The above photo depicts Luther Byron Baker and his horse, Buckskin, in front of the Michigan capitol steps. The superimposed portraits of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth reflect Baker’s role in making history.
John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. As the nation grieved, a hunt for the killer ensued. Baker’s cousin, Lafayette Baker (also from Lansing) headed the Secret Service investigation, with Luther and Everton J. Conger assisting him. Once they picked up Booth’s trail, they set out in pursuit. Members of the 16th New York Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Edward Doherty, accompanied them.
On the morning of April 26, 1865, the team found Booth and a young accomplice, David Herold, hiding in a Virginia barn. According to Luther Baker’s account (A copy is in the Archives of Michigan.), Luther told Booth “…surrender, or we shall burn the barn and have a bonfire and a shooting match.” Herold surrendered, but Booth refused. The cavalry set the barn afire, but he remained inside. The soldiers could see him through knotholes, and finally, Sergeant Boston Corbett of the 16th New York Cavalry obtained a good view of the assassin. Acting against orders, Corbett shot Booth in the neck, mortally wounding him.
The event has been depicted onscreen at least twice. The TV series You Are There aired an episode entitled “The Capture of John Wilkes Booth” in September 1953. Paul Hahn played Luther Baker, while Tyler McVey portrayed his cousin Lafayette. The third Secret Serviceman, Everton J. Conger, was played by DeForest Kelley. Kelley later achieved fame as “Dr. Bones McCoy” of Star Trek. (For the Internet Movie Database description, click here and scroll down to “Season 2, Episode 2.”)
The trio was again depicted in the 1977 film The Lincoln Conspiracy. This controversial movie charged Secretary of War Edwin Stanton with complicity in Lincoln’s assassination. John Dehner played Lafayette Baker, J. Don Ferguson played Luther Baker and Frank Schuller played Everton Conger (For the IMDB entry, click here).
Luther Baker’s personal account of the events – written in 1886 and delivered by him in lectures – can be perused at the Archives of Michigan. This, along with other Baker family papers, can be found in The Baker-Yull-Cooley Collection (MS 87-148). For information on other military-related collections, see the Archives of Michigan’s Military Sources Web Page.