This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
It was a cold morning in mid-winter, one hundred years ago. Around the little log cabin the snow lay deep among the stumps of trees in the clearing. A zig-zag fence of rails was around the field and the cabin. Blue smoke rose from the chimney of sticks and clay. You could easily have gone into the cabin because there was no door. A buffalo robe was hung before the doorway for a curtain. Wild beasts from the forest—bears and wolves and wildcats—could have gone in, too, but wild animals will not go near a fire. A big fire of logs burned in the fire-place.
What a wretched place to live! It was not much better than an Indian wigwam. The fire was the only splendid thing in the cabin. No, another beautiful thing was there. It was a pale young mother with a new baby. They lay on a bed of corn husks. It was raised from the floor on a frame work of poles. Over the mother and baby was a bear skin to keep them warm. The mother was not strong, but she was brave and sweet. She was glad the baby boy was big and strong, for he would have to work hard.
Presently, they had a visitor. It was a ten year old boy. His cheeks were red with the cold, and he was out of breath. He had run two miles, through the woods, to see the new baby. There were more wild-cats than babies in the woods of Kentucky. Besides, this baby was his cousin. He said that he was "tickled to death" to have a boy cousin. The boy was dressed in yellow deer-skin like an Indian. He wore moccasins, and a coon-skin cap with the tail hanging to his neck. A woman came and dressed the baby in yellow flannel and tow linen. She cooked some hominy and deer meat. She stewed some dried blackberries in wild honey. Then she went back to her own cabin, miles away through the woods The boy stayed. At night he rolled up in a bear skin and slept by the fire place. The father went hunting so they could all have food.
Little boys had to grow up very fast in the back woods of Kentucky. When this baby was five years old he could catch fish, set traps for rabbits, get wood for his mother, and drop corn in the furrows, behind his father's plow. He went on coon hunts with men and dogs. He followed flying bees and found their honey in hollow trees. His father was a good carpenter, but nobody had money to pay for carpenter work. He had to hunt, and fish, and grow corn, and chop trees and burn stumps. He had no time to put a floor in his cabin. The land was too poor to grow much corn. When the boy was eight years old the father said they must move a hundred miles away to get a better farm.
Emigrants Moving West In Covered Wagons, Often Called Prairie Schooners.
They built a pole shack in the woods. A pole shack was a shed, open on one side. It wasn't nearly as good as a wigwam. The fire was outside. They lived in the shack a year. The boy was only nine, when the mother died, just as they got a good cabin built. Little, tired, wildwood lady! That life was too hard for her.
The boy helped his father and cousin saw boards from a green log to make a coffin. He whittled pegs to fasten the boards together. They had no nails. They buried the mother under maple trees, near where the deer came down to drink. The boy never forgot how his mother died. As long as he lived his eyes were sad, his lips tender. He pitied and loved and helped everything weak and helpless.
That lonely winter he studied his spelling book. His mother had told him that his grandfather came from good people in Virginia. She taught him to read and write. She told him he must study. By and by, a good stepmother came. She had three children so it was not so lonely in the cabin. She had a wagon load of tables and beds and chairs and blankets and dishes. She had a spinning wheel and a loom. The stepmother was a strong, kind, clever woman, who made everyone comfortable and happy. She found out that the boy loved books, and she helped him all she could.
He walked twenty miles to borrow a big law book. His cousin gave him a book of fables. He split cord wood to buy a little Life of Washington. He kept a book in the bosom of his checked shirt. At noon he sat under a tree and read a book, as he ate a dry, hard, corn dodger for his dinner. In the nearest village, he read a newspaper in a log store. When he grew up he knew more than any man in the country. He could do more work, too, for he was tall and strong. He would not quarrel, and he made other men stop fighting. Everyone laughed at his funny stories. They wondered at his wise talk. He was so honest that he was called "Honest Abe." Now you know who he was. He was our great president, Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln wanted to see the world. He went down the Ohio River, and on down the Mississippi River. He had no money for travelling. He went as a deck hand on a river boat. He saw the towns along the rivers, and the big, warm, French city of New Orleans. For a long time he thought he would learn to be a pilot, to guide boats safely on the big river.
When he was twenty-one Lincoln's father moved again. They went west into Illinois. They moved in covered wagons drawn by oxen. They drove for two hundred miles, through woods, across swamps and over the grassy prairies. The new home was built on a river bank. Lincoln helped his father build a cabin. He split rails to make a fence around the corn field. Then he left home to make his own way in the world. The women cried to see him go. The men gripped his big hand. They all loved him.
He went to clerk in a village store. It was a big, busy town of thirty log houses. The school teacher taught Lincoln grammar. He studied law by himself. He had no money to buy books. In a larger town, twenty miles away, were lawyers. They loaned law books to Lincoln. Still, he had to work for a living. He was a storekeeper and postmaster. He split rails, and he measured land, to mark off farms and roads. There were six years of hard work and lonely study, before he had learned enough to be a lawyer. Then he went away from the village to the state capital to live. More than twenty years later, when our country needed a brave, honest, wise man for a leader, in troubled times, it turned to this Western pioneer lawyer.
Thousands of boys were born in just such cabins in the woods. Thousands grew up into good and useful men. They made farms. They built towns and railroads. They were our great grandfathers. We are proud of them. But we are proudest of all of Lincoln. And we are proud of the worn-out mothers, who died so long ago of the hardships of pioneer days. If our great grandmothers could just have lived to know what men they gave to the world! See Lincoln, Abraham, page 1073.