Looking for Lincoln in Nauvoo, Illinois

Nauvoo, Illinois was founded by Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers in 1839 after they were chased out of Missouri.  The group arrived at a marshy, overgrown spot of land and decided to make a go of it on the banks of the Mississippi River.  I arrive over 175 years later to find a charming, quaint village bustling with activity.  It’s a summer weekend and the place is packed with Latter Day Saints campers, seekers, wedding guests, and me.  The small unorganized state park is absolutely full and I can’t find an attendant or a camp host anywhere.  After driving the loop three times, dragging my faithful little teardrop behind me, I head to the visitor center.  The friendly tour guides direct me to Peter’s Place, an RV park just on the other side of the village.

After settling into my new digs at Peter’s Place, I go looking for Lincoln.  I cannot find Abe anywhere.  He is not downtown, he is not in Nauvoo State Park, and he is not at Peter’s Place.  Where in the heck is Abraham Lincoln and what is his connection to Joseph Smith?  I go back to the visitor center at the Joseph Smith Historic Site, stamp my national park passport with the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Trail cancellation stamp, pay for a tour, and join the group of Mormons on a Joseph Smith pilgrimage.  I am the only tourist on a quest to find Abe.  Everyone else is looking for Smith who is apparently buried here.

It turns out that Abraham Lincoln never, ever went to Nauvoo.  The only connection Lincoln has with Joseph Smith is that Abraham Lincoln was an Illinois legislator when Nauvoo’s city charter was approved.  Hmmm.  Well at least I discovered why I couldn’t find Ole Abe.  And I got a cancellation stamp!

 

Looking for Lincoln in Quincy, Illinois

Quincy, Illinois is a pleasant town located on the mighty Mississippi River and it was the site of the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate.  In 1858, Illinois was a “free” state and Missouri, directly across the Mississippi from Quincy, was a “slave” state.  On October 13, 1858, thousands of spectators came to listen as Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas argued mostly about the slavery issue.

Located on the corner of the square where the debate was held, the History Museum showcases a presidential papers collection focusing on Abraham Lincoln. One fascinating exhibit is a set of political cartoons from the presidential election of 1860.  I enjoyed the artwork as much as the satire.  I also grabbed up a national park passport cancellation stamp as well as a “bonus” stamp.

In 1822, John Wood became the first settler in Quincy, Illinois when he purchased land that was part of a military settlement.  He originally named the town “Bluffs”; however, it was renamed Quincy in 1825 after President John Quincy Adams.  Wood was mayor of Quincy three times before becoming governor of the state of Illinois in 1860.  While he was governor, he was allowed to govern from his home in Quincy leaving the Governors Mansion in Springfield vacant.  Wood and Abraham Lincoln were political allies and friends.  They were both against slavery and worked together to help form the Republican party.  When Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for president of the United States, Wood allowed him to use the Governors Mansion in Springfield as a campaign office.  Currently, the John Wood Mansion in Quincy is available for guided tours.

 

Looking for Lincoln in Beardstown, Illinois

The site of the Almanac Trial is still an active courtroom today.

In 1858, the tiny courtroom in Beardstown, Illinois witnessed the Almanac Trial, one of Abraham Lincoln’s few criminal cases when he was a lawyer.  When court is not in session, the Old Lincoln Courtroom and Museum is open for tours.

On May 7, 1858 Abraham Lincoln defended William Duff Armstrong who was accused of murdering James Metzler.  Armstrong and Metzler had been involved in a fight on August 29, 1857.  Several men spent that day drinking on the outskirts of a Methodist camp meeting and by the time night falls most of them are very drunk.  An argument is settled by a fistfight.  A very inebriated and injured Metzler is assisted atop his horse and sent on his way.  He falls off his horse before he arrives home and later dies from an injury to his head.  Armstrong and James Norris are accused of causing the head injury that killed Metzler.

Charles Allen was the state’s main witness.  Allen testifies that “by the light of the moon” he saw Armstrong strike Metzler on the front of the skull.  Abraham Lincoln questions Allen and Allen states that on August 29, 1857 the moon was full, bright, and high in the sky.  Lincoln produces a copy of the 1857 almanac showing that the moon was not quite full and that at 11:00 pm the moon was very low in the west weakening Allen’s testimony.  William Duff Armstrong was acquitted.  Lincoln won his case.

Looking for Lincoln in Pittsfield, Illinois

Riding the circuit was a common practice for judges and lawyers in the 19th century.  As communities began popping up in sparsely populated areas, judges and lawyers would travel from county to county to hold court sessions.  Abraham Lincoln, based in Springfield, Illinois, rode the 8th Judicial Circuit for three months twice a year.  Weather often made travel difficult.  Lincoln would stay with friends or sometimes a tavern.  Taverns during Lincoln’s time were a type of inexpensive hotel, often dirty and seedy; not like the taverns of today.

Pittsfield, Illinois, the county seat for Pike County, was a regular stop for Abraham Lincoln when he was a lawyer riding the circuit.  I’m sure Lincoln enjoyed his time in Pittsfield.  He had close friendships with several of Pittsfield’s citizens; three would later move to Washington D.C. to work with President Lincoln in the White House.  The charming community has a rich heritage of Lincoln connections and a unique way to share it.

Pittsfield’s Talking House Tour is fun, entertaining, and amusing.  The tour begins at the Pittsfield Visitor Center where you pick up a driving tour map.  Then the fun begins!  Continue driving your car from house to house, stopping at each one and tuning the car radio to the FM station indicated on the map.  Through the car’s speakers, an occupant of the house from Lincoln’s time tells stories of their relationship with the circuit-riding lawyer.  For example, at the Scanland House, Mrs. Scanland tells about an occasion when her turkey dinner got cold because Abe and her husband, Mayor Scanlan, were at the local drug store telling tales and chewing the fat.  It’s wonderful to look at a house where Lincoln was often a guest and listen to stories about him.  It’s not hard to imagine that the year is 1852 and Abraham Lincoln is in town for the twice-a-year court session.

If Lincoln is in town, most likely he can be found in the William Watson Hotel lobby gabbing, discussing politics, and chatting it up with the locals.  Although he usually stayed in friend’s homes, Abe would often pop in to the William Watson for a visit with Pittsfield’s citizens.  Since it is still a wonderfully delightful boutique hotel, I took the opportunity to stay in the “Lincoln Suite” overnight.  The experience was simply lovely.  If you are ever in Pittsfield, Illinois, (which I recommend you make a point to go) I encourage you to stay at the William Watson Hotel.  The attention to detail, terrific service from the staff, a coffee shop right next door, and affordable rates makes for a great place to rest your head for the night.  And don’t forget: Abraham Lincoln hung out here!

Lucky me!  I stayed in the beautiful Lincoln Suite at the charming and comfortable William Watson Hotel!

Looking for Lincoln in Jacksonville, Illinois

I found Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville, Illinois.  It was simple to locate the national park passport cancellation stamp in Tanner Hall.  However, it took some research to dig up the connection between the first university in Illinois and the 16th president of the United States.  Abraham did not attend Illinois College.  In fact, he didn’t attend any school.  As a child he taught himself to read with less than a year of formal schooling.  So why did I find him at Illinois College?

About the same time that Illinois College was conducting its first classes in 1830, a young adult Abe arrived in New Salem, about 30 miles from the school.  Lincoln developed close friendships with six of the Illinois College students including David Rutledge.  David had a sister, Ann, who fell in love and became engaged to young Abe.  Abe was set up to attend IC when Ann suddenly and sadly died from typhoid fever.  Devastated, Lincoln slipped into a dark suicidal depression.  By the time he emerged, the opportunity to attend a formal school was gone.

Another important friendship from Illinois College included Richard Yates.  Yates was equivalent to Abe’s campaign manager when Lincoln ran for president of the United States and later Yates became governor of Illinois during the Civil War.  Yates was invaluable as a political ally and advisor to Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps the closest friendship with an Illinois College alumni was his relationship with William Herndon.  Although Abraham did not know Herndon during Herndon’s years at IC, they became colleagues and partners in a law office in Springfield, Illinois.  They remained partners until Lincoln left for the White House in 1861.

Illinois College is on a lovely, landscaped campus.  The private liberal arts university is a perfect setting to contemplate what would the U.S. be like if Abe had married Ann and received the education he so desired.  Would he have become president of the United States and Ann the First Lady instead of Mary?  I like to think so.  Surely it was destiny.

 

Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area

The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area celebrates Lincoln’s life in central Illinois.  The area encompasses 42 counties where Lincoln lived and traveled, both as a politician and a circuit lawyer, before becoming president.  The Lincoln Heritage Coalition is doing an amazing job honoring Abe by allowing us to follow in Lincoln’s footsteps, learning about the people and places that influenced the 16th president of the United States.

One way to discover Abraham Lincoln is by following the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail.  The Lincoln Trail includes 215 wayside exhibits in 52 communities.  The wayside exhibits are plaques telling a story about Lincoln.  Each plaque contains a unique raised image that is designed to create a rubbing representing the exhibit.  Although the idea is clever and intriguing, what would I do with a set of  215 medallion rubbings?

Being a national park super fan and an avid national park passport cancellation stamp collector, I decide to look for Lincoln as I collect the 33 cancellation stamps from 22 communities in the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.  I hope to discover Abraham Lincoln the man, not the myth.  Maybe I’ll include a rubbing or two along the way.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and the Venomous Rattlesnake

You will not find dinosaurs at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.  And you may not find agate.  What you will find is an assortment of fossils of weird and bizarre creatures such as a menaceras, a moropus, and a dinohyus.  All these mammals lived during the Miocene era, about 20 million years ago according to paleontologists.  Agate Fossil Beds preserves a rare collection of fossils discovered in 1889 by rancher James Cook.  My favorite were the Daemonelix or Devil’s Corkscrew.  The Daemonelix is a fossilized home of the paleocastor.  The paleocaster is similar to present-day prairie dogs and lived in colonies in curious, spiral-shaped burrows.  These preserved homes can be viewed on the one-mile Daemonelix Trail.

The paved, 2.7 mile Fossil Hills Trail crosses over the Niobrara River then climbs gently to the “beds” or discovery area.  I visited Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in very late May; the time of year in Northwestern Nebraska when rattlesnakes seek warmth from the concrete of the trail.  As I walk to the top of the hill, I happen to look down and yes, there it is, a rattlesnake stretched lengthwise along the edge of the pavement just waiting for me to take one sideways step.  I  cautiously continue my trek and what to my wondering eyes should appear?   A ranger in green – I have nothing to fear!  I report my sighting and back down the hill we trudge to confirm that, indeed, a venomous rattler is prohibiting visitors from viewing the fossil beds.  Wouldn’t you know it, with both of us looking right and left neither of us spy the sneaky rascal.  The ranger pauses to radio headquarters that a visitor CLAIMS to have seen a rattlesnake near the trail.  What?!  I DID see a rattler!  Just to prove my point, I look down to see the coiled creature RIGHT NEXT TO THE RANGER’S FOOT!!  I point and say, “This Texas girl knows what a rattlesnake looks like.  And it looks like that!”  The brave and daring ranger steps calmly aside and radios to headquarters that indeed, the guest did spy a rattlesnake and now it is on the trail.  We are instructed to back away and watch until the rattler gives up and writhes back into the brush.  Feeling triumphant (and a little smug), I am rewarded for my act of courage with a private, guided tour of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.