Abraham Lincoln owes his stepmother, Sara Bush Lincoln, a favor or two: so — when he receives a letter from her asking that he act in the defense of a young man accused of murder in Kentucky — he undertakes the journey, only to find a trial much more complex, and more memorable, than he could have imagined. This is the story as he, himself, recalls it.

Table of Contents

Mr Heine

If the Holy Scriptures are to be believed, it once rained upon the Earth continuously for a period of forty days and forty nights, as N... Read Chapter

The Narrative of Jakob Heine: April 14, 1857

According to established routine, the servants were the earliest risers in the compound occupied by Hosea Bitterwood and his family: so... Read Chapter

Mr Heine's Closing Statement

For the remainder of his presentation, Jakob Heine made use of several pieces of bread: arranging them on the clean, starched tableclot... Read Chapter

A Retainer

After another hour of candid discussion I considered myself well recompensed for my decision to help pull Gunter out of that mud hole, ... Read Chapter

The Narrative of Erik Thorson: April 15, 1857

What a frontier requires from those who arrive, thinking to embrace it and tame it, is unceasing labor — the kind of long and unforgi... Read Chapter

Justice Delayed

‘Sheriff Rudder came down that hall, and told me: “I won’t be able to hold them my boy! Better make things right with the Lord wh... Read Chapter

Midnight Riders

Whether due to my astonishing eloquence, or more likely for some other reason, the jailer allowed congress between mother and son for o... Read Chapter

Judge Blackstone

When I awoke the next morning, I discovered myself in the same armchair where I had been taking notes — still fully dressed — with ... Read Chapter

An Abbreviated Quorum

Again and again, in looking over my notes of this case, I am obliged to remark on my good fortune in meeting with a collection of rasca... Read Chapter

The Opening Statement for the Defense: April 16, 1857

Gentlemen: I wish you to understand, first and foremost, that there is — at this moment — no known criminal in this room. Pre... Read Chapter

Katarina Søberg for the Prosecution

I felt the legal struggle well and truly joined when I turned away from the Jury to find the senior Bitterwoods — gnarled farmer, and... Read Chapter

Thursday Evening

Katarina’s departure — along with that of Greta Ullmann — prompted another burst of conversation in the Courtroom, soon stilled b... Read Chapter

Samson Bitterwood

Although aware that I had to rise early for an early Court session, I lingered over my outbound letters until almost midnight: grateful... Read Chapter

Mr Ruf

At this point, the Prosecution rested its case, and I would have been very remiss had I not stood and moved for an immediate acquittal.... Read Chapter

Pastor Gustaffson

From time to time, I have wondered if it is the burdens of the Ministry that form men to that profession, or if it is the career itself... Read Chapter

Dagmar Thorson

Erik Thorson was still recovering from Pastor Gustaffson’s testimony when the recess ended: so the wiser course of action seemed to b... Read Chapter

Erik Thorson

Conventional wisdom among Advocates is almost insistent that a Defendant should not come to the Witness Stand in a capital case, as the... Read Chapter

A Discussion

As had become routine, our small council of war had dinner at the hotel, and I was working through the collection of my most recent cor... Read Chapter

The Iron Gate

Saturday morning I re-acquainted myself with my hired horse—a very well-rested beast by this time—and left Elizabethtown in the com... Read Chapter

A Calm, Then a Storm

Instead of doing the sensible thing, and returning back to town, I detoured in the direction of the Thorson farm, where—despite my de... Read Chapter

Katarina Søberg For the Defense

Sabbath was the first evening that I tried to avoid doing anything at all: just bringing myself up to date with some newspapers, and co... Read Chapter

David Bitterwood For the Defense

With the Judge’s permission, Mrs Thorson brought Katarina back to the Defense Table: where Erik reached across his mother to press th... Read Chapter

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