Black Bart , Highwayman

I’ve labored long and hard for bread ,

For honor and for riches ,

But on my corns too long you’ve tread ,

You fine-haired sons-of-bitches .

——Black Bart  1877black bart

Charles Earl Bolles was born in Norfolk , England in 1829 . His father moved the large family to New York when Charley was two years old .

Charley went out to California in the 1840s with two of his brothers to hunt for gold . He went home again .  In 1854 Charley married Mary Elizabeth Johnson . They moved to Decatur , Illinois  and eventually had four children .

Charley joined the Union army during the Civil War . He marched with Sherman during Sherman’s March to the Sea . He had been seriously wounded at Vicksburg . He rose rapidly in the ranks from private to brevet 1st lieutenant .civil war group

After the war , Charley set out again to hunt for gold . This time he tried prospecting in Idaho and Montana .  He  then drifted west to California .

It’s been said that Charley Bowles ( he had changed the spelling of his name ) had had an argument with a Wells Fargo office in Montana . When he got to California he began robbing Wells Fargo stagecoaches .
sonora - gold rush

He’d  walk up to the stagecoaches , on the open road in gold country and along the Siskyou trail further north in California and Oregon . He’d walk up because he was afraid of horses . He’d stop the stage on foot and politely ask the driver to throw down the strongbox . Charley called himself , now , Black Bart , and he always held a shotgun when doing his thing  . Some  say that it was never loaded . At any rate , during his 38 robberies along the lonely roads , Black Bart never fired a shot .states map nicknames

He left behind poems at only two of his robberies , but that he was the poet bandit  became part of his lore .

On the first robbery , he wore a flour sack over his head . Blue eyes looked through holes he had cut . He told the stagecoach driver , ” Please throw down the box ,” and then he said , ” If he dares to shoot , give him a solid volley , boys !” The driver thought he saw rifle barrels pointed at him from nearby bushes . When the robbery was done , it was discovered that the rifles had only been sticks propped-up in bushes  pointing at the road .sutter's creek

Black Bart was quite successful in crime for several years . He was always polite to the drivers and passengers . He’d ask for the strongbox , would take it , and be gone . Until the last robbery , of course . Wells Fargo had bolted the strongbox to the floor and Charley had to struggle to wrench it free . As he did this , the driver managed to get hold of a rifle and get off a few shots . One of the bullets  went through Black Bart’s hand . He got away , dripping blood , but he had left some personal items behind .

He had left behind a handkerchief that had a laundry mark . Detectives searched dozens of laundries until they found one on Bush Street in San Francisco that matched the mark . They found a man living in a modest boarding house who called himself T. Z. Spaulding who had laundered the handkerchief . They found a bible in his room with his real name written in it . At some point Charley gave up and confessed .S.F. 1880

He was sentenced to six years in San Quentin , but he got out after four . Good behavior had got him out earlier . Reporters asked him after his release if he intended to do more robberies . ” I’m through with crime ,” he said . They asked would he write more poetry . ” I told you I’m through with crime , ” he said .

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Black Bart , Highwayman

  1. Interesting character. It always pays to be polite, even while robbing banks, etc.

  2. jaciforna

    Ha! The last line made me laugh. Crime was his muse! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Black Bart , Highwayman | itkindofgotawayfromyou

  4. It’s amazing when you consider how much distance he covered during a time when travel was quite the challenge. I also like the last line.

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