|Posted by Jay Longley on February 19, 2014 at 6:10 PM|
The most memorable part for me though was Surratt's recording of his relationship with John Wilkes Booth. Throughout the journal, he's telling us of Booth's involvement with the KGC as well as his own. I was most interested in learning all I could about Booth as I was aware of an old newspaper article about John Ravenswood who spent a year in Brownwood in 1871 and I've always been fascinated by the Lincoln Assassination. Here's our Bloody Bill Anderson Mystery group's post where I transcribed the article from an old local history book.
Hi members. I found this story many years ago when I first
read "Frontier's Generation" by Tevis Clyde Smith (Sr.), 1931, pages
46, 47, 48, & 49.
"And now we approach the Booth legend. Perhaps you have forgotten
the details of the story; let us go into it briefly:
Booth was not killed at the Garrett place by Boston Corbett; he made
his escape, drifted down to Mississippi, hid at the home of an uncle
until the broken bones in his leg knitted together: then he journeyed
to the Pacific slope, went from there to the South Seas, to India, to
Ceylon, back to North America, and to Mexico, where he became
embroiled in political intrigue; he would have lost his life there,
but someone saved him because he was a Catholic. Booth, disguised as
a priest, escaped from the country; he came to Texas, settled at
Granbury under the name of John St. Helen, and went into the saloon
business. But Booth took little interest in his saloon; he received
much money from some mysterious source, and spent most of his time
reciting Shakespeare. Becoming seriously ill, and thinking he was
about to die, he confessed to Judge Finis L. Bates of Granbury that
he was not John St. Helen, but in reality John Wilkes Booth. Bates
thought him delirious; Booth recovered, and moved to the Indian
Territory, where he took the name of David E. George. He committed
suicide at the Grand Avenue Hotel, in Enid, during the month of
January, 1903. Before his death, he told several people that he was
John Wilkes Booth. The Enid Wave printed the following story January
'David E. George, a wealthy resident of the Territory, who committed
suicide here, on his death bed announced himself to be John Wilkes
Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. He stated that he had
successfully eluded the officers after shooting Lincoln and since had
remained incognito. His statement caused an investigation. Surgeons
examined the body and stated the man to be of the age Booth would be
at this time, and that his leg was broken in the same place and in
the same manner as that of Booth after jumping from the president's
box at Ford's Theatre following the assassination. All the time
George has received money regularly from unknown sources. He had
previously attempted suicide at El Reno. It was at El Reno that Mrs.
Harper, who was mentioned in George's dying statement, had befriended
him and had listened to a similar supposed death bed confession. No
reason for the suicide is known. George maintained to the last to
his attendants that he was John Wilkes Booth, and his general
appearance closely resembles that of Booth.'
Bates, reading of George's death, took the train for Enid, and
identified David E. George as John St. Helen; he then had George
mummified, and placed on exhibition throughout the nation as the
assassin of President Lincoln. At the same time, he set to work on a
book, "The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth", which he
published in 1907. The book was read with avid interest throughout
the United States; Bates sold 75,000 copies.
The story died down, to leap into print from time to time. In 1920,
according to the Dearborn Independent, Bates tried to sell them the
body of George for one thousand dollars. The Independent took little
stock in Bates' story; deciding to investigate the facts, they sent a
reporter over the ground traversed by Bates; the reporter wrote his
observations, and the Independent editor filed them away. In 1924,
the story broke into print again, and in 1925, the Independent
published its 'exposure' of the legend. The series of articles, six
in number, were written by F.L. Black. Black claims that Booth was
killed at the Garrett place in Virginia; he says that it is all hokum
about no one knowing where Booth is buried - that he is interred in
the family burial plot; and he claims that the government, contrary
to Bates' statements, paid something like $75,000 in rewards to the
men who had a hand in the killing of the president's assassin.
There are two sides of the story. Many people believe Bates, others
discredit his version as a myth.
Booth, according to stories appearing in the local newspapers in December,
1922, is supposed to have spent the year 1871 in Brownwood; while
here, he went under the name of John Ravenswood. One day, he told
several friends that he was hiding under a pseudonym. 'My name is
not John Ravenswood,' he said; 'it is, in reality, John Wilkes
Booth.' Later, when he expressed a desire to go to the Indian
Nations, these friends, to show their sympathy for him, gave him a
horse, and money with which to buy supplies along his route. So John
Ravenswood left Brownwood; he never appeared here again. Instead, he
went to the Indian Nations, and committed suicide at Enid in 1903.
The author of this newspaper article concludes by asking if anyone in
this section remembers a man by the name of Ravenswood, who visited
this country between the years of '68 and '72.
Five days later, he gets startling results. A Brownwood woman, who
says she is a cousin of Booth's, tells him that Booth was not killed
by Corbett; Booth escaped, fled to Mexico, then came to Texas, where
he lived under the name of Ravenswood. While in the Lone Star state,
Booth ran a grocery store; then, he went to Oklahoma, and adopting
the name of Joseph Johnson, entered the dry goods business. On March
4, 1913, he died from pneumonia; a short time before his death, he
revealed his identity to his wife.
This woman tells the reporter that she knows beyond a shadow of a
doubt that Booth died in Enid in 1913; she has read letters from
Booth to another one of his cousins, Olivia Booth. These letters
must have been widely circulated, and Booth must have had a host of
cousins, because I have read of about fifty of these close relations
who have been favored by a glimpse at John's correspondence. But
regardless of this, according to the newspaper man, his informant has
vouched for the truth of the story, so there you are.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to find this lady, so I have not
traced this particular phase of the legend to my complete
satisfaction. But I have asked a number of oldtimers who were living
here in the sixties and the seventies if they remember a man named
Ravenswood. They reply that they do not - and all of them have
uncommonly sharp memories."
On pages 12 and 13 of Surratt's Journal, he tells of the horrible consequences he will face if it is discovered that he has written any information down about the Knights of the Golden Circle, their members, their organization, or their members. This part impressed me because it emphasized how important extreme secrecy was to the KGC. It also helped me better understand the one of the reasons some of the most mysterious men in Brown County, Texas including William C. "Bloody Bill" Anderson and Henry Ford refused to tell anyone (even their families) about their lives before coming to Brown County. Henry Ford went to his death(?) in 1910 without ever revealing anything about his past to anyone with the probable exception of other KGC members including Bill Anderson. Bill Anderson was just a secretive about his past until 1924 when he allowed Brownwood Banner-Bulletin writer Henry C. Fuller to do a series of interviews with him at his Salt Creek, Texas farm. This was several years after his second wife had died (1916) and the KGC had ceased all operations (1916 also). Still, Anderson never divulged any secrets about the Knights, their organization or activities. That these ex-guerrillas, KGC members, and a large number of ex-Confederates who sought refuge in Brownwood and Brown County still feared prosecution or even death at the hands of the Federal Government these many years later also helps explain the necessity of having an underground tunnel network so that they could freely travel without detection all around this KGC stronghold.
Beginning on page 11 of Surratt's Journal, he begins describing the people who were present at the Baltimore Castle of the KGC. This chapter impressed me greatly because revealed that some of the highest and most-respected leaders in the country were in attendance including cabinet members, judges, congressmen, actors, and editors. This gave me a clearer understanding about the KGC's influence and membership and erased whatever doubt I had that they not only had members in the Southern States but they had members in the highest levels of the Federal Government and military. Reading pages 16 and 17 helped me to understand that the KGC had the utmost respect for our Revolutionary heroes and even patterned themselves after them. During the Civil War, the KGC even changed its name to the Sons of Liberty after the Revolutionary Sons.
Chapter III of the Journal beginning on page 25 gives a lot of historical details about the KGC's plans and works before and after Lincoln's first inauguration and tells a lot about Booth and his relationship with "that woman" who Surratt felt was a severe threat to their plans. The rest of the journal deals with the intricate plans and activities of Booth, Surratt, and the Knights and the many frustrating obstacles and defeats they faced throughout the War. The entire journal makes it clear that it was the KGC's official plans that Lincoln be kidnapped, not killed.
On about page 60 through 62, Surratt explains the plans to infiltrate the Federal military or to encourage recruits to reconsider and back out of enlisting.
Chapter XIII, beginning on page 80 tells about Booth's desire to kill, not kidnap Lincoln. This of course is very important to anyone who seriously studies the ensuing assassination.
One of the most important phrases to me in the entire journal is when Surratt says, on page 94, "If he (Booth) takes the road planned out, he will certainly escape. This suggests what I believe really did happen, that is, that Booth did escape and was not killed in the barn.