and the Devil himself...

and the Devil himself...
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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Black Bart - Outlaw Poet

Left at the scene of a stagecoach robbery, August 3, 1877:

"I've labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tred,
You fine-haired sons of bitches."

- Black Bart, 1877



Left at the scene of a stagecoach robbery, July 25, 1878:

"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 Po8

Black Bart, (Charles Earl Boles), was born in 1829 and was last seen on February 28, 1888. An Englishman by birth, his family emigrated to New York when he was two and by 1849 he and a cousin joined a California Gold Rush. Though he married soon after and raised a family of four in Illinois, he was to become one of the most notorious stagecoach robbers of the 1870s and 1880s. After service in the Civil War he had an incident with Wells, Fargo employees, around August, 1871. A letter swearing vengance on them was the last his wife heard of him. He became an outlaw and was soon as well known for his daring image and poetry as for his daring robberies.

He robbed his first stage in July, 1875. Victims described him as unusually polite and well-mannered. They said his voice was deep and resonant and that he asked that the driver, "Please throw down the box." In future robberies, it was noted that he was always considerate and didn't curse and that he disguised himself, covering his body with sacks and linen.

Boles based his persona on a dime western serial character, Black Bart. Black Bart dressed, of course, in black and had wild black hair and an unruly beard. He robbed Wells Fargo stagecoaches, striking terror in the hearts of all who encountered him. Boles said later that the idea of assuming the name came to him after writing his first poem and once signed, the persona was assigned to him from that point forward.

As Black Bart, he successfully robbed stagecoaches across Northern California. He was shot in a robbery in 1883 and fled the scene. He left his glasses and a handkerchief behind, among other personal items. Keeping $500 in gold coins, he buried his shotgun in a hollow tree. The stage driver in this last robbery, Reason McConnell, wrote a manuscript detailing his version of the events 20 years later.

The Wells Fargo Detective who investigated the robbery, James B. Hume was said to have looked enough like Boles to be his twin. He tracked him down by the laundry mark on the handkerchief he'd left behind at the scene. At first, Boles denied that he was the notorious outlaw but eventually admitted to the robberies committed before 1879, it is speculated because he thought the statute of limitations had run out on these. He gave a false name when booked, but police found his real identity in a Bible among his possessions.

"The police report following his arrest stated that Black Bart was "a person of great endurance. Exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances, and was extremely proper and polite in behavior. Eschews profanity."

Wells Fargo only pressed charges against Boles for his last robbery. In 1888, after 4 years in San Quinten, when he was released for good behavior, it's said that his health had visably deteriorated. When reporters asked if he was going to rob any more stage coaches he replied, "No, gentlemen, I'm through with crime." When another asked if he planned on writing any more poetry. He laughed, "Now, didn't you hear me say that I am through with crime?

He never returned to his wife, Mary but did write to her once released from prison. In his letter, he said that he was tired of having Wells Fargo on his trail, that he felt demoralized and that he just wanted to get away from everybody. In February, 1888, Black Bart vanished.

A man believed to be a copycat thief robbed a Wells Fargo stage a few months later. He left a poem that read:

"So here I've stood while wind and rain
Have set the trees a-sobbin,'
And risked my life for that damned box,
That wasn't worth the robbin."

Rumor had it that Wells Fargo then paid Black Bart to keep away from their coaches, but the rumors were, of course, denied.

What became of him was never known. Some said he died quietly in New York City. Others said he'd gone off to seek his fortune in Montana or Nevada. In the summer of 1888 an unidentified stagecoach robber some believe to have been Black Bart was killed near Virginia City, Nevada. It is surprising that he wasn't identified, however, if that was indeed who he was.

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