On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth entered Ford’s Theatre about 10:07 p.m. and slowly made his way toward the State Box where the Lincolns and their entourage were seated. At approximately 10:15 p.m.

Booth opened the door to the State Box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head at point blank range. After a short struggle with Henry Rathbone, Booth then jumped the 11 feet to the stage floor below. When he hit the stage floor he broke his left leg just above the ankle. Managing to make it across the stage and out the back door where he had a horse waiting, he made his escape.

Supposedly the federal authorities caught up with Booth some time later at the Garrett farm in Virginia. Booth refuse to give up, and the barn was set on fire. When Booth still refused to come out, he was supposedly shot to death.

Conspiracy theories abound as to why Lincoln was shot and as to what exactly happened afterward. One theory goes that Booth was working with some Southern sympathizers who wanted to get rid of Lincoln. After the shooting some of these Southerners helped Booth escape. The body found in Virginia was badly burned and misidentified as Booth, according to one story.

So the story goes, Booth was escorted down through Georgia and then headed west to Texas, winding up near Glen Rose. There he lived in a little one-room log cabin on the north side of Glen Rose. At the time he was going by the name John St. Helen.

I had heard that the cabin was still standing north of town. When I went looking for it recently I found the rock chimney still standing, the floor still in place and part of one wall. The rest of it was gone. What I saw may be gone by now.

It seems that Booth, or John St. Helen, only lived there for a short time. When word circulated around town that one of the women of Glen Rose was planning to marry a U.S. marshal and three more marshals were to attend the wedding, John St. Helen hurriedly left town.

John St. Helen next showed up in Granbury in the early 1870s, working as a bartender. He walked with a limp and quoted Shakespeare, as did the Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth. It is said that John St. Helen would drink himself into a stupor every April 14, which was the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.

Having been an actor at one time, I can imagine that John St. Helen would have attended plays and such at the Granbury Opera House. Having attended several plays there myself, I have often imagined that it was built in the same style as Ford’s Theatre. As I look up at the balcony I can just imagine John Wilkes Booth jumping from the balcony to the stage. And then again, I wonder if maybe one of the seats I am looking at was where John St. Helen may have sat while viewing a play.

John St. Helen tended bar in Granbury for several years, some say at the Nutt House Bar, and then he got sick. After being sick for a while and the doctors more or less giving him no hope, he requested that a priest be brought in from Dallas so that he might make a confession. A priest was contacted and brought to his house to receive his confession.

At this time John St. Helen confessed that he was actually John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. As proof of the truth of his story he told the men present that they could find the pistol he had used hidden underneath the floor of the cabin he had lived in near Glen Rose. Some of the men went and searched the house and found a derringer wrapped in a newspaper with the headline of Lincoln’s assassination on the front page. The pistol was underneath the house where John St. Helen had said that it would be.

(If the gun was found, as legend has it, what happened to it? I have yet to locate it.)

Soon after his confession, John St. Helen recovered and left Granbury. Some people think that he taught school for three years (1879-81) in Bandera County before moving on to teach at the first school built in the Concho County town of Eden in 1885.

After that nothing more was heard of John St. Helen.

Now, let’s move forward to the year 1903 in Indian Territory, in Enid. Remember, Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907.

In Enid a man by the name of David George claimed to be John Wilkes Booth. He also claimed to have changed his name the first time to John St. Helen. Soon after this confession, George committed suicide, a final act to a mystery that may never be solved.

According to another legend, the death of David George was not the end of the tale. The body, whether you wish to call him David George, John St. Helen or John Wilkes Booth, was reportedly mummified and exhibited in the back room of an Enid, Okla., funeral parlor and many carnival sideshows. One interesting note, the mummy’s black hair turned white over time.

The mummy, identified as John Wilkes Booth, toured the country for many years. The last recorded sighting of the mummy was in New Hope, Penn., in 1976. Word is a private collector who values his privacy purchased the mummy.

Did John Wilkes Booth escape the authorities, make his way to Texas and change his name to John St. Helen?

Was John St. Helen just a well educated drifter who enjoyed quoting Shakespeare and faked a limp to pull a final hoax on the citizens of Granbury and gain notoriety for himself?

Was David George just an old drunk who came up with this tale at a bar to secure a free drink and later, realizing the gravity of the tale he had told, went and committed suicide?

We may never know the answers to these questions. However, we do know that many hoaxes have been played on the American people and this could be one of the biggest.

Do you know of any place of historical or current interest that might make a good story? If so, send me an e-mail and let me know what and where it is.

John Watson is a Cleburne

resident who may be reached at texastraveler@sbcglobal.net.

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