56. James Short to William H. Herndon
Petersburg Ill July 7, 1865
In answer to your inquiries in reference to my knowledge of the early history of the late lamented President, Abraham Lincoln I give you herein all the information which is now fresh in my memory.
My first acquaintance with Mr Lincoln was in May or June 1831 at New Salem. At that time I lived in Coxe's Grove, on the line between Morgan and Sangamon, and on coming into New Salem at that time, Mr Lincoln was pointed out to me by my sister, now Mrs Elias Hohimer, whom Mr L. had before that time employed to make him a pair of pantaloons. Mr L. at this time was about 22 years of age; appeared to be as tall as he ever became, and slimmer than of late years. He had on at the time a blue cotton round about coat, stoga shoes, and pale blue casinet pantaloons
At this time I was engaged in farming and was about 25 years old. Mr L. just at this time was doing nothing, having just returned from New Orleans. This same year — 1831, — was the first year Mr L. ever came to New Salem. He went to New Orleans with Denton Offut in a flat boat, in 1831, & had just returned when
73I first saw him. When Offut came back from N.O. in 1831 he started a store in N.S. and Employed Lincoln as clerk or assistant; but what wages he paid Mr. L I do not know. Mr. L clerked for him about six months. Offut was a wild, harum-scarum kind of a man, and I think not much of a business man. After Mr L's return from N.O. he piloted a little boat to Beardstown for Dr Nelson, who was then removing from New Salem, on this boat. Do not know what became of Dr N. This was in 1833 I think. Mr L. did once foot it from Beardstown to N.S. but whether on his return from N.O. or from piloting this boat to Beardstown, I have forgotten.
The Black Hawk war first broke out in 1831. I enlisted in April 1831, & was gone about a month. Mr L. did not go out this year. The next year, 1832, Mr L. raised a company, of which he was elected Captain. The Company rendesvoused in Beardstown. I did not go out this year. I did go to B. to volunteer, but Majir — afterwards Col — E D Baker, having lost his horse, I sold mine to him, and before I could get another one & return, the Company had gone. I don't know whether Mr L was Deputy Post Master under Hill or not. He was P.M. himself in New Salem two or three years, I think, commencing in 1833. He resigned his office.
Mr L. boarded with the parents of Miss Ann Rutledge, from the time he went to New Salem up to 1833. In 1833 her mother moved to the Sandridge & kept house for me, until I got married. Miss R. staid at N.S. for a few months after her mother left, keeping house for her father & brothers, & boarding Mr L. She then came over to her mother. After my marriage, the Rutledges lived about half a mile from me. Mr L. came over to see me & them every day or two. I did not know of any engagement or tender passages between Mr L and Miss R at the time But after her death, which happened in 34 or 35, he seemed to be so much affected and grieved so hardly that I then supposed there must have been something of the kind. Miss R was a good looking, smart, lively girl, a good house keeper, with a moderate education, and without any of the so called accomplishments. She was about 20 years old when she died. I knew nothing of Miss Owens,
Mr L. was very fond of out door recreations & sports, and excelled in them. He lifted 1000 pounds of shot by main strength. He never played cards, nor drank, nor hunted. New Salem & the surrounding country was settled by roughs and bullies, who were in the habit of winning all the money of strangers at cards, & then whipping them in the bargain. Offut in '31 made bet of 5$ that L could throw Jack Armstrong. Armstrong was a regular bully, was very stout, & tricky in wrestling. Lincoln was a scientific wrestler. They wrestled for a long time, withough either being able to throw the other, until Armstrong broke holds, caught L by
74the leg & floored him. L. took the matter in such good part, and laughed the matter off so pleasantly that he gained the good will of the roughs and was never disturbed by them.
L, I think, first studied law in fall of '32 or winter of 32 — 3.
He first boarded with the Rutledges. Afterwards first with Nelson Alley and then with Caleb Carman, These were all the parties with whom he boarded at New Salem.
Wm. G. Greene's father's name was William. Think he had no books or surveyor's instruments. He was a drinking & illiterate man. If Mr L got any books it was from Bowling Greene, who was a reading man. L. was Denton Offut's first clerk. I don't know of Offut's having any other clerk. I have understood W G Greene & Charles Maltby afterwards clerked for him. Offut broke in latter part of 1831. I think L. never had any instuctor in surveying — if he rec'd instructions, it was from John Calhoun, whose deputy he was. Know nothing about his books — he had but few of them. If any one instructed him in grammar it was Mentor Graham.
Offut left New Salem in the latter part of 1831. Don't know where he went to nor where he is living now. I have understood that he has been at Washington since the inaugeration of Mr L.
The stories about Armstrong & others cooking live pig &c may be true but I know nothing of it. Armstrong & others rolled a man named Jordan down hill at New Salem. Lincoln had nothing to do with any of these wild frolics. I know but little about them.
I have no recollection of the stories Mr L used to tell me about his history, habits &c while in Indiana.
Kelso was a great fisherman, very lazy, and I think not much of a literary man.
Radford sold out his stock of goods to W G Greene and Greene sold out to Lincoln & Berry. Lincoln & Berry gave their note for 400$ to Greene, and Greene assigned it to Radford. Radford assigned it to Peter Van Bergen. Berry in the meantime had died, and Lincoln lifted the note and gave him in lieu of it another signed by himself and Greene. Van Bergen brought suit in Sangamon Circuit Court and obtained judgment against Lincoln & Greene. An Execution was issued and levied upon Lincoln's horse, saddle, bridle, compass, chain & other surveyor's instruments. Mr L. was then very much discouraged and said he would let the whole thing go by the board. I was then living on the Sandridge, now in Menard Co, and Mr L was at my house very much — half the time. I did all I could to put him in better spirits. I went on the delivery bond with him, and when the sale came off — which Mr L did not attend — I bid in the above property at $120.00, and immediately gave it up again to Mr L. This was in 1833 or 1834. Mr L afterwards repaid me when he had moved to Springfield. Greene also turned in on this judgement his horse, saddle and bridle at 125$, and L afterwards repaid him. Frequently when Mr L was at my house he would help me gather corn. He was the best hand at husking corn on the stalk I ever saw. I used to consider myself very good, but he would gather two loads to my one.
I think I have now answered all your inquiries so far as I am able.
Wishing you success in your enterprise I am
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2226 — 34; Huntington Library: LN2408, 1:363 — 69