Black Bart Along the Russian River

As OFRC celebrates Western Weekend every year, Black Bart is brought back to life with OFRC’s own Steve Tiedman.

But who was Black Bart?
Black Bart was a California outlaw who robbed stagecoaches and shared poetry with his victims.  Charles Boles was an Englishman whose family emigrated to New York when he was as a child.  Boles came out to California in 1852 searching for gold during the Gold Rush but returned back East without striking it rich.  Boles then fought for the Union during the Civil War, serving as a sergeant before being injured at the battle of Vicksburg.    He was promoted in the field to the rank of Brevet Lieutenant and participated in Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”

Trying a second time to strike it rich, Boles made his way to Idaho and Montana to try his luck as a prospector.  Aside from reporting a brush with Wells Fargo agents in a letter to his wife, she never heard from him again.

By 1875, Boles had made his way to Northern California, making a new name for himself as Black Bart.   Being afraid of horses, he always made his robberies on foot.  Despite the number of robberies, he never fired his gun as an outlaw.  He was known to wear a bowler hat and a duster coat, and wore a mask made from a flour sack with holes cut out for eyes. Altogether, Black Bart robbed at least 28 stagecoaches.

Charles Bowles aka Black Bart.jpg

This poem was left behind after a holdup in 1878 on a stage from Quincy to Oroville:

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.
— Black Bart

Black Bart’s robberies in Sonoma County included:

  • July 22, 1880: In Sonoma County, the stage from Point Arena to Duncans Mills (same location as on August 3, 1877; Wells Fargo added it to the list when he was captured).
  • January 26, 1882: In Mendocino County, the stage from Ukiah to Cloverdale. Again, the posse was on his tracks within the hour and again they lost him after Kelseyville.
  • June 14, 1882: In Mendocino County, the stage from Little Lake to Ukiah. Hiram Willits, Postmaster of Willitsville (present-day Willits, California), was on the stage.
  • November 24, 1882: In Sonoma County, the stage from Lakeport to Cloverdale; “The longest 30 miles in the World.”
  • April 12, 1883: In Sonoma County, the stage from Lakeport to Cloverdale; another repeat of the last robbery.

Black Bart was finally captured by Wells Fargo detective James Hume, who had traced a left-behind handkerchief to a laundry in San Francisco.  He was living in a boarding house in San Francisco, where he claimed to be a mining engineer who had frequent business trips up North.  He was captured in 1879, but he was and only convicted of the last robbery he committed.  He spent six years in San Quentin, released on good behavior in 1888.

Boles never returned to his wife after his release from prison, though he did write to her. In one of the letters, he said he was tired of being shadowed by Wells Fargo, felt demoralized, and wanted to get away from everybody. In February 1888, Boles left the Nevada House and vanished. Hume said Wells Fargo tracked him to the Visalia House hotel in Visalia. The hotel owner said a man answering the description of Boles had checked in and then disappeared. The last known sighting of Black Bart was on February 28, 1888.

Article consolidated from web references including Wikipedia.




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