If the Boot Fits…..

By Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens


On April 24, 1865, as John Wilkes Booth and David Herold – pursued by the combined forces of the regular police of Washington, D.C., the military police, the United States Secret Service, the Bureau of Military Justice and officers and soldiers stationed at around Washington – huddled at Robert Garrett’s farm and the grieving New Yorkers thronged to the City Hall to pay the last respects to the slain president, Robert Murray, the United States Marshal of the Southern District of New York telegraphed to Washington.


James E. Taylor Collection, photCL 300, vol. 1, p. 94 (UDID 49341), The Huntington Library

Murray reported: “I have the order for the boots in Booth’s own hand writing. They answer the description of those found & are unquestionably the same will bring the order & the maker to Wash. with me this evening – The right Boot has a pocket inside of the leg for pistol.”

This would be the footwear discovered on April 21, 1865 in the possession of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Maryland physician and an acquaintance of Booths.

Booth showed up at Dr. Mudd ‘s house in the wee hours of April 15, with a broken left fibula. Mudd splintered Booth’s leg and let him sleep in a spare bedroom. When questioned about the incident, Mudd denied any knowledge of the identity of the man he was treating. He did produce a boot that he said he had cut off the man’s leg. The officer who arrested Mudd turned down the top of the boot to see the name “J. Wilkes” written in it.

The Bureau of Military Justice, in charge of gathering witnesses and securing evidence for the upcoming trial, had ordered to locate the manufacturer, in order to establish that the boot indeed belonged to Booth.  The order was issued by Brevet Colonel Henry Lawrence Burnett (1848-1916), Judge Advocate of the Army’s Northern Department who had been assigned to lead the investigation on April 22.

Murray seems to have done his job well. It took him less than a day to locate the manufacturer, one Henry Lux of 745 Broadway, New York. Lux later testified at the trial that found Dr. Mudd guilty of conspiring to murder President Lincoln. Mudd escaped the death penalty, by a single vote. Sentenced to life in prison, he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869.

Thank you BettanyMacc for this find!



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