Lincoln Engraving Mystery Unsolved

by Larry Heyl

In 1938 Elizabeth Mathes was digging for potting soil at the bottom of a tree stump north of Jonesboro, Arkansas. She dug down about 12 inches before striking something that did not feel like a rock. Not sure what she had found she carefully uncovered a printing plate used to make engravings. The plate was a picture of Abraham Lincoln with Lady Liberty draping foliage across the bottom of the plate. The printing plate is made of copper and lead and is very thin. Amazingly, it was in excellent condition and still made quality prints.
(see illustration)

Mystery Engraving

Elizabeth and her family were at a loss as to what the plate was and how it could have gotten under a tree at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. A friend of the family, "Uncle Jim Cox", proposed this explanation.

The plate could have been a discarded part of the loot taken by Jesse James during the robbery of a Frisco Railrod freight train near the old Hasbrook crossing about two or three miles from where it was found.

Rumors circulating to this day support the fact that Jesse James robbed the train, but Jonesboro Mayor Herbert Sanderson had another theory. He suggested that the train was robbed not by Jesse James but by the Gainsville Boys who lived around Paragould, Arkansas about thirty miles north of Jonesboro. A native of Jonesboro, Mr. Sanderson was quite knowledgeable when it came to the history of Jonesboro and he remembered the big train robbery quite well.

Elizabeth and her family were convinced that the printing plate had historical and possibly monetary value and tried to discover when and where the plate was made. They also tried to find out how it could have possibly ended up in this remote location. Her son, Dennis Mathes, and her other children are still fascinated by this piece of family history and continue to try to solve this puzzle today. They have contacted the Smithsonian and other institutions, looked through many books on and about Lincoln, and closely examined microfilm of Jonesboro newspapers to no avail. Apparently no one has ever seen this exact print and we have only guesses as to how it could have ended up under that tree. In fact, if Elizabeth Mathes had not been digging for potting soil that day, over fifty years ago, it would still be buried.

Can you help us with this unsolved mystery? If you have any information about this print or about the Hasbrook Crossing train robbery please contact Dennis Mathes who remains in hot pursuit of this unsolved mystery. With your help we may be able to post a follow up story called Unsolved Mystery Finally Solved.

Email Dennis Mathes