Isaac Howsmon heard Abraham Lincoln

[printed in south western Missouri, Barry County or one of the surrounding counties]

Over the Ozarks - 1923 article
Over the OZARKS, edited by Joan Davies, with our historians, writers and poets.



Many years ago I taught a country school near Ridgley In Barry County and boarded with the Cook Howsmon family. The Howsmons shared their comfortable home with the 19 year old teacher and warm attachments were soon formed.

Mr. Howsmon was a prosperous farmer and stockman who spent a good part of his time on horseback. He was a heavy man but rode well. His full name was Isaac Cook Howsmon: his neighbors call him -"Uncle Cook."

I admired him and was pleased when he found time to reminisce about his boyhood in Illinois. He was grown when he moved to Missouri. One winter evening I was sitting with him before his fireplace as he recalled boyhood memories. He startled me when he said casually that he saw Abraham Lincoln and heard him speak.

It was during the Lincoln Douglas debates in 1858 when the two men were contesting for the U. S. Senate. One of their dozen meetings took place in young Howsmon's hometown. Lincoln was a former Whig who had joined the new Republican party; Senator Douglas was a Democrat running for his second term.

I was interested. of course, and at once began to ask what Lincoln was like, how he looked, what his voice was like. I was surprised when Mr. Howsmon told me, "Douglas was the best speaker. Lincoln's voice was too high-pitched. Douglas had a good voice and was a better looking man than Lincoln." Howsmon recalled the two figures: Lincoln, tall and spare, Douglas, short, but a better speaker. (The good speaker won the election.) It was an outdoor meeting and young Howsmon and two other boys climbed a tree near the platform and looked down on the speakers.

A Howsmon daughter, Mrs. E. L. Northcutt of Albuquerque, N. M. told me on a recent visit to Missouri that her father was born at Bloomington, Ill., in 1846. So he was 12 years old when he saw these famous men. He was 65 when I knew him. Through the years I have remembered my friend's boy impression of Lincoln's voice, for it was precisely as the biographers have reported it. Lincoln was an excellent stump speaker and a great debater, but he was not the mellow-voiced orator so popular in an era when oratory meant more than it does now. He had humor and magnetism, sometimes more effective than eloquence.

Men who wrote their recollections of Lincoln's time mention his high-pitched and rather unpleasant voice, though it improved as he warmed to his subject.

No one on the Gettysburg committee thought of asking President Lincoln to make the main speech. Of course he was asked to say a few words . . . and mighty words they were. But a big-name orator from Massachusetts was there with a two-hour address.

Strangely, throughout our history orators have sought the presidency in vain; witness Clay, Webster, Calhoun and Lincoln's opponent in 1860, the same Stephen A. Douglas. In later eras it was James G. Blaine and William Jennings Bryan and, still later, Adlai Stevenson.

A 12 year old boy would remember very little of what Lincoln said, but to me on that winter night as I listened to Mr. Howsmon, it didn't matter. It was enough to have found someone who had seen Lincoln.

-----Clyde C. Hammers, Kansas City

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