By Joyce W. Sanders
David E. George took poison in his dingy hotel room in Enid, Oklahoma Territory, and died on the morning of January 13, 1903. Alone, depressed and broke, it seemed the only thing to do. He should have been forgotten quickly, another aging drifter in the brawling Oklahoma Territory. But it was not to be! Dead, he made headlines all over the country. And all because he had once told a lady in nearby El Rene that his real name was John Wiles Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln.
It was a good story. Booth escaped! Booth a suicide! Nonsense, of course, but in the flap that followed nobody bothered to find out about David E. George, barfly, ranch hand and part-time painter. A little trickled in, George here, George there.
Apparently he had been in the Territory for several years, working his way along the railroad that ran up from Fort Worth, Hennessey, El Rene and finally Enid.
Some thought he was on the run from a difficulty in Mississippi, or maybe Texas. Others were certain that he said that he came from Mississippi to Texas, that his father had died and his mother had remarried. But nothing was certain and the stories were told and retold and added to. Anyway, forget old man George; here was the body of the terrible Booth, the assassin. So it went.
But there were a few clues as to his identity. He left a will in which he mentioned a nephew, Willy, or Witty George, address not shown, a claim for land he did not own and a nonexistent insurance policy with the Knights of Pythias Lodge 70 in Dallas, Texas. More important, it has recently been learned that the man took out an insurance policy in 1902, made to pay to his "estate", in which he gave his name as David Elihu George, born at French Camp, Mississippi, on June 14, 1844. And there it ends, nothing!
But, does it end? There was Georges living at, or near, French Camp. The Presbyterian Church there has a record of a Dr. James Whitsen George and wife, Jane.
Two of the children of Dr. and Mrs. George were Mrs. Cherry George Rankin and White George. These persons are buried in the cemetery at Italy, Texas. This proves that George persons did go to Texas from French Camp.
Dr. George was of an age to have been a brother of D. E. George. If, this is true, then Whit or Witty could have been the nephew mentioned in the will. A letter written on the subject to a reporter by Mrs. Rankin has preserved. It is illegible in part, but tends to lend credence to the belief that there is a connection between the two George men.
In 1841-1843, 1848-1850 the Attala County Tax List names a John George. On the
6th day of May, 1846, in Deed Book "A" in Attala County, Joe C. Shannon of Winston
County gives two blacks to his mother, Patsy George, wife of John George, of Attala County.
On 1860 Attala Census in Township 15 Range 8 we find Patsey George aged 66 and born in Virginia, her son, John C. Shannon, aged 44, and born in South Carolina, along with his wife and children. This household was in the general direction of French Camp. Was there a connection with David E. George.
Similiarities in Booth and George were: right eyebrow scarred; right thumb which closely hugged the index finger; a slight irregularity on the bone of the right ankle. This is a great mystery, the kind that myths are made of. But it seems logical to think that the man was David E. George and actually born at French Camp as he said.
The Choctaw County records were destroyed by fire in 1881 and no information can be obtained there. There is good reason to believe he was related to Dr. George, who married Jane Collins in Choctaw County in the 1860's and who migrated to Ellis County, Texas, in the late 1880's. Perhaps there are still, or some person, who will see this and say: "Why, I think I know something about that!" If so, please get in touch with Joyce W. Sanders, Kosciusko, Mississippi.
All articles from papers and magazines, the will and other records will soon be placed on file in the Attala County Library and available to interested persons.