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Austin Gollaher Saved Abraham Lincoln From Drowning

As a very young lad growing up in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln often played with a boy in the neighborhood named Austin Gollaher. Austin was the son of Thomas Gollaher who first brought his family to the Knob Creek area in 1812. The Gollahers lived about two miles from the Lincolns.

National Park Service photo of Austin Gollaher's home

Austin Gollaher lived into his 90s and told how he played with Abraham near his father's carpentry shop, hunted raccoons with him, and had youthful adventures in the nearby woods. There was even an instance where Austin saved Abraham's life. It took place in 1816 when Abraham was seven years old. Austin Gollaher told the story as follows:

"I once saved Lincoln's life. 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 20 in the school the year before.

Consequently Abe and I had not much to do; but as we did not go to school and our mothers were strict with us, we did not get to see each other very often. One Sunday morning my mother waked me up early, saying she was going to see Mrs. Lincoln, and that I could 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 all through the day.

While we were wandering up and down the little stream called Knob Creek Abe said: 'Right up there' - pointing to the east - 'we saw a covey of partridges yesterday. Let's go over and get some of them.' The stream was swollen and was too wide for us to jump across. Finally, we saw a narrow foot-log, and we concluded to try it. It was narrow, but Abe said, 'Let's coon it.'

I went first and reached the other side all right. Abe went 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 on tight!' But he fell off into the creek, and, as the water was about seven or eight feet deep, and I could not swim, and neither could Abe, 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, grabbed with both hands, and I put the stick into his hands. He clung to it, and I pulled him out on the bank, almost dead. I got him by the arms and shook him well, and then rolled him on the ground, when the water poured out of his mouth.

He was all right very soon. We promised each other that we would never tell anybody about it, and never did for years. I never told any one of it until after Lincoln was killed."

Austin Gollaher, Abraham Lincoln's closest childhood friend, lived until 1898. The above pictures are from Lincoln: A Pictorial History by Dr. Edward Steers (Gettysburg, Thomas Publications, 1993).

See pp. 16-18 of Best Lincoln Stories Tersely Told by J. E. Gallaher, pp. 14-15 of Ida Tarbell's The Life of Abraham Lincoln Volume 1, and p. 25 of Dr. Edward Steers' Lincoln: A Pictorial History.

In 2007 Janis Herbert's Abraham Lincoln for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities was published. Janis's attractive book is non-fiction, and it's intended for children (ages 9-12). It takes readers on an adventure through Abraham Lincoln's life, from his tragic childhood and early years working on ferryboats to his law practice and unexpected presidency to his sudden murder in 1865. If you are interested in learning more about Janis's book please CLICK HERE.


In the fall of 1815 Abraham Lincoln attended school for a brief period. The school was on the location of the present town of Athertonville, Kentucky (about two miles northeast of the Lincolns' Knob Creek farm). The teacher was Zachariah Riney. Susan Riney Yeager, Zachariah Riney's daughter, was interviewed by the Elizabethtown (KY) News in 1897. The following is an excerpt of that interview:

Yes I remember Abe Lincoln well as a little bit of a fellow, she said It was what now is Larue County, but was then a part of Hardin County. Abe and I went to the same school. My father Zachariah Riney, was the teacher.

I can see the old school house now, the old lady continues with a far-away look in her eyes. It was built of rough logs, as all school houses were in those days and mostly all of the dwelling houses, daubed with mud. The school house had no windows, but one log removed the length of the building served for light and ventilation. The floor was a dirt one, leveled and beaten solid. The benches consisted of logs split in the middle and place alongside the walls. There was just one bench made of plank supported by stumps. This the privilege of sitting upon it.

The old lady laughed as her memory called her back eighty long years and evidently the senses of her childhood were vividly presented to her mind. She continued...

But you want to know about little Abe. He was then barely seven years old and I was ten. I remember his big sister bringing him to school the first day. Oh, she was fond of him, she also attended school there; and all day long, whether at lessons or at play, her careful eye was constantly watching him. She was a regular little mother to him. I have seen her on rainy days, or when the roads were muddy, carrying him in her arms to and from the school house. At playtime she would always insist that he play with her and the girls., telling him to keep away from the big boys, as they were likely to hurt him in their rough play. In those days quit a number of the scholars were full grown men.

A school session lasted the summer months, because it was too cold to go to school in the winter. It therefore took a long time to acquire such an education as the county afforded. But little Abe would not consent to be held to his sister's apron strings. He had a will of his own and, strangly enought he did seek the society of boys his own age.

The one thing I remember most about him was his unfailing good humor. I never remember seen him cry during the two years he attending that school.

He wore home spun clothes as did all the children, and went barefooted. He never received a whipping and in our time the child was not spoiled by sparing the rod, and to go without a whipping a whole session was proof that he was an extra good boy.

Of course, laughed Mrs Yeager, I did not know then that the little chap we all loved so well would someday be the president or I would have taken notes of his sayings and doings. Indeed, it is a fact that I never knew until after his death that President Lincoln was the same identical little Abe. In those days the Lincoln family pronounced their name, Linkhorn.

One thing I remember very distinctly is seeing him bending down saplings and riding them horses. That was his favorite amusement at playtime.

I would like to thank Diane Hosek, Susan Riney's great-great-great granddaughter, for sending me the interview! The interview was discovered by Diane's aunt, Martina Barker Aldred.

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