Lincoln's Playmate

Historical Marker #827 in Larue County recognizes Austin Gollaher, childhood friend of Abraham Lincoln. Gollaher is best known as the man who claimed to have saved Lincoln's life.

Gollaher was born in 1805, died in 1898, and is buried in the cemetery of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church near White City in Larue County, Kentucky. A number of sources, including accounts of interviews and speeches he gave over the years, have survived. Did he, in fact, rescue the young Abraham Lincoln from the flood waters of Knob Creek?

President Lincoln is supposed to have expressed his desire to see Gollaher to Dr. Jesse Rodman of Hodgenville. Gollaher himself is supposed to have referred to this meeting, adding that Lincoln had offered to pay his way to Washington, D.C., but that he did not go because of his fear of trains. At various times over the years, Gollaher claimed to have saved Lincoln's life. Indeed, in one source he claims to have done so several times.

So what did happen? Clearly we cannot know for sure. Lincoln never mentions being rescued by Gollaher, who is himself the only source for this claim. Most scholars are skeptical, noting that Gollaher's memory seems to have become more precise the older he grew.

It is, however, certainly believable that President Lincoln would, as Dr. Rodman recalled, wish to reminisce in the nostalgic presence of a childhood friend. And as for the rescue, who can say for sure? And even if he did not save the future president, he clearly occupied a unique place in Lincoln's fond memories of his Kentucky childhood.