Excerpt: 'That Nation Might Live' by Jeff Oppenheimer

Excerpted from THAT NATION MIGHT LIVE: ONE AFTERNOON WITH LINCOLN'S STEPMOTHER by Jeff Oppenheimer Copyright Jeff Oppenheimer 2015

Chapter 1 - My Angel Mother

Old Mrs. Lincoln’s home, Goosenest Prairie, Illinois Friday, September 8, 1865

I, William H. Herndon of Springfield, Illinois, hereby present the deposition of Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, the second wife of Thomas Lincoln, and stepmother of President Abraham Lincoln. My railroad journey was twenty-seven hours and 100 miles to Mattoon Station. There I was greeted by Colonel Augustus H. Chapman at the Essex House. The impressive brick structure, combining hotel and rail depot as I have not seen before, sprung from the prairie like corn when the North/South Illinois Central intersected with the East/West Terre Haute Alton line.

Colonel Chapman steered his two-horse buggy to this cabin eight miles south, to the home of the President’s aged stepmother. I recall from my approach across the open plain a shingled, pitched-roof, unpretentious building with a wide porch stretched across its front. Beside the door an ox yoke is hung there. Chapman said it is a tribute of sorts for Lincoln’s father. Morning Glories climbed freely on it.

I dismounted on the horse path while Colonel Chapman made my presence known. I was soon greeted by Matilda Johnston Hall, the lone surviving child of Mrs. Lincoln. She led me into the right side door of the saddlebag cabin, comprised of two single room log cabins with separate entrances, connected by clapboards and a shared central chimney. Sword lilies came up plentifully alongside the footpath leading to Mrs. Lincoln’s door, her residence for most of her adult life. I stooped to clear the low doorframe. Firelight glinted off the dishes in the polished black walnut bureau sitting proudly beside the fire in the near corner. Opening the door to the plains let in a gust that brightened the fire momentarily, revealing Mrs. Lincoln dozing in her rocking chair, clad neck-to-shoe tip in a black woolen dress. In a reclining position it is evident that Mrs. Lincoln is tall and lean. Her chair sits on an emerald green rag rug, an island on an oak floor scrubbed clean and glossy, smooth as still water.

Colonel Chapman leaned close to Mrs. Lincoln’s rocking chair. Around her stooped shoulders was draped a woolen shawl. “Do you need another log on the fire, Granmarm?” Summer still owned the plains so it was, to my surprise and discomfort, Mrs. Lincoln prolonged the fire even as the day approached noon. His words seemed to revive her. “Thank’ee, dearie,” she murmured. “Don’t mind a’tall.” I removed my coat.

I was introduced to her by her daughter, Matilda, known to all as Tildy. I did not expect to get much out of Mr. L’s stepmother. She seemed so old and feeble. She breathed badly at first but she seemed to be struggling at last to fix her mind on the subject. Gradually by introducing simple questions about her age, marriage, Kentucky, Thomas Lincoln, her former husband, her children, grandchildren... she awoke, as it were, a new being.

Her flesh is white and pure, not coarse or material. She is tall, has bluish large gray eyes set deeply below level brows, framed by a scoop-shaped bonnet and softly curled gray hair. With visible strain she settled upon my countenance and slowly focused. “Where Mr. Lincoln once lived—his friends, too?” she asked.

“In Springfield, Illinois,” I said once more. “I am William H. Herndon, his friend of thirty years and law partner of sixteen.”

Muffled, and barely audible, she repeated her question, “Where Mr. Lincoln once lived—his friends, too?”

Mrs. Lincoln faded back into the fire’s glow while Col. Chapman repeated his introductions, to which she seemed to have no apparent comprehension. I requested her to give me a sketch of her life, and stated that it might prove useful and interesting as a matter of history. After a protracted silence I spoke of her son as a man who was kind, tender and sympathetic, who felt deeply in the presence of suffering, pain, wrong, or oppression of any shape. He was the very essence and substance of truth—the exact truth—was of unbounded veracity, and had unlimited integrity. He was just to all, he loved the right, the good, and true, with all his soul. Mr. Lincoln expressed his great feelings in his thoughts and his great thoughts in his feelings. By these his soul was elevated and purified for his work.

She had no observable registration to my professions. As hope of any insights into my dearest friend began to fade, Mrs. Lincoln turned and looked upon my face. Her eyelids began to wrinkle and eventually lift and I saw again her bluish large gray eyes. “I loved him also.” She said no more.

Mrs. Lincoln sat up in her rocking chair and smoothed out her skirt with her snowy, slightly gnarled hands. A white linen bonnet, trimmed in lace, covered her gray hair and tied neatly beneath her chin. Her face is as peaceful as a newborn babe’s when she dozes. Awake, she is alive with seemingly unspecified interest.

“Oh, yes.” She nodded, leaning back in her rocking chair once again. “Where Mr. Lincoln once lived—his friends, too. And you say you were a friend of his?”

I spoke of her son as the best friend I ever had. He was the best friend I ever expect to have, and I repeated to her that I think Mr. Lincoln was the best man, the kindest, tenderest, noblest, loveliest, since Christ. Something I said roused her considerably. With a single, sustained breath she spoke:

“I’ve known since he come back from New Orleans that second time...”

I could not prompt her to provide additional account regarding said return from New Orleans. I began to return my quill to its case when Mrs. Lincoln stirred. She awoke new once more. Her clear eyes returned, Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Says —

“I knew Mr. Lincoln in Ky — I married Mr. Johnston — he died about 1817 or 18 — Mr. Lincoln came back to Ky, having lost his wife — Mr. Thos Lincoln and Myself were married in 1819 — left Ky — went to Indiana — moved there in a team. Here is our old Bible dated 1819: it has Abe’s name in it. Here is Barclay’s dictionary dated 1799: it has Abe’s name in it, though in a better hand writing — both are boyish scrawls.

“My eyesight is good but I have trouble sometimes in threading a fine needle. I been better the past winter than common. My teeth are all gone, except two old snags. I am not much account any more, but I am still here mostly, or as much as I ever was. Want to know what kind of boy Abe was? Babies weren’t as plenty as blackberries in the woods of Kaintuck. When I heard the news that Nancy Lincoln had her baby, I long to see her. Danny fussed about doing much of anything, so I hoisted my babe Betsy tight to my ribs and got to walking. You’d a thought he might come chasing after us, but not Daniel Johnston. My first husband was born tired.

“I made the trip down to Lincoln’s farm on Nolan Creek where Nancy was recovering. Was near a mill owned by a man by name of Hodgens, had a spring on the claim, as I recall. I found Nancy there in the cabin, laying there in a pole bed looking purty happy. Tom’d built up a good fire and throwed a bear skin over the covers to keep them warm, and set their little two-year-old Sairy on the bed, to keep her off the dirt floor. Yes, there was only a dirt floor in the cabin. “Lil Sairy and Betsy set there at the foot of the bed and stared at the new babe, point to him a bit, mostly tended to their corncob babies whilst Nancy and I tended to the infant. Yes sir, there were four mammies in that one-room cabin that night! Nancy had washed her little perfect babe and put a yellow flannel petticoat on him. He looked just like any other baby at first, like red cherry pulp squeezed dry.

“’What you going to name him, Nancy?’ I asked her.

“‘Abraham,’ she says. ‘After his grandfather that come out to Kaintuck with Daniel Boone. He was mighty smart and wasn’t afraid of nothing, and that’s what a man has to be out here to make anything out of himself.’

“Betsy and Sarah rolled up in a bear skin, slept by the fireplace that night, with a little corner for me so I could see the little feller when he cried. That was the first time I set eyes on Abe. I can scarcely say, even from his very first, he was mighty good company, solemn as a papoose, but interested in everything. Abe never was much for looks. Looks didn’t count them days nohow. It was strength and work and daredevil. A lazy man or a coward was just poison, and a spindling feller had to stay in the settlements. The clearings hadn’t no use for him.

“Tom had to git up and tend to his baby boy’s needs at times, some a Nancy’s too. Tom was kind and loving and kept his word, and always paid his way, and never turned a dog from the door. That’s Abe’s father, my second husband. Dare say he’s my last. Any more lost suitors might best turn right round!

“I was girl still first time Tom Lincoln shown his face in Liztown. (Writer – Elizabethtown, Kentucky) He come around for the work when we were building a mill. I confess I did not object to being at the center of a crowd. From my earliest recollections I known folks were prone to fawn on me. Sinful pride that was. I gussied myself up and brung one of my Mama’s kittles to the stream so I could bring them working men water. Tommy Lincoln try to keep to himself, Mr. Herndon, but that was not to my liking so I pester him some. He was a young man then, vocal as a tree stump. Most natural that he did not object to my attention.

“I grown up Sally Bush - particular in my personal appearance, and in the selection of my gowns, and in the company I kept. I had long been accounted a proud body, holding my head above common folks. Some of my own kin felt the same. Never figured twice about it as I was living it. As I figured it, the decence of my dress and purt friends, stoked up envy. No surprise then some would hiss about it. Sinful pride that was.

“Over the years Tommy Lincoln become real familiar to us Bushes. He was a Patroller for a while when my father was Captain. Seem like Tom was kin then. When I was young still, Tommy asked me to marry him. I was barely a woman, and Tommy was a full ten years older than I. Made my share a fool decisions. I did not marry Tom back then. Maybe Tommy Lincoln wasn’t a challenge for me. Or the truth could be simpler still, and the truth might be I was sparking on a certain bushy haired Danny Johnston, the same one all the girls were whispering sin about when we supposed to be singing scripture at camp meetings on Green River Lake. And it wasn’t too long afore that same Danny started sparking up sweet right back on me. He smelled like clean pine. I liked that, I liked it too much.

“Just round then, Tommy Lincoln picked up and took off with my own brother Isaac for New Orleans, only the Good Lord knew when they might return. They took by flatboat, pass through Cheyenne and Chickasaw country, didn’t have fancy riverboats going up and down river back then. You know how they had to make their way home, Mr. Herndon? They walked!”

Mrs. Lincoln smiled broadly and I could see that the memory amused her greatly. Then, a shadow of concern clouded her features as she inquired, “I stray off topic, Mr. Herndon? My words’ll sometimes follow my wandering mind like a baby fox to its crazy Mama.”

“Please, Mrs. Lincoln, do not give it a thought,” I assured her. “I am much obliged for the pleasure of your company, and interested in anything you have to say.” I further explained that I hoped, in deposing her story as a matter of course, she would include any peculiarity or specialty of her stepson and his boyhood that she recalled.

“The examples you have provided already, I think, are excellent. It is all new to me.” I went on to assure her that the information would be valuable in many ways and so it is best she speak freely. Mrs. Lincoln seemed content with my encouragement. I prompted her with a question about her first husband. She continued:

“I was determined to marry the Prince of our little circle, Mr. Daniel Johnston. I was going to be Sarah Bush Johnston, and I knew better than those plagued choruses of fool-calling I heard all around me. My own father refused to sign the marriage bond, making it known for all his feelings on the subject, so my brother Elijah signed by making his mark.

“Danny and I had our times, then children come along, first Betsy, then Tildy, and he still wasn’t doing a stitch a work. Things weren’t as charming to me then as they once were. Soon I was a squawking hen with a babe on each hip. I puzzle still how fast change come. Soon enough we owed so much money we found ourselves standing afore our neighbors on a delinquent list. Then Danny went and borrowed from my brothers and when he couldn’t pay them back, they went to suing my husband and me for the notes. We were held as without funds. Mama laughed and laughed for my payback before she would cry and cry. My father seemed a tinge joyful to see me humbled before God as I was.”

She blinked then, rapidly, I suspect to withhold tears. Mrs. Lincoln continued:

“My Pa knew nothing about a boy named Abe Lincoln. Nancy’s boy was dutiful to me always—he loved me truly I think. I did not want Abe to run for President. I did not want him elected, was afraid somehow or other, felt it in my heart that something would happen to him; and when he came down to see me after he was elected President, I still felt that something would befall Abe and that I would see him no more. Abe and his father are in Heaven, I have no doubt, and I want to go there, go where they are. God bless Abraham.”

Here the old lady stopped — turned around and cried — wiped her eyes — and proceeded:

“Tom Lincoln married Nancy Hanks soon after Danny and me were married. Our lives were daily together one last time when we were both trying to make it in Liztown. Right round the same time Nancy and I have our first babes, and both girls. That’s Sairy from Nancy, and Elizabeth was mine. We called her Betsy. She was a purt beauty from the git.” Mrs. Lincoln stared into the flame, searching for answers. After a respectful pause I reminded Mrs. L. she was speaking of her life in Elizabethtown, KY, after she and Nancy had their baby girls. She resumed:

“Danny was doing a fine job spending Pappy’s money like he was a nobleman, and Tom Lincoln’s trying to work as a carpenter. It wasn’t Tom’s fault he couldn’t make a living by his trade. There was scarcely any money in that country. Every man had to do his own tinkering and keep everlastingly at work to git enough to eat. So Tom took up some land further out, mighty ornery land. It was the best Tom could git, when he hadn’t much to trade for it. Nancy moved off when Abe was in her belly. We had to move him to the side for a proper goodbye.

Tom tried to farm stubborn ground and make a home from the timber he cut. It was rough living—the floor was packed dirt. The door swung on leather hinges. There was one small window and a stick-clay chimney. Poor Nancy! Next time we seen each other we laughed and laughed about how we were no longer girls, just before we cried and cried.”

“I seen Tom and Nancy at gatherings or storing at Bleakey’s. Seen Abe and Sairy too. Abe grown taller each time, skinny like a rail. He never give Nancy no trouble after he could walk, except to keep him in clothes. Most of the time he went b’arfoot. I heard Tommy and Nancy were having to stretch, and then I’d see Nancy and it’d seem to solidify the Lincolns were poorer than anybody. She’s always a dignified personage, just roughed up from grubbing roots to feed her babes. And splitting rails and hunting and trapping didn’t leave Tom no time to put a puncheon floor in his cabin, so they were living on dirt floors. It was all he could do to get his family enough to eat and to cover them.

“Nancy was powerful ashamed of the way they lived, but she know’d Tom Lincoln was always doing his best. She wasn’t the pestering kind no how. She was purty as a picture and smart as you’d find them anywhere. She could read and write. Tom thought a heap of Nancy, and was as good to her as he know’d how. He didn’t drink, or swear, or play cards, or fight; and them were drinking, cussing, quarrelsome days. Tom was kind to all, still could whip a bully if he had to. He just couldn’t git ahead somehow.

“When Abe wasn’t b’arfoot he was running round in buckskin moccasins and breeches, a tow-linen shirt and coonskin cap. Yes, that’s the way we all dressed them days. We couldn’t keep sheep from the wolves, and poor folks didn’t have scarcely any flax except what they could git trading skins. The Lincolns weren’t much better off than Injuns. Tom got a hold of a better farm after a while, further out still, but he couldn’t get a clear title to it. So when Abe was eight years old, the Lincoln’s lit out for Indiana.

“Tommy told me years later that Kaintuck was gittin stuck up, with some folks rich enough to own slaves, didn’t seem no place for poor folks anymore. Might say too, Tommy was Separate Baptist, and he didn’t care for profanity, intoxication, gossip, horse racing, or dancing - certainly did not care for slaving.

“‘Every man must skin his own skunk,’ Tom liked to say about those times.

“Indiana wasn’t even a state yet when Tommy went up there to claim his land. Forest was as the Good Lord created it in the Beginning. Tommy said there were trees twenty foot round, and the forest floor was buried in grapevines to his waist, some stems he said were a full nine inches round. Abe told me once that there were hairy elephants that roam the same woods till the Injins killed them off. I think he was just fooling on me.”

I informed Mrs. Lincoln that, in fact, the Wooly Mastodon evolved to survive cold climate, then had to migrate south due to the Ice Age. Evidence suggests big animal hunters crossed from Asia into North America over a land and ice bridge. Mrs. L. enjoyed this - said listening to me felt as though Abe had returned with his explanations. She continued:

“Tommy settled on land I was eventually to live on. And with all that land to choose from Mr. Herndon, would you know that my future husband selects a clearing for the salt-licks, and all his good hunting. Was over a fool mile from the nearest stream! No sir, I ain’t much for picking them. “I made sure to say goodbye when the Lincolns lit out for Indianny. Never seen Nancy Hanks Lincoln again. Everything they had worth taking was piled on the backs of two pack horses. Tom said to Nancy he could make new pole beds and puncheon tables and stools, easier than he could carry them. Said goodbye to the newborn they buried on Muldraugh’s Hill. Climbed 400 feet up to the Little Mount Cemetery where a plot was marked by a limestone slab. Tom said he had to brush off the debris to reveal ‘T.L.’ chiseled into the surface of the stone. There lay his namesake, his baby boy who lived long enough to be given a name, though the poor lil feller wasn’t to stay long enough to have his name inscribed in the family Bible.”

Mrs. Lincoln dabs her tears dry with her handkerchief. Continues:

“Offin they went. Lincolns reached their new home about the time the state came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There Abe grew up.” After some pause that appeared all Mrs. Lincoln was to speak on the subject. I inquired about the Bush family—her mother, father and her siblings, and how she had grown up.

“Well, Mr. Herndon . . .” She paused. “Some of my kin got rebel in them.”

“Please do speak plainly, Mrs. Lincoln,” I entreated. “My own father disinherited me, after calling me an ‘abolitionist pup.’ Come, now—be candid. Who was your father? What was he like?” I encouraged her unrestrained comment. Mrs. Lincoln wrapped her shawl tighter about her shoulders before she continued:

“My father was Christopher Bush,” she said, staring into the fire. “My father and brothers were known as stalwart men. There was no back-out in them. Never shunned a fight where they considered it necessary to engage in it, and nobody ever heard a Bush, my father or my brothers, cry, ‘enough.’

“My brother Isaac once had a bullet extracted. He refused the doctors when they prepared to tie him down. He just lay down on a bench and placed a musket ball between his back teeth. Chewed it to pieces while the surgeons cut nine whole inches before they got the bullet. He didn’t so much as wince when they removed it from his leg.

“My mamma was Hannah Bush. We were one of the first to settle in Kaintuck. My Pa went out with his family and his brother. Uncle wasn’t made for the clearing and was scalped soon after we arrived. My Pa had my oldest brother, William, who was by then a man himself. Samuel and Hannah were still just chillern, and Isaac was a nursing babe. Eventually there were nine of us Bush children. My Pa built up all kinds of land. I got some of it, Mr. Herndon. My Pa was a generous man.

“Pa and my brothers were Patrollers. Tommy Lincoln was too. Pa was the Captain. Tommy couldn’t do it for too long - couldn’t stomach returning run-aways back South. My Pa and brothers didn’t see it as such. The whipping posts were for all colors, so long as law was to be prop’ly respected.” Mrs. Lincoln stared back at me blankly. I inquired about the passing of her first husband, Daniel Johnston.

The old lady nodded and smiled and set her rocker to moving with a quiet, regular creak on the oak floor, seemed to reflect for a moment.

“Danny got himself appointed jailor for Hardin County. He was providing a roof over our heads, us Johnstons and the prisoners too. We were all under one roof. I raised my babes in a stone jail set up, ancient-like, with prisoners living in cells beneath us. I born my last one in earshot of them prisoners. Can you imagine it? That was my boy, John D. ‘D’ was short for his father Daniel, through and through! It was not as I figured me when my sisters and I had our corncob babes back in the playing days. I cooked and cleaned for prisoners mostly, for Danny’s job it was.

“Danny died soon after the Lincolns moved to Indiana. He couldn’t hold any food down and eventually heaved himself to his last breath. Then Nancy died of milk-sick plague in Indiana. Nancy would a lived to be old if she’d had any kind of care, and I reckon she must a been strong to a stood what she did.

“Figuring the rest is easy enough, right up to Tom Lincoln showing up at my door with his speech prepared. History now, but on that day it was quite a thunderclap. Betsy was off schooling and I was knitting my wares while Tildy and John D. done their best not to poke the other in the eye. The door knocks and who you reckon is standing there, Mr. Herndon, but barrel-chested himself, Tommy Lincoln. He was quick about it, saying he had no wife and I had no husband. He says he came a purpose to marry me. He know’d me from a gal and I know’d him from a boy. He had no time to lose, he said, and if I was willing let it be done straight off.

“‘Well,’ I says, ‘I can’t do it.’” I let that set while Tommy turned whiter than the underbelly of fish. Needed to slow this charging bull some while I got my wits returning home between my ears. I said to him I could not on account of my debts, and just like that he asked for the notes. Sure enough he comes back with my debts paid, and my assembled family was in agreement that Tommy was good folk. Afore I could even foster a second thought, I was marrying Tommy Lincoln and moving to the clearing across the Ohio River from my kin. Was so cold seem like the wolves ate the sheep just for their wool. Offin we went nohow.

“We crossed the Ohio at Thompson’s Ferry, just opposite the mouth of the Anderson River in Indiana. That was a big entry point for the settlers that come through Kaintuck. The charges were prescribed by law about this time, and though times it feels I cannot remember my own name, I still recall it was a dollar for a horse and wagon, 25 cents for a man and horse, 12 ½ cents for great cattle, 12 ½ cents for foot passengers. Children were free. “Didn’t take long for John D. to start his squirming so I held on to his arm with white knuckles, and I’ll never forget his face. I looked him square in the eye, said clear, ‘John D, don’t you go and lighten my load by falling off this boat into the Ohio River.’ “He sat froze like he was plucked straight from a blizzard, Mr. Herndon!

The girls had eyes like pies. They ain’t never been but a few miles from Liztown, and now they were crossing the Ohio with flatboats trailing one another like ducklings. Then we heard it afore we seen it, whistling right into the ear of the Lord, so loud. Was a side-winder steamer and them kids stretched in all directions, trying to see it all from their disappearing little world. I felt right then that I done them good.

“Was real relief on Tommy Lincoln, getting me across the river. Seemed to please him a great deal. Looking back I could see Negros loading their masters into a river skiff, but I just look forward, Mr. Herndon. And do you reckon what I saw, cause it was but one thing? Trees. Hundred-foot-high wall of trees. “Abe told me later that he never passed through a harder experience than he did from Thompson’s Ferry to the open-faced camp Tommy built on his claim. Tom may a showed Abe how to swing an axe back in Kaintuck, but the boy learned to use it right then to clear a path for the Lincolns to get through mostly thick brush. Called them roughs. Called ‘em that for good reason.

“It was another three years afore Tommy brung me there. The roads weren’t our trouble, it was the four horse wagon load of goods. I packed in a table, a set of chairs, a clothespress, chest a drawers, a flax wheel, soap kittle, cooking pots, an pewter dishes, lot a goods like bedclothes and kitchenware, feather pillers, homespun blankets an patchwork quilts that all made a heap a difference in a backwoods cabin. This is the bureau I took to Indiana in 1819 — cost $45 in Kaintuck (Mrs. L points to the bureau.) Between all of us and the property, there wasn’t room to cuss a cat without getting fur in your mouth.

“Tommy done his share of fussing about it as we heaved and rocked, sometimes just to gain a few inches, iffin that. He got right sure we should unload a few trunks, to which I could only offer kind words for his effort to push on, and shine a smile at him. Eventually he got cured of the idea and give up. He waited a long time for my company! Was clear from the git that Nancy wasn’t much for sassing back. Tommy wasn’t quite sure what’s to become of his old self! Was good fun, Mr. Herndon, having a man with Virginia decency.

“I once asked Tommy which of us, me or Nancy, he liked best. Tommy paused on that one a long time. Finally he took hold of my hand, looked straight on me, solemn as an owl. Said he looked on it like a man choosing between two horses: one that kicks and the other that bites. That’s what Tommy done for me – kept my belly aching from his antics and yarns.

“Tommy said settlers of Indiana called the area Little Pigeon Creek for the abundance of the critters. I seen the upper branches start to wave sorta frantic like, then the sky turn dark from black clouds. Seem like a storm, ‘ceptin for a squawking that might deafen us all were it to carry on much further. I never seen nothing like it back in Kaintuck. Come to figure what turn day to night was miles and miles of pigeons, far as I could see. The country was wild still, the panther’s scream filled the night with fear. Ground hogs were snorting and squealing in the brush. Here I took my babes out of Liztown, the county seat, and we seen wolves, and a paw print that look like someone set a kittle right there in the river bank.

I slept with Tommy’s rifle aside me, figuring if whatever made the paw print come along, this gun ain’t gonna kill it, just gonna make it mad. I struggled all night figuring what to do, settling on nothing, just froze like, listening to the howling and screaming, and rustling from all directions. Tommy and the children were sleeping along like they were somehow protected.

“Sunrise wasn’t much help. The forest turned from black to gray. Now I could see critters swarming instead of just hearing them. In gray daylight least I seen what was to eat me and my babes afore it happened. That was the comfort daybreak give me. Lord a-Mighty, what I done to my babes I was to fret. Tommy was funning the children with his yarns and such when sudden like he draw quiet as field mouse during Sunday sermon. Should a had some sense a trouble when he declare, quiet-like to me alone, that we were gittin close. I smelled it afore I seen it. Sheep and swine were running unpenned, their paws coated in mud and dung. I think to myself then, Nancy’s babies!

“We come through snow and branches as we contended with a long and dreary winter. Finally seen the Lincoln cabin coming into sight. My chillern seen Sairy and Abe standing in front. They must a heard us coming along. Betsy asked if they were runaway slaves. Their skin was earthen and they were tattered and scared like. They were kin with wilderness.