Still a Clerk

The Clary Grove Boys—Their Aim—Description of them—Ruffians—How they Attacked Abraham—Dispute with Offutt—Jack Wrestling with Abraham—How Abraham Settled the Trouble—The Clary Grove Boys Lose Power—“Honest Abe”—Jack's Trouble with a Stranger—Abraham reconciles them—Abraham Builds a Pig-pen—Debating Clubs—Dr. Holland's Account—The Talisman—Navigating the Sangamon—Abraham a Pilot—Herndon's Account—Offutt's Poor Bargains and Failure—Dr. Holland on Abraham's Standing

There was a “gang” of young and middle-aged men in New Salem, called the “Clary Grove Boys,” who had become a terror to the people. They were never more flourishing than they were when Abraham became a citizen of the town. They prided themselves upon their strength and courage, and had an established custom of “initiating” new comers of the male sex by giving them a flogging. Perhaps they were no more malicious than a class of college students who perform similar operations upon Freshmen, though they were rougher and more immoral. Such “gangs” existed in different parts of the West at that time, a coalition of ignorance, rowdyism, and brute force. One writer says of the “Clary Grove Boys”:—

“Although there never was under the sun a more generous parcel of ruffians, a stranger’s introduction was likely to be the most unpleasant part of his acquaintance with them. In fact, one of the objects of their association was to ‘initiate or naturalize newcomers,’ as they termed the amiable proceedings which they took by way of welcoming any one ambitious of admittance to the society of New Salem. They first bantered the gentleman to run a foot-race, jump, pitch the mall, or wrestle; and if none of these propositions seemed agreeable to him, they would request to know what he would do in case another gentleman should pull his nose or squirt tobacco-juice in his face. If he did not seem entirely decided in his views as to what should properly be done in such a contingency, perhaps he would be nailed in a hogshead and rolled down New Salem hill; perhaps his ideas would be brightened by a brief ducking in the Sangamon; or perhaps he would be scoffed, kicked, and cuffed by a number of persons in concert, until he reached the confines of the village, and then turned adrift as being unfit company for the people of that settlement. If, however, the stranger consented to engage in a tussle with one of his persecutors, it was usually arranged that there should be ‘foul play,’ with nameless impositions and insults, which would inevitably change the affair into a fight; and then if the subject of all these practices proved to be a man of mettle, he would be promptly received into their society, and in all probability would never have better friends on earth than the roystering fellows who had contrived his torments.”

These “ruffians” had not “initiated” Abraham for some reason. Perhaps a wholesome recollection of his strength, courage, and tact in engineering the boat over Rutledge’s dam, or the extravagant statements of Offutt concerning his marvellous achievements, had restrained them. At any rate they did not molest him, until one day, when Bill Clary had a dispute with Offutt in his store, and both became exasperated. Bill exclaimed,—

“Jack Armstrong can lick Abe easy as a boy knows his father.” Jack was the strongest man of the “gang,” and perhaps the most ignorant.

“You don’t know what you are talking about, Bill,” retorted Offutt; “he could duck the whole Clary Grove crew in the Sangamon, before jack Armstrong could get up after he’d laid him on his back.”

“I’ll bet ten dollars on that!” shouted Bill. “The fact is, Abe wouldn’t dare to risk a fight with Jack.”

“The whole of you are blowers and cowards,” responded Offutt, angrily. “There’s more in Abe’s little finger than the whole of you have got in your soul and body.”

The knowledge of this hot interview spread like wildfire, and the “Clary Grove Boys” would not consent to peace any longer. “Jack Armstrong must wrestle with Abe,” and settle the vital question with “ruffians.” They proposed all sorts of bets, staking money, whiskey, and what not upon the issue.

Soon the proposition from the “Clary Grove Boys” came direct to Abraham, and he answered,—

  By PanEris using Melati.

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