It was deserted at the Baymont Wyndham Hotel in Lincoln City, Indiana. I had breakfast all by myself: a fried egg, two chicken sausages, a banana, orange juice and coffee. When I left the hotel at 9:07, it was 28º F, but at least skies were blue.
Outside of Dale, Indiana, my stomach turned at the sight of a billboard that said: “Make America Great Again,” with a photo of Trump and an unfurling flag. I stomped my foot to the accelerator to bypass that abomination and headed toward Santa Claus and Gentryville, IN under a flock of birds skittering across the sky.
I drove past Hoosierland Pizza & Wings and columns of grasping trees to the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial, where I watched a film telling the story of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood and family life.
In a nutshell, Thomas Lincoln, Abraham’s father, encountered problems with Kentucky’s land laws, so he bought 160 acres of land on Pigeon Creek north of the Ohio River in Indiana. In December of 1816, the family arrived. Abraham, age 7, was big and strong and helped his father clear the land; from the cut trees, they built a cabin and furniture. He learned carpentry from his father. The family worked together planting and harvesting crops such as corn; they also tended livestock: cows, chickens, pigs and sheep, the wool from which they made into clothing.
Some cabins, sheds and barns at the site are used for prairie life reenactments, but these are not the original buildings from Lincoln’s boyhood.
Abraham was proficient with an axe, and people often remarked about his ability to fell trees and split them into rails for fences. In 1860, when he ran for President, Lincoln would be called “The Rail-splitter” candidate.
Lincoln said of work: “My father taught me how to work but not to love it… I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh – anything but work.”
Thomas was a storyteller with morals and a sense of humor. Nancy, Abe’s mother, taught Abe to read and write and encouraged him to acquire knowledge.
Sadly, in 1818, two years after they arrived in Indiana, Nancy Hanks Lincoln died of milk sickness, caused by drinking milk from a cow that ate white snakeroot, a shade-loving poisonous plant found throughout the Ohio River Valley. Cows can transfer the disease to humans through their milk. Abe’s sister Sarah, who was two years older than him, had to do all the cooking, sewing and mending.
In 1819, Thomas went back to Kentucky to look for a new wife, leaving the two children to fend for themselves. He brought back Sarah (Sally) Bush Johnston, who had three children of her own. She united the two families and brought three books with her.
Some of Abraham’s favorite books were Aesop’s Fables, Pilgrim’s Progress and Ivanhoe. In the evenings, the family read aloud from the Bible, and Abe considered it the “best gift God has given to man.” He read Indiana law books and court proceedings and was fascinated by the lives of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Besides his love of books, he had a gift for public speaking.
In his late teens, Abraham began to earn his own way. In 1826, he and his cousin and a neighbor made money by cutting cordwood for steamboats on the Ohio River. He also operated a ferry across the Anderson River, earning about $6 a month. To make extra money, Abraham built a small rowboat to take travelers from the riverbank to steamboats waiting in the middle of the Ohio. He was accused of operating an illegal ferry and had to appear in court. His defense was that he was only ferrying passengers to the middle of the river, not all the way across. The judge ruled in his favor, and the charge was dismissed. Later, he took up law and learned about the legal system.
In 1828, his sister Sarah died giving birth to her first child and the infant died too.
Abe took a flatboat trip with a friend down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and came face to face with slavery at a New Orleans slave auction. He was angered to see families separated and sold. In 1830, when Abe was 21, he left for Illinois and to escape another epidemic of milk disease.
I took a walk through Lincoln’s boyhood trails, now marked with stones from important places in his life.
In his 14 years at his boyhood home in Indiana, Lincoln learned honesty, knowledge, compassion for man, and his moral convictions of right and wrong. Here he developed leadership skills that would serve him well during one of the most traumatic times in our nation’s history.
I left the Lincoln Boyhood Home around 11:00, when the temperature had finally risen to 39º F. I passed big farm spreads with complicated silos and grain elevators, a pale green weathered barn, a church steeple on a hill, and Dave’s Gunshop. I fell in love with a farmhouse surrounded by a stand of trees. An Amish Buffet called my name, but it was too early for lunch.
Flocks of birds rose and fell, splitting and dancing, swept into cross-currents, parting and sweeping the sky. I saw signs for the Wabash and Erie Canal, Carts Gone Wild, Grace’s Toys and Dolls, and a plethora of personal injury billboards. Smokestacks marred the horizon to the northwest. Three giant white coned cylinders had the Superior Ag stamp on them. Other blocks of silver cylinders also had cone tops. I was confused about whether these were silos or grain elevators.
I drove past a sign for the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy in Vincennes, Indiana. Huge flocks of birds descended and landed on a waterlogged field. The flat expanse of land was dotted with farm operations. Multi-arched sprinklers on wheels hovered over fields and silver silos glowed in the sunlight. I passed the Windy Knoll Winery, Casey’s General Store and a Good Will Center, a Dollar General, Save A Lot, and Old Post Liquor. A huge cemetery splayed out from both sides of the road and the Good Samaritan Hospital offered healing for the sick.
Before long, I was at the George Rogers Clark National Historic Park in Vincennes, Indiana. I had no idea who George Rogers Clark was, nor did I know anything about this military campaign or its significance. What they don’t teach you in school!
At the Visitor’s Center, I watched a film about the “Long Knives,” Kentucky fighters that were on a top secret mission. The upshot was this: After the French and Indian War (1754–1763) and during the early years of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), British soldiers under Lt. Governor Henry Hamilton were still controlling territories west of the Appalachian Mountains. The British were recruiting Indians to attack and kill settlers to these areas, including settlers in Kentucky. George Rogers Clark, born in 1752 as one of ten children of a wealthy Virginia planter and older brother to William Clark, of the famous Lewis & Clark, wanted to break the Brits’ Fort Detroit stronghold: Cahokia and Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River and Vincennes on the Wabash River. In utmost secrecy, Clark attracted 150 men (of the 400 he hoped for) and trained them on Corn Island on the Ohio River. He managed to get 26 more for a total force of 176. They were a disciplined little army under Clark’s intense training. Their goal: to attack the British post at Kaskaskia – Fort Massac – in the heat of the summer, on level country populated by buffalo, in a surprise night attack on July 4, 1778. Persuading the French settlers under Father Pierre Gibault there to cooperate based on a document of alliance between the U.S.A. and France, Clark left them in peace and then proceeded to Cahokia and then to Vincennes. By the autumn of 1778, Clark controlled all three towns. He told Indians attacking settlers that they were being used by the British.
Henry Hamilton in Fort Detroit, 800 miles away, didn’t know the towns had been taken. When he found out, he mounted an expedition to take back Vincennes; he succeeded, rebuilt Fort Sackville and hunkered down there with 35 British regulars and 45 French.
Winter came on and prairies turned to bogs. Clark planned to strike when Hamilton was weakest. The riverboat, The Willing, failed to bring needed supplies, but Clark had to either attack Hamilton or quit the country. On February 5, 1779, he led his men on a 200 mile march to Vincennes. Their biggest enemy was nature. In nine days of marching, the weather was unseasonably warm, but rain and the nights were frigid. The men were hungry and the land was underwater. The Wabash River had turned into a lake four miles across. They had to march through deep channels of freezing water for three days on empty stomachs because The Willing never came with provisions. Doom gripped them as they waded through ankle deep mud. Surprisingly, all 180 men survived and reached land, pushing to higher ground.
The accurate Kentucky sharpshooters badly wounded a number of British troops in Fort Sackville. By February 24, 1779, the Americans were in control and ate their first full meal in a week. Clark ordered Hamilton to surrender and a cease fire was agreed, but Hamilton still held out. To force the issue, Clark executed Indians by tomahawk in front of the fort. Shaken by that display, Hamilton surrendered on February 25, 1779.
As a result of Clark’s brilliant military activities, the British ceded to the United States a vast area of land west of the Appalachian Mountains. That territory now includes the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and the eastern portion of Minnesota.
In 1818, plagued by debts and ill health, George Rogers Clark died at the age of 65, seemingly forgotten. It wasn’t until many years later that he was recognized by Franklin D. Roosevelt for his acts of courage and leadership. The George Rogers Clark Memorial was built between 1931 and 1933.
It was odd that I happened to arrive here on February 25, exactly 240 years after Henry Hamilton surrendered to George Rogers Clark; the National Park Service had just finished wrapping up a celebration to memorialize this oft-forgotten battle in our country’s history.
A detailed history of the campaign is on the National Park website: History & Culture.
At 2:33, “Welcome to Illinois” greeted me after I crossed the Wabash River. The land was flat and boggy, watersoaked through and through, and I couldn’t help imagining George Rogers Clark and his band of soldiers wading through the bogs. I crossed the Embarras River and a water tower that spelled out “Olney.” Mobile home parks lined the road and a big Walmart distribution center sat among stubbled flat fields dotted with copses of trees. It seemed there was a Walmart in every town. I crossed Big Muddy Creek, Little Muddy Creek, and the Little Wabash River on modern bridges, but three rusty metal bridges sat shuttered parallel to the main road. I wasn’t tempted to stay in the Floral Hotel near Raccoon Creek, nor was I tempted by Missy Ann’s Bed and Bath. Ornamental grasses glowed along the road and stubbled fields glinted with sunlight. In Xenia, a derelict barn sat abandoned in boggy land. If I’d had a pet, I might have stopped at Paws Here Veterinary Service. I saw Iuka had a population of 600, while Salem, with its neat streets of craft bungalows, had 8,000 residents.
In the town of Salem, I was in search of Richard Pollard’s Yard Art. Sadly, it was closed off with a rusty chain and a “No Trespassing” sign. I was only able to take one picture of the funky junkyard, a Volkswagen emblazoned with “Pollard Motors” perched precariously on a post.
Leaving Salem behind, I headed south on Rt. 57, passing a billboard for The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. It was tempting but out of my way. I stopped briefly at Rend Lake, a 13-mile-long, 3 mile-wide reservoir created when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Big Muddy River.
I drove through a series of small towns: Ina, with its Pleasant Hollow Winery, and Zeiglar, from which convoluted roads finally led me to my sister’s house in Murphysboro around 6:00.
My sister’s new house is very cool, a mid-century modern house with numerous wings. I loved her office, her decks, her many windows, her artwork and old classic books.
After getting the tour of her house, we went to neighboring Carbondale, a larger university town, home to Southern Illinois University. We went to Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse where we toasted each other with Sapporo beer and warm sake in the cavernous restaurant. It wasn’t quite the cozy Japanese sushi bar we’d loved in L.A. We had edamame, gyoza and sushi: I ordered the special “Forever Love”: shrimp tempura, spicy crab, cream cheese, pink soy paper, and sweet wasabi sauce. Then, because I hadn’t brought a hair dryer and she didn’t have one (I should have checked before I left home!), we stopped at Walmart so I could buy one, and at Kroger for some groceries.
My Indiana & Illinois route for today is outlined in purple below.
I did a couple of pathetic sketches today, and collected cancellation stickers and stamps for my visits to the two National Park sites.
*Monday, February 25, 2019*
Steps: 10,737; 4.55 miles
“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. You could write about the journey you hope to take in the year ahead. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
My intentions on this trip included picking a random theme for each day of my trip. I had written in my journal, before leaving home, a theme for each day that would focus my attention. This day’s theme was “Leadership & Quirky Things.” Another of my intentions was to draw a sketch in my journal. I used a pen (a mistake!), but I tried my best to draw some of the things I noticed along the way. My drawings are still so elementary!
Include the link in the comments below by Tuesday, June 18 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Wednesday, June 19, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation, once on the third Wednesday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!