Skip to main content

Full text of "Lincoln's defense of Duff Armstrong : the story of the trial and the celebrated almanac"

See other formats




Illinois State Historical Society 



APRIL 1910 



THE STORY OF THE TRIAL AND 
THE CELEBRATED ALMANAC 

By 
J. N. GRIDLEY 

Virginia, Illinois 



Re-Print from the Journal of the Society of April 1910 






Illinois State Historical Society 



APRIL 1910 



LINCOLN'S DEFENSE OF DUFF ARMSTRONG 

THE STORY OF THE TRIAL AND 
THE CELEBRATED ALMANAC 



By 
J. N. GRIDLEY 

Virginia, Illinois 



Re-Print from the Journal of the Society of April 1910 






LINCOLN'S DEFENSE OF DUFF ARMSTRONG. 
The Story of the Trial and Celebrated Almanac. 



About forty years ago, the writer, a young man, and a 
comparative stranger in Beardstown, Illinois, heard a 
conversation in that city between two persons, not known 
to him. One of them, whom I will designate as Brown, 
was telling the other of the trial of Duff Armstrong in 
Beardstown in the spring of 1858. Brown said that he 
heard the trial; that a witness for the People testified 
that the prisoner assaulted the deceased at 10 o'clock 
at night; that the moon was directly overhead, and it 
was as light as day; that he stood near by, and saw 
Armstrong strike the deceased several terrible blows 
with a slung shot. Brown said the State's Attorney 
then rested his case, and the court adjourned for the day. 
That night Lincoln went to a drug store at the corner 
of the square on State street and procured a number of 
almanacs, which he took to his room, and with them 
"manufactured" an almanac which showed there was 
no moon on the night of the assault; this "doctored" 
almanac was introduced to the jury and resulted in the 
acquittal of the prisoner. Brown said that Lincoln was 
a very able and shrewd lawyer, thus to be able to de- 
ceive the court and jury and to succeed in clearing his 
client. A few years previous to this conversation I had 
attended political meetings, held in Michigan, during the 
campaign of 1860, and heard the republican candidate 
spoken of as "Honest Old Abe," and thought if the 
management of this Armstrong case was a specimen of 
his honesty, that he did not deserve the appellation. 



In Barrett's "Life of Lincoln," in referring to this 
trial, the author, after describing the testimony of the 
prosecuting witness as to the position of the moon says: 

"At this point Mr. Lincoln produced an almanac which 
showed that at the time referred to by the witness there 
was no moon at all, and showed it to the jury." 

Herndon, in his "Life of Lincoln," in which he gives 
an account of this trial, says : 

"Lincoln floored the principal prosecuting witness, who 
had testified positively to seeing the fatal blow struck in 
the moonlight, by showing from an almanac that the 
moon had set." 

In February 1909, the ladies of Beardstown, Illinois, 
held a public meeting in commemoration of the birth of 
Abraham Lincoln; they had assigned to different mem- 
bers of their club subjects upon which to prepare papers 
to be read upon the anniversary occasion. To Mrs. Dr. 
Schweer was assigned the task of writing up the "Arm- 
strong Trial." This lady visited Mr. A. P. Armstrong, 
of Ashland, a town thirty miles distant from Beards- 
town this gentleman was a brother to Duff Armstrong. 
A. P. Armstrong was born in 1840, and was 17 years of 
age when his brother was tried. Mrs. Schweer relied 
upon the statements of this brother which she used in 
the preparation of her very well written paper, from 
which I make the following quotation: 

"A fellow by the name of Allen, from Petersburg, was 
the chief witness for the State, and whether he was the 
one who really killed this Metzker, or (as some thought, 
he had fallen from his horse in a drunken stupor and 
died from the injuries received), we do not know. How- 
ever, Allen was sworn in as chief witness for the State. 

' ' The case was finally brought up for trial. The Arm- 
strongs had taken this Allen to Virginia and had him 
put away in the old Virginia house, so that he could not 
testify, but Lincoln insisted on his being brought into 
the court room. 



"Collier, of Petersburg, was State's Attorney. He 
gave his testimony, and . showed, what appeared to the 
audience, a strong proof of murder. Lincoln cross-ex- 
amined very little, only looking up and ascertaining a 
few dates and places. His own witnesses were to show 
comparatively good moral character for the prisoner 
previous to the time of the murder. Collier, feeling sure 
of his case, made but a short and formal argument. Then 
Lincoln followed for the defense. He began calmly, 
slowly and carefully. He struck at the very heart of the 
State's evidence, that of the chief witness, Allen. He 
followed up first one discrepancy, then another, and then 
another ; finally he came to that part of the testimony of 
the chief witness where he had sworn positively by the 
light of the moon he had seen the prisoner deliver the 
fatal blow with a sling-shot. Then he asked a cousin 
of Armstrong, Jake Jones by name, to go out and get 
him an almanac at the nearest store. 

"Taking this almanac Lincoln showed that on the 
night sworn to and the hour sworn to, the moon had not 
risen, proving that the whole of this testimony was a 
perjury. ' ' 

The reader of this part of the account would naturally 
wonder why Allen would commit perjury in order to 
send Duff Armstrong to the gallows, when he had agreed 
to stay away at the instance of Armstrong's friends. A 
reluctant witness, who is brought into the witness box 
by an attachment, is not likely to swear falsely to aid 
the cause of the party that dragged him into court. 

Having read these various accounts, and having heard 
from numerous persons of the fraudulent almanac, and 
being absolutely unable to believe that Abraham Lincoln 
would be guilty of such outrageous conduct, I concluded 
to look into the matter, late as it was. 

I first directed a letter to the Professor of Astronomy 
of the University of Illinois, inquiring the position of the 
moon in this latitude and longitude on the night of 



August 29th, 1857, when the assault was committed. In 
reply he wrote me as follows : 

"URBAN A, ILL., March 2, 1909. 
MR. J. N. GRIDLEY, 

Virginia, Illinois; 
DEAR SIR: 

Answering yours of Febr. 24, the moon was at first 
quarter Aug. 27, '1857, at 9 A. M. On the night of Aug- 
ust 29 the moon was two days and a half past first quar- 
ter, and crossed the meridian at 7:44 P. M. local time. 
The time of moonset, was within 15 minutes of midnight, 
but to give this closer, I would have to know the exact 
locality for which to compute. 

Trusting that this information is what you want, I 
am, Very truly yours, 

JOEL STEBBINS, 

Director Observatory." 

To a second letter I received the following reply: 

"URBANA, ILL., March 29, 1909. 
MR. J. N. GRIDLEY, 

Virginia, Illinois; 
DEAR SIR: 

I have been rather busy of late and have neglected 
answering your last letter. 

I computed the time of moonset for Longitude 90 de- 
grees west of Greenwich, and Latitude 40 degrees. 

For August 29, 1857, I find the moonset at 12 h 05 m., 
i. e. five minutes after midnight of August 29. 

You understand this refers to the disappearance of 
the moon's upper edge below the true horizon. 

I am sorry that I cannot inform you about the period 
called the 'dark of the moon.' It may have an exact 
meaning but I cannot find the term used in any of the 
text-books, or in any standard work. I am under the 
impression that the period extends from last quarter 
until new moon, but that is only a guess. In 1857 there 
was new moon on August 19, 10 A. M.; first quarter 




John T. Brady, the sole survivor of the jury that tried 
Duff Armstrong at Beardstown, 111., May 7, 1858. 



you have, full moon on Sept. 3d, 11 P. M. and last quar- 
ter on Sept. 10, 5 P. M. 

Hoping that this is suitable for your purpose, I am, 
Very truly yours, 

JOEL. STEBBINS, 

Director Observatory." 

The reader can now see that if an almanac was intro- 
duced at the Armstrong trial that showed there was no 
moon to be seen at 10 P. M., the hour all the witnesses 
agreed the assault took place, that the Court and the 
jury were deceived. 

Having proceeded thus far, I examined the record to 
learn whether any of the jurors were living, who might 
be able to remember the details of the trial. I found the 
names of the jurors were as follows : Horace Hill, Mil- 
ton Logan, Nelson Graves, Charles D. Marcy, John T. 
Brady, Thornton M. Cole, George F. Sielschott, Samuel 
W. Neely, Matthew Armstrong, Benjamin Eyre, John M. 
Johnson, and Augustus Hoyer. 

I knew two of these jurors, Milton Logan and John T. 
Brady, both of whom were then living, and to them I 
addressed letters of inquiry. I received no answer from 
Mr. Logan, and learned that his memory had wholly 
failed him ; ; he died in Feb. 1910 at his home in Boone, 
Iowa, at the advanced age of 90 years. 

I became acquainted with Mr. John T. Brady in 1864, 
when he was visiting his friends in this county on a 
furlough from his regiment in the Union Army. He was 
then a citizen of Kansas; I have met him frequently 
since that date, and last summer had the pleasure of 
visiting him and his family at their home in Pomona, 
California. He is a retired capitalist, in the enjoyment 
of excellent physical health, and his mental powers un- 
impaired. He is a man of much more than ordinary 
intelligence, and he has written me at length, of his recol- 
lections of the Armstrong trial, and I have every con- 
fidence in the reliability of his information. I have care- 



fully examined the record of the trial, have written to 
Judge Lyman Lacey, of Havana, 111., who, with his for- 
mer partner, William Walker, also represented Duff 
Armstrong in this trial; I also have interviewed Mr. A. 
P. Armstrong, the brother before mentioned, and believe 
that I have learned the truth in the matter of this trial. 

There is nothing remarkable in the history of this 
trial; but in order to state the facts, and to correct the 
wrong impressions that have been made by the various 
accounts of the trial, this paper has been prepared. 

In August 1857, a religious camp-meeting was held in 
Mason county, Illinois, at a grove about six miles north- 
east of the junction of Salt Creek with Sangamon River, 
and about seven miles southwest of Mason City. Camp 
meetings were common in those days, as country churches 
were then few and far between. They usually continued 
for ten days or two weeks; the tents of canvass, or 
rough sheds of lumber were built on the circumference 
of a circle; stands four feet square and four feet high 
were erected within the circle, constructed of posts and 
covered with earth, upon which bright fires were kept 
burning through the night, attended by watchers, who 
guarded the sleepers from the attacks of outlaws, who 
infested this country, who delighted to annoy quiet 
people whenever they had the slightest opportunity. 
These tough characters amused themselves by running 
horses, drinking whiskey, and fighting. This camp meet- 
ing was due to close on Sunday, August 30, 1857. On the 
afternoon of Saturday, August 29th quite a number of 
men had gathered about the huckster's wagons that were 
encamped a short distance (perhaps a quarter of a mile) 
south of the tents. Among these men was Duff Arm- 
strong, then a young man of 24 years, who owned a race 
horse and who was very fond of running it. He was not 
a vicious man, was kind hearted, and friendly, but fond 
of whiskey, as most young men of those days in that 
section were. He had been indulging in drinking on that 
Saturday afternoon, and had also been engaged in horse 



8 



racing. He had become intoxicated, and early in the 
evening was lying upon a bench or table sleeping off 
his drunkenness. About seven or eight o'clock P. M. 
James P. Metzker, a farmer, who lived near Petersburg 
in Menard county, a few miles southeast of the Salt Creek 
camp ground, arrived on the scene. Metzker is said to 
have been quarrelsome when in liquor, and, it is said, 
came there in an intoxicated condition, riding a horse. 
Seeing Duff Armstrong lying on the bench asleep, he 
seized him by the leg, and dragged him to the ground; 
Armstrong being partially drunk, and half asleep and 
thoroughly angered, attacked Metzker, and a fight en- 
sued. The character of this attack was discussed at the 
trial, and will be commented upon later. A. P.- Arm- 
strong says he was present and witnessed the affair, 
says that after the fight, Metzker and his brother Duff 
shook hands and drank together, and soon after J. H. 
Norris and Metzker had a fight. Metzker mounted his 
horse and started homeward at a late hour, and, it is 
said, fell from his horse one or more times, being greatly 
under the influence of liquor. The third day after this 
trouble Metzker died and Norris and Armstrong were 
arrested for murder, and on account of -the great ex- 
citement of the people over the affair, and because the 
Mason county jail at Havana, HI., was rather insecure, 
the prisoners were taken across the Illinois river into 
the adjoining county of Fulton, and incarcerated in the 
jail at Lewiston. 

At the October term, 1857, of the Mason County Cir- 
cuit, both Norris and Armstrong were jointly indicted 
for the murder of Metzker. The indictment was as fol- 
lows: 



State of Illinois, 

Mason County. 

Of the October Term of the Mason 
County Circuit Court in the year 
of Our Lord one thousand eight 
hundred and fifty-seven. 

The Grand Jurors chosen selected and sworn in and 
for the County of Mason aforesaid in the name and by 
the authority of the People of the State of Illinois upon 
their oaths present that James H. Norris and William 
Armstrong late of the County of Mason and State of 
Illinois not having the fear of God before their eyes, but 
being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, 
on the twenty-ninth day of August in the year of Our 
Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven with 
force and arms at and within the County of Mason and 
State of Illinois, in and upon one James Preston Metz- 
ker in the peace of the said People of the said State of 
Illinois then and there being, unlawfully, feloniously, 
willfully, and of their malice aforethought did make an 
assault. And the said James H. Norris with a certain 
piece of wood about three feet long which he the said 
James H. Norris in his right hand then and there held 
the said James Preston Metzker in and upon the back 
part of the head of him the said James Preston Metzker 
then and there unlawfully, feloniously, willfully, and of 
his malice aforethought, did strike, giving to the said 
James Preston Metzker then and there with the stick of 
wood aforesaid in and upon the said back part of the 
head of him the said James Preston Metzker, one mortal 
bruise and the said William Armstrong with a certain 
hard metallic substance called a slung-shot which he the 
said William Armstrong in his right hand then and there 
had and held, the said James Preston Metzker, in and 
upon the right eye of him the said James Preston Metz- 
ker then and there unlawfully, feloniously, willfully and 
of his malice aforethought did strike, giving to the said 
James Preston Metzker then and there with a slung-shot 

10 



aforesaid in and upon the said right eye of him the said 
James Preston Metzker one other mortal bruise, of which 
said mortal bruises the said James Preston Metzker from 
the said 29th. day of August in the year aforesaid until 
the 1st day of September in the year aforesaid at the 
County of Mason and State of Illinois aforesaid did 
languish, and languishing did live on which said first 
day of September in the year aforesaid the said James 
Preston Metzker in the County and State aforesaid of 
the said mortal bruises died; and so the jurors 
aforesaid upon their oaths aforesaid do say that the said 
James H. Norris and William Armstrong the said James 
Preston Metzker in manner and form aforesaid unlaw- 
fully, feloniously, and of their malice aforethought did 
kill and murder contrary to the form of the statute in 
such cases made and provided and against the Peace 
and dignity of the same People of the State of Illinois. 

And the Grand Jurors aforesaid in the name and by 
the authority aforesaid upon their oaths aforesaid do 
further present James H. Norris and William Arm- 
strong late of the County of Mason and State of Illinois 
not having the fear of God before their eyes but being 
moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, on the 
twenty-ninth day of August in the year of Our Lord one 
thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven with force and 
arms at and within the County of Mason and State of 
Illinois in and upon one James Preston Metzker in the 
Peace of the said People of the said State of Illinois then 
and there being unlawfully feloniously, and willfully and 
of their malice aforethought did make an assault; and 
that the said James H. Norris and William Armstrong 
with a certain hard metallic substance commonly called 
a slung-shot which they the said James H. Norris and 
William Armstrong in both their right hands then and 
there had a^id held, the said James Preston Metzker in 
and upon the right eye of him the said James Preston 
Metzker then and there unlawfully, feloniously, willfully 
and of their malice aforethought did strike, beat and 

11 



bruise, giving to the said James Preston Metzker then 
and there with the slung-shot aforesaid by striking, beat- 
ing and bruising the said James Preston Metzker in and 
upon the right eye of him the said James Preston Metz- 
ker one other mortal bruise of which said mortal bruise 
the said James Preston Metzker from the said twenty- 
ninth day of August in the year of Our Lord one thou- 
sand eight hundred and fifty-seven aforesaid until the 
first day of September in the year aforesaid at the 
County of Mason and State of Illinois aforesaid did lan- 
guish, and languishing did live on which first day of Sep- 
tember in the year aforesaid the said James Preston 
Metzker in the county and State aforesaid of the said 
mortal bruise 'died. And so the jurors aforesaid upon 
their oaths aforesaid do say that the said James H. Nor- 
ris and William Armstrong the said James Preston 
Metzker in manner and form aforesaid unlawfully, felon- 
iously, willfully and of their malice aforethought did 
kill and murder contrary to the form of the statute in 
such cases made and provided and against the Peace and 
Dignity of the same People of the State of Illinois. 

And the Grand Jurors aforesaid upon their oaths 
aforesaid in the name and by the authority of the People 
aforesaid do further present James H. Norris and Wil- 
liam Armstrong late of the County of Mason and State 
of Illinois on the twenty-ninth day of August in the year 
of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven 
not having the fear of God before their eyes, but being 
moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil with 
force and arms at and within the County of Mason and 
State of Illinois in and upon the said James Preston 
Metzker in the Peace of the People of the said State of 
Illinois then and there being, unlawfully, feloniously, 
willfully and of their malice aforethought did make an 
assault; and that the said James H Norris and William 
Armstrong with a certain stick of wood three feet long 
and of the diameter of two inches which they the said 
James H Norris and William Armstrong in their right 

12 



hands then and there had and held the said James Pres- 
ton Metzker in and upon the back side of the head of him 
the said James Preston Metzker then and there felon- 
iously, willfully, unlawfully, and of their malice afore- 
thought did strike, beat and bruise, giving to the said 
James Preston Metzker then and there with a stick of 
wood aforesaid in and upon the said back side of the head 
of him the said James Preston Metzker one other mortal 
bruise of which said mortal bruise the said James Pres- 
ton Metzker on the said twenty-ninth day of August in 
the year aforesaid until the first day of September in the 
year aforesaid at the County and State aforesaid did 
languish and languishing did live on which said first day 
of September in the year aforesaid at the County and 
State aforesaid of the said mortal bruise died ; and so the 
Jurors aforesaid upon their oaths aforesaid do say that 
the said James H. Norris and William Armstrong the 
said James Preston Metzker in manner and form afore- 
said, unlawfully feloniously, willfully, and of their malice 
aforethought did kill and murder; contrary to the form 
of the statute in such cases made and provided and 
against the Peace and Dignity of the same People of the 
State of Illinois. 

HUGH FULLERTON, 

States Attorney. 
Filed November 5th 1857. 

Witnesses : Grigsby Z. Metzker, Charles Allen, James 
P. Walker, William M. Hall, Joseph A. Douglas, William 
Douglas, B. F. Stephenson, Hamilton Rogers, William 
Killion, Joseph Speltz and William Haines. 

Not bailable : James Harriott. 

The defendant Norris, had, before that time, killed a 
man named Thornsbury, and had been indicted for his 
murder, but was cleared on a plea of self defense; per- 
haps, on account of this record, he labored under a dis- 
advantage ; he stated to the court, that he was unable to 
employ counsel, and the judge (James Harriott) ap- 
pointed William Walker, who was the senior partner 

13 



of Lyman Lacey, who was then a young man of some 26 
years, to defend Norris. In the meantime, Dilworth and 
Campbell, attorneys of the Mason County bar, had ap- 
plied for a change of venue from Mason County, Arm- 
strong having made affidavit that the people of that 
County were so prejudiced against him, that he could 
not have a fair trial. Judge Harriott ordered the venue, 
as to Armstrong, changed to Cass County, which is in the 
same Circuit and adjoined Mason County on the south. 
Walker and Dilworth and Campbell defended Norris, 
in Mason County, and Hugh Fullerton, the State's At- 
torney of the Circuit prosecuted him. The jury found 
Norris guilty, and he was sentenced to the Penitentiary 
for the term of eight years. 

While Duff Armstrong was lying in the Fulton county 
jail, his father Jack Armstrong died; on his death bed 
he advised his wife, Hannah Armstrong, to save Duff if 
she could, if she had to give up her little farm of forty 
acres. She employed Walker and Lacey to look after 
Duff's defense at Havana. 

Upon the adjournment of the Mason County Circuit 
Court, the Mason County sheriff, started to the state 
penitentiary, then at Alton, Illinois ; by steam boat down 
the Illinois river from Havana to Alton; as Beardstown 
was on the route, the sheriff handcuffed Norris and 
Armstrong together and began the journey. While on 
the way, Norris urged Armstrong to walk about the boat 
with him, but Armstrong complained of weariness, and 
kept his seat. He afterwards explained to his friends 
that he feared Norris might attempt to escape, and drag 
him overboard. Arriving at Beardstown, the two men 
were separated, and Duff Armstrong was locked up in 
the Cass county jail, in that city, and Norris taken down 
to Alton. 

In the meantime Mrs. Hannah Armstrong was advised 
to secure the services of her old friend Abraham Lincoln. 

Rev. J. T. Hobson, of Lake City, Iowa, in 1909 pub- 
lished an interesting little book entitled, ''Footprints of 

14 



Abraham Lincoln." This work was published by The 
Otterbein Press of Dayton, Ohio. This author states 
that Mr. Lincoln addressed a letter to Mrs. Armstrong as 
follows : 

Springfield, Ohio, [ ?] September 18, 

1 'Dear Mrs. Armstrong: I have just heard of your 
deep affliction, and the arrest of your son for murder. 
I can hardly believe that he can be guilty of the crime 
alleged against him. It does not seem possible. I am 
anxious that he should have a fair trial, at any rate ; and 
gratitude for your long continued kindness to me in ad- 
verse circumstances prompts me to offer my humble ser- 
vices gratuitously in his behalf. It will afford me an 
opportunity to requite, in a small degree, the favors I 
received at your hand, and that of your lamented hus- 
band, when your roof afforded me grateful shelter with- 
out money and without price. 

Yours truly, 

Abraham Lincoln." 

In August, 1831, Abraham Lincoln, then a youth of 22 
years, made his appearance in New Salem, Menard 
county, Illinois, a small settlement on the Sangamon 
river, a few miles above Petersburg, Illinois. He was 
employed as a clerk by a man named Offut, who was the 
proprietor of a store. Offut very soon became a warm 
friend of his young clerk. He boasted that Lincoln could 
outrun, whip, or throw down any man in Sangamon 
county. (Menard was then a part of Sangamon.) A 
quotation from "Herndon's Life of Lincoln reads thus: 

"In the neighborhood of the village (of New Salem), 
or rather a few miles to the southwest, lay a strip of 
timber called Clary's Grove. The boys who lived there 
were a terror to the entire region seemingly a necessary 
product of frontier civilization. They were friendly and 
good natured ; they could trench a pond, dig a bog, build 
a house; they could pray and fight, make a village or 
create a state. They would do alm9st anything for sport 
or fun, love or necessity. Though rude and rough, 

15 



though life's forces ran over the edge of the bowl, foam- 
ing and sparkling in pure deviltry's sake, yet place be- 
fore them a poor man who needed their aid, a lame or sick 
man, a defenseless woman, a widow, they melted into 
sympathy and charity at once. They gave all they had, 
and willingly toiled or played cards for more. Though 
there never was under the sun a more (generous parcel of 
rowdies, a stranger's introduction was likely to be the 
most unpleasant part of his acquaintance with them. 
They conceded leadership to one Jack Armstrong, a 
hardy, strong, and well-developed specimen of physical 
manhood, and under him they were in the habit of 
''cleaning out" New Salem whenever his order went 
forth to do so. Offut and "Bill" Clary the latter skep- 
tical of Lincoln's strength and agility ended a heated 
discussion in the store one day over the new clerk's 
ability to meet the tactics of Clary's Grove, by a bet of 
ten dollars that Jack Armstrong was, in the language of 
the day, "a better man than Lincoln." The new clerk 
strongly opposed this sort of an introduction, but after 
much entreaty from Offut, at last consented to make his 
bow to the social lions of the town in this unusual way. 
He was now six feet four inches high, and weighed, as 
his friend and confidant, William Green, tells us with 
impressive precision, "two hundred and fourteen 
pounds. ' ' The great contest was to be a friendly one and 
fairly conducted. All New Salem adjourned to the scene 
of the wrestle. Money, whiskey, knives and all manner 
of property were staked on the result. It is unnecessary 
to go into the details of the encounter. Every one knows 
how it ended; how at last the tall and angular rail- 
splitter, enraged at the suspicion of foul tactics, and 
profiting by his height and the length of his arms, fairly 
lifted the great bully by the throat and shook him like a 
rag; how by this act he established himself solidly in 
the esteem of all New Salem, and secured the respectful 
admiration of the very man whom he had so thoroughly 
vanquished. Prom this time forward Jack Armstrong, 



16 



his wife Hannah, and all the other Armstrongs became 
his warm and trusted friends. None stood readier than 
they to rally to his support, none more willing to lend 
a helping hand. Lincoln appreciated their friendship 
and support, and in after years proved his gratitude by 
saving one member of the family from the gallows." 

Shortly after the above encounter, Lincoln became a 
member of the Armstrong family. The family then 
lived three and a half miles north of Petersburg, Menard 
county, two or three miles from the Sangamon river, 
near Concord church. Here the future president made 
rails, studied surveying, and helped the farmers of the 
neighborhood with their work. Mrs. Armstrong would 
often tell of having " foxed" Lincoln's trousers with 
deer skin, so they would better sustain the rough usage 
to which they were subjected in his surveying trips, 
through tall prairie grass, timber and brush, which he 
travelled through in establishing the lines of the lands 
of the early settlers. 

Mrs. Armstrong drove all the way to Springfield to 
consult Mr. Lincoln, hoping he might be able to secure 
the release of her son before his trial. 

Mr. Lincoln attended the November Term of the Cass 
Circuit court in order to get his client admitted to bail. 
The result of this effort is shown by the following tran- 
script of the record of the court : 

November 19, 1857. The People of the State of Illinois 
vs. William Armstrong; Venue from Mason County. 

And now on this day come the People of the State of 
Illinois, by their attorney, Hugh Fullerton, Esquire, and 
the prisoner William Armstrong, who is brought here to 
the Bar in proper person. A motion is made by the 
prisoner, to admit him to Bail. Whereupon a motion 
was made on the part of the People for a continuance 
until the next Term of this Court, which, after due de- 
liberation by the Court, was granted, and the motion to 
admit to Bail, was overruled. 



17 



Mr. Lincoln then told Duff that he must remain in jail 
until the next spring, and then he would come down and 
get him out. Mrs. Armstrong was present at this time. 
An old school teacher, who was confined in the same jail 
for larceny, proposed to Duff's mother, that if she would 
buy him a pair of spectacles and some books, he would 
teach her son to read during the long hours that were 
to come, before the advent of spring; the mother gladly 
did this, and Duff emerged from the jail the following 
May, very thin and pale, but his education had been much 
improved. 

The May term of the Circuit Court of Cass county con- 
vened on Monday the 3d instant; Mr. Lincoln arrived 
on Thursday the 6th, and found that the most important 
witness for the People, Charles Allen, had not arrived, 
and that an attachment had been issued for him. He 
inquired of the friends of Armstrong what they knew 
of Allen, and was told that Allen had agreed with them 
to remain at the hotel at Virginia, 13 miles away, pro- 
vided his expenses were paid, and in case they wanted 
him present, he would come if they would come after 
him. Mr. Lincoln soon explained to them that if Allen 
did not appear, he having been summoned to come, the 
case would be continued, and Duff would remain in jail 
for six months to come. Two cousins of Duff hitched 
up the team to their wagon and drove off to Virginia 
and brought Allen into Beardstown that night, and on 
Friday the 7th instant, the trial began. The case was 
prosecuted by Hugh Fullerton, the State's Attorney, 
assisted by an attorney named Collier, from Petersburg, 
who had been employed by a brother of Metzker, the de- 
ceased. Mr. Lincoln was assisted by William Walker, 
the senior member of the firm of Walker & Lacey, of 
Havana, Illinois. 

I will allow Mr. Brady, the only juror now living, who 
tried this case, to describe the trial in his own way : 

"The prosecuting witness, Allen, testified in the trial 
that the reason he could see a slung-shot that Armstrong 

18 



had in his hand, with which he struck Metzker, was that 
the moon was shining very bright, about where the sun 
would be, at one o'clock in the afternoon. Mr. Lincoln 
was very particular to have him repeat himself a dozen 
or more times during the trial about where the moon 
was located, and my recollection is now, that the almanac 
was not introduced until Mr. Lincoln came to that part 
of Allen's testimony telling the Court where the moon 
was located. Mr. Lincoln was very careful not to cross 
Mr. Allen in anything, and when Allen lacked words to 
express himself, Lincoln loaned them to him. Allen was 
the only witness for the State, and there were eight or 
ten witnesses for the defense, and they all swore that 
Armstrong struck Metzker with his fist, and I am satis- 
fied that the jury thought Allen was telling the truth. I 
know that he impressed me that way, but his evidence 
with reference to the moon was so far from the fact's that 
it destroyed his evidence with the jury. The almanac 
that was produced was examined closely by the Court, 
and the attorneys for the State, and the almanac showed 
that the moon at that time was going out of sight; set- 
ting ; and the almanac was allowed to be used as evidence 
by Judge Harriott. 

There has never been a question in my mind about the 
genuineness of the almanac, that it was an up to date 
almanac; this I am sure of, as it was passed up to the 
Judge, jury and lawyers, who all examined it closely, and 
the State's Attorney said 'Mr. Lincoln, you are mistaken, 
the moon was just coming up instead of going down at 
that time' and Mr. Lincoln retorted: 'It serves my pur- 
pose just as well, just coming up, or just going down, as 
you admit it was not over head as Mr. Allen swore it 
was.' As to the question of the validity of the almanac, 
Mr. Lincoln's long and honorable life is a distinct re- 
futation of any such dishonorable action on his part. 
My recollection of Mr. Lincoln's appearance as he ad- 
dressed the jury is very vivid. The day was warm and 
sultry, and, as he rose to make his closing argument he 

19 



removed his coat, vest, and later, his 'stock,' the old 
fashioned necktie worn by men in those days. His sus- 
penders were home-made knitted ones, and finally, as he 
warmed up to his subject, one of them slipped from his 
shoulder, and he let it fall to his side, where it remained 
until he had finished speaking. In this 'backwoodsy' 
appearance he was about as homely, and awkward ap- 
pearing person as could be imagined; but all this was 
forgotten in listening to his fiery eloquence, his masterly 
argument, his tender and pathetic pleading for the life of 
the son of his old benefactor. Tears were plentifully 
sned by every one present; the mother of Duff Arm- 
strong, who was present, wore a huge sun-bonnet, her 
face was scarcely visible, but her feelings were plainly, 
shown by her sobs. 

As we were leaving the court room to pass into the 
jury room, I heard Mr. Lincoln tell Mrs. Armstrong that 
her boy would be cleared before sundown, which proved 
to be true. We were out less than an hour; only one 
ballot was taken, and that was unanimous for acquittal. 
After we rendered our verdict, Mr. Lincoln shook hands 
with Duff Armstrong and then led him to his mother 
and gave him a short lecture on making a man of him- 
self and being a comfort to his mother, telling him to 
care for her and try to make as good a man as his father 
had been. ' ' 

Hon. J. Henry Shaw, an eminent lawyer, who practiced 
his profession in Cass county for many years, in writing 
an account of this trial said: 

"He told the jury, of his once being a poor, friendless 
boy; that Armstrong's parents took him into their house, 
fed and clothed him, and gave him a home. There were 
tears in his eyes when he spoke. The sight of his tall, 
quivering frame, and the particulars of the story he so 
pathetically told, moved the j.ury to tears also, and they 
forgot the guilt of the defendant, in their admiration of 

* Only two instructions were given to the jury in behalf of the de- 
fendant, and these are in the handwriting of Mr. Lincoln. A fac similie 
of them appears in this paper. 

20 



_ .::} 

(", ';. --.- :_ , ...-. . - >' 




Fac-simile of the instructions to the Jury in behalf of the defend- 
ant. Armstrong trial, Beardstown 111., May 7, 1858. 
In Mr. Lincoln's handwriting. 



his advocate. It was the most touching scene I ever 
witnessed." 

The actual facts relative to the killing of Metzker are 
doubtless disclosed by these recitals in the letters to me 
of Mr. Brady, which are as follows : 

"One of the witnesses in the Duff Armstrong case 
was Will Watkins, whose father lived near Petersburg, 
in Menard county. About two months after the Arm- 
strong trial, T. B. Collins and myself were in the Wat- 
kins neighborhood buying cattle; Mr. Watkins sent his 
son Will with us, to help look up cattle. I recognized 
him as being the witness that Mr. Lincoln used to prove 
that Duff Armstrong did not have the sling-shot which 
was exhibited at the trial, in his possession. It naturally 
followed that we talked of the trial. Will Watkins told 
me that Mr. Lincoln sent for him to come to Springfield; 
he questioned him about the sling shot, and asked how 
it happened to be lost, and then found near the spot 
where Metzker was killed. He said he told Mr. Lincoln 
that when he laid down that night under the wagon to 
go to sleep, that he laid the sling shot upon the reach of 
the wagon, and in the morning, forgot to get it, and when 
the wagon was driven away, it dropped off at the place 
where it was found. Watkins said that he told Mr. Lin- 
coln that he (Lincoln) did not want to use him (Wat- 
kins) as a witness, as he knew too much, and he began 
to tell Lincoln what he knew, and Mr. Lincoln would not 
allow him to tell him anything and said to Watkins: 
'All I want to know is this: Did you make that sling- 
shot? and did Duff Armstrong ever have it in his po- 
sesion?' Watkins said he replied: 'On cross-examina- 
tion they may make me tell things I do not want to tell' 
and Mr. Lincoln assured him he would see to it that he 
was not questioned about anything but the slung-shot. 
Watkins told me that Duff Armstrong killed Metzker by 
striking him in the eye with an old fashioned wagon 
hammer and that he saw him do it. Watkins said that 
Douglass and all the other eight or ten witnesses for 

21 



Armstrong who swore that Armstrong hit Metzker with 
his fist, all swore to a lie and they knew it, as they all 
knew he hit him with a wagon hammer. During the trial 
Allen testified that Duff Armstrong hit Metzker with a 
sling-shot and I felt he was telling the truth until Mr. 
Lincoln proved by the almanac that Allen was so badly 
mistaken about it being a bright moonlight night; then 
Allen's whole testimony was discredited." 

To arrive at a sensible conclusion in this matter, I will 
re-capitulate the facts: 

Metzker was engaged in a personal conflict, with at 
least two opponents, about ten o'clock of the night of 
August 29th, he died on the third day thereafter. A. P. 
Armstrong, then 17 years of age, who. was present at the 
scene of the encounter, and who attended the trial says 
that at the time Metzker dragged his brother Duff off 
the bench or table, he spit in his face; that Duff was 
under the influence of whiskey ; that Metzker was a large 
and powerful man, and Duff was one of twins, weighed 
about 140 pounds and not nearly so strong as Metzker; 
as Armstrong was so much the weaker man he would be 
very likely to sieze any suitable weapon, as there were 
numerous wagons near at hand, he doubtless grasped a 
wagon-hammer ; that Allen in describing the encounter in 
court, illustrated the manner in which Duff delivered his 
blows, which A. P. Armstrong in my interview with him 
repeated to me, by raising his right hand as high as his 
face and striking an " over-hand" blow. Allen was not 
hostile to the Armstrong people, as he agreed with them 
to stay away from the trial ; I have examined the records, 
and find that the State's Att'y caused an attachment to 
issue for him on May 6th, which was returned served into 
open court on the next day. Mr. Brady states that Allen 
impressed him, and the other members of the jury, as a 
truthful witness. Had he not made the mistake of his 
location of the position of the moon, it is altogether likely 
that the eloquence of Abraham Lincoln could not have 
saved his client from punishment. The files in the case 

22 




53 

Q 

rCl 
CJ 

I 



3 

o> 

PQ 



03 

hH 
H4 



O 

<t> 
^3 

EH 



show, that 15 witnesses appeared in behalf of the defend- 
ant, and it is very likely that " eight or ten" of them 
testified, as Will Watkins related to Mr. Brady a few 
weeks after the trial. A cousin of Will Watkins who 
lives in my city, tells me that he died several years since 
at his home in Menard county. 

Hannah Armstrong married Samuel Wilcox, and 
moved to Iowa, where she died August 15, 1890, at the 
age of 79 years. 

Duff, and three of his brothers enlisted in the civil war ; 
about 1862, Duff was sick in an army hospital in the east ; 
his mother wrote the President, telling him of the ser- 
ious illness of her son, and asking him to send him home ; 
Mr. Lincoln immediately sent an order for his discharge, 
and Duff returned to his mother, who nursed him back 
to health. He lived an honorable and useful life, and 
died in this county, on the 5th day of May, 1899, at the 
age of sixty-six years. 



23