FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

“He says that by accident he has recently been placed in possession of such facts as are conclusive.

“It is recommended that he be informed that the matter is of no importance to the War Department.

(Signed) O. NORMAN LIBBER, “Judge Advocate General.”

“Received back War Department January 22d, 1898.

(294) “Assistant Secretary.”

(L. S. S.)

Third endorsement:

“War Department.

“January 25th, 1898. “Respectfully returned to Mr. F. L. Bates, No. 272 Second street, Memphis, Tenn., inviting attention to the foregoing report of the Judge Advocate General of the Army.

(Signed) “G. D. MICKLEJOHN, “Acting Secretary of War.”

In view of the fact that the War Department would take no action upon the information furnished of the then living Booth, on January 19th, January 21st and January 25th, 1898, notwithstanding that the officials of the War Department were fully advised that there was no positive or direct proof on file with the government as to the death of John Wilkes Booth, as is fully shown by the letter of John P. Simonton, of the War Department, of date May 11th, 1898, almost five months later, I ask then why should these officials refuse to investigate the proof of these facts when offered? It must, there­fore, follow that the officials, having only circum­stantial proof of the death of Booth, did not want and refused to consider proof of the fact that Booth still lived, and went so far as to say that it was a matter of no importance to the War Depart­ment to establish the truth that Booth was not killed, as supposed, or that he was still alive.

Does such a declaration, coming as an official find­ing of the War Department, assist in and perpetuate the escape of Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln f For to officially find that it was a matter of no importance to ascertain whether Booth still lived and was at large when proof was offered to this end was to officially find that John Wilkes Booth should go at large so far as these officials were concerned, notwithstanding the great crime that Booth had committed and its national significance, demanding national reparation.

These officers will not be heard to explain by say­ing that they did not regard the tender of proof of sufficient importance to justify an investigation. For if it did not justify an official investigation to learn the truth of the statement made it did not justify a finding that it was a matter of no importance to the government whether Booth in fact lived or was dead, which is the logical and unmistakable finding of the War Department, and this finding by these officials in view of the following order, which is yet valid and subsisting, is remarkable to a degree unexplainable:

“War Department, “Washington, D. C.

April 20th, 1865.


“The murderer of our late beloved President, Abraham Lincoln, is still at large. Fifty thousand dollars’ reward will be paid by this department for his apprehension. In addition to reward offered by municipal authorities or State executives, liberal re­wards will be paid for any information that shall conduce to the arrest of either Booth or his accom­plices.

“All persons harboring or secreting the said per­sons, or either of them, or aiding or assisting their concealment or escape, will be treated as accom­plices in the murder of the President, and shall be held to trial before a military commission and the punishment of death.

“Let the stain of innocent blood be removed from the land by the arrest and punishment of the mur­derers. All good citizens are exhorted to aid public justice on this account; every man should consider his own conscience charged with this solemn duty, and rest neither night nor day until it is accom­plished.

(Signed) “EDWIN M. STANTON, “Secretary of War.”

The above order constituted then and constitutes now the national law of the United States re­specting the subject of which it treats, and is today and at all times prior to the present day, since its promulgation in 1865, a part of the records of the War Department, the mandates and knowledge of which is chargeable to the officials of the War De­partment.

G. Norman Lieber, Judge Advocate General of the Army, and Acting Secretary of War Micklejohn, are chargeable with notice and held responsible for its execution; and if, in view of this knowledge, the finding of Micklejohn, Secretary of War, on the 25th day of January, 1898, rescinds the order of Secretary Stanton of April 20th, 1865, it sets free, so far as the War Department could, the assassin of President Lincoln.

It stands as a matter of history that at about the hour of four o’clock in the afternoon of April 14th, 1865, General C. C. Augur ordered the guards called in from the protection of the life of President Lin­coln, then known to be threatened and in imminent danger, as stated by General Dana, and that at ten minutes past ten o’clock that same evening the Pres­ident was assassinated, and at thirty minutes past ten, twenty minutes later, the Federal guards, still on duty, opened the gates for Booth, the assassin, to pass out over the East Potomac bridge. So that within six hours after the order of Gen. Augur the President had been shot and the criminal had es­caped through the Federal lines, his escape having been made possible by the order of Gen. Augur, whether designedly or not the result was the same, and on the 25th day of January, 1898, thirty-three years later, the officials of the War Department find that proof of the fact that John Wilkes Booth lived and was still at large was of no importance to their department, nor to the Department of Justice of the United States—otherwise proper reference would have been made, and the Department of Justice offi­cially notified instead of finding against an investi­gation of the facts submitted.

Does this finding against an investigation of the facts offered, proof of the truth that Booth was not captured and killed—make void the order of Secretary Stanton on April 20th, 1865 f If not, then is the Acting Secretary of War, as well as the Judge Advocate General, under the provisions of this order, guilty of assisting, by concealment, the escape of John Wilkes Booth. }

But, if the finding of January 25th, 1898, of the War Department is a revocation of the order of the )War Department of April 20th, 1865, does such acts of these officials make them accessories after the fact, as at common law!

These charges, though grave, are justified by the solemn records which I hold as physical evidence of the charges made, and I appeal to the American peo­ple for a verdict on the issues thus joined as an expiation for the murder of Abraham Lincoln, whose death is yet unavenged!

Not being satisfied with the disposition of this mat­ter by the War Department. I turned to the State Department, addressing a latter to Secretary John Hay, stating in substance the facts which I had sub­mitted to the War Department, and received the fol­lowing letter in reply:

“Department of State, “Washington, D. C.

April 27th, 1900.

“F. L. Bates.

“Dear Sir—The Secretary of State requests me to acknowledge receipt of your favor of the 24th of April and to thank you for it.

Very respectfully, (Signed) “B. J. BABCOCK, “Private Secretary.”

This closed my efforts at presenting the matter of Booth’s discovery to the government of the United States. And at last of whpt interest was the matter to Secretary of State John Hay, the pride of the American people—the world’s greatest diplo­mat

In this connection, however, it will be of interest to note what Secretary Hay, in January, 1890, had to say relative to John Wilkes Booth and his escape: “Both was a young man of twenty-six, strikingly handsome, with a pale olive face, dark eyes, and that ease and grace of manner which came to him by right from his theatrical ancestry. (How strik­ingly like St. Helen.) Booth in his flight gained the Navy Yard bridge (East Potomac bridge) in a few minutes, and was allowed to pass the guards, and shortly afterward Herold came on the bridge and was allowed to pass; a moment later the owner of the horse which Herold rode came up in pursuit of his animal, and he, the only honest man of the three, was turned back by the guards.

“If Booth had been in health there is no reason why he should not have remained at large a long While. He might even have made his escape to some foreign country, though sooner or later a crime so prodigious will generally find its perpetrator out. But it is easy to hide among sympathizing people; many a Union soldier escaping from prison has walked hundreds of miles through the enemy’s coun­try, relying implicitly upon the friendship of the negroes. Booth, from the time he crossed the Navy Yard (East Potomac) bridge, received the assistance of a large number of men. With such devoted assist­ance Booth might have wandered a long way, but there was no final escape save suicide for an as­sassin.”

These comments on the possibilities of Booth’s es­cape by one of the wise, if not in fact the wisest, diplomats known to the civilized world, challenges attention; in fact, was prophetic and (as subse­quent events disclosed), is paralleled only by the prophets of old.

Hay says, “from the nature of things Booth could have escaped, * * * but there was no final es­cape save suicide for the assassin.” Who will deny the correctness of his prophecy, since Booth did es» cape, remained in hiding thirty-eight years and did suicide f It was this power of foreseeing the possi­bility of coming events that made Secretary Hay the greatest of diplomats.



GEN. ALBERT PIKE. The Veteran Mason, Statesman/ Lawyer and Poet, as He Ap­peared at the Time of His Recognizing Booth at Fort Worth, Texas, in 1885.
GEN. ALBERT PIKE. The Veteran Mason, Statesman/ Lawyer and Poet, as He Appeared at the Time of His Recognizing Booth at Fort Worth, Texas, in 1885.

While trying to trace Booth after he left Fresno, California, I read a story from CoL Edward Levan, of Monterey, Mexico. He says that a man whom he believed to be Booth roomed with him during the winter of 1868, in Lexington, Kentucky. The two became quite friendly, and Col. Levan openly de­clared to the man, who was going by the name of J. J. Marr, that he believed him to be John Wilkes Booth. Mr. Marr did not deny the allegation, but shortly thereafter left Lexington, where he was “playing the character of a lawyer.”

Col. Levan says that he afterward learned that Mr. Marr had settled at Village Mills, Texas, and from there went to Glenrose Mills, Texas, at which place I first met John St. Helen, and where he de­clared himself to be John Wilkes Booth.

Col. M. W. Connolly, a distinguished newspaper man, at present and for many years past connected with the leading papers as editor-in-chief, a gentle­man of the highest type, a brilliant writer and a man of honor and integrity, says:

“I am strongly inclined to believe that David E. George, who died at Enid, Oklahoma Territory, was John Wilkes Booth, the man who killed Lincoln.

“In 1883, while in the little town of Village Mills, Texas, I met George, although I never knew his name, and cannot say whether he went under that name or not. He impressed me. I had seen Edwin Booth once in Galveston, and had some knowledge of the appearance of the Booth family. Later I went to Fort Worth as editor of the Gazette, under the late Walter Malone. I had forgotten all about my casual acquaintance of Village Mills.

“One night I was in the Pickwick Hotel barroom talking to Gen. Albert Pike, who had come down from Washington on legal business. I had called on him to inquire about a claim against the government in which he was interested—the claim of the heirs of my wife’s grandfather, Major Michie, of La-Grange, Tennessee, whose cotton and cotton gins were burned by the Federal troops when Grant was at LaGrange. Capt. Day, of Day & Maas, proprie­tors, was behind the bar. It was in 1884 or 1885, and we were unconventional then.

“Tom Powell, mayor of Port Worth, joined us, and Temple Houston, youngest son of the ex-Governor of Tennessee, the man who whipped Santa Anna at San Jacinto, and the first president of the Texas republic (Gen Sam Houston), was there. I was about to leave, was waiting for a pause in order to excuse myself; Gen. Pike was explaining how he had been credited with the authorship of ‘The Old Canoe,’ which he said was written by some woman; just then my Village Mills friend came in accom­panied by some one, I think Long Scurlock, who used to edit the Chronicle at Cleburne, Texas. Capt. Day turned to make a change. I was watching Gen. Pike closely (trying to get away), when suddenly he threw up his hands, his face white as his hair and beard, and exclaimed:

“‘My God! John Wilkes Booth!’ He was much excited, trembled like an aspen, and at my sugges­tion went to his room. He seemed weakened by the shock, the occasion of which I could not realize at the moment. I saw him climb the stairs to his room and turned to look for my Village Mills acquaint* ance, but could not find him.

“While talking to Temple Houston the next morn­ing I pointed out my Village Mills friend when I was called to (Gen. Pike, who was standing on the opposite side of the street, and Temple Houston promised me that he would look the man up and get a story. I have heard that the alleged Booth, the man whom I had met, moved to the Territory later, but I took no newspaper interest in the matter.

“I never saw J. Wilkes Booth, but I have seen his pictures, and while I am in no way certain, I am strongly of the belief that the man who died at Enid was John Wilkes Booth. I am quite sure that the venerable author of ‘Every Year* believed it was the infatuated actor, and I am sure that he was amazed to find that his bewailment, ‘There are fewer to regret us,’ did not include the man who took a leading part in our great national tragedy.”

It is of interest in this connection to state that Port Worth, Texas, is only about forty-fives miles to the northeast of Grandberry, Texas, my old home and St. Helen’s. It was from this place, in 1878, that he drifted to Leadville, Colorado, and from thence to Fresno, California, and was next seen—in 1884 or 1885—at Fort,Worth, Texas, near his old home, by Gen. Albert Pike, in company with M. W. Connolly, and by Gen. Pike recognized as John Wilkes Booth.

The man supposed to be Booth was seen by others, before he settled at Glenrose Mills, for Dr. H. W. Gay says:

“I knew John Wilkes Booth in 1857, and while I was at Fort Donaldson, a prisoner of war, the news was flashed over the world that President Lincoln had been slain by John Wilkes Booth. I was horri­fied to think of such a thing, for Booth, though a boy when I knew him, in appearance was the most accomplished gentleman with whom I had ever come in contact. All who knew him well were captivated by him. He was the most hospitable, genial fellow to be met, and when drinking or much in company,, he was always quoting Shakespeare, or some other poet. How many times have I seen him strike a. tragic attitude and exclaim:

” ‘The aspiring youth who fires the Ephesians dome Outlives in fame the pious fools who reared it.’ “I read of his capture and death and never doubted it until the year 1869. I was then living in what is now Tate county, Mississippi. One evening about dusk a man came to my house claiming that he was one of the Ku-Klux Clan run out of Arkansas by Clayton’s militia (the Clayton referred to being Powell Clayton, until recently Ambassador to Mex­ico).

“I soon recognized this man as an erratic fellow. During his stay at my house he told me that John Wilkes Booth was not killed, but made his escape and spent a short while in Mexico with Maximilian’s army, but got into trouble, and his life was saved by reason of the fact that he was a Catholic. The man also stated that during Booth’s short stay in Mexico he had lived in disguise as an itinerant Cath­olic priest. He also told me the story of how Booth had escaped after the assassination was done, and it corresponded exactly with Mr. Bates’ story as told by John St. Helen, even to the crossing of the Mis­sissippi river at Catfish Point and going thence up the Arkansas river to Indian Territory. And that Booth afterward met Junius Brutus Booth and his mother in San Francisco.”

This meeting was possibly arranged while John Wilkes Booth was in the Indian Territory, and may explain in some measure his employment to drive a team from Nebraska City, Nebraska, to Salt Lake, Utah, for Mr. L. Treadkel, in 1866 or 1867, and his unceremonious desertion of duty before reaching Salt Lake City.

So we have Booth, or St. Helen, meeting his oldest brother, Junius Brutus Booth, at San Francisco in 1866 or 1867. Again we locate him in Lexington, Kentucky, in company with Col. Levan, in 1868 or 1869, and seen by Dr. Gay in Tate county, Mississip­pi, in 1869. In 1872 I met and knew him intimately at Glenrose Mills, Texas. In 1883 Mr. Connolly saw him at Village Mills, Texas, and again in 1884 or 1885 at Fort Worth, Texas, where he was recog­nized by Gen. Albert Pike.

At Fort Worth we lost sight of Booth for a num­ber of years, but it seems from the best obtainable information that he drifted into the vicinity of Guth­rie, Oklahoma Territory, but was located at Henessy, Oklahoma Territory, in the year 1896, play­ing the role of a gentleman of leisure, under the name of George D. Ryan, where he remained until some time in the year 1899, when he located at El Reno, Oklahoma Territory, sixty-five miles south of Hennessy, stopping at the Anstein hotel, where he was domiciled in 1898 when I took up the matter with the government authorities at Washington.

On moving to El Reno, in 1899, Booth made de­posits of money, opening an account with the State bank of that place, under the name of David E. George. Assuming the character of a journeyman house painter he took a contract and painted a small cottage for Mr. Anstien, the proprietor of the An­stein hotel, and advertised himself as David E. George, house painter, in the Daily Democrat, a newspaper published at El Beno, but took no jobs of painting after that first one for Mr. Anstien, and did no other work in this nor any other business at El Beno.

At the El Beno State bank, where Booth made his deposits as David E. George, the tintype picture of St. Helen (Booth), taken twelve years after the as­sassination of President Lincoln, was at once identi­fied by the officials of the bank as being a true like­ness of the man David E. George, who made the de­posits at their bank and with whom they were per­sonally acquainted. At the request of Mr. Bellamy, one of the bank officials, I went with him to another bank, the name of which I do not now remember, and was introduced to the president of this bank, whose name I believe was Dr. Davis, who at once identified the tintype picture of St. Helen as a true and correct likeness of David E. George.

After remaining at the Anstien Hotel for quite a long while David E. George (Booth) bought a cot­tage at El Beno, paying thirty-five hundred dollars for it, where he installed a family by the name of Simmons, who were to board him for the rent of the place. He told the Anstiens that he was tired of hotel life and requested them to look for a wife for him, saying in a joking way that he would pay hand­somely for one well suiting his fancy, who would be willing to take charge of his cottage home.

Mrs. Simmons also took to board with her the Methodist minister and his wife, the Rev. and Mrs-Harper. Mr. Harper is a man of means and follows the ministry as a matter of choice and not as a means of livelihood, and his wife is a lady of great refine­ment and culture, occupying in church and social circles a high position. Being thrown much together in the ordinary course of everyday life at the cottage Mrs. Harper as well as the members of the Simmons family grew to be on intimate terms with George (Booth), who fell ill with his chronic asthmatic af­fliction, from which he suffered a great deal, and was removed from his cottage home to the Kerfoot Hotel. Mrs. Harper, Mrs. Simmons and other kind-hearted ladies of the city visited George (Booth) r who by right of birth and breeding moved in the so­cial circle to which he was born, regardless of his advertisement in the Democrat as a house painter, performing for him such ministries as were neces­sary.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply