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Author Topic: Booth's Knife  (Read 6655 times)
Dave Taylor
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« on: April 23, 2011, 10:53:43 PM »

Every once and awhile, my attention is drawn back to the knives used in the assassination.  The discrepancy between Powell's knife in Alias Paine and Lincoln's Assassins was the reason I first contacted the Surratt House Museum and JOHRC.  Today, however, I decided to finally try to work out the problems I’ve had with Booth’s knife.  I apologize ahead of time for the lengthy post.

Let’s look at some pictures, shall we?  First off, here is Booth’s knife as displayed in Ford’s Theatre.




It’s an ornate Manson Sheffield double edged blade with an “America” motif.  It’s quite a beautiful and ironic knife for an assassin.

Next, here are the two Atzerodt knives on display at Ford’s.  



This large bowie knife would be the one found by detective John Lee upon his search of Atzerodt’s room at the Kirkwood.  As he stated, “I then went to the bed, took up the covering piece by piece, and felt all through it to see if there was any thing in the quilt. After I got down underneath the sheets, between the sheets and the mattress, I got the bowie-knife.”



The second one is identified as the one found in the gutter after Atzerodt lost his nerve and tossed it.  It was found the next morning in the gutter of F street between 8th and 9th streets.  Originally spotted by a lady living in a third story room across the street, she sent out a colored woman to get it, but did not want it in the house.  A Mr. William Clendenin, who was walking down F street at the time and saw the woman retrieve it, took possession of it and then turned it over to the chief of police.

The remaining knife at Ford’s is Booth’s switchblade pocketknife that was recovered on him upon his death at Garrett’s (I have a theory about this too, but that’s for another time).  All of the above are pictures I took of the knives in March.  Now here are some older photographs.

An undated Associated Press news photo of a collection of Booth relics.


Here we see the "America" knife (next to the bullet), Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife (above the derringer), and Atzerodt’s “Gutter” knife (to the left of the “Bed” knife).  In addition, there is an unidentified knife with a sheath at the bottom of the image.  This unknown knife is what caught my eye.

Here is an older photograph called Booth’s Weapons showing some items that were recovered from Booth upon his death.



This image, along with a similar one of the conspirator’s weapons that follows later, is believed to have been commissioned by Richard Baynham Garrett during the latter part of the 1890’s to provide images for his lecture about Booth’s death.  This image, along with an exact copy I have from the JOHRC, identify the knife in the sheath as the one Booth was wearing when he died.  

While it’s impossible to identify the knife, the sheath that it is in, looks to be very similar to the sheath from the unidentified knife in the AP photo:



So at this point I had an 1890's photograph of a knife in sheath that said was the knife taken from Booth's body, and a very similar looking knife in a sheath from a later AP photograph.

Next, I had this image called Booth’s Dagger



Now, at the very least, this is not the same Booth knife that Ford’s has on display.  This is a large, single edged blade knife with no ornate engravings.  Here is where I started my digging.  

At first I believed that this image of “Booth’s Dagger” was mislabeled and was actually that of Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife.  They are both Rio Grande Camp knives knives and are very similar.  However, looking more at them, I no longer believe this to be true.  The biggest thing to notice is this defect on Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife.



When looking at the “Booth Dagger” there is no defect on the blade.  Still I thought, that damage could have happened at a later time.  But then I have this other Garrett image of the “Evidence Against the Lincoln Conspirators”



While the watermark covers most of the knife up, the copy I have from JOHRC identifies #3 as Atzerodt’s knife.  And if I zoom in you can see the same defect in this knife:



Therefore I think it’s safe to say that the Booth’s Dagger picture is not of Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife.

Since I received no help from the images I had, I decided to go back to the testimony of people who were there.  I wanted to see if anyone had described the knife that was taken from Booth when he died.  I scoured Hall’s On the Way to Garrett’s Barn and typed up every instance that Booth’s knife was mentioned.  David Herold, Everton Conger, Luther B. Baker, John “Jack” Garrett, and Boston Corbett all make mention of Booth’s knife. Most are passing mention of his “bowie knife and sheath”.  Baker testified at Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment proceedings that after Booth was shot, he rushed in and took the carbine and one of the revolvers, while Doherty grabbed the other revolver and knife from Booth’s belt.  Aboard the Montauk the next day, Luther Baker, Everton Conger, and Davy Herold all identified a bowie knife as Booth’s.  Herold went as far as saying that Booth told him he had stabbed Rathbone with that very knife.

This knife was later entered into evidence as Exhibit #28 during the Conspiracy Trial and was once again recognized by Conger as the one removed from Booth’s body (Baker was not called to testify during the initial conspiracy trail).

It should be noted that in all of the statements aboard the Montauk, the Conspiracy Trial testimonies and even Johnson’s impeachment trial in 1867, no particular description is made of Booth’s knife besides it being a bowie knife.  I found this very odd considering the ornate and detailed inscriptions on the blade on display at Ford’s   You’d think someone would have made a comment about such details.

Finally, at John Surratt’s Trial later in 1867, we are given this description of Booth’s knife from Everton Conger:

“Q: Will you state what articles you took from him?
A: This is the carbine he had.  He had two pistols; I think they were Wheeler & Wilson’s; two revolvers, my impression is they were seven-shooting pistols, of some kind, of about six inch barrel.  He had a large bowie-knife, or hunting knife, and a sheath.
Q: Do you know whose make that was?
A: No, sir; the knife has a name on it, but I do not know what it is.”

“(A bowie-knife and sheath and a compass were shown to witness, and identified by him as being taken from the body of Booth.  A piece of map was also identified by witness as having been taken from Herold…”

“Q: How do you identify the knife?
A: The knife has a spot of rust on it, about two-thirds the way from the hilt to the point, right where the bevel of the knife commences at the end.  It was said to be blood, but I have never thought it was myself.  It is the same shape and style of knife.
Q: Have you not seen other knives like it?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Have you not seen a great many like it?
A: No, sir; only a few.
Q: You put no marks on it?
A: No.  I have no means of identifying it except by the description I have given.
Q: You did not look at the name of the maker?
A: I do not know that the name of the maker is on it.  I have looked at it since and noticed the words “Rio Grande camp-knife” on it.  I have no means of identifying it except what I have stated, and my general recollection of the style of the knife”

Conger is identifying “Booth’s Dagger”.  The “spot of rust” and the words “Rio Grande Camp Knife” are both on this blade:



While it is possible that Conger was presented with a different bowie knife and just thought it was the same he recovered from Booth, at the very least, this eliminates the “America” knife at Ford’s as being the one from Booth’s body since Conger claims that the bowie knife he was shown was the same shape and style.  The “America” knife is not the same shape nor the same style as a Rio Grande Camp knife.

In summation, the “America” motif knife on display at Ford’s is not the knife that was recovered from Booth’s body upon his death.  In fact, it seems extremely likely that the "Booth's Dagger" image is of the real knife found on Booth.  Furthermore, if Davy Herold is to be taken truthfully that Booth told him he stabbed Rathbone with the knife that was recovered, the "America" knife at Ford's might not have even been used by Booth during the assassination.  
« Last Edit: April 24, 2011, 07:43:17 PM by Dave Taylor » Logged
Wesley Harris
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2011, 01:53:05 AM »

Great analysis, Dave.  As you know, I'm working on the same subject for the book.  The research I did at Ford's helped answer a lot of questions for me.  I have to admit that when I first started reviewing the documents, I couldn't see how the National Park Service knows which knife is which.  I have several other photos that show the Rio Grande knife as coming from three different sources.  (And Powell's knife in the Huntington Library in Pasadena is also a Rio Grande camp knife.)  I haven't had much time since the conference to analyze the material from Ford's and James O. Hall's papers from the Surratt House.   I have little doubt on the firearms, although there are several unaccounted for that were seized during the investigation.  Atzerodt's and Arnold's, for example.

The knives are a bit more sticky.  I found a letter in Dr. Hall's files lamenting that there are "too many knives." 

Three things to keep in mind

1.  just about every large knife capable of being used for self-defense was called a bowie knife in those days.  What looks like a dagger to us could have been called a bowie knife by most back then.  Of course, that doesn't explain the lack of reference to the engraving during Conger's testimony.  However, Conger misidentifies the revolvers as "Wheeler and Wilson seven-shooters" when they were Colt 6-shot revolvers so maybe he was less than accurate in his description or testimony.

2. the weapons in the news photos (I have others you didn't show) and the series of Garrett photos were labeled or identified by who knows who....a reporter?  Maybe one who didn't take good notes.  A employee at the Judge Advocate General office?  There's no guarantee that any of those identifications are correct. 

3.  The National Park Service hates to be wrong.  I obtained piles of stuff from their files and while it's a convoluted trail, I think they have good reason to label the knives as they have.  The answer may very well be in the files but it will be a puzzle that I haven't had time to put together.

I'm not saying your hypothesis is incorrect.  I haven't got deep enough into it yet to make any definitive judgments.  When I get a chance, I will send you some of the photos I have that will really screw with your brain in trying to sort this out.
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rich smyth
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2011, 06:14:44 AM »

Fantastic post Dave. This is what this site is all about. Thought provoking topics that get everybody thinking and contributing new bits and pieces that add to the puzzle. We all benefit from your work.
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Dave Taylor
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« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2011, 09:15:37 AM »

Thanks for the input Wesley.  I was hoping this topic would catch your eye.

I really want to break down Conger's testimony here.  First he was asked

“Q: Will you state what articles you took from him?
A: This is the carbine he had.  He had two pistols; I think they were Wheeler & Wilson’s; two revolvers, my impression is they were seven-shooting pistols, of some kind, of about six inch barrel.  He had a large bowie-knife, or hunting knife, and a sheath.
Q: Do you know whose make that was?
A: No, sir; the knife has a name on it, but I do not know what it is.”

At this point Conger has not seen any of the weapons yet.  He is recalling from memory, and as Wesley has pointed out, he is wrong on the make of the revolvers.  But even before seeing the knife again, he remembers the knife having a name on it.  Then later, he is shown the knife:

“(A bowie-knife and sheath and a compass were shown to witness, and identified by him as being taken from the body of Booth.  A piece of map was also identified by witness as having been taken from Herold…”

He examines the knife and then later is asked how can he be sure it is the same one he recovered from Booth:

“Q: How do you identify the knife?
A: The knife has a spot of rust on it, about two-thirds the way from the hilt to the point, right where the bevel of the knife commences at the end.  It was said to be blood, but I have never thought it was myself.  It is the same shape and style of knife.
Q: Have you not seen other knives like it?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Have you not seen a great many like it?
A: No, sir; only a few.
Q: You put no marks on it?
A: No.  I have no means of identifying it except by the description I have given.
Q: You did not look at the name of the maker?
A: I do not know that the name of the maker is on it.  I have looked at it since and noticed the words “Rio Grande camp-knife” on it.  I have no means of identifying it except what I have stated, and my general recollection of the style of the knife”

The knife he was given in court to look at, the one he describes above, the one he identifies for the fourth time since it was recovered, is a Rio Grande Camp Knife.

Also, Conger says that one way he identifies it is the spot of rust akin to blood on the blade.  This mark is supported by a May 17th, 1865 statement by Boston Corbett who says, “Upon his being brought out, we found a seven shooter Spencer carbine.  I saw only one revolver; but there was a second one in the hands of Col. Baker, and also a large knife or dagger which I supposed to be the one displayed on the night of the 14th inst. at the theatre, having upon it marks of blood.”
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Wesley Harris
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« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2011, 09:38:11 AM »

it is also possible that Conger is testifying from the knife he is seeing in court. In other words, he is describing the knife he sees on the witness stand as the knife rather than testifying from memory.  Usually when a witness is testifying, the prosecutor has already laid out near the witness stand the evidence that witness is to identify.  Maybe the prosecutor laid out the wrong knife and Conger is merely describing what he knows he's expected to identify.  Just an idea.

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Randal
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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2011, 10:25:05 AM »

Call me silly, but I don't think the prosecution would lay out  a "wrong" piece of evidence, (even by mistake)  for someone testifying  for  the prosecution.
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Wesley Harris
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« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2011, 10:42:04 AM »

I think it's very possible, Randal, having testified in hundreds of trials and having seen some stupid mistakes.  The chain of custody back then was often haphazard, as evidenced by our attempts to sort out the knives.  None of the items were ever "tagged" or marked in some way for later positive identification.  I would be willing to bet all the evidence was piled in a single box and along it way it became difficult to sort out what came from where.  Even with the pistols, had Powell not broken his, making it forever identifiable, it would be difficult to sort out which two were taken off Booth.  The Garrett photos Dave referred to in the knife thread, some of the earliest photos of the weapons, identify one of Booth's pistols as Atzerodt's.
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Randal
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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2011, 10:54:50 AM »

In a way, I agree with you, however, being with the magnitude of this case at the time, I suspect prosecutors had their ducks in a row. There were many instances where prosecutors tried to trip up witness defendants, but the defense wasn't allowed to question or challenge what evidence the prosecution had, not that I can tell by reading the trial transcripts. Of course, we go back and remember that it was a Military Tribunal.
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Dave Taylor
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« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2011, 07:28:21 PM »

Wesley, I concede that it is possible that the prosecution at the Surratt Trial gave Conger the wrong knife.  I don't think that occurred, but it is possible.  However, even with that possibility, Conger still states he recognizes the knife in court as the one he recovered from Booth because they share, "the same shape and style of knife".

This Rio Grand Camp Knife and the "America" knife are not the same shape and or style. 


Conger also states that he has seen others like it.  We know that there are other Rio Grande Camp Knives.  Atzerodt's "Bed" knife is the exact same kind.  So we can conclude that they were somewhat common and something Conger would have seen elsewhere.  I have a hard time believing that the beautifully engraved "America" knife, a truly stunning knife, is one that would have been so common.

Now, I am concluding that the knife recovered from Booth's body was a Rio Grande Camp Knife, not the "America" knife.  This does not necessarily preclude the "America" knife from being the one Booth used to stab Rathbone.  To me, it seems more likely that Booth would have kept the knife he stabbed Rathbone with throughout his escape, but perhaps this is not the case.  Ultimately, I would like to know the provenance on the "America" knife.  Where did it come from?  Did Booth drop it or give it to someone during the escape and that person later turned it over?  I don't know.  But, I truly believe that they did not recover the "America" knife from Booth's body at Garrett's barn.
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Dave Taylor
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« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2011, 07:40:38 PM »

I hate to double post but I just noticed this.  Conger states the knife he was shown had a spot of rust that others said was blood.  This “blood spot” is corroborated above by Boston Corbett.  On the "Booth's Dagger" image there is a large spot.  I also just noticed that in my AP news photograph there is a similar spot on the knife in the sheath.



Again, I feel confident that Booth was caught with this Rio Grande Camp Knife.
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Wesley Harris
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« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2011, 06:57:24 AM »

Dave, the questions you pose can keep a man up at night!  The obvious questions include where is this knife now?  Did Booth have two knives?  If Booth had the Rio Grande knife, where did the 'America' knife come from? 

The earliest description I've found of the 'America' knife is a 1885 newspaper article that gives a complete description.

I've never found anything in the record about recovery of knives related to Booth other than the one 'bowie knife' at the time of his capture.

Did you get the photos I e-mailed you?
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Dave Taylor
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« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2011, 06:15:26 PM »

Here is one of the photos Wesley is referring to:



This is the last of the Richard B. Garrett images commissioned in the 1890's.  The other two, "Booth's Weapons" and "Evidence Against the Conspirators", are above.  This image has the "America" knife right at the top labeled as "12. Booth's Dagger"



Wes, do you have any paperwork about where the "America" knife came from?  Because, as I said, it is still possible that the "America" knife was the one that Booth used to stab Rathbone, but there is no way it was the knife recovered from Booth at Garrett's.  Especially since we now have two Garrett images, one that shows the "America" knife as Booth's dagger, and one that shows the Rio Grande Camp knife as the one taken from Booth's body.  Any ideas who I should contact at Ford's for info on the "America" knife?
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Dave Taylor
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« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2011, 06:40:59 PM »

While the "America" knife has been around from as far back as 1885 (according to Wes' article), I don't think that is has always been known as the "Rathbone stabbing" knife.  Here is an image from a 1958 book called American Knives by Harold Peterson:



This book has the Rio Grande Camp Knife identified as the knife Booth used to stab Rathbone.  The picture is credited to the NPS and, since the blade does not have a chip out of it, it's clearly not Atzerodt's "Bed" knife.

Also, From the JOHRC, I also have a page copied out of the 1962 book Civil War Guns by William B. Edwards that has an image of the Rio Grande Camp Knife.

Lastly, my image of "Booth's Dagger", comes from PictureHistory.com.  From their website, "Included in [PictureHistory's] holdings are the Picture History Collection, the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection, and the Gordon Parks Collection."  My guess is that this image comes from the Kunhardt collection.  Which to means that around the time Twenty Days came out (1965), someone still identified the Rio Grande Knife as the one Booth used to stab Rathbone.

So, it appears that there has always been confusion about which knife was the Rathbone knife.  Was it the "America" knife that we are currently unsure where it came from, or was it the Rio Grande Camp Knife that was recovered from Booth?  I'll keep digging...
« Last Edit: April 25, 2011, 06:45:29 PM by Dave Taylor » Logged
Wesley Harris
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« Reply #13 on: April 25, 2011, 09:07:23 PM »

I have five different books that show photos of the Rio Grande knife as the one Booth used, one published as recently as 2009.  I also have a couple of early 20th Century newspaper articles that state Booth dropped a knife on the stage but I find that unlikely.  It would show up somewhere in the testimony. 

If the America knife was not recovered off Booth, I don't know where it came from.  Apparently someone at NPS decided it was the Rathbone weapon but what that's based on, I do not know.  I still have that mound of documents from Ford's to go through.

Dave, you and I know more about the knives than anyone currently at Ford's.  I have talked to all of them.  There is no historian or curator on staff at the moment and apparently no plans to hire one in the near future.  It is apparent this Rio Grande knife is not on display at Ford's and to the current staff's knowledge, it is not in the inventory.
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John Watson
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« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2011, 03:22:58 PM »

If I remember correctly, Peanuts was whopped on the head by Booth with the handle of his knife.  Would the dagger be an efficient weapon for a head?  Seems to my unknowing brain that the Rio Grande would be much better as a weapon from either end.

I've always thought Booth struck Peanuts with the butt end of the knife as he gripped it in his fist.  Although Peanuts told of being struck and kicked by Booth, he said he didn't think Booth intended to injure him.
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