FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

Mr. Jefferson said: “John Wilkes Booth, was a little taller than his brother Edwin, possessed his in­tellectual and beautiful eyes, with great symmetry of features, and an especially fine forehead and curly, black hair.”

“He was as handsome as a Greek god,” says Mr. Edwin M. Delfind. Continuing further, he said: “It is saying a good deal, but he was a much hand­somer man than his brother Edwin. He possessed a voice much like his brother’s—melodious, sweet, full and strong, and was a consummate elocutionist. He was a great admirer of those Greek and Roman char­acters that are deemed exponents of popular lib­erty and heroic patriotism. In these he went al­most to radicalism. Of the Brutuses he was an es­pecial devotee, and I shall never forget his recita­tion of Brutus’ speech in “Julius Caesar,” of his de­fiance in his share of the asssassination, and with what force he rolled out those lines:

” ‘My ancestors did from the streets of Borne the tarquin drive.’

“He said that of all Shakespeare’s characters, ‘I like Brutus the best, excepting only Lear.’ There fa no doubt but that the study of these characters and meditation upon their deeds had much to do with shaping that mental condition which led to the murder of President Lincoln.

“I was talking with Edwin Booth at the Players one day and remarked to him: ‘Mr. Booth, there is an incident in the nation’s history to which I would like to allude.’ He promptly comprehended, and re. plied with flashing eyes and compressed lips, ‘You mean that affair at Washington. I could not ap­prove of what John Wilkes did, and would rather not discuss it. He is my brother.”

“As to the dramatic genius of John Wilkes Booth, I can speak with professional authority. It was of the highest order, and had he continued on the stage his fame and success would have equaled that of his father. The father I never saw, but nearly every great actor from Edwin Forrest down to the present day I have seen and heard, and with the exception of Forrest and that brilliant, erratic genius, Edwin Adams. John Wilkes Booth’s genius excelled them all.

“As I have said, he was a great admirer of Lear. I don’t think his genius would ever have made his rendering of the part equal to Forrest. Lear and Booth genius were not quite in harmony. He did not have the large physical proportions essential to the performance of Shakespeare’s snblimest charac­ters. Edwin Forrest did, and was the only Lear the stage has ever seen. But Booth was unequalled as Bichard III., and would have made the greatest Hamlet, Cassius, Othello, Macbeth, Cornelius and Charles Moore, as well as other similar parts.

“In plays like ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ he had achieved distinction. He acted in such parts with a brilliant dash and sweep that were irresistible to women. He was an imperious fascinator and women idolized him.

“Once in Philadelphia, when going over with Mr. Forrest his 1623d edition of Shakespeare, I expressed to him my admiration of his Lear. Forrest flushed and said: ‘Sir, I act Hamlet, but I am Lear.’ It is lamentable that through the insanity which led to the dark deed in Washington the genius of John Wilkes Booth was lost to the American stage. His star went out in the darkest night through a deed that cost the South its best friend, Abraham Lin­coln.”

Clara Morris, the emotional actress, now nearing the last scenes in the playhouse of Time, says of John Wilkes Booth: “In glancing back over two crowded and busy seasons one figure stands out with clearness and beauty. In this case, so far as my personal knowledge goes, there is nothing deroga­tory to dignity or manhood in being called ‘beauti­ful,’ for he was that bud of splendid promise blasted to the core before its full triumphant blooming, known to the world as a madman and an assassin, but to the profession as ‘that unhappy boy, John Wilkes Booth.’ He was so young, so bright, so kind.

“I could not have known him well? Of course, too, there are two or three different people in every man’s skin. Yet, when we remember that stars are not generally in the habit of showing their brightest, their best side, to the company at rehearsals, we can not help feeling both respect and liking for the one who does.

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CLARA MORRIS. As Sister Genevieve in “The Two Orphans.”

“There are not many men who can receive a gash over the eye in the scene at night without at least a momentary outburst of temper, but when the com­bat between Bichard and Bichmond was being re­hearsed, John Wilkes Booth had again and again urged McCullom—that six-foot tall and handsome man, who entrusted me with the care of his watch during such encounters, ‘To come on hard, come on hot, old fellow! Harder, faster!’ that he would take the chances of a blow if only they could make a hot fight of it. Mr. McCullom, who was a cold man at night, became nervous in his efforts to act like a fiery one. He forgot that he had struck the full xnumber of hard blows, and when Booth was expect­ing a thrust, McCullom, wielding his sword with both hands, brought it down with awful force fair across Booth’s forehead. A cry of horror rose, for in one moment his face was marked in blood, one eyebrow was clearly cut through. Then came simultaneously

exclamation of ‘Oh! Good God! Good God!’ from Bichmond (McCullom), who stood trembling like a leaf and staring at his work. Booth, flinging the blood from his eyes with his left hand, said as gently as a man could speak: ‘That is all right. That is all right, old man. Never mind me. Only come on hard, for God’s sake, and save the fight!’ which he resumed at once. And though he was perceptibly weakened it required the sharp order of Mr. Ellsler one deep groan to ring the first curtain bell to force him to bring the fight to a close, a single blow shorter than usual. And there was a running to and fro with ice and vinegar, and raw steak, and raw oysters, and when the doctor had placed a few stitches where they were most required Booth laughingly declared that there was provisions enough in the room to start a restaurant.

“McCullom came to try to apologize, to explain, but Booth would have none of it. He held out his hand, saying, ‘Why, old fellow, you look as if you had lost the blood—don’t worry—now, if my eye had gone, that would have been bad.’ And so, with light words he turned to set the unfortunate man at ease, and though he must have suffered much morti­fication as well as pain from the eye, he never made a sign showing it.

“John Wilkes Booth, like his next elder brother, was rather lacking in height, but his head and throat and the manner of their rising from his shoulders were truly beautiful. His coloring was unusual, the ivory pallor of his skin, the inky blackness of his dusky, thick, curly hair, the heavy lids of his glowing eyes, were all Oriental, and they gave a touch of mystery to his face when it fell into gravity, but there was generally a flash of white teeth behind his black, silky mustache.

“Now, it is scarcely exaggerating to say that the fair sex were in love with John Wilkes Booth, or John Booth, as he was called, the name Wilkes being Apparently unknown to his family and close friends. I played with John Wilkes, to my great joy, playing ‘Player Queen/ and in ‘The Marble Heart,’ I was one of the group of three statues in the first act, then a girl in my teens.

“With all my admiration for the person and the genius of John Wilkes Booth, his crime I can not condone. The killing of that homely, tender-hearted father, Abraham Lincoln, a rare combination of courage, justice and humanity, whose death at the hands of an actor will be a grief of horror and shame to the profession forever. And yet I cannot believe that John Wilkes Booth was the leader of a band of bloody conspirators.

“Who shall draw the line and say, ‘Here genius ends and madness begins?’ There was that touch of strangeness, in Edwin it was a profound melan­choly; in John it was an exaggeration of spirit, almost a madness. There was the natural vanity of the actor, too, who craves a dramatic selection in real life. There was also his passionate love and sympathy for the South, which was easier to be played on than a pipe.

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JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH, THE FIRST. Father of John Wilkes Booth, as Sir Giles Overreach- Showing the Famous Actor in One of his favorite Characters.

“Undoubtedly he conspired to kidnap the Presi­dent; that would appeal to him. But after that I truly believe he was a tool; certainly he was no leader. Those who led him knew his courage, his belief in fate, his loyalty to his friends, and because they knew these things he drew the lot, as it was meant he should from the first. Then, half mad, he accepted the part fate cast him for and committed the murderous crime.

‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.’

” ‘And God shutteth not up His mercies forever in displeasure.’ We can only shiver and turn our thoughts away from the bright light that went out in such utter darkness. Poor, guilty, unhappy John Wilkes Booth!”

These extensive quotations are made from the two veterans of the stage, Clara Morris and Edwin M. Delfind, the personal friends of John Wilkes Booth, whose long acquaintance and association with him enabled them to write these articles, showing the characteristics, personal appearance and ability of John Wilkes Booth, whom they so perfectly describe. And yet these descriptions, so true in detail, so per­fectly describe John St. Helen, the mysterious gen­tleman of the plains, who so persistently maintained to me that he was John Wilkes Booth, of whom they had never heard, and that too, thirty-eight years after they are presumed to know that John Wilkes Booth is dead. This is wonderful and unanswer­able proof that the John St. Helen whom I knew was actually the John Wilkes Booth whom they knew and describe, as he claimed to be.

In this connection it is of interest to know some­thing more of John Wilkes Booth’s father, the fa­mous actor, Junius Brutus Booth, Sr., who came to the United States from England, and followed the profession in this country with such success that for all time links the name of Booth with the American stage.

Booth, the elder, acted because he loved to act, and was fanner because he loved to farm; which of the two he liked best seemed always a matter of doubt to himself and naturally became so with others. He was eminently successful in both farming and acting, his great reputation as an actor being made after he came to America, where he stood pre-eminently at the head of his profession. He was a well-read man, with a remarkable talent for showing it. Per­sonally he was dark, had strong eyes, a fine mouth and a positive manner. He was a kindly man and lived up to the customs of his time and profession, maintaining all conventional distinctions. Mr. Booth’s Baltimore residence was in Exeter street, and his farm was in Belair, about fourteen miles from Baltimore. His professional habits were not unlike those of the late Joseph Jefferson; he played when he felt like it, and when he was not acting he was farming, while he farmed throughout all his engagements in the city of Baltimore.

Be it said to the lasting credit of Mr. Booth that his opinion of himself was much inferior to that entertained of him by others, who thought him preeminently the greatest actor of his time* and he has not been equalled by any one since his day.

The likeness of John Wilkes Booth to his father is striking at the age of twenty-seven. But note the more striking resemblance of John Wilkes Booth to his father where he reaches the age of thirty* eight years. This picture is a reproduction of the little tintype picture taken of John St. Helen (John Wilkes Booth) twelve years after the assassination of President Lincoln and Booth’s reported capture and death.



Being convinced that John St. Helen was actually John Wilkes Booth, I determined to locate him, and with this purpose in view I addressed a letter to a personal friend, a lawyer, at Grandberry, Texas, re­ceiving this reply:

“Grandberry, Texas, September 21st, 1898. “N. L. Cooper & Sons, Attorneys at Law. P. L. Bates:—

“Dear Sir and Friend—I have made many in­quiries about the latter end of St. Helen, if he should have crossed the Jordan, but can make but little discovery. L. B. McClannahan, who was in partnership with A. P. Gordon, in the whiskey busi­ness, on the south side of the square, now lives at Bluffdale, eighteen miles southwest from here, on the railroad in Erath county, may know something of St. Helen; also William Farmwalt, whose address is Maryfa, Presideo county, Texas, and G. W. Calvin, Kerrville, Texas.

“It might be that John H. Traylor, formerly of this place, whom you knew, and now mayor of Dal­las, Texas, might known something of his where­abouts. I will continue to inquire of any one whom I shall meet that might know of him. Capt. J. J. Parr, whom you remember, now lives at Glenrose Mills, Texas, twenty miles south of this place, and may know something of him. I will see him soon and will then make inquiry.

“Many thanks for your appreciation of myself and family. With high regards for you and yours, I am ever your friend,

(Signed) “N. L. COOPEB.”

The result of this investigation located St. Helen at Leadville, Colorado, in October, 1879. From Lead-ville I traced him to Fresno, California, where he seems merely to have passed through the town.

In the meantime I also sought to investigate the men who had aided Booth to escape and to locate, as far as possible, their identity. With this end in view I addressed a letter to a law firm in Freder­icksburg, Virginia, which elicited the following re­ply:

Law Office of

“John L. Marye and St. George E. Fitzhugh.

“Fredericksburg, Virginia, October 5th, 1898. “F. L. Bates, Memphis, Tenn.

“Dear Sir—Your favor received. Major or Lieu­tenant M. B. Buggies is with Arnold, Caeslable & Co., New York City. Major Edward S. Buggies, the brother of M. B. Buggies, is a farmer in King George county, Virginia. Gen. Daniel Buggies, the father of the three gentlemen, died here about a year ago, and his widow is living here now. Very truly yours, etc.,


“Alexandria, Virginia,-, 1898.

“Capt. Jett was well known and acquainted in Carlin county, Virginia. He was a near relative of mine, with whom I was on the most intimate terms. He went to Baltimore a year after the assassination of President Lincoln, engaged in the business of traveling constantly in Virginia, and married the daughter of a prominent physician of Baltimore. No one blamed him for piloting the Federal Cavalry to where he had left Booth, or criticised him for his efforts to assist Booth in his escape. Sixteen years after he settled in Baltimore he was attacked with paresis, and died at the hospital of Williamsburg, Virginia, repsected by all who knew him.

(Signed.) “JOHN L. MABYE.”

Lieut. A. B. Bainbridge, after the close of the war, went to New York City and entered business. Jett, Bainbridge and Buggies were the members of Mos-by’s Confederate command who met Booth and Har­old at the Bappahannock ferry, and described Booth as wearing at this time a black slouch hat, well pulled down on his forehead, the lame foot was en­tirely free from covering except a black sock. The crutch or stick which he carried was rough and un­gainly. They further say, speaking of the following afternooon: “After we had crossed Booth to the Garrett farm we saw the Federal troops across the Bappahannock river, and we (Buggies and Bain­bridge) were pursued by them, when we fled straight to the Garrett farm and notified Booth to leave, di­recting him to go into the wooded ravine, which we pointed out to him, over and beyond the Garrett farm, for which place he left at once, carrying a heavy stick in his hand to support his lame leg.”

Through inquiry of a person now in Washington City, whose name it would be an abuse of confidence to disclose, I learned that there was a large family of people by the name of Buddy living within the immediate neighborhood of Samuel Cox, on the Potomac river, where Booth was secreted, so that I take it the man killed at the Garrett farm was “Buddy” and not “Boby,” as several of the men of the Buddy family answer the description Booth gave of the man who got his letters, pictures, check, etc.

The statements of these gentlemen, Jett, Buggies and Bainbridge, corroborate St. Helen’s story that he (Booth) was met by these gentlemen, Confeder­ate soldiers, at the Bappahannock ferry. Could this have been an incident f Surely it was prearranged. These gentlemen say: “We met Booth at the fer­ry,” but do not say by accident, a mere casualty and seemingly it was by appointment, at a stated time; they had arrived at the ferry in advance of Booth, as if to receive and protect him on his arrival.

Neither Booth nor Herold could have gone to ar­range this appointment. Booth was lame and Her­old did not know the country in that direction, so remained with Booth, who was suffering a great deal. There can be no well founded doubt but that Buddy went in advance and made this appointment as detailed to me by St. Helen (Booth).

After successfully locating St. Helen (Booth) at Leadville and later at Fresno, California, I was reasonably sure he still lived and could be located, and supposing it to be a matter of interest to the United States government, I addressed the following letter to the War Department:

Law Office of F. L. BATES, “297 Second Street,

“Memphis, Tenn., January 17th, 1898. “Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.

“Dear Sir—Would it be a matter of any import­ance to develop the fact to the War Department of the United States that John Wilkes Booth, the as­sassin of President Lincoln, was not captured and killed by the Federal troops, as is supposed

“By accident I have been placed in possession of such facts as are conclusive that John Wilkes Booth now lives, and have kept the matter from publica­tion until I have communicated with the War De­partment of this government. Very truly yours,

“F. L. BATES.”

In reply the following endorsements were made on this letter and returned to me, viz.:

First endorsement:

“Office of the Secretary of War Department.

“January 19th, 1898. (294) “Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 17th, 1898.

“F. L. Bates says that he is in possession of such facts as are conclusive that John Wilkes Booth was not captured and killed by the Federal troops, and asks if War Department would consider the matter of enough importance to develop that fact.


Second endorsement:

(3808) “War Department,

“Judge Advocate General’s Office, “Washington, D. C.

January 21st, 1898.

“Respectfully returned to the Secretary of War.

“This is a request by F. L. Bates, of Memphis, Tenn., for information as to whether it would be a matter, of importance to develop the fact to the War Department that John Wilkes Booth was not cap­tured and killed by the Federal troops.

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