Exactly one hundred and forty-five years ago, on 26 July 1875, Charles Earl Boles (or Bowles) wearing a flour sack over his head with two holes cut out for the eyes, robbed his first stagecoach in Northern California.
This outlaw was an elegantly dressed man in his mid-fifties with deep blue/grey eyes, heavy eyebrows and a brushy moustache.
He was gallant to ladies and never robbed any passengers or shot anyone during his hold-ups, but politely asked the stage drivers to “Please” throw down the Wells Fargo strongbox and U. S. Mail bags.
That first robbery brought him only $160. Over an eight-year span, he robbed at least twenty-eight stages, all belonging to Wells Fargo & Company, which provided express and banking services to California.
After each robbery he returned to San Francisco where he lived in a hotel where he had registered as Charles Bolton, a mining engineer/mine owner, to justify his absences during his robberies. He was always fashionably dressed, a sophisticated man with a diamond ring, diamond stickpin and walking stick. He liked to escort women to local theatres and restaurants, did not drink or smoke, and loved literature.
His fourth robbery in 1877, was the first time he identified himself as “Black Bart” and a poet, since he left a poem in an empty strong box signed “Black Bart – The PO8.”
He later told a Wells Fargo detective that the “nom de plume” had popped into his head when he was writing the first poem, and he had immediately decided to use it.
That name was probably inspired by an adventure story published in a Sacramento newspaper which featured a villain who was a stagecoach robber named Black Bart.
Here is the poem:
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. (1)
Despite being famous for leaving poetic messages after his deeds, he did so only on another occasion, during his next robbery which occurred almost a year later, when he left the following poem:
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 my box,
‘Tis money in my purse. (2)
He was never identified or captured, until his last robbery in 1883 during which he was injured and ran away leaving behind him a handkerchief. This contributed to his identification, since it bore a laundry mark, the one used by laundry services to identify the clothes being washed and pressed, which made it possible to trace him.
Charles Boles/Bowles, aka Charles Bolton, aka Black Bart was convicted and sentenced to six years in San Quentin Prison, but he was released after four years for good behaviour.
Black Bart left one more (probably apocryphal) poem as his unofficial epitaph:
I rob the rich to feed the poor,
Which hardly is a sin;
A widow ne’er knocked at my door
But what I let her in.
So blame me not for what I’ve done,
I don’t deserve your curses,
And if for any cause I’m hung,
Let it be for my verses! (3)
✍️ (1) Ho lavorato a lungo e duramente per guadagnarmi
pane, onore e ricchezze.
Ma troppo a lungo mi avete pestato i calli
voi figli di puttana dai bei capelli fini. 🔫
✍️ (2) Qui mi sdraio a dormire
e ad aspettare il domani,
forse un successo, forse una sconfitta
ed eterno sconforto
Succeda quel che deve, ci proverò,
le mie condizioni non possono essere peggiori
e se ci sono soldi nella cassetta
saranno soldi nella mia borsa.🔫
✍️ (3) Rubo ai ricchi per dar da mangiare ai poveri,
il che non è peccato;
una vedova non ha mai bussato alla mia porta
senza che la lasciassi entrare.
Quindi non incolpatemi per ciò che ho fatto,
non merito le vostre maledizioni,
e se per qualche motivo sarò impiccato,
Lasciate che sia per le mie poesie!🔫