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2009-09-16 / Columns

Where did John Wilkes Booth die?

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln in 1865, he not only found a dark corner in American history; he may have became a part of Texas history, too.

 

By Bob Bowman

 

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln in 1865, he not only found a dark corner in American history; he may have became a part of Texas history, too.

An enduring legend in Granbury, Texas, says a man known as John St. Helen worked as a bartender at A.P. Gordon’s saloon. His true identity is still being debated in Hood County.

When St. Helen fell seriously ill and believed he was dying, he supposedly confessed to a priest that he was really Booth and revealed the location of the pistol he used to kill Lincoln.

But, after recovering, St. Helen reportedly left Granbury and wound up in Enid, Oklahoma, where he died for real, again claiming to be the infamous assassin. His mummified remains were then sold to a sideshow until the mummy vanished.

And at Timpson, in East Texas, Booth also supposedly died after fleeing to the Shelby community where relative Zack Booth, a well-known lawman, was living. Malcolm Weaver of Shelby County said he was told the story by his father. M.M. Weaver.

What’s the truth about Booth?

History says that when Booth shot Lincoln, he jumped onto the stage at  Ford’s Theater and broke a leg, but hobbled to a waiting horse and, with fellow conspirator David Herold, rode to an inn owned by Mary Surrat, and later to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set Booth’s leg. Learning his patient was Lincoln’s assailant, Mudd ordered Booth from his property.

After hiding out for several days in a forest, Booth and Herold made their way across the Potomac River into Virginia and rode to Richard Garrett’s farm.

The 16th New York Cavalry discovered Booth and Herold hiding in Garrett’s barn. While the officer in charge of the cavalry was negotiating with Booth, someone set fire to the barn.  Booth was shot, paralyzed, and died on the porch of Garrett’s farmhouse at 7 a.m. the next morning.

Booth’s body was carried back to Washington and buried beneath the floor of a local prison.

But did he really escape and travel to Texas and Oklahoma? You decide for yourself.

 

(Bob Bowman is the author of more than 40 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

 

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