Richard Baynham Garrett on Finis Bates.

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Rob Wick:
I recently discovered that the papers of Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell have been digitized and are openly available on the web. Going through Tarbell's papers, I found this written account of what happened at Garrett's Farm from Richard Baynham Garrett to a man named A.R. Taylor who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. After Finis Bates's book came out in 1907, Garrett wrote this seven page letter to Taylor on Oct. 24, 1907 in which he discounts Bates's book. I've seen accounts written by R.B. Garrett before, but I can't remember seeing this. I don't see anywhere in Tarbell's papers (of the ones I've examined--I have a ton more to go through) where she used this in anything she wrote. It might be that as a collector, she was simply interested in it.

Here's the link.


Very nice Rob!
Thanks for sharing the link!

     That was nice , Rob. Thank you. I've never seen the reference to Booth saying "It is hard for this man to suffer for what I have done..." The reference to what Edwin Booth wrote I've heard of before (someone posted the letter here before) and seems right on. His reference to the location of the "JWB" tattoo is off from what I've heard, but all in all, this account hard to argue with.

After Finis Bates's book came out in 1907, Garrett wrote this seven page letter to Taylor on Oct. 24, 1907 in which he discounts Bates's book. I've seen accounts written by R.B. Garrett before, but I can't remember seeing this. I don't see anywhere in Tarbell's papers (of the ones I've examined--I have a ton more to go through) where she used this in anything she wrote. It might be that as a collector, she was simply interested in it.

Make that two people holding a copy of Garrett's letter and not using it.  Otto Eisenschiml had a copy in his research files.

Steven G. Miller:
There are two accounts by Rev. Garrett which mention Finis Bates and his theories. In the first one he said he hadn't read Bates's book, but in this second one had. Here's the book review that he wrote:

Garrett, Rev. Richard B., “The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth,” unidentified newspaper, ca. 1908.

This is a book which purports to prove that the assassin of President Lincoln was not killed, but made his escape, and subsequently found his way to Texas, where he was known as St. Helen, and where he lived until recent years, when he moved to Kansas {sic}, in which state he committed suicide a year or so ago {sic}. It is impossible for one who knows anything of the real story of the killing of President Lincoln and the pursuit and death of Booth, to take this book seriously. It is full of direct contradictions of well known facts, of gross misstatements, and wild and baseless theories, that one familiar with the real facts, finds it hard to be patient enough to finish it. With the so-called “confession” of St. Helen, so far as it refers to the flight from Washington is concerned, and the time elapsing between the assassination and the coming of Booth to my father’s house, I have nothing to say, except that most of it is pure fiction. The whole theory, that Mr. St. Helen was Wilkes Booth, and that he made his escape from the day after he came to my father’s house, is made to rest upon two things. First, the substitution of a “Mr. Ruddy,” who, it is alleged, was killed and palmed off on the government as Booth, and second, upon the visit of Booth to the woods back of my father’s house, where he “lost a pair of opera glasses,” and where he met the men with a horse, upon which he made his escape. I repeat that Mr. Bates hinges all his story upon these two points. The value of his book as history may be estimated when I state most emphatically that there never was any “Mr. Ruddy” until this book was written, and that he was invented solely for this purpose, and that the opera glasses never were lost, but were upon the mantle in the room where Booth had slept the night before, overlooked at the time, and after the death of Booth were taken by my aunt, Miss L. K. B. Holloway, to her home, about eight miles away, and delivered to Lieutenant Baker when he came for them some three weeks afterwards. Booth’s visit to the woods, when warned of the approaching soldiers, where Mr. Bates alleges he made his escape, was a mere incident, and it is certain that he soon came back to the house and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with our family and some neighbors who had come in. Mr. Bates is asking his readers to believe that his imaginary Mr. Ruddy was so exactly like Booth that our whole family, in broad daylight, were deceived by the resemblance. One thing is beyond question, and never was questioned until this book was written, and that is, that the same man who came to my father’s house on April 24, 1865, was killed on the morning of April 26, and taken away by the soldiers. That no such third party as “Ruddy” ever existed is shown by the fact that only two men, Booth and Herold, crossed the Potomac and went to Dr. Stewart’s, only two crossed the Rappahannock with Jett, Ruggles, and Bainbridge, only two came to my father’s house, and the third one was never heard of until now. In Mr. Bates’ book the chapter entitled “The Hand of Secretary Stanton” seems like a conglomeration of the story by Col. L. C. Baker, a review of a story written by Ray Stannard Baker, and some original remarks by Mr. Bates himself. And these remarks are very original. They contradict facts attested by hundreds of witnesses, and make statements which are ludicrous to those who know the facts. For instance, on page 162 Mr. Bates says: “Again, Baker has this man, supposed to be Booth, on two crutches, but used only one, that made from an old broom handle by Dr. Mudd ten days prior to the time of which Baker writes, and this was discarded by Booth before he reached the Garrett home Booth was merely using a stick for a support, etc.” This is a sample of the kind of history of which this book is made. As a matter of fact, Booth’s leg was in splints and he could not put it to the ground. He walked, even on crutches, with difficulty, and the ones he brought with him were so rough that my brother gave him a pair which he had used while a wounded Confederate soldier, and it was on these he was leaning when shot in the burning barn. The writer, then a boy, took the old crutches and sawed them off and used them in play with the older children. The morning after the killing, not knowing what might happen, we took them and burned them in the open fireplace of the kitchen.

There is some more “history” on this same page. Mr. Bates, for some reason, wants to do away with the barn and have his man killed in a corn crib, so he presents what he says is a “true picture of the Garrett home,” showing the corn crib. But his “true” picture is not a picture of our home at all, nor does it even resemble our home, which is still standing.

On page 163 Mr. Bates argues like a lawyer with a bad case. He says: “Again if there was no barn to burn—and we understand there was none—then none was burned as claimed and written by Mr. Baker. The man killed was killed in the left hand corn crib as you face them in the picture of the Garrett home and barnyard, shown in this volume, which is a “true reproduction of the Garrett home, etc.” If this isn’t logic, what is it? As I have said that “true reproduction of the Garrett home,” does not even resemble the place, And if “there was no barn to burn,” what about the hundreds who saw it burn, and the thousands who for years visited the blackened ruins and carried them away chip by chip as souvenirs? And what about the ineffectual efforts of four family to get the government to repay the loss sustained by us in the burning of the barn with all our farming implements, tobacco and hay?

In order to sustain his theory, Mr. Bates not only has to invent a house for us, but he also has to invent a floor plan of that house and invent some men to put into one of the imaginary rooms. On page 165 he says: “As a fact Ruddy and Herold were at the Garrett home asleep in the back or shed room of the house which has a door opening out in direct line to the gate opening into the horse lot.” The writer was born and reared in that house, but this is the first time he ever heard of that shed room, or that back door or that horse lot, or that gate to it. But this is enough. There is not a shadow of foundation for any of the theories as to the escape of Booth and the substitution of “Ruddy” for him. The facts are simply these: Booth was brought to my father’s house on the afternoon of April 24, 1865, by some Confederate soldiers and introduced to my father by Capt. Willie Jett, as a Mr. James W. Boyd, a wounded Confederate soldier. He spent the rest of the afternoon and that night in our home, and the forenoon of the next day. He was badly crippled, moving with difficulty even with crutches. He slept the first night in our guest chamber. It is true that on the second afternoon of his stay as he was in the yard with the children, some soldiers rode up and said: “The Yankees are crossing the river at Port Royal.” It is true that he did hobble painfully out of sight behind the barn, but it is also true that he soon returned and that not long after the man Herold came, but there was no “Mr. Ruddy” with him then or at any other time, and Herold did not come, as Mr. Bates says, at 10 o’clock at night, but at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. It is not true that Herold and another man slept in the house that night. It was their own proposition to sleep in the barn as they, Herold and Booth, had arranged to leave early the next morning, and did not wish to disturb the family. They went into the barn about 10 o’clock that night at somewhere near 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning the soldiers came and captured the one and killed the other. It is folly to say that no steps were taken to identify Booth. The prisoners {sic, should be “detectives”} had photographs of him, and certainly Lieutenant L.B. Baker and L.C. Baker knew him by sight, as did many of the men. It is folly to suppose that the government could be imposed on to the extent of paying the reward, if there had been any doubt on the subject. So to sum up the whole affair. The man whose picture has been sold all these years as J. Wilkes Booth, came to my fathers’ house on April 24, 1865, spent two days in our large family as our guest, was shot in our barn, and died on our front porch, in the presence of most of our family who had been with him almost constantly these two days. To say that it was somebody else who had been substituted in the meantime, without our knowledge, and that all of us could be deceived, is simply absurd.

As to any fancied resemblance or any so-called confession, I have nothing to do. I have only given the facts as attested by an eye-witness, and have only this today in closing, that if the rest of Mr. Bates’s book be as inaccurate as the part dealing with the events occurring at my home, it ought never to have been written, and ought to be speedily forgotten. Not withstanding the assertions of Mr. Bates, and the mass of irrelevant matter which he lugs in to pad out his book, there is not a missing link from the theater in Washington where Lincoln was killed, to the lonely grave in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore where the body of the misguided young actor sleeps its last long, dreamless sleep.



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