Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Annotation

[1]   Quincy Whig, April 15, 1846. Lincoln's authorship of this narrative, published anonymously, was well known to his associates---see Ward H. Lamon, The Life of Abraham Lincoln from His Birth to His Inauguration as President (1872), p. 317. Its publication in the Quincy Whig, whence it was copied a week later by the Sangamo Journal, was doubtless connected with the literary friendship between Lincoln and Andrew Johnston which brought about the publication of the only verse Lincoln is known to have published, in the Whig on May 5, 1847. As published in the Whig, the narrative was provided with the following editorial preface: ``The following narrative has been handed us for publication by a member of the bar. There is no doubt of the truth of every fact stated; and the whole affair is of so extraordinary a character as to entitle it to publication, and commend it to the attention of those at present engaged in discussing reforms in criminal jurisprudence, and the abolition of capital punishment. ED. WHIG.''

[2]   See the letter to Joshua F. Speed, June 19, 1841, supra, for an account of this ``strange affair'' written shortly after the case was closed. Identification of the several officials participating in the affair is given in the notes to this letter.

[3]   Of several published ``speculations'' on the facts which Lincoln narrates, one seems to the editors worth quoting at some length as a rationalization that takes into account nearly all of the unanswered questions and provides a plausible explanation for them. Roger W. Barrett, who edited Lincoln's narrative in a brochure entitled A Strange Affair (1933) concludes as follows:

``The real mystery of the case is why Archibald and William Trailor would never reveal what occurred, nor the circumstances under which they parted from Fisher, nor tell why, after leaving the searching party on the following day ostensibly to go to their homes, they again returned to the thicket and remained there for an hour or so while Henry stood guard. In the silence of the three brothers, these questions have remained unanswered for almost a century and there is no voice that can `provoke the silent dust' to reveal their secret.

``But, subject to information that may yet be discovered, and to any more plausible explanation which may be suggested, the following is offered as a solution which is consistent with all the facts and circumstances of the case as now known.

``Lincoln, in his letter to Speed, relates that `Fisher had a serious hurt in his head by the bursting of a gun, since which he had been subject to continued bad health and occasional aberration of mind.' Such an injury may cause mental aberration or epileptic fit, followed by catalepsy, leaving the sufferer in a state closely resembling, and occasionally mistaken for death.

``Entering the thicket---either to meet the young lady or with a premonition of the impending attack---Fisher, seized with a fit, or mental aberration, may have struggled with the brothers, or, if he went in alone, may in falling, have sustained some visible mark of injury before the Trailors followed him into the thicket. The brothers, mistaking the unconscious or cataleptic state of Fisher for the sign of death, and fearing that because of the evidence of the struggle, or the possession of his money, they would be suspected of foul play, concealed the body in order to gain time to determine what course to pursue. Fisher may have turned his money over to them, or they may have taken it from his person to safeguard it.

``Returning the following day and finding the body as they had left it, they apparently determined to dispose of it in the mill pond, so that when found it would be supposed that Fisher had accidentally drowned. Presumably the Trailors drove hastily away and Fisher, regaining consciousness through the effect of his sudden immersion, escaped drowning to wander in a daze over the prairies.

``The Trailors must have been puzzled when the pond was drained and no body found, and bewildered when Fisher turned up alive. After their acquittal and vindication at the town meeting, it is not to be wondered that Archibald and William would never reveal their part in this strange affair.''