Home News Vision Historically Speaking: More than a governor: Lew Wallace, part II

Historically Speaking: More than a governor: Lew Wallace, part II

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, Governor Lew Wallace spent late nights in his bedroom writing, "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ" — date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Continued from April 28.

Lew Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) was the 10th Governor of the Territory of New Mexico (1878-81) during the Lincoln County War. Having had correspondence and dealings with Billy the Kid, he also authored one of the most famous books ever written, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” among others. There is more to his story, much more.

Susan Wallace, Lew Wallace’s wife, was also a writer and wrote at least some chapters of her popular, “The Land of the Pueblos,” while in residence at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. This account of Indian and Hispanic New Mexico — as seen through eyes of a typically biased East American woman of the day — is illustrated in part with sketches by her husband.

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In March 1881, after two and a half years as governor, Wallace resigned his position and was soon appointed by President Garfield as Minister to Turkey where he served in Constantinople until 1885. After returning to Crawfordsville, he published two more novels and died there in 1905. At the time of his death, he was part way through the writing of his autobiography. Susan Wallace finished writing it, and it was published in 1906, a year before she died.

The rest of the story:

So, we now know that Lew Wallace was governor of New Mexico, dealing with the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid. However, before coming to New Mexico, in addition to a somewhat controversial Civil War career, he was also one of the nine military commissioners that presided over the trial of the conspirators of the President Lincoln’s assassination and one of those that sentenced the conspirators. Following is the outcome of those proceedings.

Lewis Thornton Powell, also known as Lewis Paine or Payne, was charged with conspiracy and the attempted assassination of Secretary of State William Seward. Powell was found guilty by the court and was hanged on July 7, 1865.

David Herold was charged with conspiracy and assisting Booth during his 12 days on the run after the assassination. Herold was found guilty and hanged on July 7, 1865.

George Atzerodt was charged with conspiring with Booth; his assignment was to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson. He made no attempt to kill Johnson. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and hanged on July 7, 1865.

Mary Surratt, boardinghouse owner, was charged with conspiring with Booth, “keeping the nest that hatched the egg,” and running errands for Booth that facilitated his escape. Surratt was found guilty and was hanged on July 7, 1865.

Samuel Mudd was charged with conspiring with Booth and with aiding the semi-crippled assassin during his escape by sheltering him and setting his broken left leg. Mudd was found guilty and sentenced to life. However, he received a pardon from President Andrew Johnson in February of 1869. He returned to his home in Maryland and lived there until his death from pneumonia on Jan. 10, 1883.

Samuel Arnold was charged with being part of Booth’s earlier plot to kidnap President Lincoln. He was found guilty and sentenced to life. Like Mudd, he was pardoned by President Johnson early in 1869. He lived until 1906.

Michael O’Laughlen, like Arnold, was charged with conspiracy to kidnap the president. He was found guilty and sentenced to life. He died of yellow fever in prison at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas — an archipelago in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the Florida Keys — on Sept. 23, 1867.

Edman “Ned” Spangler was charged with helping Booth escape from Ford’s Theatre immediately after the assassination. Spangler was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. He was pardoned by President Johnson in 1869. He worked for John Ford in Baltimore until 1873. He traveled to Mudd’s home and lived on some land he gave him until his death on Feb. 7, 1875.

General Wallace was one of four commission members who did not sign the clemency plea on behalf of Mary Surratt, likely demonstrating his belief that Surratt was guilty. In the end, however, Wallace’s belief of three or four acquittals did not prove to be accurate since all eight of the conspirators were found guilty.

On Feb. 15, 1905, Wallace died at his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The late general had been many things during his lifetime: soldier, lawyer, governor, writer, diplomat, inventor and artist. The Wallaces had one son, Henry Lane Wallace, who was born on Feb. 17, 1853.

Out in the West, Wallace is known for offering Billy the Kid a pardon and then not following through. But how ironic that Wallace first tried to bring order to President Lincoln’s assassination procedure at court, then, a decade later, attempting to bring order to the town of Lincoln, that had been named after the slain president.

Sources used:

Thank you to Steve Sederall for sharing some sources.


Oakah L. Jones, “Lew Wallace: Hoosier Governor of Territorial New Mexico, 1878-1881.” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 60, no. 2 (April 1985), pp. 129-158.

Robert E. Morsberger and Katherine S. Morsberger, “Lew Wallace: Militant Romantic.” New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1980.

Robert M. Utley, “Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 61, no. 2 (April 1986), pp.93 -120.

Lew Wallace, “Lew Wallace Autobiography.” New York: Harper and Brothers, 1906.

Susan E. Wallace, “The Land of the Pueblos.” New York: John B. Alden, Publisher, 1888.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.


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