Warhawk Almanac: Abraham Lincoln in…Whitewater?

Have you ever wondered why there is a bust of Abraham Lincoln outside of Hyer Hall? It turns out that Abraham Lincoln spent a night in Whitewater while fighting in the Blackhawk Indian War. Lincoln spent the night in downtown Whitewater, near the Whitewater Register building. While he was sleeping, his horse was stolen. The next morning he was discharged from the army and began walking back to Peoria, Illinois. [1] This event is memorialized with a plaque near the spot of the thievery. However, this is not how Lincoln made his way to a permanent spot on UW-Whitewater’s campus.

Lincoln memorial located in downtown Whitewater
The Royal Purple, Summer 1963.

The civil war was an instrumental part of the creation of UW-Whitewater. The war itself “accentuated the puritan impulse to expand the boundaries of Whitewater’s cultural prairies” while its citizens shared in the joys and sorrows of the nation. [2] By 1870, Whitewater’s population was twice the size of any other place in the county, and they were given the pride of having opened a State Normal school in southeastern Wisconsin just two years prior. [3] This would later become the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. However, this is still not the reason why Lincoln is remembered on the campus.

“On June 8, 1920 a memorial to the Gold Star men was erected on the front lawn of the Normal school, flanking the entrance to Old Main along with a bust of President Salisbury.” [4] This is the monument students, faculty, and citizens pass by every day in the southwest corner of Hyer Hall. When it was constructed, the monument did not have the bust of the 16th President. The bust was added February 12, 1923, about two years after the erection of the Gold Star memorial. The bronze bust of Lincoln was sculpted by “Milwaukee sculptor Mayor” and was chosen due to its similar size and shape of the Salisbury bust. [5]

Completed Lincoln and World War I Monument
UW-Madison Digital Archives Collection, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater
Salisbury Bust
Bust of Albert Salisbury
“The Salisbury Idea,” Campus Initiatives, University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, accessed October 19, 2022.

[1] “Thief Motivates Early Fitness Hike to Peoria,” The Royal Purple (Whitewater), July 9th, 1963.
[2] Mary Janette Bohi, A History of Wisconsin State University Whitewater 1868-1968 (Whitewater: Whitewater State University Foundation Inc, 1967) 16.
[3] Mary Janette Bohi, A History of Wisoconsin State University Whitewater 1868-1968 (Whitewater: Whitewater State University Foundation Inc, 1967) 16.
[4] Jennifer Motszko, “Honoring the WWI Gold Star men,” Warhawk Almanac (blog), The Anderson Library Blog, May 27, 2019.
[5] “Bust of Lincoln will be Unveiled on Monday,” The Whitewater Register (Whitewater), February 8th, 1923.

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