New Athens man wonders: Did Lincoln use this sword?

News-DemocratNovember 30, 2013 

Curt Lindauer of New Athens is wondering if he has Abraham Lincoln's dueling saber.

Lindauer said he got the sword at an auction in the early 1950s when the Belleville Lodge #36 International Order of Odd Fellows regalia was sold.

He said he actually bought three swords at the auction. One was a cavalry sword, the second an officer's dress sword and the third sword was said to have been Lincoln's from his somewhat infamous scheduled 1842 duel with James Shields.

But Lindauer always wondered.

There are no marks or identification numbers on the sword, he said.

But in the 1970s someone sent him an article from the Dec. 26, 1906, Belleville Daily Advocate in which the Rev. W.F. Boykin, a former Belleville resident, talked about the duel.

Boykin was 100 and talking about his life to a reporter in Kansas where he lived.

He mentioned being a personal friend of Lincoln and recounted the story of Lincoln's almost duel with James Shields.

Lincoln had deeply offended Shields, the Illinois state auditor, with anonymous letters and Shields challenged him to a duel.

Lincoln specified the weapons must be cavalry sabers, the largest and heaviest available. He also said a large plank, 10 feet long and at least eight inches wide, must be set on edge in the ground as a line the men couldn't cross while fighting.

Historians have speculated that the tall, lanky Lincoln was trying to make it impossible for the short, stout Shields to compete and thereby avert the duel.

Eventually it worked and after a lot of talk, the duel never happened.

But where it gets locally interesting is in Boykin's claims in the story. He said that Shields' sword was given to the Free Masons of Belleville and Lincoln's sword went to the Belleville Odd Fellows.

Lindauer said he doubts the story is true. He has investigated the sword a few times but never found many answers.

"If the Odd Fellows really had the sword wouldn't they have made some sort of a big deal about it?" he asked. "Still a lot of things line up. But they must have made about a million swords back then."

One man Lindauer called about the sword said that if it really is the Lincoln sword, it would be the property of the state of Illinois.

I told Lindauer to be prepared to answer a lot of questions from curious historians and other interested people.

"I have no intention of capitalizing on this sword, but I think it is an interesting story," he said. "I'd like to know."

His email is clindauer@sbcglobal.net.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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