There was a substantial amount of eyewitness testimony that the man who was killed at Garrett’s farm was not John Wilkes Booth. But if it wasn’t, where was Booth? And who was the man with red hair who was shot and killed?
Fast forward twelve years to 1877. In a little place called Granbury, Texas, a man named John St. Helen lay dying. He summoned Finis Bates, his attorney, and confessed that he was not John St. Helen. “My name is John Wilkes Booth.”
Before the final burial of John Wilkes Booth in the family plot in 1869, his mother, brother, and sister viewed the body. The mayor of Baltimore, William M. Pegram, who had known Booth well, was also present. In 1913, Mayor Pegram signed a sworn statement that the remains he saw in 1869 were those of John Wilkes Booth.
This unusual statement was necessary because an alternative history emerged what happened at Garrett’s farm in the early morning hours of April 26. According to that story, John Wilkes Booth did not die at the age of 27 on the front porch steps of Garrett’s farmhouse. A 1911 Washington Post article claimed there were more than 50 theories of what had really become of Booth. In the same article, they described a box containing Booth’s body being sent to Baltimore. The box was decayed but the body itself “was in a fair state of preservation”.
Booth was buried 15 minutes after midnight on a cold February night. Only a handful of people were present. The family wanted privacy and they did not want the public to know exactly where John’s body was.
On April 24, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold arrived at the tobacco farm of Richard H. Garrett. They had been on the run for nine days. Booth lied to Garrett, claiming to be a wounded Confederate soldier, and the farmer agreed to let the men stay in his tobacco barn. The men were nervous, knowing the countryside was swarming with people looking for them.
The government was offering a $100,000 reward for the conspirators’ capture, which is the equivalent of $1.6 million in 2020. The biggest price was on Booth’s head, for $50,000.
Explicit warnings on the Wanted posters stated that anyone assisting the fugitives in any way would be treated as accomplices, who would be subject to a trial by a military commission and the death penalty.