National Geographic : 1952 Feb
163 Rtalph Gray Lacking Lamp, Young Abe Spent Hours in Study Beside a Blazing Fireplace This hearth at Rockport, Indiana, duplicates the one by whose light the boy read the Bible. Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, and Weems's Life of Washington. Paper was scarce; Abe did arithmetic problems on a wooden shovel, scraping it clean after each exercise (pages 142, 159, 168). As we drove northwest through Mattoon, Sullivan, Lovington, and Lake City to De catur, the streams we crossed were in flood and the rivers rising. Ten miles west of De catur we turned south from U. S. 36 to see the site of the first Lincoln cabin in Illinois, the point where the trek from Indiana ended, and found the Sangamon out of its banks. Decatur is surpassed only by Springfield in size on the Lincoln National Memorial High way. A big industry is the A. E. Staley Manufacturing Company, processing corn and soybeans into many products. Split Rails for a Pair of Pants When the Lincolns arrived here in 1830, the town was less than a year old. Abe needed a pair of new trousers. He cut 400 rails for each yard of the material. Thirty years later, to Decatur's Wigwam Convention Hall, John Hanks brought sev eral rails "from a lot of 3,000 made in 1830 by John Hanks and Abe Lincoln." The State Republican Convention immediately made the humble Rail Splitter its unanimous choice for the Presidential nomination. The Lincolns' first winter in Illinois was remembered for years by old-timers as the bad winter of 1830-31. Successive snow storms covered the prairies four feet deep. Cattle died in the fields. Cabin-bound set tlers existed on unmilled corn; some starved to death. The Lincolns and other new set tlers who had no reserve food fared badly. In February a trader named Denton Offutt engaged Abe and two kinsmen to take a flat boat to New Orleans. When the snow went off, the trio found Offutt drunk in Springfield and no boat. They built their own craft, Offutt provided the cargo, and they ran down the Sangamon, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. They had barely started the long float when their flatboat stuck on the milldam at New Salem. While extricating it, Abe had a chance to look over the new log cabin village on the bluff. When he returned from New Orleans, he said goodbye to his family and, at the age of 22, started out on his own. His destina tion: New Salem. Lincoln canoed from near Decatur to his new home. Part of the route retraced his flatboat trip earlier in the year and later was the scene of his helping to pilot the Talisman, first and only steamboat ever to reach the Springfield vicinity.