Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

Lincoln at Salem

Page 53

At the time that Mr. Lincoln lived Salem was a great place of resort for the young men. Boys from Clary's Grove, Wolf county, Sangamon and Sand Ridge would gather together at Salem on Saturday and there indulge in horse racing, foot racing, wrestling, jumping, ball playing and shooting at a mark for beef. A beef always had five quarters when shot for. The hide and tallow made the fifth quarter. The boys also indulged in gander pulling, which I think a western game. I learned from some college professors at the Old Salem Chautauqua that southern people never heard of gander pulling. I was taking a lot of southern men over the Salem hill and I showed them a spot where gander pulling was indulged in, and I had to explain to them the manner in which it was played. An old tough gander was tied to a swinging limb of a tree with his head down about eight feet above the ground. His neck was well greased and a man by paying ten cents would have a chance to get the gander by riding at full speed under the bird, and if he could grab him by the neck and pull his head off it was his. Under our code of laws a man would be prosecuted for cruelty to animals if he should undertake such a business. So we have progressed in that respect and have retrograded in another. We condemn Mexico and Spain for their bull fights, and as Christians have instead our prize fights, where two old duffers stand up before ten thousand people and knock each other. On all days for sports Lincoln would generally take a lay off and join the others. He was stout and active and a match for any of them. I do not think that he bet on any of the games or races, but the boys had so much confidence in his honesty and knew that he would see fair play that he was often chosen as judge to determine the winners. His decisions were always regarded as just.

Lincoln generally made the subject of internal improvements the theme of his speeches, and he would speak of the great sources of the State of Illinois and the wonderful opportunities that lay before the young men if they would only improve them. In these speeches he seldom spoke of politics, so all were pleased and none offended and the meetings generally closed with three cheers for Lincoln and a general hand-shaking. The people would go home happy and a few of them would not come to town till the next Saturday.

Mr. Lincoln was not only chosen as judge of horse races, but was often arbitrator in disputes between his neighbors and saved them many expensive law suits. A justice of the peace came into his office one day and complained that he had been cruelly wronged by him. He claimed that Lincoln deprived him of his fees and interfered with his business. Mr. Lincoln replied that he could not bear to see his neighbors spend their money in litigation and become enemies for life when he could prevent it. When these cases were brought before him he would generally give satisfaction to both parties, and when one was in the wrong he would point out his error and convince him before he left.

Bill Herendon was a son of Archie Herendon, who built and kept one of the first hotels in Springfield. It was called the Herendon House. He was a prominent politician, had been elected state Senator and held several other offices. He was a Whig and a warm personal friend of Lincoln's. Bill Herendon, whose book we criticized severely in a former article, was possessed of one trait of character which many people objected to. It was the delight he took in playing jokes on people. He did not seem to care how much misery he caused as long as he could make a little fun out it. In the fall of 1836 Harvey L. Ross was sent to Jacksonville college and he had a room-mate by the name of Potter, of Chicago. He had been there only a few weeks when Bill Herendon put on his appearance. He said he had come to attend college and wanted to know if Ross would take him for a room-mate as he was the only student with whom he was acquainted. He was told that if Potter would give his consent no objection would be offered. Potter said he would be willing if they would furnish him bedding. As Ross had a large room and a large bed they bunked together. Ross asked Herendon where his trunk was and he replied that had come from home in a hurry and did not bring it but that his folks would send it by the next stage. Then he commenced to laugh and Ross suspected that he was up to some of his old tricks. He said to him: "Now Bill, you have been up to some devilment and you must tell us what it is and then get away." Herendon said that there had been an election for county officers up in Sangamon county and that one of the political parties had paid him a dollar and half to take some tickets to a precinct a few miles from Springfield to distribute them to the voters. After he had gone about a mile he was overtaken by a young man who had a package of tickets for the opposing party. The young man offered Herendon a dollar and a half if he would take his tickets and distribute them among the voters. Herendon accepted the offer and the first creek he came to he soused the tickets in, leaving the men who voted that ticket the alternative of voting the other ticket or not voting at all. This act raised such a storm of wrath among the first party who employed him that he decided to go away until the storm passed over. He told the story with such glee and merriment that one would think he had done something remarkably cute. Herendon had not been long at college until it was evident that he was brim full of devilment and there was scarcely a week during the time he stayed that he was not put before the faculty for some misdemeanor.

There was nothing bad about him that made him act as he did, but he wanted to gain notoriety and astonish people. After he left college he clerked in a store in Springfield for a long time and then commenced the study of law. He applied himself to his studies and was 25 years old when he went in with Lincoln. Lincoln was 34 years old. At that time it was thought a little strange that Lincoln should take into partnership such a young and inexperienced lawyer as Bill Herendon, but he had his reasons. Bill's father had been a friend of Lincoln's for a great many years and he was a very influential man in Sangamon county. He had always helped Lincoln in every way and it was in payment for this kindness that Lincoln took his son into his office. It was a parallel case with that of Bill Berry whom Lincoln took into partnership in his Salem store. Both fathers wanted their sons in partnership with an honest man. There was another reason. Both of Lincoln's other partners, John L. Stewart and Stephen Logan, like himself, were aspirants for political honors, and he had learned that a law office could not be run when all of the members wanted to be Congressmen. As Bill was young and showed no disposition to run into politics, he thought it was a safe thing to do to take him into partnership. Bill did apply himself to the business and gave perfect satisfaction to the firm and to the people for who he transacted business up to the time of Lincoln's death. But for some unaccountable reason after Lincoln's death he commenced to drink - a thing he never did before in his life.

By the act of emancipation Mr. Lincoln built for himself forever the first place in the affections of the African race in this country. The love and reverence manifested for him by many of these poor ignorant people has on some occasions almost reached adoration. One day Col. McKay, of New York, who was one of the committee selected to investigate the condition of the freedman, upon his return from Hilton Head and Beauport called on the president and related the following incident: He had been speaking of the ideas of power entertained by these poor black people. They had an idea of God as the Almighty. They had no knowledge of any other power. Their masters had fled upon the approach of our army and this gave the slaves the conception of a power greater than their masters. This power they called "Massa Linkum." Col McKay said that their place of worship was a large building, which they called "The Praise House," and their leader was a venerable black man known as the "Praise Man." On a certain day when there was a large gathering of people, considerable confusion was created by different persons attempting to tell who and what "Massa Linkum" was. In the midst of the excitement the white headed leader commanded silence. "Bredren," said he, "you don't know what youse talking bout. Now jus lis'en to me. Massa Lincoln be ebry whare. He knows ebry ting." Then solemnly looking up he added, "He walk de earf like de Lord." Mr. Lincoln was much affected by this account. He did not smile as another might, but got up from his chair and walked in silence two or three times across the floor, and as he resumed his sear he said: "It is a momentous thing to be an instrument in the hands of Providence in liberating a race."

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors