’s Literary Association at the Presbyterian Church on January 27, 1860, just a few months before being nominated for the presidency, honoring a request of Jason W. Strevell. The subject of his speech was “The Wheel and Axle.” A review of the speech in the Pontiac Sentinel indicated many were disappointed that he had not spoken on political issues.

Jason W. Strevell, who invited Lincoln, was well-respected in Pontiac and throughout Livingston County, and, following a reception at the home of Strevell, Lincoln and Strevell reportedly sat up until midnight in conversation.

As the conversation turned to less important topics, Strevell, who was six foot tall, said he did not believe that Lincoln was really 4 inches taller than himself. Lincoln offered to let himself be measured and stood in a doorway in his stocking feet while Strevell made a scratch in the door frame to mark Lincoln's height. Strevell then measured, from floor to the mark on the door frame, and found Lincoln to be exactly, 6 foot, 4 inches tall.

In a later letter to his son, Strevell alleges that Lincoln divulged to Strevell that he thought he might be named for the second place on the ticket at the upcoming Republican convention in Chicago when Lincoln was nominated for the presidency.

Stories From Logan County
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Are You Comfort-Abe-L?

Relating to Lincoln’s affability and his dealings with the everyman, this Lincoln tale takes place at a carriage house owned by the Hoblit’s near Atlanta. Now the Hoblit's had fallen upon a hard moment following the fire that consumed their house and the family was staying in that carriage house. When Lincoln came and stayed with them, they apologized for such conditions and for the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. Lincoln, in his down to earth way is said to have remarked that he was just as pleased to have a place to sleep in the company of good friends.

Danger on the Circuit

In his “History of Logan County,” Lawrence Stringer tells the following tale of Lincoln and Judge Treat's dangerous evening:

"While passing along the moonlit road, he saw a polecat in the track before them. Treat was for driving right ahead but Lincoln remarked he had more experience with such matters than the judge, took the lines out of the judge’s hand and drove carefully in the timber, making a detour at a safe distance from the animal and then back to the road again.

On returning the lines to the judge, Lincoln remarked that he had been caught once and had learned that, in some cases discretion was the better part of valor."

Mr. Lincoln and the Case of the Milk Drinking Mule: Part 1

"Milk-Drinking Mule Played Important Role in One of Lincoln's Law Cases" is the title of an article that appeared in the Lincoln Evening Courier, Centennial Edition, on Wednesday, August 26, 1953:

"Another legal document written by Abraham Lincoln -- with reference to a replevin suit in Logan County Circuit Court which started in 1858 and wasn't settled until 1860 -- has been found in old files of the court by James Hickey of Elkhart, vice president of both the Logan County Historical Society and the Illinois State Historical Society.

The replevin suit [legal action to regain ownership] concerned ownership of a mule that drank milk.

James M. Houser and Henry Palmer both claimed the mule, which was about 3 years old with the letter "S" branded on its left shoulder. The animal was worth about $150.

Palmer, manager of the old Lincoln House at Broadway and Chicago Street, had replevined the mule from Howser, and Howser was trying to get it back.

An attorney named Austin represented Howser and Wilford D. Wyatt represented the hotel man.

The jury trial was held March 23, 1859. It was at this term of court that Lincoln was present for most of the two weeks and acted as Judge in several cases. Judge Davis of Bloomington was on the bench for the Howser-Palmer case, however.

Mr. Lincoln and the Case of the Milk Drinking Mule: Part 2

Wyatt stated to the jury that Palmer and his children had raised the mule as a pet on a diet of milk and that, though now mature, it still liked milk. Lincoln, who was in court, laughed so much that Wyatt became irritated and told Lincoln he would prove the statement.

A pan of milk was presented to the mule. The animal drank it and wanted more.

Lincoln then made a counter proposition: "There are half dozen other mules tethered to the hitching racks around the square, and every one will do the same." Another pan of milk was presented to another mule, and it drank it.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Howser.

Apparently Lincoln felt he had caused Wyatt to lose the case, for he wrote out a motion -- the one found here -- for a new trial for Wyatt and the Judge granted the request. The new trial came up in September, 1859, with a new jury, but the jurors couldn't agree. The jury was dismissed and the case was continued.

At the March, 1860, term of court the case was dismissed by Judge Davis, and Palmer and Howser were ordered to pay their own costs.

At the time of the first trial, Lincoln was a guest at the old Lincoln House of which Palmer was manager."

Stranger in the Night

One particular account that Lincoln was reportedly fond of recounting involved one evening at the Deksins Tavern while in town for a trial. “After everybody had gone to bed, there came a terrific pounding at the door. The landlord got up to let in the energetic assailer of the portal, who seemed to be in search of a drink of whiskey.” “The landlord explained that he had no whiskey in the house, whereupon the visitor wanted to know where there was any place in the village where a drink could be had." "To all these questions, the landlord returned a negative and as the full horrors of his whiskey-less situation burst upon him, the fellow said, with great emotion, ‘Good Heavens! Give me an ear of corn and a tin cup and I’ll make it myself.”

Stories From Macon County
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Falling into Law

Lincoln spent a lot of time in and around the Decatur area even before becoming a lawyer, but a local tale recounts that some of Lincoln's preparation for greatness may have included an unintended stop. You see, in a local tale, a fall through the ice while walking on the Sangamon River resulted in frostbitten feet for Mr. Lincoln. During his three week recuperation at Sheriff Warnick’s home, young Mr. Lincoln exhibited his early interest in studying law by reading the Illinois Statutes.

He Is and Is Not and Lincoln Can Prove It: Part 1

The two cases Lincoln handled involving David Adkin proved to be two of the most singularly interesting cases in Decatur in which Lincoln demonstrated his ability as a lawyer.

When Lincoln first arrived at the Macon County seat in June of 1839, having been in practice for a little less than three years, he took on a case defending a man accused of slander. It seems that two men, Meisenhelder and Hines, stood accused of the slander of calling Adkin a hog thief. Now Lincoln had the task of defending Hines against Adkin, who was being represented by none other than Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln's strategy was a risky one, he proposed that Hines was not slandering Adkin if he was, in fact, a hog thief. The strategy was risky because if he did not prove that he was a thief, then he had basically admitted his client's guilt. He won, though, even against the man who would become known as "The Little Giant," but that is not the most interesting part.

He Is and Is Not and Lincoln Can Prove It: Part 2

Later that same October, when the Circuit once again took Lincoln into Decatur, the State's Attorney had finally gotten around to charging Adkin with being a hog thief. Adkin, being broke at this point, perhaps for having to pay the court costs in the previous case, was in dire need of an attorney to provide himself a defense from this criminal charge. Judge Treat, sitting on the bench, appointed Lincoln to his defense. Now Lincoln had to prove that the same man he had proven WAS a hog thief, was in fact NOT a hog thief. Using some of Douglas' own arguments about inconsistent dates on which he was accused of thievery, Lincoln cast enough doubt upon the jury to see that he was acquitted.

What a lawyer indeed!

As an epilogue to this story, this case perhaps would stick with Lincoln for many years as he may have made mention of it specifically nine years later in a speech before the United States House of Representatives. In this speech he alluded to his Democratic opponents reminding him of what “a drunken fellow once said when he heard the reading of an indictment for hog-stealing.” “The clerk,” Lincoln continued, “read on till he got to, and through the words ‘did steal, take, and carry away, ten boars, ten sows, ten shoats, and ten pigs’ at which he exclaimed “Well, by golly, that is the most equally divided gang of hogs I ever did hear of.’ If there is any other gang of hogs more equally divided than the democrats of New York are about this time, then I have not heard of it.”

Mr. Lincoln Carries a Tune…Kind of…

Among many incidents about Lincoln told by Mrs. Jane Martin Johns, as recounted in her book Personal Recollections, is the one about his helping with her piano. She was living at the Macon hotel when her piano came, the first in Decatur. She asked the landlord whom she could get to help carry it in. He said:

"Court will be out soon and the lawyers will come to dinner. We can get them to help".

Soon they came, one a tall, slim, muscular man wearing a heavy gray shawl as men wore then.

When the lawyers appeared, the tallest turned to another and said, “Come on, Swett, you are the next biggest man!” He conferred briefly with the wagon driver, then went to the carpenter shop Mr. Krone had in the basement, and returned with two timbers across his shoulders. The timbers were laid across from the wagon bed to the door.

With others this tall gentleman took hold and helped carry in and set up the piano.

Mrs. Johns played for them that evening. It was her first meeting with Mr. Lincoln, but it would not be her last. He became a good friend of the family, and both Mrs. Johns and her husband were political adherents of Lincoln’s.

Stories From Mason County
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Harvey L. Ross Remembers Lincoln as a Young Man and Lawyer : Part 1

"It was in 1832, just after Lincoln had moved to Salem and Harvey was carrying mail from Lewistown to Havana. It had to be carried twice a week on horseback. Harvey was a young stripling and chose to carry the mail rather than work on the farm or clerk in the store. At this time Mr. Lincoln was postmaster and also clerked at Hill's store. The post offices between Lewistown and Springfield were Havana, Salem, Athens and Sangamon. Lincoln was postmaster at Salem, and Ross was there four times a week. He was only a few years younger than Lincoln and they were very intimate. Ross put up at the hotel where Lincoln boarded and often assisted him in the store and helped him sort the mail and would often carry packages for him to customers along the road. He afterwards met him often while attending court in Mason County. In the beginning court was held in Havana. It was held in the bar room of the hotel and some of the bedrooms were used for jury rooms.

Ross recollects one time when Abraham Lincoln was attorney for Frank Low in a suit against Reuben Coon for slander in which Low got judgment against Coon for $500. The first time Ross and Lincoln met was at Jack Armstrong's, five miles north of Salem. Lincoln often stayed at Armstrong's. Sometimes he would stay a month at a time. They thought a great deal of Abe as Hannah Armstrong called him. When Jack Armstrong had any work to do he would get Lincoln to help him as his boys were small. Hannah would do Abe's sewing, patching, mending, knit his socks and darn them. In fact she treated him as a son. Abe never forgot her kindness and was enabled in after years to fully repay her.

Harvey L. Ross Remembers Lincoln as a Young Man and Lawyer : Part 2

When Ross first met Lincoln at Armstrong's he asked him who he was. He said he was Abe Lincoln and that he was working for a few days for Jack Armstrong. He was tall and slender and dressed in home-made jeans, about the same kind that the majority of the young men wore at that time. The next time he met him was at the Rutledge tavern in Salem. He was at that time working for Samuel Hill, the Salem merchant. Hill kept the only permanent store in Salem. He had all the kinds of goods that the people called for. He kept blue calico, muslin and cham. Every person did their own weaving or had it done. Jean was a staple article. It was mostly colored blue, but occasionally butternut, which was a brown. The stores kept a lot of home-made jeans in stock. I think the prices ran from 30 to 40 cents a yard.

Personal Memory of Mr. T.G. Onstot

Lincoln belonged to the reasoning class of men. He dealt with his own mind and turned things over, seeking the truth until he established it and it became a conviction. As a lawyer he never claimed anything for his client. He stated something of both sides of the case. He has been heard to say: "Now I do not think my client is entitled to the whole of what he claims. In this or in that point he may have been in error. He must rebate something of his claim." He was very careful about giving offense, and if he had something severe to say he would turn to his opponent or to the party referred to and say, "I don't like to use this language." or "I am sorry that I have to be hard on that gentleman."

Therefore, what he did say was very effective and he very seldom wounded the parties interested. Throughout Mr. Lincoln's life that kind of wisdom attended him and made him great and skillful in handling people. He had a smooth, manly, pleasing voice, and when arguing in court that voice attracted the jury and did not tire them as they followed the argument throughout. He was not a graceful man. He would lean on the back of a chair or stand with his arms folded. Yet there was a pleasure in hearing him. A lady once said that he was the best looking ugly man she ever saw.

The People Versus Armstrong or "The Almanac Trial" : Part 1

The events leading to the famous "Almanac Trial" began on the evening of Saturday, August 29, 1857, during a religious camp meeting in Mason County hosted by none other than Peter Cartwright. William "Duff" Armstrong, Norris, and Metzker were drinking on the outskirts of the meeting when a fight started and someone allegedly struck Metzker with a slung shot. Metzker died three days later.

The state's attorney indicted Armstrong and Norris in the Mason County Circuit Court for murder. Within one month, the court tried, convicted, and sentenced Norris to eight years in the penitentiary. Norris later asked Lincoln to help him overturn his conviction (Norris asked Lincoln to represent him).

The court granted Armstrong a change of venue to the Cass County Circuit Court, where Lincoln entered the case and defended Armstrong as a favor to Hannah Armstrong, William Armstrong's mother and an old friend of Lincoln's from New Salem, Illinois.

The People Versus Armstrong or "The Almanac Trial" : Part 2

Lincoln presented two witnesses.

The first witness testified that the alleged murder weapon was his and that he threw it away near the murder site on the day after the fight.

The second witness, Dr. Charles Parker, testified that the fatal injury could have occurred when Metzker fell off of his horse after the fight. Allen, the prosecution's main witness, had testified that, from a distance of 150 feet under a bright moon, he had seen Armstrong strike Metzker with the slung shot.

Lincoln questioned the accuracy of Allen's testimony by producing an 1857 almanac that showed that the moon was low in the sky at the time of the fight.

The jury found Armstrong not guilty.

Stories From McLean County
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Lincoln Gets Railroaded and Takes them for a Ride

Lincoln sued the Illinois Central Railroad to collect his fee from the famous McLean County Tax Case (Illinois Central RR v. McLean County, Illinois & Parke). In 1853, Lincoln had represented the Illinois Central Railroad in a case before the McLean County Courts wherein he had argued that the charter signed with Bloomington exempted them from the payment of taxes in regards to this property. Lincoln lost the original case, but it was appealed and went up the chain and after several years it was won before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Lincoln went to Chicago to present the railroad with his bill for $2000. While there he was referred to a man working for the Illinois Central who allegedly took one look at the bill and scoffed, "Why sir, this is as much as Daniel Webster himself would have charged! We cannot allow such a claim." Lincoln withdrew his bill and, on his way back home, stopped in Bloomington to consult his fellow attorneys and associates from the Circuit as to his next move. They seemed to be of the opinion that the original charge was much too low. They urged him to raise the amount and Lincoln did just that.

He sought $6,000.

Lincoln refuted the railroad's claim that the fee was exorbitant, and the jury agreed and awarded him $5,000. Five days later, the jury corrected the amount to $4,800 because the railroad had previously paid Lincoln $200. Though the Illinois Central did not even send anyone to the court on their behalf, the court did allow the railroad to appeal to the Supreme Court within thirty days, but the railroad did not appeal and they paid him more than twice the original fees he requested.

Lincoln's Accurate Defense of Gridley

Ashael Gridley, the entrepreneur, lawyer, and sometimes railroad land agent was one of the most widely known citizens in Bloomington at the time he finished completing the construction on his home in 1859. Yet it wasn't for his businesses or even for the fact that his home was the most expensive in the Bloomington. It wasn't even for his work ethic that had barely allowed him to survive the Crash of 1837 in tact and then enabled him to study the law and ride the Circuit with Abraham Lincoln. Rather, he had developed something of a reputation for arrogance and a disdain that bordered on the overtly aggressive to his fellow Bloomingtonians. In short, he was a mean and easily disliked character. Lincoln, however, considered Gridley a friend and Gridley returned the sentiment.

William Flagg, the Reaper manufacturer sued Gridley for slander and Gridley retained Lincoln for his defense. Lincoln argued before the court that his tongue could be no slanderer because the people of Bloomington KNEW he was impulsive and said things that he did not mean. So, as a result, people generally paid him no heed. Therefore, what he said against Flagg could not be considered slander. Apparently, this kind gambit for his friend paid off and Flagg settled out of court. Even with his defense, Lincoln and Gridley remained friends.

Lincoln "Tackles" a Courtroom Dilemma

During one particular court case in Bloomington, Reuben M. Benjamin (a young lawyer for whom Lincoln had signed the certificate to practice law) was present. Lincoln was speaking before the jury and, without notice or a slowing of time with which to catch himself, Lincoln's suspender broke mid-presentation. Without missing a beat, Lincoln apologized to the jury and asked for a brief moment while he "mended his tacklin'." Lincoln knew that "tacklin'" was a term used by farmers and the like to describe any variety of hitch or harnessing devices and his use of the term may have helped him identify with the rural jury. Further still, Lincoln took that moment to wander over to the woodbox, help himself to a stick and whittle a piece of it down into a workable size while the courtroom waited. He then affixed it to his braces and continued about his way.

Stories From Menard County
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A Less than Un-Average Joe

Robert Wilson, a resident of Menard County and colleague of Lincoln on the Circuit recalls this description of Lincoln:

“He seemed to be a born politician. We followed his lead; but he followed nobody’s lead. It may almost be said that he did our thinking for us. He inspired respect, though he was careless and negligent. We would ride while he would walk; but we recognized him as a master of logic. He was poverty itself; but independent. He seemed to glide along in life without any friction or effort.”

Armstrong Defends Lincoln's Case

In an interview with a journalist for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat on September 18, 1886, in Petersburg, Illinois, the author first recounts the tale and Armstrong responds regarding the Almanac Trial:

"After the trial there was a good deal of talk. The defendant's friends were not the least bit puzzled, for some of them remembered a moon that night. There was consultations of old almanacs, and it was found that the general recollection was correct; the affray had taken place on a moonlit night. Then the almanac that Lincoln had used was in request; it could not be found. There is no doubt in the minds of Petersburg people that Mr. Lincoln's almanac was not genuine. Some hold that it was gotten up for the occasion. Others think that for the proper almanac Mr. Lincoln substituted one of the previous year, and that the error in date was overlooked in the confusion caused by such startling evidence..."

"Duff Armstrong said to the writer quite warmly: 'It's all nonsense to talk about Mr. Lincoln having had that almanac made for the occasion. I recollect he called for an almanac, and there was none in the court room. Then he sent my cousin Jake out to get one and he went out and got the book that was shown to the jury. The almanac was all right. Lincoln made a speech to the jury,' said Duff, 'in which he told them how he had held me when I was a baby while mother got his meals for him. He told mother he wouldn't charge a cent for defending me, and he never did. He was a mighty smart man and a good one, too.'" While Duff Armstrong lives there will be one man in Petersburg to defend Lincoln's memory upon the almanac episode."

William "Duff" Armstrong died on May 13th, 1899 and is buried in Eaton, Illinois.

Life as a Lawyer, Time for Politics

Often while on the Circuit, Lincoln would take time to both forge political alliances and to make speeches or discuss the politics of the day. On one such occasion, in 1846, Lincoln took time in Menard County to speak with local clergy regarding a hypothetical scenario about a man named Dr. Ross who owned a slave named Sambo. “Is it the will of God that Sambo shall remain a slave or be set free. The Almighty gives no audible answer…So Dr. Ross must decide the question. And while he considers it, he sits in the shade and subsists on the bread that Sambo is earning in the burning sun. If he decides that God wills Sambo to be freed, he thereby has to walk out of the shade and delve for his bread. Will Dr. Ross be actuated by perfect impartiality?”

Stories From Moultrie County
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An Unscheduled Lincoln-Douglas Turn-Out Turns out a Riot

Due to the number of friends and supporters that Lincoln had amassed in Moultrie County during his time on the Circuit, he was beseeched to make a stop in Sullivan and deliver a speech. Lincoln, made aware that there could be trouble from some of the locals in response to his speech being made on the same day as Senator Douglas on September 20th of 1858, Lincoln wrote the following to Douglas:

Understanding that Judge Douglas would speak before dinner, I announced that I would address our friends at Freeland's Grove, at 2. P.M. As he does not begin till 1 o'clock, if he will announce the fact, so that I can understand it, I will postpone to 3. o'clock.


In spite of Lincoln's effort and the co-operation of Douglas in making the announcement, a mob conflict arose between the partisans at Sullivan when the Republican parade marching to the grove passed near the Democratic gathering before Douglas had concluded. Although there are ample reports of the brawl, of which locals as having recounted Lincoln entering and disbanding after weapons were brandished and at least one man was hit in the head with a brick, no report of Lincoln's speech has been found.

Rainy Days and Painful Stays

According to Willard King's biography of David Davis, Davis described an all-day trip to Sullivan in the rain.

“With a buffalo robe, umbrella and overcoat, he claimed that he kept from getting wet. In time they learned to stop at farms along the way.”

Again, quoting from a letter to his wife, Davis wrote, “Lincoln, Anthony Thornton, Campbell & Moulton and myself went to John Ward’s about five miles from Shelbyville. Whiled away several hours, got a fine dinner, & about 3 o’clock started for Sullivan where we got about 6 o’clock.”

“As usual the tavern at Sullivan looked bad, and they tried to stay somewhere else: We found Mrs. James Elder with a very sick headache and abed. We went to a tavern, but I only got supper. Really got vexed on account of (bad) stable for horses. Went to Mrs. Elder’s & slept & next morning got breakfast at tavern & afterwards took all our meals & slept at Mrs. Elder’s. The tavern was so tough, that I should have been in a bad humor to have staid there.”

The Seat of Justice

One recounted tale from Sullivan shows yet another example of Lincoln's turn of a witty phrase and his shrewd observational humor. It seems that one David Campbell was at the time the prosecutor of Moultrie County. Shortly before court that day, Campbell had allegedly been in some sort of a scuffle, which had cost him the indignity of a torn pair of pants right along the seat. Other attorneys began suggesting that Campbell have a new pair of pants purchased on his behalf. When they approached Lincoln to include him in the plan Lincoln simply responded, " I cannot conscientiously contribute anything to the end in view."

Stories From Piatt County
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Lincoln Recounts Attitude in Piatt

This story was included in the Campaign Autobiography for 1860, as assembled and edited by Jesse Fell.

"The judge would march in pomp from the tavern attended by such of the court loungers as had sufficient gall to obtrude themselves upon him the lawyers would gather with their little dockets and mayhap their law books too the clerk would carry up the court archives in a little hair trunk the bailiff would bring up the stone water jug full cool and flowing unless he should forget it as he seems to have done at Piatt one term If the Court please said State's Attorney Campbell holding up a partly filled pitcher suggestive of antiquity and neglect, 'Is this the same water left over from last term?'"

Mr. Lincoln by the Wayside

Local stories recount the following tale:

In order to catch train at Bement the following day, Stephen A. Douglas left Monticello by carriage the evening following his speech there. While on their way, along where Route 105 exists today, Douglas and his entourage were intercepted by Lincoln, who was on his way into Monticello. Lincoln is said to have had a response to Douglas' letter of July 24th and was eager to give the Little Giant his reply, agreeing to various debates and locations though he had not compared the letter to his own. Douglas, quick to be on his way, is reported to have told Lincoln to just send the letter to Bement and the two shook hands and were on their way. Lincoln then made his way to Monticello, where he gave a speech and then departed for Bement.

The Long Procession

While a practicing lawyer on the circuit, Lincoln often took time to make political speeches and following one such speech in Bloomington, he went to Monticello to meet a correspondent in the town he had often visited while on the Circuit, according to fellow Circuit rider, Henry Clay Whitney. After he had inquired after the man, he found the rather tall man working away with a draw knife at a flagpole he was constructing. The man began trying to move the very large flagpole following a dinner with his esteemed guest and nearly buckled under the weight of it and Lincoln, bemused by this spectacle began to help the man move the pole down through the grove. Lincoln was unaware of the ludicrousness of the situation until several townspeople were heard commenting on the long procession of the two tall men over six feet in height carrying the long flagpole.

Stories From Sangamon County
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Abe Got the Worst of It

When Lincoln was a young lawyer in Illinois, he and a certain Judge once got to bantering one another about trading horses; and it was agreed that the next morning at nine o'clock they should make a trade, the horses to be unseen up to that hour, and no backing out, under a forfeiture of $25. At the hour appointed, the Judge came up, leading the sorriest-looking specimen of a horse ever seen in those parts. In a few minutes Mr. Lincoln was seen approaching with a wooden saw-horse upon his shoulders.

Great were the shouts and laughter of the crowd, and both were greatly increased when Lincoln, on surveying the Judge's animal, set down his saw-horse, and exclaimed:

"Well, Judge, this is the first time I ever got the worst of it in a horse trade."

Bad Time for A Barbecue : Part 1

Captain T. W. S. Kidd of Springfield was the crier of the court in the days when Mr. Lincoln used to ride the circuit.

"I was younger than he," says Captain Kidd, "but he had a sort of admiration for me, and never failed to get me into his stories. I was a story-teller myself in those days, and he used to laugh very heartily at some of the stories I told him.

"Now and then he got me into a good deal of trouble. I was a Democrat, and was in politics more or less. A good many of our Democratic voters at that time were Irishmen. They came to Illinois in the days of the old canal, and did their honest share in making that piece of internal improvement an accomplished fact.

"One time Mr. Lincoln told the story of one of those important young fellows--not an Irishman--who lived in every town, and have the cares of state on their shoulders. This young fellow met an Irishman on the street, and called to him, officiously: 'Oh, Mike, I'm awful glad I met you. We've got to do something to wake up the boys. The campaign is coming on, and we've got to get out voters. We've just had a meeting up here, and we're going to have the biggest barbecue that ever was heard of in Illinois. We are going to roast two whole oxen, and we're going to have Douglas and Governor Cass and some one from Kentucky, and all the big Democratic guns, and we're going to have a great big time.'

Bad Time for A Barbecue : Part 2

"'By dad, that's good!' says the Irishman. 'The byes need stirrin' up.'

"'Yes, and you're on one of the committees, and you want to hustle around and get them waked up, Mike.'

"'When is the barbecue to be?' asked Mike.

"'Friday, two weeks.'

"'Friday, is it? Well, I'll make a nice committeeman, settin' the barbecue on a day with half of the Dimocratic party of Sangamon County can't ate a bite of mate. Go on wid ye.'

"Lincoln told that story in one of his political speeches, and when the laugh was over he said: 'Now, gentlemen, I know that story is true, for Tom Kidd told it to me.' And then the Democrats would make trouble for me for a week afterward, and I'd have to explain."

His Name Remains on the Sign

Enduring friendship and love of old associations were prominent characteristics of President Lincoln. When about to leave Springfield for Washington, he went to the dingy little law office, which had sheltered his saddest hours.

He sat down on the couch, and said to his law partner, Herndon:

"Billy, you and I have been together for more than twenty years, and have never passed a word. Will you let my name stay on the old sign until I come back from Washington?"

The tears started to Herndon's eyes. He put out his hand. "Mr. Lincoln," said he, "I never will have any other partner while you live"; and to the day of assassination, all the doings of the firm were in the name of "Lincoln & Herndon."

No Halfway Business : Part 1

Soon after Mr. Lincoln began to practice law at Springfield, he was engaged in a criminal case in which it was thought there was little chance of success. Throwing all his powers into it, he came off victorious, and promptly received for his services five hundred dollars. A legal friend, calling upon him the next morning, found him sitting before a table, upon which his money was spread out, counting it over and over.

"Look here, Judge," said he. "See what a heap of money I've got from this case. Did you ever see anything like it? Why, I never had so much money in my life before, put it all together." Then, crossing his arms upon the table, his manner sobering down, he added: "I have got just five hundred dollars; if it were only seven hundred and fifty, I would go directly and purchase a quarter section of land, and settle it upon my old step-mother."

His friend said that if the deficiency was all he needed, he would loan him the amount, taking his note, to which Mr. Lincoln instantly acceded.

No Halfway Business : Part 2

His friend then said:

"Lincoln, I would do just what you have indicated. Your step-mother is getting old, and will not probably live many years. I would settle the property upon her for her use during her lifetime, to revert to you upon her death."

With much feeling, Mr. Lincoln replied:

"I shall do no such thing. It is a poor return at best for all the good woman's devotion and fidelity to me, and there is not going to be any halfway business about it." And so saying, he gathered up his money and proceeded forthwith to carry his long-cherished purpose into execution.

Squire Bagly's Precedent

Mr. T. W. S. Kidd, of Springfield, says that he once heard a lawyer opposed to Lincoln trying to convince a jury that precedent was superior to law, and that custom made things legal in all cases. When Lincoln arose to answer him he told the jury he would argue his case in the same way.

"Old 'Squire Bagly, from Menard, came into my office and said, 'Lincoln, I want your advice as a lawyer. Has a man what's been elected justice of the peace a right to issue a marriage license?'

I told him he had not; when the old 'squire threw himself back in his chair very indignantly, and said, 'Lincoln, I thought you was a lawyer. Now, Bob Thomas and me had a bet on this thing, and we agreed to let you decide; but if this is your opinion I don't want it, for I know a thunderin' sight better, for I have been 'squire now for eight years and have done it all the time.'"

'Twas Moving Day

Speed, who was a prosperous young merchant of Springfield, reports that Lincoln's personal effects consisted of a pair of saddle-bags, containing two or three law books, and a few pieces of clothing. Riding on a borrowed horse, he thus made his appearance in Springfield. When he discovered that a single bedstead would cost seventeen dollars he said, "It is probably cheap enough, but I have not enough money to pay for it." When Speed offered to trust him, he said: "If I fail here as a lawyer, I will probably never pay you at all." Then Speed offered to share large double bed with him.

"Where is your room?" Lincoln asked.

"Upstairs," said Speed, pointing from the store leading to his room.

Without saying a word, he took his saddle-bags on his arm, went upstairs, set them down on the floor, came down again, and with a face beaming with pleasure and smiles, exclaimed: "Well, Speed, I'm moved."

Stories From Shelby County
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At Play on the Ever-Changing Circuit

The lawyers, state’s attorney, and circuit judge often stayed in the same rooms in taverns--or hotels--in county seats. In Shelbyville, the group frequented Tackett’s tavern, later known as Woodward’s tavern, at this location. Judge David Davis often wrote his wife while traveling the circuit and frequently commented on conditions in Shelbyville. Davis wrote that “the Tavern is good & eating first rate.”

During one rainy period, he passed the time by playing Whist, a card game similar to bridge, with several others. Another time, he participated in a fishing trip at a mill dam on the Kaskaskia River and later everyone participated in a fish dinner.

While David Davis often complained about the living conditions and food in many taverns across the Eighth Judicial Circuit, he thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie. Davis believed that his circuit was too big, and wanted Shelbyville and Paris off the circuit. He found an ally in Lincoln, who “had a deep interest in the proper arrangement of a Circuit.” Even though Lincoln was not a member of legislature, he authored the bill to reduce the limits of the Eighth Circuit removing six counties, including Shelby.

Divorce and Alimony on the Grand Prairie : Part 1

More often than not, Lincoln handled legal matters of a non-criminal or common law variety. Debts, slander, land disputes, and even divorces were par for the course. Of the latter two we meet Mr. And Mrs. Stewardson of Shelby County, Illinois.

Now, before Mary Jane married William Stewardson, Mary had $320 to her name and soon after their nuptials, William Stewardson bought forty-three acres of land with the money the money that Mary had.

Before too long, William Stewardson deserted Mary Jane Stewardson and left her without recourse. In order to provide a living, she sold some of his personal property and with the profits bought another forty acres of land.

In the Shelby County Circuit Court, Mary Jane Stewardson filed for and received a divorce along with an established alimony of $50 per year. However, the ownership of both tracts of land remained in question.

Divorce and Alimony on the Grand Prairie : Part 2

Eventually, though, Mary Jane Stewardson retained the services of one Mr. Abraham Lincoln in order to finally decide what was to be done about this disputed property. The Shelby County Circuit Court, in May of 1853, ruled that Mary Jane Stewardson should keep the forty-three-acre tract and should convey the forty-acre tract to William Stewardson, and the court reduced her alimony to $30 per year. You see, she had kept that initial property that was purchased with her own funds and had taken William's property to buy the rest.

None too pleased, Mary Jane Stewardson appealed the judgment to the Illinois Supreme Court, and Mr. Lincoln continued to represent her, just as he has at the outset.

Justice Caton, of the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the initial judgment, after hearing the case in December of that same year. He wrote that since Mary Jane Stewardson bought the land with William Stewardson's money, it was rightfully his. Caton also believed that the alimony payments and the rent from her land amply provided for her needs.

Win or lose, Lincoln stuck to it and sometimes even he didn't get the outcome he would like, but it was just par for the course for this Circuit-riding attorney.

Hello-Goodbye: Lincoln Returns to Shelbyville Many Times

Abraham Lincoln visited Shelby County on several occasions. He mostly attended court in Shelbyville between 1849 and 1853, a time in which Lincoln himself noted that he immersed himself in the law. Lincoln handled at least thirty-five cases in Shelby County. Mirroring his larger practice, he argued mainly debt cases in Shelbyville, including defending seventeen Shelby County residents who failed make stock payments to the Terre Haute and Alton Railroad.

He also represented a woman in a divorce case and defended a dozen men in three cases who used vigilante justice against a man who assisted a jail break. However, Lincoln also argued a large number of slander cases in Shelby County. Even though many slander cases had large judgments against defendants, ranging from $300 to $1,000, most of the winning plaintiffs remitted, or gave back, that award. The winning party was not interested in the money but only wanted his or her good name restored. Six of Lincoln’s cases in Shelbyville were slander cases.

The courtroom, in which Lincoln argued cases and debated Anthony Thornton, occupied the entire first floor. County officers worked on the second floor. The building was forty feet square, topped with a cupola, and designed in the federal style, more commonly referred to as “coffee mill” style since the entire building resembled a coffee grinder.

Two Frontier Legends Meet! (Well…not quite, but almost.)

Abraham Lincoln assisted in the defense of John Crockett in 1852 in neighboring Moultrie County for murder. A jury found the Shelby County resident guilty of the reduced charge of manslaughter and sentenced him to two years.

Lincoln led the successful effort to obtain a pardon for the “feeble minded” man.

Elliott Crockett--John Crockett’s father and nephew of the frontiersman and hero of the Alamo, Davy Crockett--gave Lincoln a promissory note for legal services but died before paying the debt.

In 1857, Lincoln retained Anthony Thornton and sued Crockett’s estate to recover the debt. The court ruled for Lincoln and awarded him $64.

Stories From Tazewell County
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A Telegrapher's Reminiscence : Part 1

Charles Tinker, Esquire recounts the following tale in an 1895 tribute to Lincoln:

"My acquaintance with the martyred President began thirty-eight years ago, in the spring of 1857, when I was a telegraphy operator at Pekin, a small town in Illinois, ten miles south of Peoria. The telegraph office was located in the Tazewell House, the principle hotel of the place, and the favorite resort for lawyers and persons who had business in the court, which was held in town.

The first time he ever spoke to me was when, one afternoon, he came into my office in the corner of the room, and, looking over the tall railing, said: "Mr. Operator, I have always had a curiosity to see a telegraph work. You don't seem to be very busy, and as I have a half-hour or so to wait for dinner, I wonder if you would not explain it to me."

I replied: "Certainly, sir, I should be pleased to do so;" and, inviting him inside the gate, I proceeded to show him the "working of the telegraph," explained the battery and its connection to the instruments, and the wires leading thence out of the window and away into the world without. I was encouraged by the readiness with which he comprehended it all. He seemed to grasp its intricacies, and remarked: "How simple it is when you know it all!"

A Telegrapher's Reminiscence : Part 2

In 1862, when I was a cipher operator in the War Department, Mr. Lincoln often visited the office and was always affable and courteous, sometimes even familiar, in his intercourse with the attaches of the office. He did not recognize me as the young telegraph operator he had met in the West, nor did I make my identity known until, on one occasion, when he was telling a story to a member of the Cabinet and some prominent army officers. He tried to recall the name of a certain man in Illinois whom I had known very well. It seemed to annoy him very much that he could not remember the name.

With some trepidation I ventured to say: "Mr. President, permit me to suggest; was it not Judge Puterbough?"

He turned upon me and with a look of surprise, shouted: "Why, yes! Did you know him?"

Gaining confidence, I replied: "Yes, sir" and he queried, "Where did you know him?"

I responded again, more hopefully: "Down in Pekin, Illinois, where I had the honor of explaining to the present President of the United States the working of the telegraph, in the little office in the Tazewell House."

He turned to his surprised audience, and exclaimed, "Well, isn't it funny that we should have met here?" and confirmed to them how he had first witnessed the working of the telegraph in the Tazewell House, at Pekin.

Shopping with Neighbors

On occasion, Abraham Lincoln assisted in some serious cases and other times, not so serious ones. Sometimes, most criminals who defy the common law are common folk who exhibit some uncommon behavior.

In April of 1852, David Campbell, the State's Attorney, had Mr. Lincoln assist him in writing the indictment for the case called People versus Martin and Martin.

Now, Julia Ann Martin and James Martin had allegedly stolen a tablecloth from Gale, a green veil from Appleton, one-half yard of gingham from Browner, and a fan from Dorsett all in September of the previous year.

The state's attorney indicted Martin and Martin for larceny and good ol' Mr. Lincoln wrote the indictment for the state's attorney. Martin and Martin argued that they already owned the articles and that they were not stolen. The state's attorney, at a loss at this point, decided not to prosecute further, and the court dismissed the case.

Stories From Vermilion County
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At What Cost?

Doctor John Scott retained the firm of Lincoln and Lamon to represent him and his sister in a case involving his suit against a suitor who was seeking to defraud his sister who was “of unsound mind” by means of gaining “possession of her money.” The case was won, but when Scott went to pay Lincoln the agreed upon $250, as they had supposed that the trial would be long and drawn out, Lincoln flatly refused. The case had only taken about twenty minutes and Lamon and Lincoln were successful in thwarting the designs of the would-be suitor. Lincoln stated that the charge was “excessive” and his partner was shocked.

Judge David Davis offered some consultation, remarking that there had been other complaints regarding Lincoln’s “small fees.” Davis stated, “You are impoverishing this bar by your picayune charge of fees. You are now almost as poor as Lazarus and if you don’t make people pay you more for your services you will die as poor as Job’s Turkey.”

Lincoln responded that he was not willing to be a party to excessive fees and further contended that he did not want to be of a reputation “…enjoyed by some of those shining lights of the profession ‘Catch ‘em and Cheat ‘em.” Lamon, defeated, reluctantly agreed to accept only half of the fee agreed upon.

No Country-Bumpkin

Leonard Swett, a Lawyer with Lincoln, argues that Lincoln was no slouch, and recalls one case in June of 1854:

“As he entered the trial, where most lawyers would object, he would say he ‘reckoned’ it would be fair to let this in, or that; and sometimes when his adversary could not quite prove what Lincoln knew to be the truth, he would say he ‘reckoned’ it would be fair to admit the truth to be so and so. When he did object to the court, after he heard his objections answered, he would often say, ‘Well, I reckon I must have been wrong.’”

“Now about that time he had practiced this was about three-quarters through the case, if his adversary didn’t understand him, he would wake up in a few moments, finding he had feared the Greeks too late [akin to the Trojan Horse story], and wake up to find himself beaten. He was ‘wise as a serpent’ in the trial of a case, but I have got too many scars from his blows to certify that he was ‘harmless as a dove.’ When the whole thing is unraveled the adversary begins to see that what he was so blandly giving away was simply what he couldn’t get and keep. By giving away six points and carrying the seventh, he carried his case, and, the whole case hanging on the seventh, he traded away everything which would give him the least aid in carrying that. Any one who took Lincoln for a simple-minded man would very soon wake up on his back, in a ditch.”

Not Every Man’s Everyman

Abraham Smith, one of the most influential men in the Vermillion area and the owner of a large stop on the Underground railroad was once described by Judge David Davis as “as worthy” a man “as there is in the state.” Smith, a Quaker, ran a local tavern where the road-weary Eighth Judicial Circuit riders could rest and eat. Remarkably, this spot where Lincoln and the others stayed was also where the runaway slaves would hide as they escaped on the Underground Railroad. This man impressed many and Davis was no slouch in judging a person and developed a friendship with the man.

Though eventually Smith came around to becoming a Lincoln supporter in politics, what were his earlier thoughts of Lincoln? In letter written by Smith, he pens a very short answer to that question:

“I do not like thee.”

Stories From Woodford County
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Abraham Lincoln Talented Lawyer, Skilled Speaker

While the above stories may have mentioned Lincoln's lack of fashion sense, they in no way lowered any thoughts on his abilities. Frederick Converse Beach saw fit to illustrate Lincoln's power over words with this tale he weaves intricately into his Americana Universal Reference Library, in 1912:

A good illustration of his terse manner of speaking is his address to the jury in the suit against a man known as "King Hart" for seizing a piece of land from the plaintiff, Lincoln's client. The trial was held at Metamora, Woodford County. During the trial, he had little to say and the case was seemingly lost, but he gained a prompt verdict by this brief speech.

"We don't believe in kings in this country. We refuted that doctrine almost 100 years ago, but we have a doctrine in this country that we do believe in. It is the Monroe Doctrine. When the kings of Europe attempt to seize land in this hemisphere we apply the Monroe Doctrine to them and they experience a change of heart. Why should we not apply the same doctrine to American kings? This little king is attempting to secure possession of land to which he has no right and you gentlemen of the jury stand in the same position as the government of the United States, you must protect a weak vassal by applying the Monroe Doctrine to this American king."

Goings, Going, Gone

Quite possibly one of the most interesting tales to come out of Woodford County is the tale of Melissa Goings. Not that the trial was the most interesting part, but what came of it proves more intriguing and makes one wonder just what was missing from the tale, the background that caused such a mysterious outcome.

On October 10, 1857 a seventy-year old woman named Melissa Goings was to stand trial accused of murdering her seventy-year old husband by fracturing his skull with a piece of wood, while her husband was allegedly choking her. When the case was called to trial that afternoon, Goings could not be found and a search turned up nothing. Confronted by the an angry bailiff, when the search was for naught, Lincoln, who was her attorney, was reported to have said “I did not run her off. She wanted to know where she could get a drink of water, and I told her that there was mighty good water in Tennessee.”

Goings was later discovered to have relocated to California with her remaining family, where she lived out the rest of her life. No serious attempt was ever made to apprehend her and the charges were stricken from the docket in 1859.

Lincoln the Lawyer Alleged Fashion Criminal

Judge David McCulloch recounts:

"I never saw Mr. Lincoln afterward except on one occasion when he was in attendance at the circuit court of Woodford County then being held in a yet smaller courthouse in the town of Metamora. Judge David Davis, clad in a gray and apparently homespun suit, with heavy-soled boots on his feet, one leg thrown over the low desk in front of him, his steel gray hair cropped short was presiding. Mr. Lincoln sat among the lawyers with his chair thrown back and his hands clasped behind his head I was struck with the largeness of all his features especially his ears, which seemed out of all proportion."


Mr. Crane, an old settler of Tazewell County says he used to see Mr. Lincoln when passing through Washington in that county on his way to attend court at Metamora, and he remembers him as dressed in a homespun coat that came below his knees and was out at both elbows.