Black Bart rides again! by Morgan Gates
I’ve labored long and hard for bread, for honor, for riches
But on my corns too long you’ve tread, you fine haired sons-of- bitches
A poem by the notorious outlaw “Black Bart” left behind after one of his robberies. Black Bart was arguably one of the more successful outlaws of the old west, he preyed on Wells Fargo stagecoaches for 8 years. During his career, he stole over $48,000, that is about $1,064,000 in 2016 dollars, quite a tidy sum, and he lived to tell the tale! How many people did he kill in his life you ask? We can’t be sure, but during his eight years as an outlaw, not a one! He used surprise and intimidation, stepping out of hiding his face covered by a hood he brandished a huge sawed off shotgun, he very professionally, would tell the driver in a firm but polite manner “throw down the box, please” he never robbed a passenger nor even fired his weapon and then as suddenly as he appeared he was gone. Black Bart became a legend in his own time, the newspapers picked up his story and his notoriety spread. Then as all thing must, one day his career came to an end, not in some bloody shoot out with a sheriff’s posse, nor double crossed and shot in the back as was Jesse James. One day an intrepid driver decided to fight back and fired a shot, that struck Black Bart in the hand and as he fled the scene he dropped a handkerchief, and for the first time ever there was a solid piece of evidence. Some good solid police work followed that connected the handkerchief to a laundry and then to Charles E. Boles a farmer turned prospector who once had an unpleasant incident with the Wells Fargo Company and vowed vengeance.
Bowles was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in San Quentin, end of story, right? Not quite! So how does a California bandit fit into a blog about Vicksburg you might well ask! Well it turns out Black Bart aka Charles Bowles did indeed visit Vicksburg, and unlike in his California career, here he was a violent man and did indeed fire his weapon and almost certainly killed people although it is impossible to say how many. You see Charles Boles in 1863 was a sergeant in the 116th Illinois Infantry 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 15th Corps, of U.S. Grants Army of the Tennessee. He and his regiment were involved in the Assault on Stockade Redan on May 19th and the General Assault of May 22. It is a small world after all!
So what eventually happened to Charles Boles? He was convicted and sentenced to six years we said, but after serving only 4 years he was paroled. In November 1888, another Wells Fargo Stage was robbed by a hooded bandit and the culprit left a poem; although, Well Fargo claimed it was the work of a copycat. After his release from prison, he never returned to his wife although he did write to her complaining of being dogged by Wells Fargo Detectives. In February 1888, he got off a train in San Francisco and vanished! Neither Charles Boles nor Black Bart were ever heard from again! Some say he was paid off by Wells Fargo and moved to New York City and lived quietly for the rest of his life, others say he returned to prospecting in the wilds of Montana.
Here is what I would like to think: He stole a sizable fortune in his time, there is no record of the money ever having been recovered, and he was not a man prone to riotous living, I like to think he boarded a steamer bound for the South Pacific and lived a quiet yet prosperous life in Tahiti or some other tropical paradise. He essentially rode off into the sunset as any good outlaw should! (image by thinklink)