In the autumn, just after Abraham Lincoln was eight years old, his parents left their Kentucky home and moved to Spencer county, in Indiana.
It was not yet a year since Indiana had become a state. Land could be bought very cheap, and Mr. Lincoln thought that he could make a good living there for his family. He had heard also that game was plentiful in the Indiana woods.
It was not more than seventy or eighty miles from the old home to the new. But it seemed very far, indeed, and it was a good many days before the travelers reached their journey's end. Over a part of the way there was no road, and the movers had to cut a path for themselves through the thick woods.
The boy, Abraham, was tall and very strong for his age. He already knew how to handle an ax, and few men could shoot with a rifle better than he. He was his father's helper in all kinds of work.
It was in November when the family came to the place which was to be their future home. Winter was near at hand. There was no house, nor shelter of any kind. What would become of the patient, tired mother, and the gentle little sister, who had borne themselves so bravely during the long, hard journey?
No sooner had the horses been loosed from the wagon than Abraham and his father were at work with their axes. In a short time they had built what they called a "camp."
This camp was but a rude shed, made of poles and thatched with leaves and branches. It was enclosed on three sides, so that the chill winds or the driving rains from the north and west could not enter. The fourth side was left open, and in front of it a fire was built.
This fire was kept burning all the time. It warmed the interior of the camp. A big iron kettle was hung over it by means of a chain and pole, and in this kettle the fat bacon, the venison, the beans, and the corn were boiled for the family's dinner and supper. In the hot ashes the good mother baked luscious "corn dodgers," and sometimes, perhaps, a few potatoes.
In one end of the camp were the few cooking utensils and little articles of furniture which even the poorest house cannot do without. The rest of the space was the family sitting-room and bed-room. The floor was covered with leaves, and on these were spread the furry skins of deer and bears, and other animals.
It was in this camp that the family spent their first winter in Indiana. How very cold and dreary that winter must have been! Think of the stormy nights, of the shrieking wind, of the snow and the sleet and the bitter frost! It is not much wonder if, before the spring months came, the mother's strength began to fail.
But it was a busy winter for Thomas Lincoln. Every day his ax was heard in the woods. He was clearing the ground, so that in the spring it might be planted with corn and vegetables.
He was hewing logs for his new house; for he had made up his mind, now, to have something better than a cabin.
The woods were full of wild animals. It was easy for Abraham and his father to kill plenty of game, and thus keep the family supplied with fresh meat.
And Abraham, with chopping and hewing and hunting and trapping, was very busy for a little boy. He had but little time to play; and, since he had no playmates, we cannot know whether he even wanted to play.
With his mother, he read over and over the Bible stories which both of them loved so well. And, during the cold, stormy days, when he could not leave the camp, his mother taught him how to write.
In the spring the new house was raised. It was only a hewed log house, with one room below and a loft above. But it was so much better than the old cabin in Kentucky that it seemed like a palace.
The family had become so tired of living in the "camp," that they moved into the new house before the floor was laid, or any door hung at the doorway.
Then came the plowing and the planting and the hoeing. Everybody was busy from daylight to dark. There were so many trees and stumps that there was but little room for the corn to grow.
The summer passed, and autumn came. Then the poor mother's strength gave out. She could no longer go about her household duties. She had to depend more and more upon the help that her children could give her.
At length she became too feeble to leave her bed. She called her boy to her side. She put her arms about him and said: "Abraham, I am going away from you, and you will never see me again. I know that you will always be good and kind to your sister and father. Try to live as I have taught you, and to love your heavenly Father."
On the 5th of October she fell asleep, never to wake again.
Under a big sycamore tree, half a mile from the house, the neighbors dug the grave for the mother of Abraham Lincoln. And there they buried her in silence and great sorrow.
There was no minister there to conduct religious services. In all that new country there was no church; and no holy man could be found to speak words of comfort and hope to the grieving ones around the grave.
But the boy, Abraham, remembered a traveling preacher, whom they had known in Kentucky. The name of this preacher was David Elkin. If he would only come!
And so, after all was over, the lad sat down and wrote a letter to David Elkin. He was only a child nine years old, but he believed that the good man would remember his poor mother, and come.
It was no easy task to write a letter. Paper and ink were not things of common use, as they are with us. A pen had to be made from the quill of a goose.
But at last the letter was finished and sent away. How it was carried I do not know; for the mails were few and far between in those days, and postage was very high. It is more than likely that some friend, who was going into Kentucky, undertook to have it finally handed to the good preacher.
Months passed. The leaves were again on the trees. The wild flowers were blossoming in the woods. At last the preacher came.
He had ridden a hundred miles on horseback; he had forded rivers, and traveled through pathless woods; he had dared the dangers of the wild forest: all in answer to the lad's beseeching letter.
He had no hope of reward, save that which is given to every man who does his duty. He did not know that there would come a time when the greatest preachers in the world would envy him his sad task.
And now the friends and neighbors gathered again under the great sycamore tree. The funeral sermon was preached. Hymns were sung. A prayer was offered. Words of comfort and sympathy were spoken.
From that time forward the mind of Abraham Lincoln was filled with a high and noble purpose. In his earliest childhood his mother had taught him to love truth and justice, to be honest and upright among men, and to reverence God. These lessons he never forgot.
Long afterward, when the world had come to know him as a very great man, he said: "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."