Not Buried in Granbury?

Black and white portrait of John Wilkes Booth standing next to a pillar.

John Wilkes Booth. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Not one, not two, but three of American history’s most nefarious figures faked their own deaths, then ended up spending time in Granbury. At least, that’s what the locals say.

To start, Granbury folks are convinced that the man known as J. Frank Dalton, who lived in their midst until 1951, was actually none other than the outlaw Jesse James. Although the official story is that James was killed by Robert Ford in 1882, people in these parts insist that story is a ruse, and that James hid out under the Dalton alias in Granbury until his death at the age of 104. His Granbury headstone (found at Granbury Cemetery, at the corner of N. Crockett and Moore Streets, about eight blocks north of the town square) reads, “CSA—Jesse Woodson James. Sept. 5, 1847–Aug. 15, 1951. Supposedly killed in 1882.”

When the real Billy the Kid died of a mundane heart attack at age 90 in 1950, say the unofficial theorists, his gravestone in Fort Sumner went missing, only to turn up in 1976—again in Granbury.Another supposedly dead gangster, Billy the Kid, also lived out a long, quiet life after his fake demise. The official story is that Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid in 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, not too far from the Texas border, where the gunslinger was then buried. The unofficial tale, however, insists that Garrett shot someone else and then covered it up, and Billy the Kid settled in Hico, Texas, but traveled to Jesse James 102nd birthday party—in Granbury, of course—in 1949. When the real Billy the Kid died of a mundane heart attack at age 90 in 1950, say the unofficial theorists, his gravestone in Fort Sumner went missing, only to turn up in 1976—again in Granbury.

Finally, none other than Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, reportedly ended up in Granbury after his pretended demise. Based on the 1907 book Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth by Finis L. Bates, Booth went by the alias John St. Helen and tended bar at a Granbury establishment that is now a bakery called the Nutshell (137. E. Pearl St. 817/279-8989, daily 7 a.m.–5 p.m., under $10). After St. Helen died, Bates had his body mummified and traveled the country displaying it as apart of a circus sideshows, until 1977. Attempts to exhume the body thought to be the “real” Booth have been rebuffed by the courts.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Dallas & Fort Worth.


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