Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858 - Vol. 1

By Albert J. Beveridge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II INDIANA: BOYHOOD AND YOUTH

New birth of our new soil, the first American. LOWELL.

'WHEN, on the barren peak of some rocky hill, you catch a distant view, it generally is nothing but an undulating surface of impenetrable forest,' wrote Elias Pym Fordham in his diary, when making his way through southwestern Indiana, early in 1818. As was the case with all travellers, Fordham was depressed by the thick and sombre woods, for he complains that 'it is seldom that a view of two hundred yards in extent can be caught in Indiana,' because ' Indiana is a vast forest . . . just penetrated in places by backwoods settlers who are half hunters, half farmers.'1

Vast, forbidding, tremendous, this mighty forest stretched northward from the Ohio, its trees, like giant sentinels of nature, guarding the wilderness. Sycamore, oak, elm, willow, hackberry, poplar, sugar-maple, ash, sweet-gum, hickory, beech, walnut,2 grew as thickly as their great size would permit. In 1819 Welby measured an oak in southwestern Indiana and found it to be twenty-four feet in circumference four feet above the ground; and he remarks that there were many others even larger.'3 Thick grapevines wove a net among the trees.4

brks="brks"> Michaux records that, in southern Ohio a few years earlier, he measured a tulip poplar which was forty-seven feet in circumference. As late as 1833, Hugh McCulloch found Indianapolis to be a mere village 'in the heart of a magnificent forest,' and, on the road to Fort Wayne which was only an opening 'through the

____________________
1
Personal Narrative of Travels, etc.: Elias Pym Fordham, 96, 152-3. Also see "History of the English Settlement in Edwards Co. Ill.": George Flower, 52. Chicago Hist. Socy. Coll., I.
2
Dennis Hanks to Herndon, Jan. 6, 1866; Mrs. Elizabeth Crawford to same, May 3, 1866; J. W. Whartman to same, June, 1866. Weik MSS.
3
"A Visit to North America": Adlard Welby, Thwaites, XII, 230.
4
"The Journal of a Tour", etc.: Thaddeus Mason Harris, Thwaites, III, 359. This traveller tells of grapevines 'nine inches in diameter' which 'spread a canopy over the summits of the highest trees.'

-38-

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