Abraham Lincoln was a compassionate, generous man who cared deeply for all living things, including animals. Although he greatly admired cats, he had pets of all kinds during his lifetime, including a pig. Lincoln was born in the early 1800s. During that era, homesteaders raised their own food which included cattle, pigs, chickens and more for meat. This practice sometimes clashed with Lincoln’s love of animals.
When Abraham was a small boy, he lived on a homestead with his family. At the age of 6, a neighbor gave him a small suckling pig, which Abraham quickly came to adore and the two became inseparable. As the pig grew, Abraham taught the intelligent animal to play games such as hide-and-seek and when the pig grew large enough, to even carry Abraham on his back. The two would venture into the woods for hours, spending time turning up leaves and digging for acorns.
“That pig was my companion. I played with him, I taught him tricks,” said Lincoln in Ferdinand C. Iglehart’s The Speaking Oak. “We used to play ‘hide and go seek.’ I can see his little face now peeping around the corner of the house to see whether I was coming after him. After a while he got too heavy for me to carry him around, and then he followed me everywhere—to the barn, the plowed ground, the woods.”
Sadly, their friendship was not to last. Thomas Lincoln, Abraham’s father, told Abraham one day that the pig was to be killed to feed the family. (Remember, this is the custom at the time.) Abraham was devastated. He tried to save his pig by running off into the woods at first light, and staying out all day. He planned to do this every day to save his pig, but the very next morning his father rose before he did and locked the pig in a smokehouse to prevent Abraham from freeing him.
Knowing that there was nothing he could do, Abraham ran into the woods to avoid hearing what was to come. When he returned that night, the deed was done. He refused to partake in any of the meat brought to the table, knowing where it had come from.
Later in life, Abraham Lincoln had the opportunity to save another pig. When he was a young man, he and some companions were riding along a muddy road when they saw a pig trapped in the muck. To the surprise of his companions, Lincoln dismounted and waded in to free the squealing animal – which promptly spattered him with mud and ran off. This type of rescue remained a theme throughout Lincoln’s life, perhaps because he remembered the one pet he could not save.