Nothing piques my interest quite like outlaw legends, and there is something about the polite outlaw and his misguided morals that truly tugs at the heartstrings 😉 When that legend is local—even better! Black Bart (Charles E. Boles) was one of the most unusual stagecoach robbers in American history. There is no record of Bart every firing a shot in any of his 29 robberies.
On July 26, 1875 the Sonora to Milton stage in Calaveras County was robbed by a man wearing a flour sack over his head with two holes cut out for the eyes. The stage driver said he carried a double-barreled shotgun and wore a long linen duster and sacks on his boots as well, to hide his garb. His voice was resonant and deep and he only said, “Please throw down the box!” He was polite and used no foul language. These became the trademarks of Black Bart, who went on to stage 29 robberies. He never robbed the passengers—only taking Well’s Fargo strong boxes.
Why is he called the Poetic bandit? He would leave behind poems for the authorities to find while searching the area. The first poem was left tacked on a tree in 1875:
“I’ve labored long and hard for bread
for honor and for riches
But on my corns too long youve tred
You fine haired sons of Bitches
the PO 8
Driver, give my respects to our friend, the other driver;
but I really had a notion to hang my old disguise hat on his weather eye.
Some interesting facts: He wrote to his wife from Silver Bow, Montana in August of 1871 about a bad experience with men who worked for Wells, Fargo & Co. and swore to get back what was his…. He headed for the gold fields of California. Not much for horses he walked almost everywhere he went. Having marched 20+ miles a day with the Union army and living in the open air, California suited him nicely. Some legends have him teaching school. His wife assumed him dead when he stopped writing. Four years later he staged his first “polite” robbery. The item that led to his capture was a handkerchief accidentally left behind at his 29th robbery. Authorities traced 91 San Francisco laundries to find that the handkerchief belonged to Charles E. Bolton, a respectable mine engineer who was staying at Room 40, 37 2nd Street, San Francisco. Hume had him arrested and in his report recorded that Black Bart was, “A person of great endurance. Exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances (THAT is something to be admired in anyone 😉 ). Extremely proper and polite in behavior, eschews profanity.”
Bart was sentenced to six years in San Quentin Prison. He was released after serving four on account of his good behavior 🙂
**Added Info: Black Bart’s last robbery was November 3, 1883, on the very same mountain pass as his first heist. After eight successful years as the “polite bandit”, Black Bart was fifty-four years old at the time of his capture. After his release from prison he lived in San Francisco for about a year and then disappeared. In the last letter to his wife he said he was tired of being demoralized by Wells Fargo and he wanted to get away from everyone. Wells Fargo officials traced him to a hotel in Visalia and found his valise in his room–but no Black Bart. His valise contained a can of corned beef, crackers and a hankerchief – I believe there’s a poetic messesge delivered in that 😉
Butch Cassidy is another outlaw legend who fascinates me–I believe Elizabeth did a post on him not long ago. Doc Holiday is another favorite romantic legend that comes to mind. Did you know that both of Doc Holiday’s parents died at age 37–his mother dying of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis took Doc at the age of 36. After proclaiming he would not die in bed….he died in bed. His last words: “Now isn’t this funny…” His tombstone reads “He died in bed.”
How about the rest of y’all? Have any favorite western or outlaw legends?