Indiana. Lincoln highway commission.

Report of Lincoln highway commission to Governor Samuel M. Ralston, December 15, 1916 online

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Lincoln Highway Commission


Governor Samuel M. Ralston

DECEMBER 15, 1916

Joseph M. Cravens, Chairman
Jesse Weik, Secretary

D, of D.

FEB 5 1917



Lincoln Highway Commission


Governor Samuel M. Ralston
December 15, 1916

Commission Appointed to Determine the Route Traveled

Through Indiana by Abraham Lincoln and his

Father's Family when they Removed

TO Illinois in 1S30


Joseph M. Cravens, Chairman, Madison
Jesse W. Weik, Secretary, Greencastle

"^ Indianapolis, Ind., Dec. 15, 1916.

"^ Hon. Samuel M. Ralston,

r^ Governor of Indiana.


The undersigned having been directed b}^ you to "determine
the route through Indiana traveled by Abraham Lincoln and
his father's family when they emigrated to Illinois in 1830,"
beg leave to submit herewith the following report:
i^^^The first definite step in the movement to trace the proposed
route between Mr. Lincoln's birth place in Kentuck}'- and his
home in Illinois was the following resolution adopted by the legis-
lature of Kentucky in the year 1910:

"The name of the public road leading from Louisville*
Kentucky, to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, known as the
Louisville and Nashville pike, and from Ehzabethtown,
Kentucky, through Hodgenville, Kentucky, to the Lincoln
Farm in Larue County, Kentucky, shall be changed to the
Lincoln Way, and said road from Louisville to the Lincoln
Farm shall hereafter be designated and known as the
'Lincoln Way.' "

Within a year the legislature of Illinois adopted the following
resolution :

"WHEREAS, the people of the state of Illinois ever
mindful of their deep and lasting obligation to Abraham
Lincoln and with abiding love and reverence do strive
continually to honor his name and memory; and

WHEREAS, it is the sense of the people of Illinois
that a fitting and permanent memorial to the memory
of the great Emancipator would be the consecration and
dedication of the road that he traveled from the place
of his birth in Kentucky through Indiana and thence to
his tomb at Springfield to be known forever as the Lincoln
Way; and

WHEREAS, at its last session the legislature of
Kentucky enacted a law naming the route over which
Abraham Lincoln traveled from his home at Hodgenville
to Indiana the 'Lincoln Way' and in the hope that the
state of Indiana will join the states of Kentucky and Illinois
in establishing and completing this fitting memorial,
therefore be it

RESOLVED: By the House of Representatives, the
Senate concurring therein, that the Board of Trustees of
the IlHnois State Historical Library be and they are hereby
requestetl to make the necessary investigations to de-
termine the exact route traveled by Abraham Lincoln in
his removal from Kentucky to Hlinois, and to report to the
General Assembly at as early a date as possible, and make
such recommendations as they deem advisable to carry
out the purpose of this resolution."

In due course of time the legislature of Indiana, alive to public
interest and mindful of its duty in the matter, enacted the follow-
ing law, which became effective February 15, 1915:

"WHEREAS, the state of Illinois has been endeavoring
through a commission authorized by its legislature to
determine and mark the route from the Wabash river
westward through Illinois traveled by Abraham Lincoln
and his father's family when they emigrated from Indiana
in 1830, therefore,

BE IT ENACTED; By the General Assembly of the
State of Indiana: that the Governor shall within 30 days
after this act takes effect appoint a commission consisting
of two persons, who shall serve without compensation,
but shall be allowed traveling, hotel, and other necessary
expenses in connection with their investigation, which sums
are to be paid on warrants approved by both members
of the commission.

It shall be the duty of said commission to make a careful
inquiry, with a view to determining the route thiougli Indiana
traveled l)y Abi'aham Lincoln and his father's family when they
removed from their home near the town of (Jentryvillc. in Spencer
County, Indiana, to Macon County, Illinois, in 1830. The
commission shall have power to administer oaths and compel
the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and news-
l)aj)ers necessary to its investigation. After the conclusion of its
inciuiry it shall report the results of its labors to the Governor
before the next regular meeting of the General Assembly.

The sum of five hundred dollais is luMcby aj)propriated for the
purpose of carrying out the provisions of this act."

In compliance with the foregoing law the Governor appointed
Joseph M. Cravens, of Madison, and Jesse W. Wcik, of Green-

castle, members of the commission. On April 21, 1915, the
commission met in Indianapolis and organized by electing Mr.
Cravens as president and Mr. Weik as secretary.

Before entering upon the details of our investigation, it will
not be inappropriate if we preface the same with a brief sketch
of the Lincoln family, and a recital of the causes that led to their
several migrations.

A century ago Thomas Lincoln, a native of Virginia, was living
in Hardin County, Kentucky. By trade a carpenter, he was
nevertheless struggling to make a living by farming. The country
about him was more or less barren, the timber small and of little
value, and the soil so thin and poor he found it a never ending
task to make both ends meet. The returns were meagre and the
prospect anything but encouraging. Meanwhile, stories of great
stretches of rich and unoccupied lands began to reach his ears,
and finally despairing of any betterment in his condition so long
as he remained in Kentucky, he resolved to leave the State and
seek a more inviting home beyond the Ohio.

In the fall of 1816, therefore, he began preparations for his
removal. Building a flat-boat he loaded onto it his tools and
personal effects, including in the invoice "four hundred gallons
of whisky." He launched his craft on a tributary of Salt River
known as the Rolling Fork, and slowly floated with the current
till he reached the Ohio. At some point on the journey, which
has thus far never been definitely fixed, his boat careened or cap-
sized and his cargo slid into the water. By dint of great patience
and labor, however, he succeeded in righting the vessel and
recovering his tools and the greater part of the whiskey. Re-
suming his journey he drifted down the Ohio as far as the mouth
of Anderson's Creek, on the Indiana side, near the present town
of Troy, where he tied up and went ashore.

Here he disposed of his boat and placing his goods in the care
of a settler named Francis Posey he struck out for the interior in
quest of a suitable location for his new home. About sixteen
miles northwest he found a tract of land that suited his fancy
which he promptly marked out for himself. Then he made his
way to Vincennes, where the United States Land Office was
located, to make the required entry, and on his return to the land
identified it by blazing the trees and piling up brush at the corners
to establish the proper boundary lines.

These preliminaries disposed of he returned to Kentucky for
his family, making the journey on foot. The family was small,

consisting of his wife, Nancy Hanks, a daughter, Sarah, and a
son, Abraham. They were so poor that the backs of two horses
were amply sufficient to transport themselves and their meagre
array of worldly goods over the Kentucky hills to Indiana. In
due time they reached and crossed the Ohio at the same point,
ojiposite the mouth of Anderson Creek, where the head of the
family had landed in the preceding fall. Here they lingered with
Posey, who loaned them a wagon, into which they packed their
belongings, including the whiskey, which, presunia})ly, had lain
undisturbed in the latter's cellar. Then slowly picking and blazing
their way through the dense forest they at last reached their
destination, a wooded rise near one of the upper reaches of Little
Pidgeon Creek, known as the Buckhorn Ranch, and distant about
a mile and a half from what was later to be known as the village
of Gentryville. The question of location having thus been dis-
posed of, Thomas Lincoln set resolutely' to work to provide a shelter
for his little family.

Passing over the intervening period during which the wife
and mother, Nancy Hanks, had died of that much dreaded malady,
milk-sickness, the daughter Sarah, wedded to Aaron Grigsby,
had passed away in the throes of childbirth, and Thomas Lincoln
had married a second wife in the person of Sarah Bush Johnston,
we come now to the winter of 1829. Another epidemic of the
"milk-sickness" had visited the Gentryville neighborhood. Not
only the people but cattle and sheep in great numbers were being
carried away by it. A veritable stampede followed. No one
a])preciated what inroads it could make in a community better
than Thomas Lincoln, whose wife and two of her kindred, ten
years before, had perished of the disease within one week. Again
was he grieved and discouraged; again he listened to the rosy
stories told by passing travelers of a new country full of wonderful
attractions and great possibilities. It was the state of Illinois.
Vast stretches of rich and fertile lands there were to be had on the
easiest of terms. In fact, it was a veritabl(> paradise for the poor
man. Why not go there and start anew?

"The proposition," says one of Mr. Lincoln's biographers,
"met with the general consent of the Lincoln contingent, and
especially suited the roving and migratory spirit of Thomas
Lincoln. He had been induced by the same rosy and alluring
reports to leave Kentucky for Indiana. Four times had he movcnl
since his first marriage, and in point of worldly goods he was no
ix'tter oJT than wlieii he first started in life. Ilis land grotmed

under the weight of a long neglected incumbrance, and like many
of his neighbors he was ready for another change."

Having disposed of his eighty acres of land to Charles Grigsby
for a hundred and twenty-five dollars and his corn and hogs to
his friend David Turnham (the corn "bringing ten cents a bushel"
and the hogs being "lumped") he loaded his household goods
into a wagon drawn by two yoke of oxen, and with his family
set out early in March, 1830, for the prairies of central Illinois.
The emigrant party comprised thirteen persons, and included
Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, their two sons, Abraham Lincoln
and John D. Johnston, Squire Hall, his wife, Matilda Johnston,
and son John; Dennis Hanks, his wife Elizabeth Johnston, and
four children, Sarah J., Nancy M., Harriet A. and John Talbott.
Hall and Hanks had married the two daughters of Mrs. Lincoln.

"The journey was long and tedious" narrates one of Lincoln's
biographers, "the streams swollen and the roads muddy almost
to the point of impassibility. The rude, heavy wagon with its
primitive wooden wheels creaked and groaned as it crawled through
the woods and now and then stalled in the mud. Many were
the delays, but none ever disturbed the equanimity of its pas-
sengers. They were cheerful in the face of adversity, hopeful
and determined; but none of them more so than the tall, ungainly
youth in buck-skin breeches and coon-skin cap who wielded the
gad and urged his patient oxen forward. As they entered the
new State little did the curious people in the various towns through
which they passed dream that the obscure and penniless driver
who yelled his commands to the oxen would yet become the
Chief Magistrate of the greatest nation of modern times."

So much for history. And now let us tell the story of our
investigation and recount the reasons that have led us to determine
what particular route these obscure and forlorn emigrants must
have followed when they made their way in March, 1830,, through
our State from the Ohio to the Wabash; more specifically that part
of the journey which stretches between the Linclon Farm near
Gentryville, In Spencer County, and the city of Vincennes, where
they crossed the Wabash into Illinois.

One of the most significant and convincing items in the array
of facts we have succeeded in gathering comes from Abraham
Lincoln himself. It appears that one morniiigearly in February, 1861,
a few days before his departure for Washington to begin the duties
of the great office to which he had been elected, he left his home
in Springfield to pay a farewell visit to his aged step-mother, who

was then living in Coles County, Illinois. He reached the town
of Charleston in the evening. The next moi-ning he started in a
buggy for Farmington, a village about eight miles southwest,
where the old lady was then living with a daughter. His only
companion was Augustus H. Chapman, whose wife was the daugh-
ter of Dennis Hanks, and therefore the grand-daughter of Mr.
Lincoln's step-mother. Mr. Chapman, who died recently, lived
for many years in Charleston, a trustworthy, intelligent and
truthful man — in fact, no one stood higher in the esteem and good
will of his fellow citizens. He had Ijeon an officer in the Union
Army, having served throughout the Civil War as Lieutenant
Colonel of the 54t]i Illinois Inf. Vols, and left a military record
alike praiseworth}- and brilliant. Several years ago he furnished
to an interviewer the following account of what took place and
what was said by Mr. Lincoln when they rode togeth(>r in the
buggy to Farmington: "I married the daughter of Dennis Hanks,
and the latter has been living with us for many years, have often
talked to him aliout the removal from Indiana to Illinois in 1830
also with Sarah Bush Lincoln, his mother-in-law, who also lived
in my family for some time prior to her death in 1869. One
evening in Fe]:)ruary, 1861, Mr. Lincoln arrived in Charleston to
visit his father's grave and also his step-moth(?r, who haj^pened to
be at the home of a daughter near the village of Farmington in
the country. He spent the night at the residence of Thomas A.
Marshall, who was a State Senator residing in Charleston. The
next morning early he walked over to the home of his cousin Den-
nis Hanks, after which he and I got into a buggy and started to
drive to Farmington. Our conversation during the ride was
devoted largely to family history. Among other things we got
to talking about the journey from Indiana: he agreed substan-
tially with Dennis Hanks as to the route they took; said they went
from Gentryville to Jasper, thence to Washington and on to Vin-
cennes, where they crossed the Wabash; thence to Lawi-cnceville,
Illinois, where they turned north and pushed on to Palestine, in
Crawford county. At Palestine they found a great many people
drawn there by the land ofhcc. They kv]i\ on paralleling the
river to Darwin, where they left the Wabash behind them.

At this point they set off in a northwesterly direction, passing
through Hichwoods in Clark County; thence to a point about
six miles west of Charleston called Dead Plan's Grove; thence
north Ihiough Nelsonvillc, Moultrie County, to Decatur, where
they stopped."


The facts thus narrated by Col. Chapman were communicated
by him to the secretary of this commission Jan. 3, 1896, and the
above version of the interview is copied from the original notes
made at the time. Included with the latter MS. is the following
memorandum of a statement by Harriet A. Hanks, the wife of
Col. Chapman, who was one of the emigrants from Indiana in

Name, Harriet Chapman, daughter of Dennis Hanks and
grand-daughter of Sarah Bush Lincoln; says she was born in
Indiana and when about four years old accompanied her parents
and the Lincolns when they removed to Illinois about 1830;
her grandmother told her the first printing press and the first
Indians she ever saw were at Vincennes; that on the way she (the
grandmother) and her daughters rode horseback part of the way,
the children being in the wagon; that the saddles on which they
rode were bought with money that was due the old lady from her
first husband's estate, and which she rode to Kentucky to collect.

It will be remembered that in the summer of 1865, Mr. W. H.
Herndon, who had been Mr. Lincoln's law partner in Springfield,
visited southeastern Illinois, southern Indiana, and central
Kentucky in quest of material for a life of Lincoln which he
expected to write, but which was not published till the spring
of 1889. When in Charleston, Illinois, he interviewed the Chap-
mans, Dennis Hanks, Sarah Bush Lincoln and others, accumulat-
ing a rich store of material all of which has been placed at the
disposal of the commission. This data which was collected over
half a centurj^ ago when the facts were fresh in the minds of those
who communicated them is of the greatest historic value. But
strange to relate although Mr. Herndon's researches were pro-
found and exhaustive he seems not to have learned or, at least,
put on record the particular route chosen by the Lincoln's when
they emigrated from Indiana. Col. Chapman's contribution to
Mr. Herndon's undertaking was very voluminous and of great
weight, owing to his intimate relations with Dennis Hanks, Sarah
Bush Lincoln, and even Abraham Lincoln himself. With a few
trifling exceptions his testimony is almost entirely in his own hand-
writing. Here is a brief extract from an account by him of the
journey to Illinois copied from the original MS. and written in
September, 1865:

"Thomas Lincoln moved from Indiana to Macon County,
Illinois, in March, 1830, in a large four-horse wagon drawn by
two yoke of oxen, the only wagon he ever owned. He brought


with him some stock cattle, a horse or two, three beds and bed-
ding, one bureau, one table, one clothes chest, one set of chairs,
cooking utensils, etc., three families came together, Lincoln's,
Hall's and Hanks'. Squire Hall and Dennis Hanks had married
sisters, the two step-daughters of Thomas Lincoln. Abe Lincoln
drove his father's ox team. The waters were very high at the
time and they came near losing their team, wagon, and contents
in crossing the Okaw or Kaskaskia River."

A word here as to Dennis Hanks. He was born in 1799
and died in October, 1892, and with the exception of Abraham
Lincoln was probably the only member of that band of hardy
pioneers who migrated to Illinois in 1830 who could write; at least
who could put on paper anything in the nature of a connected
statement of facts. He is the best and in fact the onlj^ authority
we have for our limited knowledge of Mr. Lincoln's early days.
Mr. Herndon realizing the value as well as the importance of
Hanks's testimony examined him with the skill and precision of
a lawyer, the result being a contribution to the story of Mr.
Lincoln's life without an equal in point of accuracy and historic

Twenty years after Mr. Herndon had cross examined Hanks
the latter came under the observation of Mr. Weik, the secretary
of the commission, to whom Mr. Herndon had turned over his
entire collection of letters and papers, including everj^thing written
by Hanks. Mr. Weik held frequent interviews with Hanks in
Charleston and Paris, Illinois, in which places he alternately made
his home with relatives. Following is a copy of an entry written
by Mr. Weik in his dairy Thursday, October 28, 1886, in which
Hanks refers to the migration of the Lincolns from Indiana in

"At noon reached Paris, where 1 met Mrs. Chapman and her
father Dennis Hanks; latter told about life of Lincoln in Indiana
and Illinois; said he came to Ind. from Ky, in year after Lincoln's
arrival but accompanied them from Ind. to Ills; they went from
Gentryville to Jasper, thence to Petersburg and Vincennes where
crossed the Wabash. Hanks showed watch given him by Lincoln
when he visited Washington during war; was of silver and had
inscription from Lincoln as Prest. etc."

In addition to what has been detailed above the commission
has been furnished the testimony of another witness, one to whom


Mr, Hanks also communicated his recollection of the route through
Indiana. This gentleman is Mr. James H. McCall, a resident
of Winterhaven, Florida, who writes as follows:

"Winterhaven, Fla., Dec. 30, 1914.
Mr. Jesse W. Weik,

Greencastle, Ind.
Dear Sir :

During the 80's I was engaged in traveling through southern
Indiana and Illinois and frequently visited the burial place of
Nancy Hanks and other early pioneers of that locality. Sub-
sequently^, I think in 1886, I became acquainted with Dennis
Hanks at Charleston, Ills, who gave me a description of their
trip from Gentryville to Vincennes. I can only recall portions
of the details but I do remember that he said they crossed White
River at what is now Petersburg. Some of the party were on
horseback and carried fodder for their animals bound on behind.
Mr. Hanks became very much interested when I told him I had
visited the grave of his sister (?). You will probably recall that
through the generosity of a few Indiana citizens, admirers of
Mr. Lincoln, an iron fence was erected. The old gentleman seem-
ed very solicitous to know for sure that 'that stun' was placed
at the right grave, and believed he could tell if he could go there.
He showed me his watch presented to him by Pres. Lincoln of
which he seemed very proud.

Thinking these few incidents may be of interest to you I take
great pleasure in sending them.

Very respectfully,


Later, in compliance with a suggestion to that effect Mr.
McCall put his story into the form of sworn testimony as follows:


Be it known that during the summer of 1886 or 1887 accord-
ing to the best recollection of the undersigned I, James H. McCall,
met in the city of Charleston, Ills. Mr. Dennis Hanks, and there
held a conversation with him regarding the early life of the
Lincoln family, their residence in southern Indiana and removal
to Illinois, in what year he did not say or if he did I have for-
gotten it,


During our conversation he said they travolod north from
Gentry ville, Ind., to Petersburg, where they crossed the White
River, thence to Vincennes, where they crossed the Wal^ash.
Owing to the lapse of time many incidents related bj^ Hanks are
lost to my memory, but I am certain that no reference was made
to any other route or crossing of rivers than those stated.

(Signed) JAMES H. McCALL.

Subscribed and sworn to before me a notary PubHc this.the 15th
day of May, 1915.

(SEAL) Notary Public.

It will be observed that Col. Chapman in his testimony inti-
mates that Mr. Lincoln's recollection of the route of travel from
Indiana to Illinois is in "substantial accord" with that of Dennis
Hanks, but a comparison of the statements of the two shows that
if Chapman's recollection of Mr. Lincoln's account, that the route
led from Jasper through Washington is correct then there is a
variance, for according to the testimony of the two witnesses,
Weik and McCall, Dennis Hanks declared the route led from
Jasper northwest through Ireland and Otwell to Petersburg.

Thus far it will be ol)served that we have confined ourselves
to testimony emanating from those who were membees of the
eniigrant party. There are however other sources of information.
For instance there are good and cogent reasons in suj^port of the
contention that when the emigrants set out from their farm near
Gentryville thej^ went north through Dale and thence in the
same general direction to Jasper, or what was then known as
Enlows Mill on the Patoka River. An examination of the countrj'-
made by the commission in October, 1915, between the Lincoln
Farm and the town of Dale shows that within the exception of
a tributary of Little Pigeon, which at best is an insignificant
branch across the roadway, there are no streams of any conse-
quence between the points named. The case would have been
different had the Lincolns turned northwestward and endeavored
to make Petersburg by way of Selvin. In that event it would


Online LibraryIndiana. Lincoln highway commissionReport of Lincoln highway commission to Governor Samuel M. Ralston, December 15, 1916 → online text (page 1 of 2)