FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

“This reasoning at the time seemed unselfish and logical, and I agreed with him that the supreme mo­ment for the displacement of President Lincoln had arrived. And if you will think for a moment of the conditions as they obtained at that time, in Washing­ton City, you will agree with me that it was impossible for me, a mere citizen, a civilian without influence,, except through Vice-President Johnson, with either the civil or military powers at Washington, I being in no way connected with the Federal or Confederate armies and following my vocation as an actor, at my convenience and pleasure, that it was a physical im­possibility for me to have arranged my escape through the Federal lines, then completely surrounding Wash­ington, through which I had to go and did pass after the accomplishment of the death of President Lincoln for at this time, as it had been practically during the entire Civil War, Washington City was closely guarded by a cordon of soldiers thrown completely around it, making it impossible to pass in or out of the city without passing through this well-guarded line, and this only could be done by officially recog­nized permits, and even with these permits one could not pass into the city without giving a full account of himself.

“Now, do you think that I unaided could have arranged for my escape! Then, think, Gen. U. S. Grant and wife, as you know, were to attend the theatre with President and Mrs. Lincoln on that evening, and I could not have undertaken to go into the closed box so unequally matched as I would have been with both President Lincoln and Gen. Grant there. So, the absence of Gen. Grant was arranged. Could I do this? History records the fact that Gen. Grant was suddenly called from the City of Washing­ton late in the afternon of the evening of the assas­sination of President Lincoln. You understand that (Jen. and Mrs. Grant were the guests of the President and Mrs. Lincoln, receiving the congratulations of Mr. Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, only five days after the surrender of Gen. Lee—accepting the hospitality of the President and Mrs. Lincoln, a compliment extended to Gen. Grant on account of his great achievement in the defeat of Robert E. Lee and his army before Richmond, at Appomatox, and this entertainment at Ford’s theater was a part of the pro­gram for their entertainment, and was to mark the first public appearance together of President Lincoln and Gen. Grant as the greatest heroes of the Civil War connected with the Federal army. Whether Gen. Grant’s absence was a mere incident I can not say. I only know that Vice-President Johnson informed me only a few hours before the killing of President Lin­coln that Gen. Grant would not be in attendance with President Lincoln at the theatre. How he knew it, I do not know. But I do know that I would not have gone into the box and locked myself inside so unevenly matched as I would have been with (Jen. Grant pres­ent, and had he been present President Lincoln would not have been killed by me on that evening. Knowing from the evening papers of the intended presence of Gen. Grant, one of my conditions for attempting the life of the President was that Gen. Grant should not be present, and it is a physical fact that he was not there. Take the further physical fact that I did kill the President, and that I did pass out of the lines, a* directed by Mr. Johnson, without molestation at the same point where I had been arrested and detained on the morning of the same day I killed the President; that I approached the same guarded spot with my horse under whip and spur, at or about 10:30 o’clock at night, when upon giving the pass word T. B. or T. B. Boad to the Federal soldiers then guarding the gate at the bridge, I was allowed to pass out. The guard at once called for the assistance of another guard standing close by, and the gate was hurriedly raised and without further question I rode through, put spur to my horse and was off again as fast as the animal could go.

“Likewise, Herold, my accomplice, was permitted to cross the bridge by the same guard, by the use of the same pass word, and came up with me at Surratt-ville. These physical facts stand as undeniable proof of my official aid and my escape! Taking these facts into consideration, who can say or doubt for one moment that I was assisted by one, or more, persons high in official circles, as well as in military life?”

“Then, St. Helen, do you mean to say that Gen. Grant was a party to or cognizant of the plot against the life of President Lincoln?”

“No, I do not. All I know is that I was informed by Vice-President Johnson that Gen. Grant was to be in the box with President Lincoln on that evening. I told him I could not undertake to carry out the plan against the life of the President, as I have stated, should Gen. Grant remain in the box, that is, should he attend the theatre and occupy the box with Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Johnson left me late that afternoon to arrange for my escape and on his return, before giving me instructions for my escape, he said that (Gen. Grant would not be present. How he knew this I can not say. All I can say is to repeat what I have said. All the world knows that Gen. and Mrs. Grant were hot in the box. From these existing physical facts, with no accusation by inuendo, or otherwise, you must draw you own conclusions. My own fixed opinion upon this subject, however, I am free to express to you—and I confess that I do not believe that (Gen. Grant knew of any arrangements being made to kill President Lincoln. I believe rather that he had been decoyed off by some means, unsuspected by him, and certainly not known to me, as were also other instances apparently connected with the assassination of the President. For instance, I knew nothing of any plan to take the life of Secretary Seward on the night of the assassination of President Lincoln, or at any other time, showing that it would appear to have been a conspiracy against both the President and certain members of the Cabinet.”

“While your story may be true, St. Helen, and is apparently sustained by the facts which you state, considering your statements to be facts, and I have no information for a successful denial, if all you say is true, it in no way identifies you as John Wilkes Booth. Your story could be as well told by any one else of your genius for some purpose hidden from me, so I must continue to know you as John St. Helen.”

St. Helen replied, “Then allow me to say that your long and persistent reasoning that I am not John Wilkes Booth almost persuades me that I am in fact John St. Helen. Indeed, I am quite willing that you shall believe I am not John Wilkes Booth. However, I realize that you have one proof of my identity— my tintype picture. I ask that you will keep that picture, which may be the means of my complete identification to you some day, when you will better understand that my confidence in you has been prompted by selfish motives to a certain degree. While your continued mistrust and disbelief is comforting to me, in that I reflect that you, after all that I have told you, for the reasons that you have given, are not willing to believe me the criminal that I am; or, if this disbelief arises from your thinking me incapable of the crime to which I plead guilty, it is surely grati­fying. But, if on the other hand, your mistrust arises from your opinion that I am unworthy of belief under any and all circumstances, my purposes are thwarted and my efforts of no avail. But remember always that I am grateful to you for what you have done for me, and the burden you share with me, unwittingly, whether it be with St Helen or with Booth, and in the future as in the past, with your permission, we will be friends. Think of me as you will, my true name and identity you have. My correct personality you know, and whether we long associate together or soon separate, remember you are the one man—the only living man with whom I leave the true story of the tragedy which ended the life of President Lin­coln.”

Closing with this statement, St. Helen left me in an uncertain frame of mind. The future standing as a barrier against coming events I was not prepared at that time to admit that St. Helen was Booth. I was unwilling to assume the responsibility of believing that St. Helen was Booth. Aside from my better judgment was my strong faith in the accuracy of the claims of my government that John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, had been killed, and I did not care to ac­quire the unpleasant notoriety and criticism of making the announcement that John Wilkes Booth in fact lived, unless the proof of such a fact was established irrefutably. So, I determined to drop the subject for all time to come—treating it as a myth unfounded in fact—a story that existed only in the mind of St. Helen, a comparatively demented man, a crank, who gloried in deceiving me to the idea. I preferred to accept the story of the event referred to as it is told by the government—the accepted facts of history rather than those of this man of mystery. And in our after association, lasting about ten months, we made no further reference to the subject, which was avoided by mutual consent.

Aside from this unpleasant side of St. Helen’s character he was modest, unobtrusive and congenial, ever pleasant in association with me. He was a social favorite with all with whom he came in con­tact, yet, he was rather the social autocrat than the social democrat. Except for a select few he held all men tQ the strictest social etiquette, repelling all undue familiarity, refusing all overtures of social equality with even those of the better middle classes of men, but it was done in such a gentle and respect­ful way that no affront was taken—if such it could be called, it was more pleasant than otherwise, leav­ing the impression that he, St. Helen, would be de­lighted to be on the most intimate terms with the other, but, as there is nothing in common between us more than a respectful speaking relation, it is an impossibility. And thus he made friends while he drew the social lines and pressed home a con­sciousness of his own superiority as an entertainer.

The hours of our social life were pleasantly spent, not by riotous living but by amusing games of cards, recitations and readings by St. Helen, which were always a great treat, and which he himself seemed to enjoy, as did his friends.

St. Helen often admitted that in his younger days he sometimes drank to excess of strong whiskeys, wines, etc., as also decoctions of brandy and cordials, but during our associations I never knew of his tak­ing strong drink of any character, nor did he use tobacco in any form, and in the absence of these habits and tastes we were entirely congenial, as I myself had never cultivated appetites of this char­acter. We were also lovers of literature of the same class, as well as music and the fine arts, and matters pertaining to the stage. We enjoyed the gossip of the stage, and the people of the stage came in for a large share of our attention, especially St. Helen’s, who talked much of what he called the old and the new school of acting, with which I became con­versant, which greatly pleased St. Helen, who frequently made reference to me as his trained asso­ciate, while he would explain that men became congenial by constant association linked together by the common mother, kindred thoughts, the off­spring of blended characters.



St. Helen had grown tired of his class of busi­ness. In fact, he paid little attention to it, letting it drift with the tide of business affairs in the little town of Grandberry. Now his mind turned to thoughts of mining and the acquisition of wealth by the development of mining properties in Colorado. I was looking to other fields for my efforts and de­cided to leave Texas.

When the final hour of our separation came I returned to the States, as we Westerners termed the older States in the Union, and St. Helen left for Leadville, Colorado, in the spring of 1878, from which point I lost trace of him until some time in the year 1898. In the meantime I had located in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Helen and I were far apart—lost to each other and comparatively forgotten for a period of twenty years.

During this interval of time, my location being more convenient to books and the acquiring of in­formation, I investigated the subject of the assassi­nation of President Lincoln and its attendant circumstances in view of the statements made by St. Helen. He had connected Andrew Johnson with the plot to kidnap and assassinate President Lin­coln and investigation became interesting to learn, if possible, the relations, personal and otherwise, existing between President Lincoln and Vice-Presi­dent Andrew Johnson.

In this search I find that the oath of office as President of the United States was administered to Andrew Johnson by Chief Justice Chase in the lodg­ings of Andrew Johnson, at the Kirkwood Hotel, Washington, D. C, and that besides members of the Cabinet a number of United States Senators were called in to witness the ceremony. At this hour but few of the citizens of Washington knew that President Lincoln was dead. The inaugura­tion occurred at 10 o’clock on the morning of April 15, 1865, President Lincoln having died at twenty-two minutes past 7 o’clock on the same morning.

At his informal inauguration President Johnson made a speech remarkable in that he made no men­tion of President Lincoln. I give this speech in part with the comments thereop. by those present, who say:

“The effect produced upon the public by this speech, which might be regarded as an inaugural address, was not happy. Besides its evasive character respecting public policies, which every observant man noted, with apprehension, an unpleasant im­pression was created by its evasive character re­specting Mr. Lincoln. The entire absence of eulogy of the slain President was remarked. There was no mention of his name or of his character, or of his office, the only allusion in any way whatever to Mr. Lincoln was Mr. Johnson’s declaration that he ‘was almost overwhelmed by the announcement of the sad «vent which has so recently occurred.’

“While he found no time to praise one whose praises was on every tongue, he made ample reference to himself and his own past history, and though speaking not more than five minutes, it was noticed that ‘I’ and ‘my’ and ‘me’ were used at least a score of times. A boundless egotism was inferred from the line of his remarks, ‘My past public life, which has been long and laborious, has been founded, as I in good conscience believe, upon the great prin­ciple of right which lies at the base of all things.’

” ‘I must be permitted to say, if I understand the feelings of my own heart, I have long labored to ameliorate and alleviate the conditions of the great mass of the American people.

” ‘Toil and an honest advocacy of the great prin­ciples of free government have been my lot. The duties have been mine, the consequence God’s.’ “

Senator John P. Hale, of New Hampshire, who was present on this occasion, said, with characteris­tic wit, that—

“Johnson seemed willing to share the glory of his achievements with his Creator, but utterly forgot that Mr. Lincoln had any share or credit in the sup­pression of the rebellion.”

Three days later, April 18, a delegation of distin­guished citizens from Illinois called upon Mr. John­son under circumstances extraordinary and most touching. The dead President still lay in the White House, before the solemn and august procession should leave the national capital to bear his mortal remains to the State which had loved and honored him. The delegation called to assure his successor of their respect and confidence, and in reply to Qov. Oglesby, the spokesman of the Illinois delegation, Mr. Johnson responded respecting the dead, Presi­dent Lincoln, and with profound emotion of the tragical termination of Mr. Lincoln’s life. He said:

“The beloved of all hearts has been assassinated.” He then paused thoughtfully and added: “And when we trace this crime to its cause, when we re­member the source from whence the assassin drew his inspiration, and then look at the result, we stand yet more astounded at this most barbarous, most dia­bolical act. Who can trace its cause through successive steps back to that source which is the spring of all our woes? No one can say that if the perpe­trator of this fiendish deed be arrested he should not undergo the extremest penalty of the law known for crime. None can say that mercy should inter­pose. But is he alone guilty?”

I charge the reader in the light of the facts that have been written and the statement made by John St. Helen, that you compare this oration of Andrew Johnson over the body of Lincoln with that of Marc Antony over the dead body of Caesar.

The character and force of Mr. Johnson’s words were anomalous and in many respects contradic­tory.

Mr. Blaine says of him in his “Twenty Years in Congress:” “Mr. Johnson by birth belonged to that large class of people in the South known as the ‘poor write.’ ” (Mr. Blaine should have said “Poor white trash,” a term applied to a disreputa­ble class of poor white people who would be equally unworthy and socially ostracised if rich. It was and is no disgrace in the South to be “poor,” and no so­cial ostracism extended to the poor, if honorable.)

“Many wise men regarded it as a fortunate cir­cumstance that Mr. Lincoln’s successor was from the South,” says Mr. Blaine, “though a much larger number in the North found in this fact a source of disquietude, saying that Mr. Johnson had the mis* fortune of not possessing any close or intimate knowledge of the people of the loyal States; and it was found, moreover, that his relations with the ruling spirit of the South in the exciting period preceding the war specially unfitted him for harmo­nious co-operation with them in the pending exi­gencies. (Vol. II., page 3.)

“Mr. Johnson had been during his entire life a Democrat, and had attained complete control of the Democratic party in the State of Tennessee and had filled various official positions in the State, and finally that of Democratic United States Senator from the State of Tennessee.,, (Vol. II., page 4.)

I pass the above quotations without further com­ment than to challenge the thought of the reader to their significance to the political relations of Andrew Johnson with the Democratic politics of the State of Tennessee. In this connection I have sought to learn something, if possible, of Mr. Lincoln’s feel­ing toward Vice-President Johnson, but find only a few sentences in written history touching their re­lations, which is recorded by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Wierk, in their biography of the life of Lincoln, in Volume 2, at page 232, in which Mrs. Lincoln speaks as follows:

“My husband placed great confidence in my knowledge of human nature, and it was his inten­tion to remove Seward as soon as peace was made in the South. He greatly disliked Andrew Johnson. On one occasion we noticed him following us and it displeased Mr. Lincoln so much that he turned and asked in a loud voice, ‘Why is this man,’ meaning Andrew Johnson, ‘forever following me!’ “

Thus we have conduct suspicious in its nature of Andrew Johnson toward Mr. Lincoln. And the world will ask of all mankind the same question Mr. Lin­coln asked of his wife. And why was it that An­drew Johnson should have followed Mr. Lincoln? Does St. Helen’s story explain Johnson’s conduct— Johnson’s motives?

In this connection it is interesting to know how Lincoln passed the last day of his life. Mrs. Lin­coln says:

“He spent the last day of his life, the 14th day of April, 1865, by taking an early breakfast and at­tending a Cabinet meeting at 11 o’clock, at which Gen. Grant was present. He spent the afternoon with Gov. Oglesby, Senator Jones and other friends from Illinois.”

On the afternoon of this day, in conversation with Mr. Colfax, only a short time before they should go to the theater, Mr. Lincoln invited Mr. Colfax to attend the theater with him, saying that he had se­cured a box at Ford’s Theater for the purpose of en­tertaining Gen. Grant, but that Gen. Grant had just declined the invitation and had left the city, and that he (Lincoln) did not want the people entirely disappointed in their expectation of seeing both himself and Gen. Grant at the theater that evening, and would be glad to have Mr. Colfax accompany him, taking (Gen. Grant’s place. This Colfax de­clined.

It has always been an interesting question to me why, and how, under what conditions could Gen. Grant have been so successfully decoyed away from the City of Washington on so important an occa­sion, almost at the hour of attending this theater party in company with President Lincoln as the great Federal heroes of the civil wart

(Gen. Grant, in expiation of the occurrence, says that late on the afternoon in question he received a note from his wife expressing some frivolous reasons as to why they should leave the city at once and visit their daughter, I believe, in Dubuque, Iowa. He says that on reaching Philadelphia he heard of the assassination of President Lincoln and returned at once by special train to Washington. These facts of history I likewise present to the public mind with­out comment. I trust, however, that I may be pardoned for saying here that I esteem my personal ac­quaintance with Gen. Grant an honor and a privilege and I now place myself on record in vindication of any thought or charge against the honor or integ­rity of character of this great man, and make men­tion of this incident only that the world may know the facts, as told me, of the actions and conduct of those whose names were in any way linked or asso­ciated with this story.



In the month of December, 1897, by some agency unknown to me, I found a copy of the Sunday edi­tion of the Boston Globe, dated December 12, 1897, in the reception hall of my home. How this paper came to be in my home is unknown to me. I did not take it by subscription, nor have I or any mem­ber of my family ever, before or since, purchased a copy of the Boston Globe, nor has a copy of this paper at any other time been in my office or home. How this special paper came to my home is a com­plete mystery to myself and to every member of my household. My purpose is not to convey the idea that the presence of the Boston Globe was an intru­sion in my home, for the contrary is true, because it was appreciated and read with great interest, and I regard it as worth many times its price as an en­tertainer for any household. I take pardonable pride in the State of Massachusetts and its people, for this State has been the home of my ancestors and kinsmen since the year 1635.

Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth_Page_120
GEN. D.D. DANA. Under orders of C.C. Auger, connected with the Army at Washington. The pursuer of John Wilkes Booth.

The point is, by what mysterious means did this Sunday edition of the Boston Globe, containing the first published statement of Gen. D. D. Dana, of Lubec, Maine, giving a full account of his knowl­edge respecting the assassination of President Lin­coln, and a detailed statement of his pursuit of John Wilkes Booth, twenty-three years after I had heard the story of John St. Helen, who claimed to be John Wilkes Booth. To my surprise the story of Gen. Dana corroborated in its minutest detail the story St. Helen told to me in his confession recounting Booth’s escape from Washington, D. C, to the Garrett home, in Virginia.

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