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The escape and suicide of John Wilkes Booth:

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    The escape and suicide of John Wilkes Booth: or, The first true account of Lincoln s assassination, containing a complete confession by Booth by Finis Langdon
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2010
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      The escape and suicide of John Wilkes Booth:
      or, The first true account of Lincoln's assassination,
      containing a complete confession by Booth
      by Finis Langdon Bates, 1907


      Excerpt from: The escape and suicide of John Wilkes Booth:
      or, The first true account of Lincoln's assassination,
      containing a complete confession by Booth
      by Finis Langdon Bates, 1907

      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 de-
      clared 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 de-
      clared himself to be John Wilkes Booth.
      Col. M. W. Connolly, a distinguished newspaper
      man, at present and for many years past connected
      The Veteran Mason, Statesman, Lawyer and Poet, as He
      Appeared at the Time of His Recognition of John Wilkes
      Booth at Port Worth, Texas, in 1885.
      with the leading papers as editor-in-chief, a gentle-
      man of the highest type, a brilliant writer and a man
      of honor and integrity, says :
      "I am strongly inclined to believe that David B.
      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, proprie-
      tors, was behind the bar. It was in 1884 or 1885,
      and we were unconventional then.
      "Tom Powell, mayor of Fort Worth, joined us, and
      Temple Houston, youngest son of the ex-Governor
      of Tennessee, the man who whipped Santa Anna at
      San Jaeinto, 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 accom-
      panied 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 sugges-
      tion 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 morn-
      ing 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
      Fort 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 horri-
      fied 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:
      O'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 Cath-
      olic 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 Mis-
      sissippi 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, Mississip-
      pi, 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 recog-
      nized by Gen. Albert Pike.
      At Fort Worth we lost sight of Booth for a num-
      ber of years, but it seems from the best obtainable
      information that he drifted into the vicinity of Guthrie,
      Oklahoma Territory, but was located at He.i-
      nessy, Oklahoma Territory, in the year 1896, play-
      ing 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 Hen-
      nessy, 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 de-
      posits 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 An-
      stein hotel, and advertised himself as David E.
      George, house painter, in the Daily Democrat, a
      newspaper published at El Reno, 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 Reno.
      At the El Reno State bank, where Booth made his
      deposits as David E. George, the tintype picture of
      St. Helen (Booth), taken twelve years after the as-
      sassination of President Lincoln, was at once identi-
      fied by the officials of the bank as being a true like-
      ness of the man David E. George, who made the de-
      posits at their bank and with whom they were per-
      sonally 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 cot-
      tage at El Eeno, 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 hand-
      somely 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 refine-
      ment 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 af-
      fliction, 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),
      who by right of birth and breeding moved in the so-
      cial circle to which he was born, regardless of his
      advertisement in the Democrat as a house painter,
      performing for him such ministries as were neces-
      Mrs. Harper makes the following statement:
      "Mr. George (Booth) had been a resident of the
      Territory for several years. He had always been
      well supplied with money, the origin or source of
      which no one knew, for from some mysterious source
      he received a regular remittance. He was a familiar
      figure in Guthrie, El Reno and Enid. My acquaint-
      ance with Mr. George led me to believe him to be a
      very different person from what he represented him-
      self to be as David E. George, the painter. He was
      eccentric, and though he claimed to be a painter of
      houses, yet he did no work. He was possessed of
      the highest degree of intelligence, had always the
      bearing of a gentleman of cultivation and refine-
      ment, and in conversation was fluent and captivat-
      ing, while he discussed subjects of the greatest mo-
      ment with learning, familiarity and ease. There
      were very few people with whom he cared to asso-
      ciate. Generally he was gloomy, though at times he
      would brighten up, sing snatches of stage songs and
      repeat Shakespeare's plays in an admirable manner.
      He was so well versed in these plays and other writ-
      ings that he would often answer questions with a
      "At one time the young people of El Reno had a
      play of some kind. One of the actors became ill and
      Mr. George (Booth) filled the place to the great ad-
      miration and entertainment of those who saw him.
      When surprise was expressed at his ability as an
      actor he replied that he had acted some when he was
      a young man.
      "Regarding his people, he told different stories.
      One time he said his father was a doctor, and he
      and a brother were the only children; that his
      mother had married again and two half brothers
      were living in the Indian Territory, their name being
      Smith, and that he had property in the Indian Ter-
      ritory. Again he seemed very lonely at times, and
      said that he had not a relative in the world. He was
      subject to fits of melancholia, was extremely sensi-
      tive, quick tempered and rather excitable. He said
      he had never married. There seemed to be some-
      thing constantly on his mind about which he thought,
      and which made him miserable. He seemed to love
      to have one understand that he was in trouble and
      appreciated sympathy.
      "He remained with the Simmons family three
      months and treated everyone with the greatest kind-
      ness and consideration. Never do I remember his
      mentioning the history of his past life or that he
      was other than David E. George until the time he
      thought he was going to die that was about the
      middle of April, 1902.
      "He had gone up town, but returned shortly and,
      entering the room where Mrs. Simmons, Mrs. Bears
      and myself were seated, he made some remarks re-
      garding the weather, which was unusually fine for
      the time of year. He then went to his room and in
      about fifteen minutes called for us, and said :
      " 'I feel as if I am going to be very sick.' He
      was lying on his bed and asked me to get him a
      mirror. For some time he gazed at himself in the
      "Mrs. Bears said she could see the pupils of his
      eyes dilate and believed that he had taken mor-
      phine. Being uneasy, she went out o. che room and
      got him a cup of coffee and insisted until he drank
      it, but when she suggested sending for a physician
      he roused himself and in a peculiar and dramatic
      manner and voice said, while holding the mirror in
      front of his face :
      " 'Stay, woman, stay. This messenger of death
      is my guest, and I desire to see the curtain of death
      fall upon the last tragic act of mine, ' which passion-
      ate utterance brought tears to our eyes. And when
      I turned to wipe the tears from my eyes he called
      me to his side and said :
      ' 'I have something to tell you. I am going to
      die in a few minutes, and I don't believe you would
      do anything to injure me. Did it ever occur to you
      that I am anything but an ordinary painter? I
      killed the best man that ever lived.' I asked him
      who it was and he answered:
      " 'Abraham Lincoln.'
      "I could not believe it. I thought him out of his
      head and asked: 'Who was Abraham Lincoln?'
      " 'Is it possible you are so --deleted-- as not to
      know?' he asked. He then took a pencil and paper
      and wrote down in a peculiar but legible hand the
      name, 'Abraham Lincoln,' and said:
      " 'Don't doubt it, it is true. I am John Wilkes
      " 'Am I dying now?' he asked. 'I feel cold, as if
      death's icy hand was closing my life as the forfeit
      for my crime.'
      "He then told me that he was well off. He seemed
      to be perfectly rational while talking to me. He
      knew me and knew where he was, and I believe he
      really thought in fact that he was dying, and asked
      me to keep his secret until he was dead, adding that
      if any one should find out now that he was J. "Wilkes
      Booth they would take him out and hang him, and the
      people who loved him so well now would despise him.
      He told me that people high in official life hated
      Lincoln and were implicated in his assassination. He
      said that the suspense of possibly being detected
      preyed on his mind all the time and was something
      awful, and that his life was miserable. He said that
      Mrs. Surratt was innocent and he was responsible
      for her death as well as that of several others. He
      said that he was devoted to acting, but had to give
      it up because of his crime, and the fact that he must
      remain away from the stage, when he loved the life
      and profession of acting so well, made him restless
      and ill tempered. He said he had plenty of money,
      but was compelled to play the character of a work-
      ing man to keep his mind occupied.
      "In the mean time Dr. Arnold arrived and as ft
      result of his efforts Mr. George was restored. After
      this he was very anxious for weeks regarding what
      he had told me and questioned me concerning it.
      I answered him that he had told me nothing of im-
      portance, but he seemed to know better. One day
      he saw me looking at a picture of Lincoln and asked
      me why I was looking at it. I told him that I had
      always admired Lincoln.
      " 'Is that the only reason you have for looking at
      it?' he asked, regarding me with a fierce look. A
      peculiar expression came over his face, his eyes
      flashed and he turned pale and walked off.
      "One peculiar feature of Mr. George, or Booth's,
      face was that one eyebrow was somewhat higher
      than the other. I have noticed him limp slightly,
      but he said it was rheumatism. That Mr. George had
      a past we all knew, but what his secret was remains
      unknown except in so far as he may have communi-
      cated the truth to me."
      Booth's, or George's, life at El Reno was much
      the same as I have found it at other places a simi-
      larity and accumulative evidence unmistakably es-
      tablishing his identity of person and character
      wherever he located. It seems to have been his pol-
      icy to change his name and character as often as he
      changed his place of residence. It will be remem-
      bered that when he left Hennessy for El Reno that
      he changed his name from George D. Ryan to David
      E. George, and his occupation and dress from that
      of a gentleman of leisure to that of a journeyman
      painter of houses, which character he acted to such
      perfection that, although he painted but one house,
      and did that in such an uneven and unworkmanlike
      manner as to show that he knew little or nothing
      about painting, yet people thought he knew all about
      it, and just why he did no more painting the general
      public did not understand. Upon inquiry, however,
      George, or Booth, was always ready with a satis-
      factory explanation. When the editor of the El Reno
      Democrat, in which paper he put an advertisement
      as a tradesman of house painting, at a cost of four
      dollars a month, thinking it a useless expense, so
      universally was it known that George, or Booth, did
      no such work, suggested this to him, George, or
      Booth, indignantly demanded to know if the editor
      was uneasy about the price of the card, if so he
      would pay for it in advance. The editor apologized
      and the card continued from month to month for
      two years, up to the date of the death of George.
      Booth's purpose in this is obvious. He wanted to
      keep himself constantly before the public as a paint-
      er, not that he wanted work, but to keep alive his
      identity as a painter while he played the deceptive
      character. The 'little cottage painted for Mr. An-
      stien was the stage setting to the character, the card
      in the paper was his program and he played to a suc-
      cessful finish this drama of the journeyman painter.
      Booth's idea in purchasing the cottage and estab-
      lishing a home for himself was probably because he
      thought he would enjoy it after a long and homeless
      life, alone whether on the plains, in the mountains
      or the best hotels for it was his custom to put up
      at only the best hotels wherever he went. Thus,
      when he reached El Reno he went to the Anstien
      Hotel, the best one then in the city, and as good as
      any there now. But three months of home life was
      quite sufficient for him and he moved into the Ker-
      foot Hotel, 1he newest and most up-to-date hotel in
      El Reno, which was completed after he left the An-
      stien for his cottage. Just how it was possible for
      Booth to stay at this hotel, the stopping place of
      most ol the traveling public, and escape detection
      in his changed character from " Gentleman Ryan"
      to "Journeyman House Painter George," by people
      from Hennessy, only about sixty-five miles away,
      who must have frequented this hotel, is hard to un.
      derstand. Nevertheless it is true. It would be pos-
      sible, perhaps easy, to deceive as to occupation, but
      to successfully disguise his person, and change his
      name, is remarkable and certainly required all the
      genius of the actor, John "Wilkes Booth, who played
      the change of name, person and character practically
      in the same community. At El Reno, Guthrie and
      Enid he was known as George, while at Hennessy,
      within the same section, he was known as George D.
      Ryan, and that he was not recognized and exposed
      staggers comprehension and creates disbelief, nev-
      ertheless Booth did this successfully, as he aid many
      other surprising things.
      Leaving El Reno, Booth, or George, arrived at
      Enid on the 3d day of December, 1902, and registered
      at the Grand Avenue Hotel, under the name of David
      E. George. In the meantime Mr. Harper and his
      wife had removed from El Reno to Enid, from which
      place she made the following statement:
      "On the evening of January 13th, I was startled
      and surprised by reading in the Enid Daily News
      of the suicide of David E. George, of El Reno, with
      whom I first became acquainted in March, 1900, iu
      El Reno, at the home of Mr. Simmons.
      "Mr. Harper went down on Wednesday morning,
      the 14th instant, and recognized him, and told the
      embalmers of a confession that David E. George had
      made to myself, and that they had better investi-
      "I went to the morgue with Mr. Harper on the
      15th and identified the corpse of David E. George
      as the man who had confessed to me at El Reno that
      he was John Wilkes Booth, and, as brevity has been
      enjoined on me, will reaffirm my former statement
      made in detail of David E. George's confession to me
      at El Reno, about the middle of April, 1900, as fully
      as if same were set forth herein.
      (Signed.) "MRS. E. C. HARPER."
      " Territory of Oklahoma,
      " County of Garland.
      "Mrs. E. C. Harper, first being duly sworn, upon
      her oath says that the facts were written above by
      herself; that she knows the facts she has written,
      and that the same are true.
      (Signed) "MRS. B. C. HARPER,
      ' ' Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 24th
      day of January, 1903.
      (Signed) "A. A. STRATFORD,
      "Notary Public.
      (L. S.) "My commission expires November 18th, 1906."
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