Just who is Everton J. Conger…

17 03 2008

everton1.jpg
Everton J. Conger, circa 1862

…and why does he merit study?

It seems for the past 12 years I’ve answered that question. Most people, even those with some knowledge of Lincoln, have never heard of the non-descript dentist from Ohio who assured his place in history for helping capture John Wilkes Booth.
I first became acquainted with Conger when I worked for the Carmi (Ill.) Times newspaper. From 1869 to 1880 Conger lived in this small southern Illinois community where he had a brother and where his parents spent their final years.

At this point in my life, I had pretty much abandoned studying history. To be sure, I read a great deal, but that passivity proved to be less than satisfying. A constant companion in my head in those days was the nagging voice that kept telling me if I was ever to become a historian, I had to do something other than read about it.

But what to write about?

That question was answered when I was interviewing an artistic couple who had bought the home of Everton’s brother, Chauncey. I saw a painting of Chauncey in the upstairs hallway and immediately I wondered to myself, who was this man?
In reading about Chauncey in a local history, I came across the story of his older brother and the fact that he had played a role in the capture of Booth.

Often, I drove past the home which Everton was said to have built with part of the proceeds of the $15,000 reward he received (much of which he lost in a bad investment), but the story never really resonated with me. Looking for information on Everton, I became disenchanted. The only story I could find was written by a local historian which was fine, but very sparsely detailed.

I had found my project.

Two years later I wrote a 15,000 word, five-part series for the newspaper which only scratched the surface of just who Everton J. Conger was. I decided then it was time to write a biography.
The project floundered over the next few years as the daily details of life intruded. It wasn’t until 2006, after being interviewed for the National Geographic Channel’s documentary “The Hunt For Lincoln’s Assassin” that I fully committed myself to finishing the story.

If Conger hadn’t been involved with the capture of Booth, his life, however interesting it may be, probably wouldn’t merit a biography. But that is one of the problems (albeit understandable) with the study of history. A story has to be “big” and it has to have broad appeal before it’s considered worthy of telling.
Given how academic historians have failed in telling the story of Lincoln’s murder, it shouldn’t be surprising that Conger’s story was lost. But in fairness, even with the intense interest with Lincoln’s murder among the general public, most people have no idea who Everton Conger was.

I hope to change that.

Even without the capture of Booth, Conger lived an interesting life. Born in 1834 to a Presbyterian missionary and his wife, Conger served with distinction during the Civil War as a cavalry officer, first with the Third West Virginia Cavalry and then with the First District of Columbia Cavalry, where he had de facto command since the colonel of the regiment, Lafayette Baker, was in Washington on detached service with the War Department.
Wounded twice (and once left for dead overnight in the frigid October cold), Conger persevered both as a soldier and later as a civilian.
After the war, when he moved to southern Illinois, Conger studied law in Chauncey’s law office. In 1880, he was appointed to the territorial supreme court of Montana by an old friend, President Rutherford B. Hayes, whom Conger had known when he was a dentist in Fremont, Ohio.
In 1883 he was suspended from the bench due to a political dispute. His opponents exploited his addiction to alcohol and morphine (which he digested in large quantities because of his war wounds) as well as his affection for gambling.
Although cleared of wrong-doing, Conger wasn’t reappointed to the bench. He spent the rest of his life either as a prosecutor in Montana or trying to work a ranch. He died in 1918 after suffering a massive stroke brought on by the death of his beloved daughter, Daisy.
From time to time, I will present various aspects of Conger’s life here, but in order not to suck the energy out of my book, it will be done so sparingly.

I hope I can prove to you that obscurity isn’t the same as unimportance.


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14 responses

17 03 2008
Randal Berry

Rob,
That was a very interesting “starter” course for me on Conger.
I have never read that much information on him in any assassination book.
However, curious as to the statement of “academic historians haved failed of telling the story of Lincolns murder?”
Can you elaborate on that for me?

Thanks,

Randal Berry

17 03 2008
Randal Berry

While re-reading this, I find it more fasinating.

Randal Berry

18 03 2008
Rob Wick

Randal,
To my knowledge, there are only three books written by academics on the assassination. They are “The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies” by William Hanchett, which is really more a bibliographical study of the assassination; “Beware the People Weeping” by Thomas Reed Turner, which studies reaction of the public to Lincoln’s assassination and a short book by Turner called “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”. That’s it. Most of the books on the assassination have been written by people outside the academic field of history. Not to say that it makes them all bad books, but even Randall said that his biography “knows only the living Lincoln.” Look at the two best books out today on the assassination. Neither Ed Steers nor Mike Kauffman are professors, although Ed holds an advanced degree in molecular genetics. Academics have given short shrift to the study of Lincoln’s murder, which helped to bring about the insane theory proffered by Otto Eisenschiml that Stanton was behind Lincoln’s murder.

Glad you enjoyed the post.

Best
Rob

19 03 2008
Randal Berry

Rob,
Thanks for the reply.
I think I could add Ray Neff, John Rhodehamel, and Theodore Roscoe to the list of “academic historians” who have written about the assassination. Perhaps there are more, I would have to look into it.
Neff, a professor, Rhodehamel, a “historian” along with Roscoe also.

Randal Berry

20 03 2008
Rob Wick

Randal,

I guess I need to better define what I consider to be an “academic historian”. To me, it is someone who has an advanced degree in history and, generally, is a professor of history at a university or college, although someone who works at a national park or library would certainly qualify as a historian, albeit not academic. I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on Neff or Roscoe. While Neff was an academic, it wasn’t in history and most of his theories have been refuted (and I might add, in my opinion, successfully) by Ed Steers among others. Roscoe was a disciple of Otto Eisenschiml and while he wrote some history on World War II, his book on the assassination is just as unreliable as Eisenschiml’s.

Thanks for your comments
Best
Rob

26 06 2008
| LincolnStudies.com

[...] books on Lincoln’s Assassination You Should Have” come to mind, as do his posts on Everton J. Conger (later life), one of the folks responsible for capturing Lincoln’s [...]

13 02 2009
Barbara Street Ray

I met my “Uncle Chauncey” in Carmi, Ill. in the 50s. He was the brother of my favorite grandmother Eleanor Conger Street, who told me that she’d been told that some residents of Carmi disapproved of Lincoln “because he spat.” I knew that I was somehow related to ‘the guy who caught Booth,’ but am wondering if I am missing a generation, if my Chauncey was Everton’s brother or the brother’s son. Is there a record of the females in the family?

12 05 2009
Marion

Hi,
Did you ever finish your book? I ask because I am a descendant of Everton Conger and would be interested in reading some more.

10 11 2009
Sim Fernandes

This is for Barbara Street Ray. The Uncle Chauncy she met was my Grandfather.
He was Chauncy Stewart Conger, Jr. Evrton was Chauncy Stewart Conger, Sr’s Brother. I met my Cousin Barbara that same Summer. I have extensive genealogical information on the Congers, if you would provide her with my E-Mail I would be happy to share.

Thanks,

Sim

4 05 2010
William Conger

Rob;

What’s the status of your book re Everton Conger? I just read all your Carmi Newspaper articles re his life at the Hayes Library in Fremont OH. No-one has done anything to fill in the picture of Everton. I even asked James Swanson (Manhunt, 2006) why his book’s epilogue didn’t include Conger, the most important captor of Booth. He simply replied that he didn’t have the time or the space to do that. It’s just incredible that this episode of the Lincoln assassination, the fullest possible story of Everton Conger, has not yet been told.

8 09 2010
Dan Eastwood

I’ve been reading the book ‘Before Barbed Wire: L.A. Huffman, Photographer on Horseback’ (about the famed frontier photographer working in late 1800′s Montana – written by Mark H. Brown & W.R. Felton, 1956, Holt & Co,). What brought me to your website (to learn more about a ‘Judge Conger’) was a reference in the book to a ‘corking’ prank pulled in the courtroom of Judge Conger. It goes on for most of a full page on pg. 229. You may want to read about it as a sidenote on his history – I imagine it’s the same judge.

30 05 2012
cherish

I need to pull out the geneology books to say exactly how, but E. Conger is an great uncle of ours. Mom is Joy Conger, Daughter of Dan Conger, …. somewhere a Jesse Conger, and on it goes. We have always been proud that Everton Conger is an ancestor of ours. Very cool.

17 07 2012
Robert Wray

To cherish: I’m playing Conger in a Nat Geo docu-drama shooting here in Richmond, Virginia, starting today. I hope I do him justice.

14 02 2013
PeasNQues

I remember as a small child, sitting in the living room of my grandparents home in Carmi, IL. We were all grouped around the handwritten war diary of a relative who was a civil war officer. I remember Aunty “Leinie”, as we called her, talking about our relative that was an officer in the group of soldiers that captured John Wilkes Booth. Aunty Leine, AKA Mrs. Chauncy Conger Jr., was the older sister of my grandmother, Robilee Patrick McCallister.

I’m extrapolating, from what I’ve read here, that perhaps it was Everton Conger’s civil war diary that we were reading? When I reached to brush away a mosquito that was squished in the pages my grandmother said, “don’t touch that mosquito, its over one hundred years old!!”

I loved visiting Carmi nearly every summer. Thanks for your story.

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