While a clerk in a general store at New Salem, Ill., Lincoln gained the reputation of being a skillful and powerful wrestler. Near New Salem was a settlement known as Clary’s Grove, in which lived an organization known as “Clary’s Grove Boys.” They were rude in their manners and rough and boastful in their ways, being what would to-day be called “a set of rowdies.”
The leader of this organization, and the strongest of the lot, was a young man named Armstrong. It had been said that Lincoln could easily outdo any one of the Clary Grove boys in anything and the report naturally touched the pride of the Armstrong youth. He felt compelled to prove the truth or falsity of such a story, and accordingly a wrestling match was arranged between Lincoln and himself.
It was a great day in the village of New Salem and Clary’s Grove. The match was held on the ground in front of the store in which Lincoln had been clerking. There was much betting on the result, the odds being against Lincoln. Hardly, however, had the two wrestlers taken hold of each other before the Armstrong youth found that he had “met a foe worthy his steel.” The two wrestled long and hard, each doing his utmost to throw the other but to no avail. Both kept their feet; neither could throw the other. The Armstrong youth being convinced that he could not throw Lincoln, tried to “foul.” This resort to dishonest means to gain an advantage inflamed Lincoln with indignation, and he immediately caught young Armstrong by the throat, held him at arm’s length and “shook him like a child.”
Armstrong’s friends rushed to his rescue, and for a time it seemed as if Lincoln would be mobbed. But he held his own bravely and all alone, and by his daring excited the admiration of even those whose sympathies were with young Armstrong. What at one time seemed to result in a general fight resulted in a general handshake, even “Jack” Armstrong declaring that Lincoln was “the best fellow who ever broke into camp.”