FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

On ascertaining this state of facts, I sought St. Helen, with whom I had at this time only a casual acquaintance, and learned from him that he (St. Helen) was as a matter of fact doing business at Glenrose Mills, in the house formerly occupied by my client, the then merchant of Grandberry, who had been doing business at this stand, selling, among other articles of merchandise, tobacco and whiskey, and that he had done so without a license, as re­quired by the government of the United States, and was so doing this business at the time, as alleged in the indictment against the Grandberry merchant, so that I insisted, as a means of protection to my client, that St. Helen should attend the Federal Court as a witness for the defendant, to testify to this state of facts, showing that the defendant merchant had been wrongfully indicted, confessedly so by St. Helen, who was at this time doing the very business of which my client was charged, without first having a license (for which my client had been indicted), and for which he was to stand trial in a short time before the Federal Court at Tyler. While St. Helen admitted his guilt and the innocence of my client, he declined to attend the court in any capacity on behalf of my client, without at this time giving to me any satisfactory reason as to why he would not do so, and when he was informed with more earn­estness than was reasonably polite that any and all the known processes of the law of the Federal Court would be called into requisition to compel his it-tendance on the court, as he had been requested to do, and if need be witnesses would go before the Federal grand jury to have him indicted for the offense with which my client was wrongfully charged. St. Helen asked time to consider the mat­ter, promising to act honorably in the affair* to the complete protection of the wronged man, conditioned Lat he (St. Helen) should be protected from indict­ment and from any other process which would carry him before the Federal Court. With this agree­ment we separated for the few intervening days requested by him.

At thi* interview it was plainly to be seen that St. Helen was sorely troubled and seemed to think his final determination in the matter would be fraught with the greatest consequences to himself, much more, I thought, than was due to the appre­hension of a possible conviction for the charges al­leged against my client. But upon consideration of the matter I was led to the conclusion that his restless and uneasy manner was due to his long outdoor life on the plains, and that by force of habit he had acquired that restless and’hunted, worried expression constantly on his face, while the flashes which came from his keen, penetrating black eyes spoke of desperation and capacity for crime. All this time his breath came hard, almost to a wheeze, superinduced by excitement, or what seemed to be a disease, possibly produced by exposure and bor­dering upon a bronchial or an asthmatic affliction of the throat and chest. Thus looking and breath­ing, with his body poised in easy, graceful attitude, as if so by nature born, in his leave-taking to me he raised his hand in slow and graceful manner, say­ing:

“As I agree. I shall see you, and of my purpose and destiny speak—until then-‘*

The words “until then,” spoken with a soft voice and gentle tone, was a pleasant adieu, in fact, the entire sentence having been said, and I should say, dramatically acted in eloquence by word, motion of the body, gesticulation of the hand and utterance of the voice, not before or since equalled by any other person in my presence or experience. These ex­pressions by word, voice and mannerism to me were food for thought, suggesting the inquiry from whence came such a man? Who can this handsome man, this violent man, this soft-mannered man, this eloquent man, bet Unsuited to his vocation—the would-be merchant, in his log cabin store, and his life of seclusion in the wilds of the West. As in all things, came the day of final reckoning, and St. Helen walked into my office calling me to the pri­vate consultation room, turning and shutting the door, he said:

“I come redeeming my pledge, and have to say, first, that I desire to retain you as my attorney; that you may represent me in all matters of legal business concerning my affairs, and ask that you fix your reasonable retainer fee.”

This I did, and when satisfactorily arranged St. Helen resumed his statement by saying:

“Now, that I have employed yon and paid your retainer fee, yon, as my lawyer, will and must keep secret such matters as I shall confide in you touch­ing my legal interest and personal safety, and the prevention of my prosecution by the courts for the matters we are now considering or that might here­after arise in consequence of your present employ­ment, conditioned, of course, upon my making good to you the promises I have made.”

To which I replied: “Yes. I understand.”

“Well, then,” continued St. Helen. “I say to you, as my attorney, that my true name is not John St. Helen, as you know me and suppose me to be, and for this reason I cannot afford to go to Tyler before the Federal Court, in fear that my true identity be discovered, as the Federal courts are more or less presided over in the South and officered by persons heretofore, as well as now, connected with the Fed­eral Army and government, and the risk would be too great for me to take, and you will now under­stand why I have retained you as my counsel, and as such I ask that you take your client, indicted in the Federal Court at Tyler, and get him clear of this charge, of which he is certainly not guilty, using your best judgment in his behalf and for my protec­tion. For this service I will pay your fee and all costs incident to the trial and trip.”

Assenting to this, and accepting the suggestion as well as the employment of St. Helen, I set about fully planning the management of my client’s case in the Federal Court with the purpose iq, view of a mutual protection of my client and John St. Helen. When after a few days of consultation and prepara­tion my client and I were ready for the three or four days’ drive by private conveyance from Grandberry to Tyler, St. Helen was notified and came promptly to my office the morning fixed for our leaving, and without further ceremony or discussion, handed me a large, long, red morocco pocketbook well filled with currency bills, saying that the amount it con­tained would be sufficient money for the trip, etc. The amount contained in this purse I never knew. Then, in complete readiness, my client and I, taking leave of our friends and thanking St. Helen, climbed into our buggy and were off for Tyler. After an uneventful trip we reached the hotel at Tyler on the afternoon of the third day out, to find the Fed­eral Court in session, and after a night’s rest I sought an interview with Col. Jack Evans, the then United States district attorney for the Eastern dis­trict of Texas, including Tyler, in Smith county. At this pleasant, courteous consultation an agreement was reached by which the government was to waive the presence of the defendant in court, who was yet at the hotel, ignorant of what was transpiring, and on the following morning after the convening of court I entered pleas of guilty, as prearranged with Col. Evans, when the court, Judge Roberts presiding, fined the defendant the usual fine in such cases and taxed him with the costs, amounting, as I now re­member, to about sixty-five dollars in each case. The fine and costs were promptly paid by me from the funds provided by St. Helen, for which receipts were taken as vouchers.

After the close and settling of these cases I re­turned to the hotel and informed my grateful and surprised client of the happy culmination of his long-dreaded trial in the Federal Court for a crime of which he was not guilty. The processes of this court struck terror into the heart of the average frontiersman when their charges constituted a crime against the laws of the United States government.

I accepted the many marks of appreciation by word and act manifested by my client, which for the sake of personal allusion must be omitted. Suffice it to say, our purpose having been accomplished, our team was ordered, bills paid, as the beginning of the end of our stay in Tyler, and at the moment of our readiness re-entering our buggy, we were soon home­ward bound full of hope for the future, made buoy­ant by success. While my thoughts and plans for all time were lined with rose-tinted clouds, the phantoms of vision, the treacherous shadows which light the pathway of all youth, but how too soon to be transformed to the black storm cloud of real life, flashing with the lightning’s of despair, with low-muttering thunders, the signals of evils yet to come. But on we pushed, unmindful and careless of what the future should disclose, reaching Grandberry on the afternoon of the third day out from Tyler, when, with mutual good wishes and congratulations, my client and I separated to go to our homes, seeking the needed mental and physical rest from a trip the memory of .which lives to mark an interesting event in my life and the foundation of a story in fact, the relation of which beggars fiction. f

Then, just as twilight was being clasped into the folds of night by the stars of a cloudless sky, I sought seclusion while the world paused, lapped in the universal laws of rest, and entered dreamland on that bark of sleep, the sister ship of death, pil­lowed within the rainbow of hope, a fancy fed by the air castles of youth. Thus sleeping and thus waking the morning came, when I must needs take up the routine business of life again, and to learn much more of John St. Helen, who came into town. When he called at my office and I recounted to him the successful termination of the cases in the Federal Court at Tyler, St. Helen became profuse in his com­pliments and congratulations, when his pocketbook, which had previously contained approximately three or four hundred dollars, with its contents, less ex­penses and costs of said suits, was handed him. He took from it the necessary amount to pay the re­mainder of my fee. This having been done, St. Helen and I separated with at least seeming friend­ship welded by the bonds of mutual triumph; so that thus ended, for the present, the beginning of my acquaintance with John St. Helen, of whom I sav but little for the several months following.



In the latter part of the June following my trip to Tyler, St. Helen came into my office and extended to me an invitation to attend, as the orator of the day, a barbecue to be given on the 4th of July at Glen­rose Mills. Saving accepted this invitation, in com­pany with Gen. J. M. Taylor, made famous by his achievements in the Seminole Indian war in the State of Florida, and for many years an honored and useful citizen of the State of Texas, I attended this patriotic celebration. And I here make mention of Gen. J. M. Taylor as a tribute to his memory for the public services he has performed as well as his loyal friendship to me. And I in benedictions be­speak the repose of his soul in peace, long since left its tenement of clay.

Arriving at Glenrose on the forenoon of the day appointed, we were met by St. Helen, the master of ceremonies on this occasion, and taken to his private apartments in the log storehouse, which had been put in readiness for the royal reception accorded us.

With his servants in waiting all were attentive, while St. Helen entertained us with a lavish hand in princely welcome in that manner peculiarly his own. When I turned to view the platform and plot of ground made ready for the day, and the people as they were gathering from beyond the Bosque river, I saw the ideal location for the barbecue, within the shade of the wide-spreading water oaks in the nar­row Bosque valley. And while thus taking in the situation, at the suggestion of Gen. Taylor, the Gen­eral, St. Helen and myself left for the grounds. As we stepped upon the platform I was greatly sur­prised at the stage presence and consummate ease of manner and reassuring appearance of St. Helen, who was easily the center of attraction, and the com­manding personality present. Gen. Taylor and I seated ourselves, while St. Helen remained standing. The people hurriedly gathered, giving us a hearty reception. Order being restored, St. Helen, posing gracefully, caused a hush of silence, and by a look of invitation called me to his side. Standing thus beside him to the front of the platform he, in his inimical manner, in his full, clear voice, with choice and eloquent language, introduced me as the first speaker, as he did subsequently introduce Gen. Taylor as the second speaker. On the close of the speeches made by Gen. Taylor and myself, St. Helen, in a short, eloquent and timely speech, com­pletely captivated the crowd, as well as ourselves, by his pre-eminent superiority over those with whom he came in contact during the day.

St. Helen’s complete knowledge of elocution, ease and grace of person, together with his chaste and eloquent diction, seemed to be nature’s gift rather than studied effort. It was but natural then that on the lips and in the minds of all present the inquiry should be, Who can this man St. Helen bet He be­ing, in fact, a stranger to those present, who only casually knew him in this gathering, and without kith or kin so far as any one present knew, made the people more anxious to learn the identity of the man; an orator of the highest class, while the men and women lingered at Glenrose in the presence of St. Helen until the dying day cast its shadows upon Bosque’s lofty tops and darkness was weaving the mantle of night over valleys below. Then congratu­lations, thank yous, glad to have met you and good byes were said.

At this parting Gen. Taylor and I left for our homes after a delightful day fraught with interest and events long to be pleasantly remembered by all in attendance, and to me it marked the beginning of a better knowledge of the character of and a closer personal relation with John St. Helen, whose physical beauty, so to speak, and mental attainments no man could fail to appreciate and no woman fail to admire.

St. Helen, the man who entertained you to mirth or to tears, as his own mood might inspire, while he himself stood unmoved by the emotions displayed around him—the man kind of disposition, careless of self, thoughtful of others, but living his own life in soliloquy, revelling in the thoughts of the master minds of the past. While his selections and recita­tions were grandly and elegantly delivered, yet de­spite your efforts your soul would be shaken and from the eyes tracing tears would steal like dew drops cast from a shaken reed. Painful? No. Un­pleasant? No. But rather resembling a sorrow as a “mist resembles rain”—a sigh of hope, a tear of sympathy, or rather an exalted thought given ex­pression to by a tear, the index to the feeling of the soul. St. Helen himself said he could not weep, though grief he knew to its bitterest depth, and lived a life bent with the burden of crime. These and kindred utterances made to me in private, in hours spent alone with him, aroused in me an anxious desire to know in very fact who he was. He told me his true name was not St. Helen, and the ascertaining of more definite information as to his true name was made unusually difficult by reason of his sensitiveness to the mention of all subjects pertaining to himself, in the various conversations had between St. Helen and myself before he removed with his business from Glenrose Mills to Grandberry, sometime in October following the 4th of July barbe­cue mentioned.

St. Helen’s business did not seem to be a matter of necessity with him, as he at all times appeared to have more money than was warranted by his stock in trade, and he apparently took little interest in it and trusted at all times the waiting on of cus­tomers to his negro or Mexican porter, while he was in fact a man of leisure, spending most of his time after his removal to Grandberry in my office, read­ing and entertaining me after business hours, and in our idle moments in many other ways, but his favorite occupation was Beading Shakespeare’s plays, or rather reciting them as he alone could do. And his special preference seemed to be that of Rich­ard HI. and he began his recitations, as I now re­member him, by somewhat transposing the intro­ductory of Richard HI., saying:

“I would I could laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep, wet my eyes with arti­ficial tears and frame my face to all occasions-“

following with much of the recitation of Richard III., as well as others of Shakespeare’s plays.

While these recitations from Shakespeare charmed the ear and pleased all listeners, his rendition of Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, once heard at an even­ing’s entertainment, left an impress that years could never efface.

On other occasions I came in for lessons in elocu­tion with full instructions and practical illustrations in minute details of when and how to enter upon the stage or public platform; St. Helen giving comical illustrations himself as to how the average statesman come blundering on the platform, looking for a seat they could not find, finally falling into a chair ap­parently not of their choice but by accident, when they would cross their legs, stick the toes of their shoes inward while trying to hide their hands close down in their laps or behind their seats, or by clasp­ing them in front of themselves and resting them on their crossed and agitated limbs, nervously rolling one thumb over the other, finally collapsing and wiping the perspiration from their faces with undue vigor and haste. All of which was impersonated by St. Helen in such a realistic manner that it was en­joyable to the extreme, as well as most profitable to me in after life. And as a result of this careful training I am now quick to observe the want of stage presence and lack of ease of manner in statesmen on the public platform or persons before the footlights.

St. Helen was not a man of classical education, but rather a born rhetorician and elocutionist, a learning apparently confined to and obtained from theatrical plays as well as a literature pertaining to the stage, evidenced by the many theatrical periodi­cals or papers to be found in his room. This inti­macy with every detail of theatrical work was shown on the occasion of his criticism of Roland Reed, when St. Helen, Read and I were alone together. Roland Reed in his boyhood was touring the country in his father’s company, composed practically of Mr. and Mrs. Read and their son, Roland, who was starring in light comedies by the impersonation of simple and frivolous characters, and they played two or three nights at Grandberry, which perform­ances St. Helen and I attended together, and on the morning after the third night’s play St. Helen re­quested Read and myself to take a walk with him to view the Brazos river, which was then flowing with torrents of water. During this stroll St. Helen began with great earnestness to discuss theatrical subjects with Roland Reed, which discussion went into all essential details of the highest class of act­ing. St. Helen’s criticism became personal to Read, pointing out to him that in the impersonation of certain of the characters rendered by him, especially the character of an old maid, in which, as I remember St. Helen’s criticism of Bead, was of the greatest personal severity, and among other things he said that in the character of the old maid Bead’s acting reminded him of a simpleton attempting to imper­sonate the character and eccentricities of an idiot, more appropriate to the playgrounds of the innocent and half-witted than to the intelligent public before the footlights, and suggested that the artist should create the impression on his audience that the actor by his superior intelligence was creating and por­traying the character of the foolish maiden, stamping the play with his individuality of character, and that acting the character in question without this was simply nonsense, which disgusted rather than pleased the intelligence of the ordinary attendant at the theater, etc.

Though this criticism was at times personal and severe, it was done with an earnestness that indi­cated that it was kindly given and was seemingly appreciated by Bead, for I am sure Read profited by it in his after life, as witnessed by me in his im­provement in his subsequent presentation of this character, which brought to my mind afresh the lecture given him by St. Helen. Could Read have known, as I afterward knew, that this lecture given him was by John Wilkes Booth, what a surprise it would have been, and what an impression it would have made upon his young mind, and I am sure Bead would have esteemed the lecture a ‘privilege. In fact, this lecture is a consideration which but few received at the hands of St. Helen—John Wilkes Booth.

After hearing this lecture and remembering what St. Helen had said to me, that his name was not in fact St. Helen, the former purpose of inquiry reas­serted itself to know who this man was. Not only was he an orator, as I had found him at Glenrose, but again was he assaying the role of critic of high class acting, showing a knowledge, to my mind, of a born genius of high cultivation, demonstrating St. Helen to be a master of the art of which he was speaking.



Idle hours in the life of a resident of a small country town hang heavily and we are wont to find entertainment. Under these conditions St. Helen was at all leisure times as welcome as he was con­genial, so that when he was not at my office I would spend my leisure time at his place of business. And now I recall to mind one occasion when I, in comr> pany with a mutual friend, stepped into St. Helen’s place of business. Just as we entered I noticed sev­eral cowboys, as they are called in Texas parlance, because they herd cattle, standing at the counter eating and drinking, being waited on by the colored porter. St. Helen meeting us, stopped, as we walk­ed in, standing at the entrance from the front and resting his right arm on the counter, when one of the boys turned, addressing him in a very familiar man­ner, saying:

“John, when you die the cowboys will build a monument to your memory.”

St. Helen cast a look of indignation to the party addressing him, his flashing black eyes giving full expression to his contempt for the proffered distinc­tion of a monument by the cowboys. Then resting his thin, shapely right hand on the corner of the counter, standing in graceful poise, his head well poised, his beautiful black, curly hair flowing back from his high white forehead, holding his left hand well extended in gesticulation, said:

“Come not when I am dead To shed thy tears around my head. Let the wind sweep and the plover cry, But thou, oh, fool man, go by.”

It was not so much what St. Helen said, but the manner of saying and acting it, and the voice by which it was said, that moved man to emotion, as would his recitation of almost any sentence that had in it a trace of sentiment.

The simple lines quoted will And but little lodg­ment in the soul of the casual reader, but when repeated by St. Helen, who could so beautifully por­tray each sentence in all of its meaning, it left its impress upon the memory of all who heard.

Five years after our acquaintance the hand of Time, with points of pain, began writing in deep lines on St. Helen’s face the shadows of disease, the sign board on the pathway from the cradle to the grave. Emaciated, sick and weak, he took to his bed, confined in the back room of his store, where I and others, with the aid of a physician, gave him such attentions as his condition required. But de­spite our best efforts he continued to grow worse from day to day and both friends and physicians lost hope of his recovery. When I, tired and worn by my watch and continued attention at his bedside, sleeping and nursing in turn with others, was aroused about 10 o’clock one night and informed that I was wanted at the bedside of St. Helen, who was supposed to be in the last throes of death. On entering the room I found the physician holding St. Helen’s wrist and counting his faint, infrequent pulse, which it seemed was beating his funeral dirge to the tomb. The doctor turned to me and said:

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