Troy Cowan Topic: John Wilkes Booth lived until 1903

John Wilkes Booth lived until 1903

Booth left the Garrett farm the day before the US soldiers arrived. He went on to live a long life.

John Wilkes Booth died in old age

Everyone knows the government's official version of Booth's death in the burning barn. But, there are other accounts from private citizens that contradict the government's story. Perhaps we should pay attention to those stories. In 1903, a man claiming to be John Wilkes Booth died in Enid, Oklahoma. Over a decade later, while doing research on Booth's connection to Oklahoma, W. P. Campbell of the Oklahoma Historical society had an idea. He believed that the only way new information could be obtained about Booth would be from the memories of people. He wrote many letters asking for any remembrances about Booth. One of his letters fell into the hands of W. P. Carneal, the postmaster of Lent, Virginia. It was a year after William Garrett died. Mr. Carneal knew William Garrett for decades and heard him tell the story of Booth escape many times. Mr. Carneal wrote the following statement from memory and sent it to Mr. Campbell.

William Garrett’s story
as told by Mr. Carneal

One evening a while before dark, a couple of men on horseback and in Confederate uniforms came to our place, having with them another young man who had no uniform but had a sore leg. They wanted the crippled young man taken in until arrangements could be made to get him to a place of safety. At first father didn’t want to do it, but the Confederate officers said they would see that he got into no trouble, so the young man was taken in and the two cavalry men paced off to keep picket and give warning if any federals came up, so the crippled man told us. He stayed in the kitchen that night where brother Jack and I sleep. The next evening when the crippled man was in the front yard on the grass the two cavalry men came up as fast as they could, said something about they must get to the woods, so one of them took the crippled man on the horse and they started toward the heavy woods this side of the Port. One of the cavalry men started toward Bowling Green. They were in such a hurry that they didn’t say good-bye or if they would come back. That night brother Jack and I kept awake much of the time thinking the men might come back, and father told us not to let any more strangers stay there. A while before day when it was as dark as charcoal outside I heard someone tap on the back door. I crawled out of bed without making any fuss because I didn’t want to wake father and mother who were asleep upstairs. So I opened the door but it was so dark I could only see that there were two of them and one was larger and seemingly older by his voice, but the younger one done most of the talking. He said they had come a long ways on foot and was going to some court house but was too tired to go any farther without rest, and they wanted a place to stay. I told them father didn’t want to let any strangers stay there, but if they would be careful and not wake the folks they could stay awhile. They said as they might want to leave at any moment they would prefer some outhouse or crib, so they could go there without disturbing the “old folks” as they called them. I told Jack to not for anything wake father and mother and the men would be gone so they needn’t know they had stayed there. So I showed the strangers to the crib. It was so dark you could not see your hand before you, but I knew the place so well I found the crib door and let them go in where there was hay and cornstalk blades for them to rest on. I stopped around awhile to see that they didn’t take the horses as they had none. Pretty soon I heard noise at the house and hurried there where a lot of men in Union uniforms and one of them an officer had the door open demanding that a light be lit and “damn’d quick.” Just then I heard mother raise the upstairs window and ask who was there and what they wanted. “No matter who we are —we want a light.” Then I heard father coming downstairs and he lit a candle and when he went to the door another officer came up and said “You have someone in here and we want him.” Father tried to tell the new officer that there had been a man there but he wouldn’t let him. “We are not going to listen to any of your excuses,” said the officer. “Where is he?” Then father told him they had gone. “Gone where?” said the officer, and father told him to the woods. Then brother Jack began ransacking the house to see if the crippled man had come back. But the officer grabbed father and pulled him on the porch and called for a rope and said he would swing him to one of the sycamore limbs. I then told them not to harm father and I would tell them. “Father is scared. He don’t know,” I said. I was grabbed by the arm like all savage and I saw I had to tell them something, so I told them, “They went to the crib. I’ll show you where they are.” One of the officers took the candle and we went to the crib, but it was dark as could be in there and not a sound. Pretty soon there was a rustle in the fodder and the officer said I must go in and tell the man in there to give up his arms and surrender. I didn’t want to go but he said I must, and he called to the man in there that he would send me in for the arms and he must surrender. Just then there was whispering, showing that there was more than one in there. One of them said to the other he could “go and be damned; I don’t want you here anyway.” As soon as I got in the man inside snatched up something I thought was a gun and told me to get out, that I had given him a cold deck, or something, and I rushed back to the door and told them the men in there were armed to the teeth and would shoot me. I was let out and the officer again called for surrender or there would be a bonfire and a shooting match. But one of the men in the crib said, “There is a damned young fellow in here who wants to give himself up. As for me—I want time to study.” The officer told him he could have just two minutes. Then one of the men inside told the other to “go, you damned coward! I don’t know you! You have betrayed me and I don’t want you to stay.” He kept cursing him to the last. About this time someone set fire to some hay and poked it through a crack and almost as if it was a powder house the whole inside of the crib was ablaze, and for the first time the men inside could be seen, although they could see those outside. One of the men at once began running from one side to the other looking for a way to get out or a crack to pop anyone who got in the way. The door was broke open and one of the men grabbed the young man and piled on top of him and was dragging him out when someone shot through a crack and the other man inside bounded toward the door and fell on his face. In an instant one of the officers was on him and his clothes was afire. The young man was taken outside and tied to a tree, and the other man was taken out before he burned and carried to the porch and put on some planks with an old coat and a pillow for his head. “Who was it got shot?” asked the young man who had given up. “You know well enough who it was,” answered the officer. “No, I do not know who it was.” “Yes, you do,” said the officer. “You know it is Booth.” “No, I tell you, I don’t know it was Booth,” said the young man. “He told me his name was Boyd.”


Another Letter W. P. Campbell received comes from a letter written by John A. Hopkins Jr. of Winchester, Ky. "My father, the late John A Hopkins, served in Stonewall Jackson's division of Lee's army. He was wounded at Appomattox and paroled after Lee surrendered, but before he went to his home in Virginia, he spent several days at the home of Mr. Garrett. He has told me many times that old man Garrett told him that the man killed in the building on his farm was not Booth. Garrett said the army troops surrounded his premises and began a siege. The soldiers set fire to the barn and shot the poor man by the glare of the fire. It was a cowardly murder, and it was done in the hopes of passing the body off for that of Booth and getting the reward."


(From John Stevenson diary)

John Stevenson was Booth’s friend. After Stevenson heard about Booth's death, he asked Booth's widow, Izola, to run away with him. It was then that she told him John Wilkes Booth was not dead. She said that after the assassination Booth came to the farm and recuperated from his broken leg.

There are others that saw and talked to Booth after his supposed death. The next statement comes from another writer actively involved in collecting Lincoln documents, Osborn Hamlin Oldroyd. As a youth, his family moved to Springfield, Illinois, into the home that President Lincoln once lived in. He became interested in collecting Lincoln memorabilia. Years later, in 1884, he turned the home into The Lincoln Museum. In 1925, Oldroyd sold his entire collection of Lincoln memorabilia, including rare books, photographs, mementos, and Lincoln's original furniture, to the government for the sum of $50,000. In 1910, he asked Kate Scott to give a statement about her knowledge of John Wilkes Booth. Kate was a Union army nurse and met John Wilkes Booth at a military ball. On October 27, she gave Oldroyd a statement under oath. In part, it said, "After the assassination of President Lincoln I could not believe that Booth had been involved and yet, I realized that he had been. He was such a calm and loving person but he believed so deeply in the cause of peace and freedom. Then there was the story of his death and I felt so sorry that so great a talent had been wasted. But then in July, I received a letter in handwriting that was most unmistakably his, asking me to see Winston Weaver and get from him an envelope which had been left with him a number of months before. He said that I should have it at our farm on September 15th and he would call for it. It was signed "John Byron Wilkes". I did as he asked and waited in anticipation, fearing that it was a cruel hoax being perpetrated on me but when the time came, he appeared. He was without his moustache and his appearance was otherwise changed so that he looked completely different. When I expressed concern for his safety he shrugged it off saying that he was to the entire world, dead and buried and that no one would recognize him."


Another collector of historical stories was Arthur Ben Chitty. He had just received his master's degree and was working at Sewanee: The University of the South when he discovered the marriage of John Wilkes Booth and Louisa Payne. They were married on February 24, 1872. A few months after they were married, John wanted to take Louisa to Nashville. He said that in Nashville, he could collect the money that the Knights of the Golden Circle owed him for Lincoln's assassination. In Nashville, he was recognized. Afraid for their lives, he sent Louisa back to Sewanee and he headed for Texas. He would never see Louisa again.


In 1877, a lawyer by the name of Finis Bates took his dying friend's confession. His friend was calling himself John St. Helens. In that confession, St. Helens claimed that he was John Wilkes Booth and he killed Abraham Lincoln. John did not die; he recovered from his illness. Finis Bates then told Booth that he couldn't keep his secret, it would make him an accomplice. Booth decided it would be best to leave town and he disappeared.


On January 13, 1903, a man in Enid, Oklahoma, by the name of David E. George was dying. He gave a dying confession to his landlord, Mrs. Harper. He told her that he was John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. It was later determined that David E. George and John St. Helen were the same person.


Booth did not die at the Garrett farm!


 Troy Cowan, author of Lincoln, Davis, and Booth: Family secrets

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