Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Austin Gollaher and The Lincolns at Knob Creek

Benjamin Austin Gollaher
copy made for me in 1998
 by Lou Lucas
I was going through my old files of articles and photos that were copied for me back in the summer of 1998 by Lou Lucas and I found an old typewritten transcription of a 1953 newspaper article that I'm pretty sure came from her. I looked around on the Internet and when I was satisfied that this article was not already in circulation, I decided that because it's such an engaging interview, I would carefully transcribe it again and post it here for all those Abe Lincoln and Austin Gollaher researchers. Much of the information herein has been told in other articles, but some details are new. Once again however, the date of 1889 and Austin's age of 91 years do not match up with what we know. Austin Gollaher was born in 1806 so he could not have been 91 years of age in 1889. I think the last two numbers of the year were transposed in The Citizen or transposed by whoever transcribed it, and should have read 1898.

From The Citizen, Brinkley Arkansas, Thursday, February 12, 1953:

Seldom told tales in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Yellowed with age and with edges frayed from much handling through the years, a clipping from "The LaRue County" paper printed in 1889 has lain within the leaves of the family bible in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Austin Melvin near Hunter, Arkansas, several decades. 

The principal of the article was Austin Gollaher, maternal grandfather of Mr. Melvin.  It was passed on to Mr. Melvin by his mother and has recently come into the possession of one of his daughters, Mrs. Otis Freeman of Hunter.  Mrs. Freeman is a sister of Garvin Melvin and Beckham Melvin of Hunter, Nate Melvin and Mrs. John Nelson of Brinkley, Mrs. Green Devasier of Palestine, Arkansas and Mrs. Lee Johnson of near Owensboro, Kentucky. All these last names are great grandchildren of Mr. Gollaher.

There is a picture of the aged Mr. Gollaher included in the article but which cannot be reproduced on account of its dimness due to the age of the paper. 

Mr. Gollaher relates some interesting incidents seldom told in the life story of one so great as was our former president, Abraham Lincoln.  Being a boyhood friend of Abe Lincoln, Mr. Gollaher was enabled to give first hand information as to his early years of poverty and hardships.  This gives us a more sympathetic understanding of the courage of this youth who overcame the obstacles of an early life  and emerged triumphant to the highest honor our country bestows; that of President of the United States.

Uncle Austin Gollaher
The boyhood playmate of President Lincoln, is nearing the end of life's journey. 

In an humble log cabin, surrounded by the vine clad Muldraugh's Hills, in a quiet and obscure part of LaRue County, lives the venerable playmate of Abraham Lincoln - Mr. Austin Gollaher - or "Uncle Austin" as his Larue County friends delight in addressing him, whenever they meet him at his home to talk over with him the scenes and incidents of his simple childlife when he was a playmate of the lamented Lincoln.

"Uncle Austin" is again a child and a very feeble one physically.  The old gentleman is now rapidly rounding out his term of earthly existence. Ninety-one years of active life has well nigh worn out the machinery that has so long been subject to the orders of his active hand, and he lies in bed a helpless man, to be waited on as if he were an infant.

The Herald takes pleasure in producing this week a splendid picture of "Uncle Austin", which is made from his latest photograph, taken only last week as he lay in bed at home.

Mr. Gollaher has become widely known in almost every state in the Union by reason of the fact that he is the only living playmate of President Lincoln. Hundreds of our daily papers printed his picture and columns of matter, detailing the incidents of his younger life, while the great Magazines - The Century, Scribners, and others have found pages of matter about him sufficently interesting to be given space.  It is not true, however, that Mr. Gollaher related all that has been published.  Far from it.  Much that has been printed was related by him.  The remainder of it is simply the over-ripe of the energetic imagination of the newspaper correspondents.  Mr. Gollaher is a very plain, dignified old gentleman, who has never attempted to arrest public attention by giving publicity to his companionship with Lincoln, nor would he under any circumstances misrepresent or ever exaggerate the intimacy of the acquaintanceship he enjoyed with Lincoln as a boy.

Mr. Gollaher has been a strong man mentally and physically.  His large bony frame, upon which there is now not enough flesh to keep it warm, shows that in former years he was a powerful man and his very large head, high, full forehead and expressive eyes indicate great natural ability and had he enjoyed opportunity of improving his natural talents had some fortunate circumstances called him from obscurity, he would have reached far beyond the average prominence accorded man and would have been one of our most noted and useful citizens.  But satisfied with a pleasant, easy going life, and not of an adventuresome spirit, he enjoys the only pleasant memories of his acquaintance with Lincoln and the respect and esteem of all who know him.

Several years ago when the Century magazine was preparing for publication his story of Abraham Lincoln, its editor came to Hodgenville for the purpose of securing data for the work.  He drove out to the home of Mr. Gollaher, secured a photograph of him and spent some time in pleasant conversation with him. Upon his return The Herald asked him his opinion of "Uncle Austin". "Why", he said, "I was delighted with the old gentleman and was favorably impressed."  He said that his great brain power needed only development and opportunity to have made him a great man and that his gentle manners and carefulness of narration impressed on him the fact that every word he uttered was the truth.

Mr. Gollaher has spent his entire life in his present neighborhood and has scarcely ever been far from his birthplace, living a quiet, retired, satisfied life.

Years ago there were living in Larue County several men who remembered the Lincoln  family distinctly and some of them could recall the incident of President Lincoln's birth, among whom were Judge Cessna and Abe Enlow, but they have passed over the river of death, and, as stated, Mr. Gollaher is now the only one who has any personal knowledge of the Lincolns and their Larue County home. 

In a recent interview Mr. Gollaher was asked where the Lincolns lived when Abe was born, and when he moved down on Knob Creek, where Mr. Gollaher lives.

"When his family moved down on Knob creek", he said, "I was eight years old and Abe was five.  It was immediately after they moved that we began going to school together.  The Lincoln family moved to a house that stood where Mr. Nick Rapier lived a few years ago, and my father lived on a farm not far off, which he moved to in 1812.  Our house was on the upper prong of Knob Creek. The house where we went to school together most of the time stood on the pike about where Mr. Jesse Dawson used to live; but the first school house where we attended school together was just across the creek from there, at the foot of the hill.  Abe's father bought this piece of land on Knob Creek for $200, but he did not make any money and could not pay for it.  He had to give it up and then the Lincolns moved away.

"When the Lincoln family moved down on Knob Creek, where had they been living?" 

"They moved down there from a farm near Hodgenville, which everybody now calls Lincoln springs."

"Was Lincoln born at the old Creal place which you said the Lincoln family moved from when they came down on Knob Creek?"

"Yes sir.  My information is that Abe was born there at the old Creal farm.  In fact, I am satisfied that he was.  Mr. Wm. Cressna," he continued, "who was the father of Judge Cessna, and who was well acquainted with the Lincolns when they lived on the Creal farm, told me that Abe was born there.  The way he happened to tell that Abe was born there was in speaking of how poor the Lincolns were, and he appeared to feel very sorry for them, and for Abe's mother especially.  He had been informed by some of the neighbors that Mrs. Lincoln was actually suffering for something to eat.  He went over to the Lincoln house to see about the matter and found that the report was true.  She was really in need of the necessities of life and he told her he would get her something to eat.  He took her a sack of wheat and something to eat the next morning when they told him that a baby had been born to Mrs. Lincoln the night before and Mr. Cessna said that the baby was Abe.

Mr. Gollaher stated that he and Abe were thrown together more than with the other boys in school and that he grew quite fond of him, and he believed that Abe thought a great deal of him.  In speaking of various events of minor importance that he remembered to have occurred in their boyhood days together, Mr. Gollaher remarked: "I was once the cause of saving Lincoln's life."  Upon being urged to tell of the occurrence, he said: "We had been going to school together one year, but the next year we had no school because there were so few scholars to attend, there being only about twenty in school the year before. Consequently, Abe and I had nothing much to do, but as we did not go to school and our mothers were pretty strict on us, we did not get to see each other often. One Sunday morning my mother waked me up early saying that she was going to see Mrs. Lincoln and that I might go along.  Glad of the chance I was soon dressed and ready to go.  After my mother and I got there Abe and I played together all through the day."

"While we were wandering along the branch - Knob Creek - Abe said: 'Right up there,' pointing across the branch, 'we saw a gang of partridges yesterday and they are there yet.  Let's go over there and get some rocks and kill some of them.

"But the branch, which was then a good deal swollen, was too wide for us to jump across, and if we waded we would get our breeches wet, and I knew that my mother would whip me if she caught me with my breeches legs wet for she would know that I had been wading the branch.  Finally we saw a narrow foot log which some men had thrown across to cross on and we concluded to cross it. It was narrow but we were determined to get over after the birds.

"Abe said, 'Let's coon it.'  I went first and made it all right.  Abe got about half way across when he got scared and began trembling.  I hollered to him, 'Don't look down, nor up nor sideways, but look right at me and hold tight.'  But he fell off into the creek and the water was about seven or eight feet deep. I could not swim and neither could Abe, and I knew it would do no good for me to go in after him. So I got a stick, a long water sprout, and held it out to him.  He came up grabbing with both hands.  He clung to the stick that I put in his hands and I pulled him out on the bank almost dead.  I got him by the arms and shook him good and then rolled him on the ground, when the water just poured out of his mouth.  He was then soon all right.

"We were both afraid our mothers would see our wet clothes and we knew what would happen then, so we pulled them off and laid them on the rocks in the sun, which was as hot as it ever is in August, although it was then in June. We talked the matter over while our clothes were drying, trying to think of some plan by which we could keep our mothers from finding out about it. Finally I told Abe that the only way to do was never to tell anybody at all. 'For,' I said, 'if you should even tell another boy, he might tell his mother and she would tell your mother and you would then get whipped; and your mother would tell my mother and I would get whipped, too.'  So we promised each other that we would never tell anybody about it, and we never did for years.  I never told anyone about it until Lincoln was killed."

"Was Lincoln a bright boy at school; did he learn fast and study hard?"

"Oh, yes," he replied. "Lincoln was an unusually bright boy, and went right along in his books as fast or faster than anyone in the school; and he studied hard, although he was young.  He would get up spice-wood bushes and hack them up on a log and put a few of them in the fire at a time to make a light for him to read his books by.  It did not make a very good light, but it was all he had.

"Lincoln was not a good looking boy.  He was ugly and awkward.  He was rather bony and rough looking.  Abe's mother was a rather slim woman and of over medium height.  Tom Lincoln, his father, was not tall.  Abe did not favor him much.  Tom Lincoln had a full face and was heavier than Abe."

In answer to a question as to whether Lincoln had any brothers or sisters, the old man brightened up and said: "Oh, yes, he had a sister.  Her name was Sallie and she was a very pretty girl.  She was older than Abe.  She went to school whenever she could but that was not often."

After a rather pointed question Uncle Austin engaged in a low chuckling laugh and smilingly replied: "Yes, Sallie was my sweetheart.  She was about my age, and, like all boys, I claimed her for my sweetheart.  I guess that was one reason why I thought so much of Abe," he then admitted.  "But when the Lincolns moved to Indiana I did not get to tell Abe or Sallie either good-bye. I wanted to go tell them good-bye but my father would not let me.  When they moved away Abe was about twelve years old and I was fifteen."

"The next time I heard of Lincoln was several years afterward.  I heard that he would make rails during the summer, and with the money he earned would send himself to school in the winter." 

"The next time I heard anything of him was when he was nominated for president. I told the boys that no matter what happened I was going to vote for him if it was the last act of my life because I had played with him when a boy and I was glad that he had gone up in the world and I did vote for him." 

"I am the only person now living in the country that ever went to school with Abe. There were others around here but they are all dead now."

"After Lincoln was elected President he inquired of Dr. Jesse Rodman about me when Dr. Rodman called on him at Washington, and I wanted to go see him, but I did not think I could spare the money.  I always thought I acted a fool for not going.  If I had gone there to see him he would have done a good part by me. He might have made me Judge of one of the Kentucky Courts."

Austin Melvin, mentioned in the news article's first paragraph, is the brother of Mike R. Melvin, my husband's maternal great grandfather.

This is the sixth and final post in a series of six daily blog posts on Benjamin Austin Gollaher. Previous posts on Gollaher (done before this series) can be seen at the links below:



  1. What a fascinating story Lisa. So glad you shared it.

  2. I came upon this article researching my great, great, great grandfather Austin Gollaher on my mother's side. My mom donated a piece of furniture Austin Gollaher made to a local Hogenville museum after my grandmother passed. . The piece sat in my grandmothers basement for years.
    I took my children to see his grave last week.
    Rest in peace grandfather