Mysterious 'Black Bart' Pays Visalia A Visit

Dusting Off History


Last updated 11/10/2021 at 8:47am | View PDF

This undated drawing of Black Bart was circulated after his arrest.

Charles E. Boles liked stagecoaches. In fact, he liked them so much that for at least eight years he was in the stagecoach business earning some $50,000. Not bad considering that today the amount would be worth more than $1.3 million.

Now this accomplishment seems laudable until it's realized that he didn't earn the money using smart business practices. Instead he acquired his cash by robbing coaches, and lots of them - crimes that earned him the name "Black Bart."

For several years, Boles worked in the mines of Idaho and Montana, but by 1874 he shifted his attention to California. Successful searching for valuable gold in the mother lode country of the Golden State proved unproductive, so he explored other options for making a living. His motivation for stage robbing seemed to have been driven only by his desire for getting money without legally working for it.

Between 1875 and 1883, he robbed 28 stages, nearly all in the mother lode country of California, and all carrying Wells, Fargo strongboxes. His approach was different from most stagecoach robbers. He dressed in a long linen duster that hung to his ankles, and had a flour sack with cutout eyeholes over his head. His shoes were covered with boot socks, which left no shoeprints.

He laid in-wait at a curve in the road or the beginning of a steep hill. As the coach slowed down, he presented himself with his double-barreled shotgun and then ordered the driver to "throw down the box, please." He was always polite and never fired his shotgun or hurt anyone. Later it was determined that his gun was rarely, if ever, loaded.

One of his most unusual actions at robbery scenes was that occasionally he would leave a poem at the scene. His first poetic offering was in 1877 when he wrote:

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 B_ _ _ _ _ _.

He signed it "Black Bart, the Po 8."

While on his robbery spree, he lived a double life. To the general public and Wells, Fargo & Co., he was a despised and clever highwayman, but to those who knew him where he lived in San Francisco, he was a rich miner who would leave periodically to check on his mining interests.

In 1883, Black Bart committed his last stage robbery at Funk Hill, near Copperopolis in Calaveras County. It was here that in his rush to leave the scene, he dropped some personal effects including a handkerchief marked with a distinct laundry mark. It was traced back to Boles and he was arrested in San Francisco.

The Visalia House as shown here during the flood of 1890 was located on the northeast corner of Church and Main streets. This hotel was the last known sighting of Black Bart.

Black Bart was convicted for his string of robberies and was sentenced to six years in San Quentin. Of that, he served only four years and was released on January 23, 1888.

When he quietly left state prison, he just disappeared. However, on March 1, 1888, the Tulare County Times newspaper reported, "Black Bart, the poetic stage robber, who was recently discharged from San Quentin, registered at the Visalia House last Thursday as M. Moore of San Francisco and staid [sic] there until Monday last. On going away, he left his valise with the proprietor of the house saying he might call for it sometime or ask to have it forwarded to him, or he might never call or send for it. No one knows whither he went, but the report of his presence attracted many persons to the hotel."

To this day, the whereabouts of this famous robber is a mystery. Most historical accounts say that Visalia was the last known sighting of the man that caused Wells, Fargo & Co. so much grief.


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