The Big Buck
There are two of Lincoln’s matches that are important to note. The first was a match against Jack Armstrong, who was the leader of a rugged gang called “Clary’s Grove Boys.” The Boys, as they were known in New Salem, Illinois, were a small group of young men who arrived in the county to (according to historian Benjamin Thomas) “drink, gossip, trade and play. Physical strength and courage were their ideals.” Armstrong heard about Lincoln’s prowess in the wrestling ring, and decided that he needed present a challenge to the future president.
Lincoln won. After the match Armstrong and Lincoln became friends, and because the Clary’s Grove Boys were so dominant in the county, Lincoln faced fewer arrogant challenges. Because it was against the former county wrestling champion, it was celebrated as his most impressive win ever.
Another match of note is the one that Lincoln lost. While Lincoln was serving with the Illinois Volunteers during the 1832 Black Hawk War, he was challenged by Hank Thompson during a friendly tournament between members of his regiment. Thompson won, though there are no details on how he won or what the aftermath of the fight was.
Abraham Lincoln wrestled for 12 years before moving on. After that he was more focused on his military career and politics. He started his political career a the age of 23 (while still wrestling on the side) when he ran for the Illinois General Assembly. Once elected, he resigned his commission in the militia, and focused solely on politics.
Even at that age, it is said that he could draw crowds from all over, as his prose and charm wooed crowds. He gained popularity while storytelling in New Salem, and was able to translate that into later political support. Despite his popularity, he lost that first election, coming in eighth place. Due to his popularity in the wrestling ring, his friendship with the Boys, and his general persona, he took all but 3 of the 300 votes in the New Salem precinct.
During his wrestling career, he was known to talk trash to his opponents and the crowed, one time stating, “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.”
Abraham Lincoln may be one of our most important and well-known politicians, but his beginnings were much different from most would expect. It is a good reminder that while people look up to the leaders of our countries, they are still human, and many of them did interesting things that had very little to do with running for public office.