Saturday, July 2, 2016

American Biography: Black Bart

The name Black Bart, is a self given name.  Black Bart's real name is Charles Earl Bowles.  He was born in England.  He made several prospecting trips, two to California and one in Montana.  He had married and had a wife in Illinois.  He also served in the Civil War with Sherman's march to the sea.  In Montana he had a promising claim, running water through a "tom," a flue which separated the gold from the rocks.  Some men moved above his claim, and cut off his water.  Bowles felt these men were affiliated with Wells fargo, and he took out his vengeance against the stage company.  His robberies all took place in the Northern California and Southern Oregon area.  His first and last robberies were near Copperopolis, a community not too far from where I currently live.  Black Bart needed certain conditions for his robberies.  He was afraid of horses, and consequently did not ride.  He would choose a place where he could walk, and an upgrade for the stage coach so the coach would be going uphill and slower.  His initials robberies he carries out a rouse with sticks placed to look like guns, and he would call to his men to shoot if the driver tried anything.  Black Bart would only steal from the stage coach box.  He would not steal from the passengers.  He also would not kill anyone.  He threatened with a gun, which was rarely loaded and was old and rusted.  
An unusual thing about Bart is that at a couple robberies he left verse, almost taunting those who were trying to stop him.  
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.
— Black Bart, 1877
 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

While Black Bart was robbing stage coaches, at least 24 robberies were credited to him, which is more than anyone in history, he lived in San Francisco under an assumed name, and passed himself off as a rich mining engineer named Charles Bolton.  
James Hume was a detective hired by the Wells Fargo Company to capture Black Bart.  He actually used skills of detection, which was unusual for the time, other than interviewing witnesses.  He took cast molds of footprints, he dug out bullets and buckshot to look for comparisons.  
Wells Fargo became smarter over time, fastening the black boxes to the coach.  Bart would have to take time to them them loose, and this lead to his capture.  At a robbery, near in location to his first, a passenger had been let off at the bottom of the hill.  It took enough time for Bart to remove the contents of the box, that they came upon bart while he was making his escape.  They fired four shorts, and hit him in the hand.  He also left quickly, leaving some of the items at his camp.  This included a bloodied handkerchief with a laundry mark.  With this mark, Hume was able to track him down, and discover his true identity.  Bart confessed and was convicted of the last robbery.  He was sentenced to San Quentin.  It is estimated he stole between twenty and one hundred thousand dollars (three million today.)  After his release, early for good behavior, he drifted into obscurity.
Excerpts form Wikipedia and Bill O' Reilly's Legends & Lies by David Fisher.

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