Troy Cowan Topic: The travels of John Wilkes Booth

The travels of John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth belonged to a well-known family of actors. He wanted to establish a name for himself and began using the name, John Wilkes. All of the theatergoers and his friends knew him as John Wilkes, not John Wilkes Booth. Even his money and investments were recorded under the name John Wilkes. After John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln he could no longer claim his asset without fear of being discovered or caught.

In addition to his legal assets, he had a fortune in illegal assets. Booth was selling quinine for fever and opiates for pain to those MASH units that badly needed them in the Confederate army. Many hated Lincoln and wanted him kidnapped or dead. They paid Booth for his services and gave him money for equipment, men, and supplies. Booth couldn't deposit this money in a bank without drawing attention to himself. So, he hid the money at his farm. When the war ended, Booth had a vast fortune in gold, silver, cash, and bearer bonds hidden at the farm.

On April 25, 1865, Booth left the Garrett farm the day before the soldiers surrounded the barn and a man thought to be Booth was killed. The real Booth traveled west until he reached his farm in the Shenandoah Valley. The farm was secluded and a good place to hide while his wife, Izola, nursed him back to health. After six months, Booth was tired of his self-imposed imprisonment. He was getting restless and wanted to see his old friends and associates. He went to Meadville, New York, and even as far away as Montreal. Money for travel was no problem; he had a fortune stashed away at the farm.

Booth was too well-known east of the Mississippi to live openly in public. He decided to go to the Pacific Coast where he believed he could be seen in public without being recognized. His mother was living in San Francisco and he would be able to see her. He planned to send for Izola and the children after he was settled.

Leaving Izola and the two children behind, he headed to California. Booth took plenty of money with him and didn't need to work, but he needed to fit in with the people around him. He found a job with a wagon train driving a wagon full of provisions to Salt Lake City, Utah.  He went by the name of Jesse Smith. From Salt Lake City he made his way to San Francisco where he was reunited with his mother and his brother, Junius.

Two years later, Izola was able to join him in San Francisco. She brought with her much of the gold that Booth had collected during the Civil War.

After Izola arrived, John decided to leave the country and take Izola and his fortune with him. John hired an entire ship, captain, and crew to sail him and Izola to India. In 1790 the United States started issuing passports. In 1867, John couldn't apply for a passport using his real name. He had to steal someone else's identity.

John Wilkes Booth had a friend named Lola Alexander and she knew a man named John Byron Wilkes. Before Lincoln's assassination, she told John Wilkes Booth about this immigrant from England. Lola made arrangements for Booth to stay in the home of John Byron Wilkes when Booth was passing through Terre Haute, Indiana.

After the assassination, Booth wanted to leave the country and he couldn't apply for a United States passport. He decided to adopt John Byron Wilkes' name and identity. Booth now calling himself John Byron Wilkes applied for a British passport and got it.

Captain Scott welcomed the Booths aboard the Indian Queen on April 21, 1868. John and Izola were the only passengers. They sailed to India. The voyage was wonderful for the Booths, but India was not. Izola wanted to return to the United States and her children. John agreed to take her back home. On their return, John got Izola pregnant.

As the ship approached San Francisco Harbor, there was a mutiny. The crew wanted Booth's money. Captain Scott was killed and Izola saw Booth lying on the deck, seemingly dead. The crew put Izola into a small boat and set her adrift. Days later, Izola was picked up by a British ship and taken to San Francisco.

A few days later, September 1869, the Indian Queen was discovered adrift on the ocean with one person on board, John Byron Wilkes. He was taken to the nearest port. John had no money and no idea what happened to Izola. He didn’t know if she were alive or dead. He had no idea how to find her or where to look.

Booth decided to go to Mexico and begin a new life. While in Mexico, Booth expressed a favorable opinion of the late Maximilian, supported slavery, and believed that all of the Catholic property confiscated during the revolution of 1860 be returned. Booth got the attention of the Mexican authorities and was arrested. They ordered him out of the country. Booth left Mexico and headed for Texas.

In 1870, Booth could be found in Glen Rose, Texas. He began using the name John St. Helen. He bought a small cabin and set himself in business selling liquor. A few weeks later a young lawyer from Granbury named Finis Bates showed up at St. Helen’s door. He told St. Helen that the former owner of the cabin had been indicted for selling liquor without a liquor license.

Bates explained that the wrong name was on the indictment and it should have been St. Helen’s. He asked John if he would testify in court to clear his client of this false accusation. John refused. St. Helen told Bates to settle the case without him having to appear and he would pay all costs. At the trial, Bates pled the man indicted and falsely accused—guilty. St. Helen’s paid the fine for the accused and all of Bates’ expenses.

About this time, the daughter of a prominent local man planned to marry the United States Marshal from Paris, Texas. St. Helen didn’t want the marshal to see him and he decided to leave town on the day the marshal arrived.

John St. Helen wandered east until he reached Sewanee, Tennessee, and there he found a job as a carpenter and decided to stay. Not long after moving to Sewanee, he met a lovely young widow named Louisa J. Payne. They fell in love and were married on February 24, 1872. On their wedding night, St. Helen told his new wife that his real name was John Booth. Louisa believed that the lie on the wedding certificate meant that she was living in sin. The very upset Louisa made John promise to change the name on the wedding certificate to his real name.  Soon, John went to the courthouse and had his name changed.

John wanted the money the Knights of the Golden Circle had promised him for killing Lincoln. He told Louisa that a large sum of money was owed to him and he could collect it in Memphis. They went to Memphis and John was recognized. Believing that their lives were in danger, he told Louisa they needed to separate. He sent Louisa home and told her he would return to Sewanee when it was safe. Louisa never saw him again.

Booth headed for the Texas headquarters of the Knights of the Golden Circle located in San Antonio to get the money owed him. For his past service to the Knights of the Golden Circle and his continued silence about Lincoln’s assassination, the KGC decided to give him $3,600 per year. That amount of money would put Booth in the upper middle class and meet all of John Wilkes Booth's living expenses.

John moved to Granbury, Texas. Granbury is twenty miles north of Glen Rose and thirty miles southwest of Fort Worth. John didn’t have to work for a living, but to keep people from becoming suspicious about his source of income, Booth would take whatever job he could find. Booth found a job working as a bartender in Granbury. Finis Bates was a lawyer in Granbury and upon seeing St. Helen in town, he greeted him and soon they became friends.

Five years later, St. Helen became very sick. Both St. Helen and his doctor believed he was dying. In a deathbed confession, St. Helen told Bates that he killed Abraham Lincoln and his real name was John Wilkes Booth.

John St. Helen did not die, he made a full recovery. Now, Bates had a problem. He believed that if he maintained his silence he was aiding in Booth’s continued escape and he may be considered an accomplice. Bates told Booth of the difficulty he was having keeping silent. He said that he would have to report this information to authorities. John saw problems ahead and decided to vanish.

In 1878 a handsome man about forty with a clear complexion and black wavy hair moved to Bandera County. His name was William J. Ryan. He opened his own school, the Bandera Institute, and was able to attract 50 students from the elementary grades to high school. He directed acting classes and taught classic literature to the older students.

This educated man with a southern accent was welcomed into mainstream society. He met a woman and they planned to marry. A relative of the bride arrived well in advance of the wedding to visit with the family. When he met Ryan, it was a jaw dropping experience. He said Ryan looked like John Wilkes Booth. Ryan told the visitor that he wasn't feeling well and would explain everything in the morning. That night Ryan left Bandera County and never returned.

Being recognized gave Booth quite a shock. He decided to leave the United States using the British passport with the name John Byron Wilkes. He went back to India. Alone in a strange country, Booth wasn't finding his new life satisfying. He decided to return to the United States. Booth still had money and investments in New York under the name John Wilkes, but it was inaccessible to him. Dead men don't make withdraws.

Booth thought up a way to free up the money before leaving India. He thought that the name John Wilkes could easily be understood as John Byron Wilkes, and when John Byron Wilkes died he could give the assets of John Wilkes to anyone he designated in a will.  Booth decided to kill off the imaginary John Byron Wilkes of India and write a will to free up his assets still held in the United States. In the will, John Byron Wilkes described as heirs to his body the children of John Wilkes Booth. Also included in the will were his wife, lovers, and friends. After a long investigation, the heirs of John Wilkes Booth were paid.

Booth returned to Texas and in 1885, William J. Ryan could be found teaching school in Eden. He taught for one year and disappeared. That was the last anyone ever saw or heard of William J. Ryan. William J. Ryan changed his name to David E. George and moved to Oklahoma.

The Knights of the Golden Circle were paying David E. George $3,600 a year to keep silent about Lincoln’s assassination. David E. George became addicted to laudanum (opium) and began telling stories about killing Lincoln and that his real name was John Wilkes Booth. When David E. George broke his vow of silence with the Knights of the Golden Circle, he had to be killed. In 1903, agents of the Knights of the Golden Circle spiked George’s drink with arsenic, killing him. Booth was sixty-four.

For more information see:
Lincoln, Davis, and Booth: Family Secrets
Izola: The story of John Wilkes Booth’s wife

1 comment:

  1. The grand-daughter, several times removed, of John Wilkes Booth lives in Barberton, OH.

    She is selling-off.a treasure trove of never-before-seen memorabilia from America's most important murder.
    The profits of which will be donated to assorted charities.

    This will be a private, on-line auction. Your credentials as a collector will be required.