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We are indebted to Geo. A. Huron, of Topeka, guardian of Boston Corbett, for the military belt worn by Corbett as a soldier at the time of the killing of John Wilkes Booth and at the adjournment by him of the Kansas legislature, together with the cartridges Corbett had in reserve at the time of said adjournment, which interesting historical relics are deposited with the Society for safe-keeping.

We are indebted to Judge Huron also for the following account of this incident in Kansas history. Time was when Boston Corbett held a large place in the public eye. As the slayer of John Wilkes Booth he was the avenger of Abraham Lincoln, so far as the ancient doctrine, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” could avenge the cowardly assassination of the first martyr President.

Boston Corbett was born in London, England, in 1832. His trade was the manufacture of silk hats. He was a soldier during the Civil War and on August 17, 1865, was mustered out as a sergeant of Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry. He then obtained employment in a silk hat factory in Philadelphia, Pa., but made his home in Camden, N. J. Soon after the close of the war he was admitted to the Methodist Conference of New Jersey on trial as a preacher, and was assigned to a mission church in Camden, where he continued to be the pastor until he came west in 1878. He arrived in Kansas during the fall of that year, and finally settled in Cloud county, where he took a homestead. He was a religious zealot and continued to preach with a considerable degree of acceptability while following the avocation of a farmer. Upon the organization of the legislature in January 1887, he was nominated by Hon. Geo. W. Knapp, representative from his district, and was elected' assistant doorkeeper in the house of representatives. During all his residence in Kansas Corbett had been very erratic. He was a dead shot and quick on trigger with a revolver or rifle. The eighty acres of land that he had taken as a homestead was very rough and stony. Not more than twenty acres of the tract could be cultivated, but Corbett thought the land a very “Garden of Eden” and was so jealous of his rights as its owner that he would not permit his neighbors to come upon it without first obtaining permission from him. So jealous was he of his prerogatives that, although his land was not enclosed with a fence, if a neighbor started to walk across it Corbett would take his rifle and shoot so that the bullet would strike a stone or the ground immediately in his neighbor’s front. He would then give the command “About face and march off this farm.” It is claimed that no one ever failed to immediately obey orders.

As assistant doorkeeper, he was also very jealous of his rights. This resulted in frequent unpleasantnesses with the other officers of the house. He had also followed his religious inclinations with great zeal so that he became a very active member of the Salvation Army in Topeka. While on duty in the house he wore the same United States army belt that he had worn while a soldier and at the time of the death of Booth. Upon this belt he carried a .38-caliber revolver, and kept on his person his well-worn pocket Bible; both of these weapons he used in persuading the people to obey the rules of order. Constituted as he was, it is not strange that the few grains of patience stored in his anatomy should be finally exhausted, which condition was reached in the forenoon of February 15, 1887. 

On this morning Corbett had been assigned to duty in the ladies’ gallery of the house of representatives. On his way to his post, he suddenly confronted two of the doorkeepers with a .38-caliber revolver and threatened to shoot them. Knowing his reputation as a dead shot and crank of the thirty-third degree, they did not stand upon the order of their going, but went, Corbett, lending them wings by pursuing with the revolver pointed at their heads. Major Norton, sergeant-at-arms, thought to investigate, but Corbett, bringing his gun to bear, informed the officer that if he came another step rays of sunlight would shine clear through his anatomy. Pressing business instantly called the sergeant-at-arms to other posts of duty. A newspaper reporter thought to corral the fleeting item by diplomacy, but Corbett mistook him for an exhibitor of gall and turned his gun upon the young man, with such emphasis in his threat to shoot that he left with all speed for pastures that promised harvests of news items with less risk. Mr. Conrad, member of the house from Nemaha county, passed that way, when Corbett thrust the gun in his face, and exclaimed, “Mr. Speaker, you can discharge me, but you can’t scare me.” Conrad did not tarry for explanations, but as he ran, disclaimed all title to the speaker’s chair. 

By this time the speaker, Hon. A. W. Smith, of McPherson county, believing that Corbett would adjourn the house without ceremony unless something was done quick, sent a hurry call for the police. A platoon of officers, with Chief John W. Gardiner in command, responded on the double quick. Arriving at the capitol, a council of war was held, whereupon Chief Gardiner with a couple of assistants made his way around to the back door of Corbett’s reservation. A part of the police force had been placed at the door from the anteroom into the hall of the house with instruction to keep Corbett’s attention constantly drawn toward them, which was done by opening the door and closing it so quickly that Corbett could not drop a bullet in the opening. Arriving at the ladies’ gallery, Gardiner and his assistants opened the door so quietly and advanced so stealthily that the first hint to Corbett of his presence was when Gardiner clasped him around the waist with such force as to pinion his arms and hands to his side while the other men disarmed him. Corbett was taken before the probate court the next day, where he was adjudged insane and committed to the insane asylum at Topeka. Here his condition and conduct were variable. At times he gave way to fits of anger in which he promised dire vengeance upon all whom he imagined had contributed to his being there. At other times he was not only docile but took a lively interest in the work planned for the pleasure of the patients and the betterment of conditions.

Thus passed the time until the morning of May 26, 1888. On this morning about a hundred patients, with best mental balance, under the guidance of an attendant, were enjoying a walk through the beautiful grounds, when a Topeka boy, riding a smart Indian pony, dismounted, tied his pony to a post and went into the headquarters office. Apparently, none of the patients noticed either boy or pony, but it was remembered afterward that Boston Corbett, who was well at the front began to loiter, to examine and admire flowers and plants until, when the rear of the procession came opposite the pony, he was the rear man by several steps. The attendant in charge was a hundred yards away, moving forward with the front of the procession, giving no heed to whether his charges were meekly following like Little Boy Blue’s sheep, or were doing something else. It was not unusual during such walks for a patient to express the exuberance of his spirits by giving vent to a yell, so that when one, two, a dozen yells were given, the attendant took no notice. 

In fact, he pursued his quiet way until his patients broke into a mob, and when he turned all were yelling, gesticulating wildly and pointing and looking toward the south. Turning his eyes in that direction the attendant saw Corbett a half mile away, whipping that pony at every jump with the rawhide whip the boy had left hanging to the saddle, while to all appearance the only reason that the pony was running was because he couldn’t fly. Just there was a turn in the road, and Corbett, looking back and seeing no pursuers, swung his straw hat the full length of his good right arm around his head, and thus waved a final farewell to the hospital and the crowd of his late companions. This was the last seen of Boston Corbett by any Kansas officer. Both mail and telegraph were used, north, south, east, and west, with no tidings until a week had passed, when Doctor Eastman, superintendent of the hospital, received a letter from a livery stable keeper of Neodesha, Kan., telling that the pony that Corbett had ridden from Topeka was safe in his stable, subject to the order and charges of the owner. Later investigation developed that Richard Thatcher, then principal of the Neodesha city schools, had been a fellow prisoner and bosom friend of Corbett for months during the Civil War, in Andersonville prison pen.

This is the last reliable information of Boston Corbett. Arrived at Neodesha both pony and man were exhausted. Corbett rested two nights and a day. He was deeply grieved that he, the avenger of President Lincoln, should have been confined in an insane hospital in the United States. To his disordered mind the government had committed an unpardonable sin against him, and so, on the second morning after his arrival, he told Mr. Thatcher that he was going to “shake the dust of the United States from his feet” and was going to Mexico. What became of him is not known. Geo. A. Huron, of Topeka, had been appointed his guardian. Numerous rumors of Corbett’s death were brought to Judge Huron, all of which he investigated, with the same result; they were all found to be without foundation.

In 1898 Judge Huron got into correspondence with a man who claimed to be the genuine Boston Corbett, who was traveling over the cattle ranges of Texas, trapping wolves and peddling patent medicines for a living. The correspondence was continued for years, during which time Judge Huron became satisfied that the claims of the trapper were genuine, and so applied to the Pension Department to have Boston Corbett restored to the pension roll. Afterward, the conduct of the claimant was such as to excite suspicion that something was wrong, whereupon, by direction of the probate judge of Shawnee County. Judge Huron and John W. Gardiner went to the wilds of Texas, seventy-five miles from a railroad, and, instead of finding Boston Corbett—a man past seventy years of age, only five feet, four inches high—they found a fellow less than fifty years of age, big, rawboned and six feet tall.

Upon their return Judge Huron made full report to the pension office, but the pretender continued to urge his claim, whereupon he was indicted in the United States court at Abilene, Tex., October 2, 1905; was tried in the United States district court at San Angelo, Tex., October 16, 1905; was found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of $100 and to be confined three years at hard labor in the penitentiary at Atlanta, Ga.

The pretender served his sentence, was released two years ago, and he too has dropped out of sight.
 

Source: Seventeenth Biennial Report Of The Board Of Directors Of The Kansas State Historical Society, Biennial Period July 1, 1908, to June 30, 1910