Lincoln’s Dog Fido

(Faithful readers of this blog will no doubt be saying to themselves, “Yep, I knew eventually McClarey would write about Lincoln’s dog!” )

One hundred and fifty years ago the Lincolns in Springfield, Illinois were making preparations for their move to Washington.  One sad task for them was to find a new home for their dog Fido, who had been a member of the family since 1855.  Mr. Lincoln was an animal lover, and Fido, a mustard colored mutt, often accompanied him as he went around Springfield.  When they went to the market Fido would bear a basket in his mouth.  The dog could be seen waiting patiently outside of the barber shop while Lincoln’s hair was cut.  Fido was an inside dog, and seemed to think that a horse hair sofa in the house was his own personal domain.

Lincoln hated to part with Fido, but the dog was terrified both of cannon fire and trains, and he decided that Fido would have a hard time dealing with the train trip to Washington.  Fido was placed in the care of John Roll and his family.  Roll was a carpenter friend of Lincoln’s who had helped Lincoln remodel his house.  He had two young sons for Fido to play with.  The Rolls were asked never to scold Fido for coming into the house with muddy paws, to never tie Fido up in their yard alone, and to allow him into the house when he scratched on the door.  The Lincolns gave the Rolls their horse hair sofa so that Fido would feel more at home.  Shortly before they left Springfield, the Lincolns had a photo taken of Fido,  an image of which is at the top of this post.

The Lincolns received a report on Fido from Rolls on December 27, 1863.  “Tell Taddy that his (and Willys) Dog is alive and Kicking doing well he stays mostly at John E. Rolls with his Boys who are about the size now that Tad & Willy were when they left for Washington.”

After Lincoln’s funeral the Rolls brought Fido to the Lincoln home and he greeted mourners there.  Sadly, Fido did not escape the streak of tragedy that beset the Lincoln family, and he was killed by a drunk man just a few months after Lincoln’s death.

John Roll wrote about the tragic incident:

“We possessed the dog for a number of years when one day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing who in his drunken rage; thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. He was buried by loving hands. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog met the fate of his illustrious master – Assassination.”

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  1. Thanks, Donald, for this anecdote. I thought I knew a lot about America’s greatest president but this was a wonderful revelation. As a dog lover, I was touched by the poignancy of this story.

  2. Eventually, Don will have to write about Lincoln’s doctor, or maybe “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” (a title publisher Bennet Cerf once said would be a guaranteed best seller since books about Lincoln, medical science, and dogs always sold well).

  3. Actually Elaine, I probably will write about some of the doctors who examined Lincoln over the years. Lincoln’s health has been subject to more speculation over the years than any other President and there is a large body of work, much of it based on fairly shaky foundations in my opinion, on the subject.

  4. It’s funny the mental associations people make. I read this thinking, of course Lincoln was a dog person. Only a dog person has the proper understanding of equality to free the slaves. A cat person would never have freed them, because cat people are bound up in heirarchies.

    Do you know if Fido was a popular dog name before Lincoln? I’ve always wondered where it came from.

  5. “Only a dog person has the proper understanding of equality to free the slaves.”

    I believe Lincoln did also like cats and had some as pets also (Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln biography mentions this). In fact he was known for being compassionate to animals in general. However, the story of his granting the first ever Presidential Thanksgiving turkey pardon appears to be merely legend.

    If I had to guess I’d think that cat people would be MORE likely to favor equality and free the slaves, because cats have an independent streak that does not appeal to those who prefer their pets or companions to be subservient.

  6. “because cats have an independent streak”

    As in “I’ll ignore this silly human servant until I really need something!” Every dog thinks his owner is Napoleon. Every cat knows that he or she is Napoleon! 🙂

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