The E.H. Swaim Collection is comprised of correspondence, documents, manuscripts, photographs and newspaper clippings. The collection was assembled in its present state by E.H. Swaim, an attorney in Eden, Texas, who has a strong interest in the Lincoln assassination and John Wilkes Booth. The collection, which consists in part of the papers of Finis L. Bates, W.P. Campbell, and Clarence True Wilson, concerns the events surrounding Lincoln's assassinaiton and Booth's flight from Washington. The major bulk of the material, however, deals with the controversy relating to Booth's death in Virginia on April 26, 1865. A widely accepted tradition holds that Booth was not the man killed at Garrett farm by federal troops. The most common theory contends that Booth escaped south, later settling in Texas under the name John St. Helen. Around the turn of the century, St. Helen moved to Oklahoma, changing his name to David E. George, where he committed suicide in 1903. His body was mummified and exhibited for many years as the assassin of Lincoln.
The collection includes letters and affidavits from three main sources: persons who had some involvement in the events surrounding the assassination and Booth's escape; members of the Booth family or persons who were acquainted with the family; and individuals, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma, who believed that they had known John Wilkes Booth after 1865. Also included in the collection are numerous photographs, some quite important and unique, including a tin-type of St. Helen which was given by him to Finis L. Bates. Among the collected documents is a deed for property in Canadian County, Oklahoma, purchased by George; a page from a register of the Anstine Hotel in El Reno, Oklahoma, containing George's signature; and a 1902 will written by George, accompanied by a letter revoking the terms.
On July 27, 1956, E.H. Swaim acquired the collection of Clarence True Wilson, Methodist minister and temperance leader, who collected avidly on the assassination and John Wilkes Booth. In the process he purchased the papers of Finis L. Bates, who had known St. Helen in Texas during the early years of his legal career. Under the confidentiality of a client-attorney relationship, St. Helen confessed to the assassination of Lincoln. After St. Helen's death, Bates published the "Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth." Wilson also acquired the papers of W.P. Campbell, author of "The Escape and Wanderings of John Wilkes Booth." Wilson's own unpublished manuscript, "Lincoln's Assassin Lived: The Living Death of John Wilkes Booth," is included in the collection.
The Swaim Collection comprises 14 boxes of material (7 linear feet). Box 1 consists of correspondence files maintained by Swaim in his own research, as well as a ledger kept by Bates, containing correspondence, affidavits, and newspaper clippings. Boxes 2-6 include the papers of Bates, Campbell, and Wilson, as well as material from James N. Wilkerson, Dr. Richard D. Mudd, and James H. Rees. Boxes 7-8 contain collected correspondence, documents, and newspaper clippings, filed alphabetically by individual. Photographs are found in Boxes 8-9. Box 10 Folder 25 contains a partial list of clippings. Finally, Boxes 11-13 contain newspaper clipping files, arranged either alphabetically by author or chronologically by date.
Conditions Governing Access
Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off-site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.