President Lincoln- wrestler, lawyer, boatman, soldier, store clerk…what else do we not know about him?

There is no reason for this blog other than I stumbled on a small tidbit of information that I never knew- President Abraham Lincoln is enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. According to Historians, Abraham Lincoln has only one confirmed loss in nearly 300 wrestling matches. Bill Green, a store owner from New Salem, Illinois, once stated that “[Lincoln] can outrun, outlift, outwrestle and throw day any man in Sangamon Country.” This statement came after he proved his worthiness by beating multiple opponents in just one day. Not only was he a fantastic wrestler, but it seems that he was a bit of a trash talker. It recorded that he once cried into a crowd of on-lookers- “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” President Lincoln now holds an “Outstanding American” honor in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

This got me thinking- what other facts about President Lincoln are hidden away in the history books or misquoted.

  • President Lincoln was not originally from Illinois.  He was born in a small 16×18 log cabin chinked with clay and equipped with dirt floors, one window that had no glass, and a stone fireplace with a stick and clay chimney- located in Hardin County near Hodgenville Kentucky. When President Lincoln was 7, his family moved to southern Indiana in 1816, where his mother, unfortunately, died two years later from milk sickness, a disease obtained from drinking the milk of cows fed on poisonous white snakeroot. White snakeroot is a herb that contains toxic alcohol called tremetol and was responsible for thousands of deaths in the early 19th century in the Midwest. His father remarried the following year to a woman named Sarah, who had three children of her own, and the family was able to create a safe and loving combined family. It wasn’t until 1830 that the Lincoln’s moved to Illinois; President Lincoln following in 1831, when he was 21 years old, after a flatboat trip to New Orleans.
  • President Lincoln and the Secret Service. President Lincoln’s last official act before his assassination was signing a piece of legislation that authorized a government agency that would later gain its fame for protecting the President of the United States- the Secret Service. However, in its infancy- the Secret Service has a rather dull mission; its sole purpose was to investigate and prevent counterfeit money from circulating. In 1863, the Federal Government implemented a national currency but relied on state governments to produce the cash using the approved designs and paper that the federal government provided. However, the new federal bills were just as easy to counterfeit as the state-produced ones- but now the counterfeiters could use them in every state. It is reported that up to one-third of the currency in circulation at the time was counterfeited. Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch came up with the idea of a “regular permanent force whose job it [would] be to put these counterfeiters out of business.” 
Early “Secret Service” (actually, Union Intelligence Service) department headquarters at Antietam. October 1862. Matthew Brady/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Side Note: The United States Marshals Service was already in service by the time that the Secret Service was formed, but they were unable to handle all crimes under federal jurisdictions, so the Secret Service was tasked to investigate a wide range of crime such as murder, bank robberies, and illegal gambling. After the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 and President William McKinley in 1901, Congress requested that the Secret Service provide presidential protection. Interestingly, the mission of the Secret Service still is “to safeguard the nation’s financial infrastructure and payment systems to preserve the integrity of the economy, and to protect national leaders, visiting heads of state and government, designated sites and National Special Security Events (NSSEs).”

  • President Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in U.S. History.  On December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota, 38 Dakota Sioux Indians were hanged on the orders of President Lincoln. Their crime? Killing between 490-600 white people, a majority of them were unarmed non-combatants, a 100 were women and over 70 were children under the age of 10. As with all moments in history, there is a story behind the sensation. In 1862, Minnesota was a new frontier state, and white settlers were pushing out the Dakota Sioux Indians with a series of broken treaties. The United States guaranteed a partial payment of food and supplies to the tribe in reimbursement for a portion of the land; however, nothing materialized when the time came for delivery. Starving and upset, the Dakota Sioux leader, Little Crow, led his tribe in a series of attacks against the frontier settlements. The first governor of Minnesota and leader of the state militia, Henry Hastings Sibley, quickly retaliated. Within six weeks, he had captured 2,000 Dakota Sioux Indians, and a hasty military court sentenced 303 to death. Those who were spared execution but still found guilty were sent by steamboat to a military prison in Davenport, Iowa, where at least 120 men died during their imprisonment.

According to historical documentation- 

The trials were elaborately conducted until the commission became acquainted with the details of the different outrages and battles, and then, the only point being the connection of the prisoner with them, five minutes would dispose of a case.

If witnesses testified, or the prisoner admitted, that he was a participant, sufficient was established. As many as 40 were sometimes tried in a day. Those convicted of plundering were condemned to imprisonment; those engaged in individual massacres and in battles, to death.

Excerpts from: History of the Sioux War and Massacre by Isaac Heard (1863)

President Lincoln, learning of the events, asked for the records of the 303 who were sentenced to death and reviewed each case personally. As a result, he found a lack of evidence in 265 of the Dakota Sioux Indians, and President Lincoln fully pardoned them. 

Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I ordered a careful examination of the records of the trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females.

President Lincoln to the U.S. Senate. 
The Dakota War through a Minnesotan’s eyes | MPR News

When only two men were found guilty of rape, Lincoln extended the guidelines to include those who had engaged in “massacres” of civilians rather than just “battles.” He then made his final determination and transmitted a list of 39 names to Sibley. The 39th name was acquitted at the last moment.  

The rest of the tribe, roughly 1,700 women, children, and elders, were removed to Fort Snelling under the protection of Lt. Col. William R. Marshall. As the caravan passed through Henderson, Minnesota, the helpless Dakota people were attacked by an angry mob of white people who, according to eyewitnesses:

Men, women, and children, armed with guns, knives, clubs, and stones, rushed upon the Indians as the train was passing by, and, before the soldiers could interfere and stop them, succeeded in pulling many of the old men and women, and even children, from the wagons by the hair of the head and beating them, and otherwise inflicting injury upon the helpless and miserable creatures.

56th Congress, 2d Session, Annual Report of Charles G. Bennett, Secretary of the Senate

They finally reached Fort Snelling on November 14, 1862, and stayed between four different “Indian camps” until May 1863. It is recorded that between 102-300 died at the camps, primarily due to measles and other diseases. That May, the interned Dakota and almost 2,000 tribe members of Ho Chunk were moved by steamboat to a camp at Crow Creek in present-day South Dakota. 

The original Dakota Community was established by treaty in 1851. The treaty set aside a 10-mile wide strip of land on both sides of the Minnesota River as the permanent home of the Dakota. However, in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862, Congress abrogated all treaties made with them and the Dakota were forced from their homes in the state. The four communities were reestablished in their current localities by acts of Congress in 1886. The four Dakota Communities today represent small segments of the original reservation that were restored to the Dakota by Acts of Congress or Proclamations of the Secretary of Interior.

The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council report

The magnitude of the War can be measured by the number of “mosts” in the nation, since its founding in 1776 according to Family and Friends f Dakota Uprising Victims:

¬The over 600 victims were the largest number killed in the nation in a war with the Indians. In response to this, 38 Dakota were hanged at Mankato on December 26, 1862, the largest number executed at one time in the nation. 

¬The August 22, 1862 battle at Fort Ridgely was the largest attack on a fort by the Indians, with about 800 Dakota attacking the fort in which there were over 400 people, most of whom were unarmed refugees fleeing the Dakota.

¬The August 23, 1862 battle at New Ulm was the largest attack on a town, with about 650 Dakota attacking the town containing about 2,000 people, most of whom were unarmed.

¬The August 25, 1862 evacuation of New Ulm – some 2,000 people – was the largest number of people to completely evacuate a town during an Indian war.

¬An estimated 20,000 people fled their homes, which was the most in any Indian war in the nation.

¬The New Ulm City Cemetery contains the largest number of civilians (at least 55 and likely more) who were killed by the Indians and buried in a single cemetery. Some of the gravestones contain the inscription “Killed by Indians.”

¬About 400 victims lie in unmarked and unknown graves, the most in any Indian war in the nation

As always, my friends, I invite you to do more research on your own. There is no way I could fit almost 56 years of historical moments into a single blog- but it is always interesting looking into the lives of people who changed the foundation of this great country. There is so much more to Abraham Lincoln and his life that I think everyone should take a moment to understand.  He is the one President that I believe we can visually see the effects of depression, loss, PTSD, stress, and other life factors, and yet he still had a will to go on.  He was not a perfect man; you can find flaws in anyone- but he was generally a good man with the right motives for the country and all its citizens.  I have included some links for further research. If you have made it this far- I highly recommend that you go to the Minnesota Historical Society and look at their online presentation of the U.S.- Dakota War of 1862 and make your own judgment call on what happened based on the facts presented.

Wrestling in the USA | National Wrestling Hall of Fame (nwhof.org)

White snakeroot | plant | Britannica

An Overview of Abraham Lincoln’s Life (rogerjnorton.com)

Abraham Lincoln: The Story of how he Became a Wrestling Champion — History is Now Magazine, Podcasts, Blog and Books | Modern International and American history

0441.pdf (loc.gov)

United States Secret Service

Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War | Library of Congress (loc.gov)

Forced Marches & Imprisonment | The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (usdakotawar.org)

Abraham Lincoln Ordered the Execution of 39 Men-Truth! & Fiction! – Truth or Fiction?

Congressional Serial Set – Google Books

Excerpts from: History of The Sioux War And Massacre (famous-trials.com)

Family and Friends of Dakota Uprising Victims (dakotavictims1862.com)

Further Research:

A Counterfeiter’s Paradise: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Early American Moneymakers by Ben Tarnoff.

The Dakota War of 1862: Minnesota’s Other Civil War by Kenneth Carley

Team of Rival by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Published by Rose Geer-Robbins

One does not simply become a famous writer! It takes many hours before the sun comes up and even more when the sun sets. I am never sure what world I am living in, the one that I am writing or reality.

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