Wednesday, March 27, 2013

John Wilkes Booth Mystery

I remember as a kid in Enid hearing the story that John Wilkes Booth died in Enid. Just recently I ran across this tidbit from the book "Jessie James Was One Of His Names".
( pages 137 - 138 ):

"In a sworn statement at Zephyrhills, Florida, on October 1, 1950, William S. ( Wild Bill ) Lincoln said, 'While trying for years on my own to run down the John Wilkes Booth mystery, I landed right in the middle of the Jesse Woodson James mystery without half trying.'
In the spring of 1903 ... McDaniel said ... 'The end is coming for that scoundrel, John Wilkes Booth.... I've spared that rascal's life many times. The Golden Circle just had a meeting down in Texas, and we voted to execute Booth.... We know he's registered at the Grand Avenue Hotel in Enid [ Oklahoma ] tonight under the name of James St. George.'"
( page 139 ):

"A half block from the Grand Avenue Hotel that night a young Indian boy was selling lemons from a small basket.The Colonel stopped and said to Wild Bill, 'Have this kid make you about a quart of lemonade, pronto, while I duck into this drug store.' Four Golden Circle agents sat in the lobby while the other three joined the two agents already surrounding the hotel - just in case Booth made a run for it. 'Mr. St. George expects us,' the Colonel told the desk clerk and he started up the steps, followed closely by Wild Bill with a jar of lemon juice. The door was unlocked and the two men could see the shape of a man lying on the bed."
( page 140 ):

"'... Being a hot night, Mr. Booth, we brought you something cool to drink. Now, Wild Bill, you talk to Mr. Booth while I fix up his drink.' Jesse went over to the wash stand with the jar of lemonade. Hastily, he pulled two bottles from his pocket and poured pure arsenic into the jar. Then he stirred the mixture with a table fork. He poured the loaded lemonade into a glass.
Approaching the bed, Jesse said, 'Now, Mr. Booth, I think you've had enough alcohol for tonight. This lemonade will really fix you up. I personally guarantee it.' ... Booth gasped, went into almost a stage fall, but hit the floor with a thud. Jesse James bent over and felt his heart. 'Deader than a mackerel,' he said. 'Wild Bill, stay here. I'm sending up the four agents in the lobby to go through Booth's luggage. I'll be back in a few minutes.'
( page 141 ):

" ... The six men were amazed at the records Booth had kept through the years. After they had finished sorting it, Jesse said, 'You know, men, I'm just glad Booth didn't put all this in that crazy book his lawyer wrote - he could have put a noose around all of our necks!'
Colonel James then directed his men to plant just enough evidence around the room so that the U. S. Marshals could identify the dead man as John Wilkes Booth. Then they took the trunk and departed.... Late that afternoon from Guthrie, Jesse had an agent send a telegram to the U. S. Marshal's office telling them John Wilkes Booth was dead and where his body could be found."
( pages 141 - 142 ):

" ... Three days later, Jesse, accompanied by Wild Bill and two agents, went back to Enid.... The clerk said, 'Whole bunch of lawmen were here yesterday morning up there in Mr. St. George's room, but his body is still there in the bed. It's starting to turn black-like and is tough as leather.' 'Don't worry, son,' Jesse said, 'we're relatives and we've come to claim his body.'
... Carting the body of Booth back to Guthrie, Jesse looked up a doctor friend and asked him for a diagnosis.'It would appear that this man swallowed so much poison, probably arsenic, that he is permanently preserved. He's like a damn Egyptian mummy!' Through a friendly town marshal, Jesse learned that the federal men had checked out John Wilkes Booth's body and papers in Enid and reported some transient posing as Booth had committed suicide. The report listed the dead man's name as James St. George.
Wild Bill wrote years later, 'Was the Booth case still too hot to touch in 1903? I'm sure Dr. Samuel Mudd along with others would have been vindicated, and it would have exposed the earler ill-conceived, hysterical investigation, but the U. S. Marshals just turned their backs on the case. Maybe the U. S. government by 1903 had uncovered the real facts in the Booth case and was too ashamed to admit the big blunders made by the government in 1865.' Under Jesse James' direction, the leathery, mummified body of John Wilkes Booth was put in a special coffin and several of his men took it on an exhibition tour all over the United States. Jesse James III reports the Booth body was owned by a Glencoe, Minnesota, jeweler named Jay Gould, a relative of the financier, who had it stored. 'This was in 1955 and I believe Gould has passed away. What happened to the body? Who knows? Perhaps John Wilkes Booth, hated by both the North and the South, is destined to lie forever unburied and unwanted.'"
SO, I started doing a little research and came up with the following newspaper reports:
The Houston Daily Post. (Houston, Tex.) 1886-1903, January 18, 1903

Claimed to Be John Wilkes Booth—Took Poison

Guthrie, 0. T., January 17—George an old man, reputed to be wealthy, committed suicide at Enid, O. T., by taking poison. He owned land in Indian Territory and Oklahoma and at Dallas, Texas, Before his death he declared that he was John Wilkes Booth.
The Paducah Sun. (Paducah, Ky.) 1898-1906, January 22, 1903

Old Man Claiming to be John Wilkes Booth Unidentified

Man Supposed To Havo Killed Booth Is Summoned to View the Remains

St Louis, Jan. 22.—A telegram to the Globe-Democrat from Guthrie, Ok., says:
It is announced here that Boston Corbett the man who was supposed to have shot and killed John Wilkes Booth in a burning Virginia barn after the assasinatlon of President Lincoln, has been summoned from Old Mexico to identify, if possible the remains of D. E. George, the man who committed suicide at Enid, Okla. and announced just prior to his death that he was John Wilkes Booth. It is also stated that secret service men have been summoned from Washington, D.C., for the same purpose and the remains are being held in the morgue pending identification One thing of Interest connected with the above is the fact that Corbett is alleged to be a fugitive from justice having escaped from an asylum in Kansas. George E Smith who came from Colfax, Ia., left for home Monday without making any disposition of the remains. He visited both Enid and El Reno in looking into the property interests left by the suicide. Relative to George being Booth Smith stated he was in possession of no secrets and knew only of Georges own statement in that matter. Smith said:
"He may have been Booth. He was a man of wide experience. I knew him about two years and can say he was an extensively traveled man, unusually well informed. He confided his life secrets to me only to a small extent. He had a pact and told of having killed a man in Texas for which crime I think he was acquitted."
The St. Louis Republic. (St. Louis, Mo.) 1888-1919, January 22, 1903

Oklahoma Man Who Knew D. E. George Tells Story of His Life.

Oklahoma City. Ok., Jan. 21—C. M. Clark of Oklahoma City stated to-day that D. E. George, who committed suicide at Enid and left a note to the effect that he was John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, had no connection with the death of Lincoln.
George was born in Mississippi In 1636 and served as a Major on Bedford Forrest's staff In the Confederate Army. George fought three duels and was wounded many times. After the war, it is said, he killed "Ben" Thompson in a. theater at San Antonio. Tex., and was acquitted. Thompson was a noted Texas "man killer." The killing in the Texas theater probably led up to the Booth story.
The Paducah Sun. (Paducah, Ky.) 1898-1906, June 04, 1903

One of the Pall Bearers Tells a Sensational Story

Says the Body Buried as John Wilkes Booth Was Not That of Booth

The recent dispatches slating that a man who committed suicide at Enid, I. T., in January has been identified as John Wilkes Booth, president Lincolns slayer, has revived interest in the somewhat hackneyed mystory of the actors tragic fate. It has been claimed for many years from time to time that Booth was really never shot, captured or killed and sensational stories have flourished for a time and then been exploded as myths. This last one may share the fate of its predecessors, but following it comes the following story from Baltimore, Md.,:
Basil Moxley, the veteran doorkeeper at Fords opera house in this city and the sole survivor of the pallbearers who carried what is supposed to be Wilkes Booths remains to the tomb in Green Mount cemetery today made the surprising statement that it was only a mock funeral. The late John T. Ford, theatrical manager, Charles Bishop the comedian and Samuel Glenn wore the other pallbearers.
Mr Morley has preserved silence until this time non account of the Booth family. He now says: "I have never cared much about talking in regard to the truthfulness of the statement that John Wilkes Booth was buried in Green Mount cemetery for there has always been a certain amount of doubt existing as to whether or not the assassin of President Lincoln was ever captured killed or even shot. But in order that I might clear up at least one supposition I'll tell you positively that his body is not and never was buried in this city to my knowledge. Certainly the body buried in Green Mount was not that of Booth.
"Never were any two things in this world which resembled each other less than that body did John Wilkes Booth. I had known Booth all my life and was a very close to the family which I think Is shown by the fact that they asked me to act as pallbearer at the funeral of the dead man whom they had been led to believe was that of their relative. I saw the body several times and examined it The hair on the dead body was of a reddish brown color, while Booths was black."
Mosley says further:
"However that mere detail made no difference for we all knew at the time that the body was not that of John Wilkes Booth and my examination was only prompted by curiosity alone not that I believed for one minute that the body was that of the assassin. You see the whole affair was planned by friends of the family and was done for purpose which they deemed imperative. Mrs Booth, the mother of John Wilkes Booth, was naturally nearly prostrated with grief at her sons action and the stories of his horrible death in the barn and latter the report that the government had taken charge of his body only acted as a vehicle to a general breaking down of her system and for a time it seemed as though she would not survive that shock."
"Then in order that the affair might become a thing of the past as soon as possible some friends determined that it would be best to bring the body here and bury it in the family lot in Green Mount. Through these friends Mrs. Booth applied to the government for the body. This brought matters to a crisis, for I do not believe that John Wilkes Booth was ever killed in that barn and if any one was slain it was some innocent man who knew nothing of the real assassin."
"At any rate it was incumbent upon the government to furnish a body to make good their report that Booth bad been killed and they did so. What we got and what was sent here for the body of John Wilkes Booth is what I have already described to you a red haired man who looked no more like the tragedian than you do yourself."
"I am now the only one of the five left all of the others have died. I never will believe that Booth was killed and am confident that he escaped, but how I have never been able to make up my mind, or have I any positive knowledge that he did. Yet the one point that has always caused me to doubt the various stories of his death is that if he was killed why did not some one receive the immense reward offered for his capture dead or alive? You can search all records in Washington or Interview any officials then in office who are now alive and I will wager you will be unable to learn of any reward being paid for the delivery of John Wilkes Booths body to the government."
I also remember several rumors to the effect that Booth had been seen at the crossroads near Penmar and I have heard men say that they had drank with him in that locality, but I must say I believe those rumors were of the same material as those hatched out about his death and peculiar burials, the funniest of which is the one told by Captain E. W. Hllliad of Metropolis, Ill., to the effect that he helped to sink the body in the Potomac river."
Another incident bearing indirectly on the case is reported by a prominent Paducah man who was talking in the Palmer house last season to young Junius Booth, who is a nephew of John Wilkes Booth, and played here in a Mrs. LeMoyne's company several months ago. He declared to the Paducah man that John Wilkes Booth was never captured or killed, and if he was dead he died a natural death.
The National Tribune. (Washington, D.C.) 1877-1917, February 05, 1903

Capt Owen Ridicules the Story of the Oklahoma suicide
    Capt Silas Owen Deputy State Factory Inspector of New York, now residing at Buffalo, N. Y., ridicules the story of the Oklahoma suicide to the effect that he was Wilkes Booth. Capt Owen was Commander of the U. S. Ship Primrose the last year of the war and while in Washington met John Wilkes Booth several times. The last time was two weeks before the tragedy. He says"
    "The next time I saw him was in Fords Theater on the night he shot President Lincoln. I sat in seat D 179, right back of the orchestra, with William H Ford, the Executive Officer of the Primrose. I saw Mrs Lincoln stand up in the Presidents box and scream and saw Booth leap to the stage. This Oklahoma story says that the fellow who claimed to be Booth had a broken leg such as Booth sustained in that leap. Booth did not break his leg then. He only broke a tendon in his ankle. On his way across the stage Laura Keene stopped him and asked him, "What have you done?" For answer he slashed at her with his knife. I can hear the sleeve of her dress rip yet as the knife tore through it. I had a good look at him and recognized him as the man who addressed me less than two weeks before.
    "I saw him once again. This time he was lying on a tarpaulin on the deck of the Lehigh in the Washington Navy Yard. The Lehigh was in dry dock and the body was laid there. He was dead, dead as a door nail. One bullet had gone through his lungs and another broke his leg. I was allowed on board being a naval officer and being in the company of the Lieutenant of the Lehigh
    Booths body was buried in a cell under the old Arsenal on the point at Washington. A flagstone in the floor of the cell was raised and the body let down then the stone covered it. I learned this at the time from one of the three named officers who saw the body buried. Three Secret Service men were also in the secret with President Johnson, Secretary of War Stanton and the Attorney General. It stayed there until 1872 when it was removed by members of the Booth family.
The Paducah Sun. (Paducah, Ky.) 1898-1906, February 05, 1903

It May be John Wilkes Booth Was Not Killed After all

A Metropolis Man Recalls Incidents of the Mysterious Burial of Booth


    Since a man died out west claiming to be John Wilkes Booth many papers of the country have been speculating on the question whether or not Booth was ever really killed as is generally supposed
    The Metropolis Herald says:
    "Sundays St. Louis Post-Dispatch contained a startling article concerning a man by the name of D.E. George who recently committed suicide at Enid, Okla., and who just before his death confessed that he was John Wilkes Booth, the murderer of Abraham Lincoln. There was in many ways evidence tending to prove that the mans dying confession was true.
    "The article is of special interest to Metropolis people from the fact that Captain E. W. Hilliard, of this city, assisted in the final disposition of Booths body, or what was supposed to be Booths body.
    "To a representative of the Herald Captain E. W. Hilliard read the story and recalled carefully the time when he and five other soldiers took a body down the Potomac river and buried it beneath the waves with the impression that it was that of Booth, and he was quite forcibly impressed with it.
    "He says the whole affair of Booths capture and the disposition of his body was a peculiar circumstance and shrouded in mystery and while the body was positively identified by a military surgeon it is possible the body was that of some man resembling Booth which had been substituted for the purpose of quieting the country at the time when the authorities realized that they had failed to capture the right man
    "Captain Hilliard never saw Booth while alive but remembers that he saw what was said to have been an excellent likeness of the man and on the night that he assisted in disposing of the mysterious body he noted the fact that the resemblance was quite similar. However one side of the head and faoe wero badly burned
    "Mr, hilliard has a letter from Horace L. Trim of Providence, R. I., 59 Lydia street, corroborating his former story of disposition of the body which was published in the Herald during the soldiers reunion here in the fall of 1901. Trim was a first-class boy on the steamer Dragon at the time the body was unwrapped and examined that night and assisted in handling the tarpaulin.
    "The statement that the real Booth was never captured has been made more than once and now it seems quite plausible."
    A few years ago a well known man of Unionville, Ill., came to Paducah and told a number of his friends that be had received a latter from John Wilkes Booth who was an old school mate and tbat Booth was running a coffee plantation in BraziL. The story was repeated and copied into the big newspapers, and one or two of them sent staff correspondents to the old mans home across the river to interview him and take photographic copies of the letter.
    He never showed it to anyone however and subsequently declared it was only a joke but many such incidents as this and the one of the western man who recently died and claimed to be Booth have occurred since the war to arouse momentary interest.
The Houston Daily Post. (Houston, Tex.) 1886-1903, February 17, 1903

An Embalmers Story of a Recent Suicide in Oklahoma

    Corsicana, Texas, February 15, Jack L. Ogilvie, representing an embalming fluid company of Detroit, Mich., spnt yesterday in this place and told The Post representative a story of the old man who suicided in Oklahoma a few days ago, and who said he was John Wilkes Booth, the man who killed Lincoln.
    The old man took his life at Enid, O. K., on the last day of December, 1902, and Mr. Ogilvie was in Oklahoma at the time. He was given charge of the body and learned the story of the man. It seems that the old man, who seemed to be at least 70 years old, went to El Reno in November last. He was a cultured man and of sociable disposition and soon made many aquaintances. He dressed well, lived at the best hotel and seemed to have plenty of money. About December 23 he took an overdose of morphine with suicidal intent. Before doing so he sent for the wife of a prominent lawyer there with whom he was very friendly and told her he was Booth, but requested her to keep the secret until he was dead. Physicians were were summoned when it was found that he had taken the drug, and they countered the poison, and the old man recovered.
    A few days later the lawyer moved to Enid and the old man appeared there. He again took morphine and sent for the lady and to her presence he wrote:
    "I am John Wilkes Booth, the man who murdered Abraham Lincoln, the greatest man the country ever produced."
    After his death the lady told of his former confession to her and made a sworn statement to that effect.
    Before the man was buried an old schoolmate of Booth's, living in Memphis, Tenn., came to Enid to see the remains. Before looking at the body this man told the undertaker that Booth's body could be identified by three marks. One was sort of a wen on the right instep, two peculiar marks on the right arm, and a scar behind the left ear. The body was examined and these markes were there just as the memphis man had described them, and he was thoroughly satisfied that the body was that of his former schoolmate, John Wilkes Booth.
The copy of the above is hard to read and the word "wen" is the best I can make it out. I have no idea what it could be as a mark though.
New-York Tribune. (New York, N.Y.) 1866-1924, February 19, 1903
.............The sixty-nine acres comprised in the Washington barracks became a military post as far back as 1803, and a regular depot for military supplies located there was burned by the British in 1814. Under the old United States Penitentiary, located there, were buried John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, and Mrs. Surratt and the conspirators with him. who were hanged in the court Of the penitentiary at the same time. When the penitentiary was torn down, however, these bodies were removed to established cemeteries.
From Historia 13 July 1922

Legend tells that John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Pres. Abraham Lincoln, using the name David E. George, committed suicide in Enid, Oklahoma Territory, in 1903. Booth, a popular and talented southern actor, accomplished his task of assassination on April 14, 1865, and following his escape into Virginia, was shot by Sgt. Boston Corbett of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry. Conflicting stories still exist about the identification of Booth's body, and there were errors made in the identification process along with errors in supplying information to the public about the identification. Legend tells that Boston Corbett, the man who shot Booth against orders, was involved in identifying the body as Booth's; within a short time rumors began to circulate questioning the true identity of the corpse doubts and rumors that continue today among Lincoln/Booth scholars and enthusiasts.
At approximately 10:30 a.m. on January 13, 1903, in the Grand Avenue Hotel in Enid, the screaming of a guest who had occupied room number four for three or four weeks brought others to his side; David E. George was soon dead. A doctor diagnosed the cause of death as self-administered arsenic poisoning. Later it was told that the deceased had purchased strychnine that morning at a local drug store. The body was taken to Penniman's Furniture Store, also a funeral home. A coroner's jury soon heard stories about this strange, locally unknown man: he was a house painter who did not know how to paint, who always had access to money but died penniless, who frequented bars and loved alcohol, who often quoted Shakespeare, who knew no one but was known by many outside Enid, who was quoted as saying ". . . I killed the best man that ever lived."
After George was embalmed, he was placed in a chair in the window of the furniture store/funeral home so that the public could view him, and a photograph was taken. It was believed that he had a "remarkable likeness" to Booth and that his leg had been broken above the right ankle the same break that Booth had suffered in jumping from the Ford's Theater balcony. However, the doctor who had set Booth's leg reported it to be the left leg. Many Enid citizens believed that if George was Booth, the body should be burned. Just as public interest was beginning to fade, Finis L. Bates from Memphis, Tennessee, arrived in Enid. Bates identified the body as his old friend John St. Helen.
Bates had been a lawyer in Granbury, Texas, and claimed to have known St. Helen (George) as a client and friend in the early 1870s. After about five years of friendship St. Helen became seriously ill and believing that he was dying, confessed to Bates that he was Booth. He recovered and later gave a detailed account of his life, the assassination, and the escape, to Bates information that only Booth would know. However, some information that Bates later published about St. Helen was inconsistent with documented facts. Nevertheless, the body, which had been embalmed well enough for long-time preservation, was turned over to Bates, who then leased it to interested parties for specified time limits.
The George story created enough attention to have the body displayed during the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904; then the mummified cadaver was displayed in different places from time by time by different people, such as carnival sideshow promoters. Shipped by rail to California in 1920, the body was stolen after the train wrecked. Bates later recovered the remains and kept it until his death; his widow sold the mummy. It may today be stored in someone's basement or closet.
The Booth Legend has been perpetuated by articles in journals such as Harper's Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Literary Digest, and many others as well as in numerous newspapers throughout the years. As a young boy growing up in Enid, Henry B. Bass saw the body on display and became fascinated with the story. He became a Lincoln poetry collector as well as a major collector of Booth artifacts. He also became an authority on the actor and the legend about Booth, or George, having lived in Enid. Bass, a widely known and respected building contractor, is the man who discovered and reported the strange coincidence that Sgt. Boston Corbett is buried in Enid.