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Teacher Education

John Wilkes Booth was Shot at the Rankin

Dr. Richard Gardiner

“We thought he would die


The most famous assassin in U.S. History was shot and nearly killed in Columbus, Georgia, on October 12, 1860, five years before he shot and killed Abraham Lincoln. This occurred at Cook's Hotel, which is now the Rankin, a dorm and cafeteria for Columbus State University. The shooting, however, is clouded in a bit of mystery. The sources that chronicle Booth's shooting are hard to piece together. Here are the sources.

COLUMBUS DAILY TIMES, October 13, 1860

"--SHOT-- We learn that Mr. John Wilkes  (Booth) of Mr. Canning's  Theatrical corps, now performing in this city,  received last evening at Cook's Hotel [now the Rankin] a pistol shot, which was altogether accidental, making only a flesh wound.--We hope he will soon recover and be able to fill his engagement."

COLUMBUS DAILY SUN, October 13, 186o
"It is with a feeling of sincere regret that we announce that Mr. J.W. Booth, the young and talented Tragedician, and connected with the theatrical Company now performing here, was seriously wounded last night by the accidental discharge of a pistol in the hands of Mr. Canning. He (Mr. Canning) was loading the pistol and when pressing on the cap it discharged, the contents entering Mr. Booth's thigh, causing a severe wound. Fortunately the ball took a downward direction and escaped the important vessels lying near its course. His wounds were dressed by Dr. Stanford. This accident will undoubtedly disable him for some time."
“Mr. John Wilkes Booth was accidentally shot in th e thigh at Cook's Hotel [now the Rankin]. Mr. Booth and Mr. Canning were practicing with a pistol, when it went off in Mr. Canning's hand as he was letting down the hammer, inflicting a flesh wound in Mr. Booth's thigh.”

Cook's Hotel, now the Rankin

RICHMOND  DISPATCH , October 18, 1860

CINCINNATI  DAILY PRESS , October 19, 1860

DAILY GAZETTE & COMET  [BATON ROUGE, LA], October 24, 1860, p. 2, c. 4


New York  Clipper, October 27, 1860

Boston, MA,  Flag, Dec. 1, 1860

Asia Booth (John's Sister), Dec. 16, 1860, Letter to Jean Anderson

“Wilkes Booth is at home. He is looking well, but his wound is not entirely healed yet. He still carries the ball in him."

John Wilkes Booth, April 19, 1863, Letter to Joseph H. Simonds

“I have a whole in my neck you could run your fist in. The doctor had a hunt for my bullet.”

Matthew Canning's bio of Booth, April 15, 1865

“In the season of 1859  he made his first appearance as a star  in Columbus Ga., the theater there being under the management of a gentleman from this city, who during the first week of his engagement, accidentally shot Booth in the side.”

New York  World, April 17, 1865

“Wilkes became involved in a quarrel and was shot in the neck. The ball remained in the flesh for a period of perhaps two years, and came out unexpectedly during his first engagement at Grover's Washington Theatre, in the Spring of 1863.”

Washington DC  Union, April 18, 1865

"Several years ago, Canning shot Booth in the neck, by accident, while on the stage at Montgomery, and the ball remained in his neck until 1863, and while performing at Grover’s Theatre was extracted, leaving an ugly scar on the back of the neck."

Matthew Canning, April 1865

“When the doctor made the first swipe with the scalpel I almost fell to the floor,” Canning told interrogators. “The black blood gushed out and it appeared as though he had cut his head off. All at once, I fell to the floor fainting. Do you know that the ball I shot into his leg came out through that hole in his neck?”

Urbana  Union, April 26, 1865


Evergreen, AL,  Star, October 29, 1885


January 19th, 1886 interview with Matthew Canning in the  Cincinnati Enquirer

"I had a little circuit in the Southern States, with Montgomery for its chief center, and I was building a theater down there when I happened to shoot John Booth. I can tell you about that curious incident. Booth was one of the best shots in the profession, and his special passion was his physical training and strength. may have led him into the crime in the way he committed it. When I took him out he was quite a young fellow, and had been known in the profession before as Mr. Wilkes. I made it a point with Edwin Booth that he should play under his family name, as it would draw me money. We were at Columbus, Ga., and my theater was not finished and had given me a great deal of trouble.

I went into my room one day, and he said to me: 'Now, you must let me nurse you. You are fagged out.' I told him I only wanted to go to sleep. I laid down on the bed and was in a doze when he saw my pistol in my rear pocket. Every body carried weapons down in that country, and so did I. Seeing the pistol, Booth yielded to his passion for arms, and he drew it out of my pocket. I could feel it glide from me, but was in that state that I did not resist or rise. Although he had just said that I wanted rest and sleep, he pointed the pistol at an iron mark on a wall opposite and discharged it right there in the room. Of course I sprang up, complaining that he excited me by that explosion. He then said he wanted another shot, and I objected; but he seemed to have his mind on firing again to show his accuracy of aim. The pistol had got rusted, and when I gave him a cartridge to put in it, it would not fit easily. He took his knife and began to scrape the pistol and the cartridge, and while in the act of doing it, down came the lock in my hand and discharged the pistol, and the ball struck him in the side, barely missing the femoral artery and it lodged in his body. We thought he would die, but he recovered in a few weeks.”

Dr. FREDERICK MAY, January 10, 1887 

"After some ordinary conversation, he told me, that he was playing an engagement with Miss Charlotte Cushman, and was much annoyed by a large lump on the back of his neck, which for some time past had been gradually increasing in size, and had begun to show above the collar line of the ordinary theatrical costume. He said that he wished to have it removed; and he particularly enjoined me to say, (if questioned upon the fact of his having undergone a surgical operation), 'that it was for the removal of a bullet from his neck.' But he did not give any reason for this request. Without promising to observe this injunction, I examined his neck, and found on the back of it and rather on the left side, quite a large fibroid tumour, but which could have no connection with a bullet, as to its origin, or in any other way. I advised its removal, but at the same time told him that I would take it out on one condition, which was, that he should suspend his engagement at the theatre, and observe absolute rest."

Baltimore  Sun, 1906 

“If that shot had been fatal he would not have lived to plunge his country into the depths of despair and mourning, nor crushed with most poignant anguish those who loved him best; he would not have lived to ‘pour the sweet milk of concord into hell’, to fire the shot that shook the foundation rock upon which his country lived.”

Memoirs of John M. Barron

The Columbus  Enquirer-Sun, 1906

“A year or two before the civil war, John Wilkes Booth was accidentally shot in Temperance Hall, then the town’s theatre... The well-known actor was here to fill an engagement, Columbus being one of the town on the Southern theatrical circuit. He was shot with a pistol in some purely accidental manner, but the wound was only of a slight nature and received a notice of only about a half dozen lines in the Columbus newspapers at the time.”

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