Dan Patterson

The presidents of our United States aren’t exempt from nicknames.

Abraham Lincoln is one of my favorite presidents. Here are a few tidbits about him and how he earned his rather unusual moniker.

He is continually listed as one of our three greatest presidents, along with George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt. I agree with the selection of the “Rail Splitter” and FDR.

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in Burr Oak thicket, close to Hodgenville, Ky.. His home was a meager one-room cabin with three log sides and scrap quilts formed the remaining wall.

His father, Tom Lincoln, was uneducated and a hard man. He eventually lost his farm to unscrupulous tax collectors and lawyers.

Tom relocated his family to Perry County, Ind. Young Abe was particularly close to his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. She attempted to teach him to read and write, and this enraged his father.

When Abe was able to get a book or two, Tom would destroy them and whip Abe unmercifully. Sadly, Nancy Hanks Lincoln passed away after two years in Spencer County, Ind.

She was stricken with milk sickness and lived only two weeks. This disease naturally was from cows which had eaten a plant called white snake root.

This plant grows from one to two feet tall and in the late fall develops snowball looking blooms. It is still commonly found in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

The aforementioned Burr Oak trees were and still are in abundance in the lower range of the Ohio Valley.

The wood is dense and heavy grained, making it attractive for barrel staves, railroad ties, wagon wheel components and shipbuilding.

Young Abe was a big-handed, strapping young man who was introduced to the fine points of rail splitting at an early age.

Here is another little-known fact from the eternally interesting life of Lincoln. At the tender age of 10, young Abe had a near brush with death because of a cantankerous old workhorse on his farm.

Tom Lincoln had a rusty nag of a plow horse named Old Jade. Abe was a strapping, yet thin youngster, with hands bigger than a two foot horse collar.

On an early spring day in 1819, Tom Lincoln set Abraham to plowing a new field. The unbroken prairie land was as unforgiving as was Old Jade. The old horse was uninspired, listless and sulky.

Abe feared the rough hand of his father if he failed to get his chore completed. Agitated, Abe began to administer the same treatment to Old Jade as he received from his ever ill-tempered father.

Tom Lincoln couldn’t afford to put shoes on his only work horse. That and that alone saved the life of the future 16th U.S. president.

Old Jade reared back and delivered a swift, shoeless kick, striking Abe slightly above his left eye socket. He laid unconscious for a day before slowly waking up.

The blow left him with a condition described as strabismus contusion to his left eye, eye socket and eye lid. The left portion of his forehead was permanently indented.

His left eye was noticeably higher than his right eye. The left lid was forever droopy and swollen looking, and he could no longer focus or control his left eye.

Years later, then President Abraham Lincoln offered a statement that defined the Civil War.

Shortly after the battle of Fort Sumter, he responded, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”

His wry comment unerringly underlined the crucial roll Kentucky would have in the deadliest conflict ever to haunt America.


DAN PATTERSON, who’s retired from the Paris Parks and Recreation Department, grew up near the state line and now lives in Paris. He can be reached by email at jdanpat@yahoo.com.

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