The Strange Death of Boston Corbett

This story is from “the Real Wild West, The Creation of the American West,” by Michael Wallis. Read this to the end; it has a shocking, surprise ending (it isn’t what you think it is).

The Booth legend that persisted the longest came from the OklahomaTerritory town of Enid, just west of the immense domain created in the late 1800’s by G.W. Miller and his sons. This Booth story began in Enid on January 13, 1903, with the demise of David E. George, an itinerant house painter nearly sixty years old who swallowed strychnine and died after having told several folks that he was John Wilkes Booth, the killer of Lincoln.

The story of David George did not cease with his death. His corpse was taken to an Enid undertaker for embalming, but because of questions about his identity, local authorities requested that the burial be delayed until the investigation was completed. Apparently, that case quickly fell apart and everyone eventually lost interest in the case and forgot about the body, which languished for many years on a storeroom shelf.

Enid old timers could recall that when they were boys they would sneak into the funeral parlor to take a peek at “John Wilkes Booth.” Some Enid boosters planned to ship the body, entombed in a glass case, to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair as part of the Oklahoma exhibit. Not surprisingly, the world’s fair people rejected that proposal.

The ‘Booth Mummy” would up in the possession of carnival exhibitors and went out on the road. By the late 1930’s, the mummy was reported to be on the carnival circuit. It survived a train wreck, thieves, debt collectors, and enraged veterans of the Grand Army of the Potomac who threatened to hang the cadaver.

In 1938, a tattooed man from a circus bought the Booth mummy-by then known only as “john” for several thousand dollars. He and his wife lugged the body around the country in a trailer that doubled as their home and a portable exhibit hall. When the tattooed man ran into financial problems, a report surfaced that “John” was seized in lieu of overdue loan payments.

Folks in Enid who tried to track the mummy through the years said that by the 1960’s, they heard that “John” was on exhibit somewhere in Ohio. That was the last reported sighting of   the remains of the man who once said he was John Wilkes Booth.

Then, in 1995, a Maryland schoolteacher and history buff petitioned a court to exhume the remains of John WIlkes Booth, whom most credible historians contend was buried in 1865 in a Baltimore cemetery. The teacher believed Booth really had escaped the burning barn and gone to Enid. He wanted to have tests conducted on the remains to prove his theory. The judge refused the request, finding no good reason to disturb the grave.

But, in Oklahoma stories still circulate about the mummy. So does another tale of Boston Corbett, the soldier who allegedly killed Booth.

After collecting a cash bounty for his deed, Corbett reportedly developed severe mental problems which led to his castrating himself as a radical form of penance for past promiscuities. By 1887, he had found a job as a doorkeeper for the Kansas legislature. His service was brief but memorable. Angered by a legislative chaplain’s prayer which Corbett considered sacrilegious, he brandished two pistols and terrorized the entire chamber. Declared insane, Corbett escaped from the Kansas State Hospital in Topeka in 1888, vanishing in the mists of history and time.

More than a century later, another story about Corbett has surfaced. It tells of his escaping to Oklahoma terriritory, where he took an assumed name. It was said he found a town out in the cattle country that he liked, and he stayed there until the day he died. The name of the town was Enid.

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2 Responses to The Strange Death of Boston Corbett

  1. JD Stephenson says:

    I saw the mummy that was supposed to be John Wilkes Booth at a carnival in Hico, Texas in the 60’s.

  2. Richard O. Price II says:

    The story of where Boston Corbett ended up is believable, but the story of the petrified corpse of “John” being that of John Wilkes Booth, not so much. Booth is buried in the family plot in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore City.

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