Stagecoach Robber: Charles E. Bolton aka Black Bart

About the stagecoach robber Charles E. Bolton or Black Bart, one of America's famous outlaws.

CHARLES E. BOLTON (1835?-1899?). Stagecoach robber.

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, the P 08

This bit of doggerel was written by one of America's more colorful poets and was found in an empty express box following the robbery of a California stagecoach in 1877.

Black Bart was but one of the many stagecoach robbers who operated in California during the more than 50 years that State depended upon the horse-drawn coaches for communication between its scattered outposts. The railroads had not yet crossed the continent.

On August 3, 1877, the stage traveling from Fort Ross to Russian River was stopped by a lone man who wore a long linen duster and whose face was concealed by a flour sack with cut-out eyeholes. He pointed a rifle at the drivers and, in a "deep and hollow" voice, told them to throw down the express box. Later the box was recovered with the above verse written on the back of a waybill. Missing were $300 in coin and a check for $305.52 on the Grangers' Bank of San Francisco. Written at the bottom of the waybill was the following: "Driver, give my respect to our friend, the other driver, but I really had a notion to hang my old disguise hat on his weather eye. Respectfully, B.B."

This was the 1st robbery to be ascribed to Black Bart, and he was not heard from again for about a year. He stopped the stage from Quincy to Oroville on July 25, 1878, and demanded the Wells-Fargo box. This time he netted $379 in coin, a diamond ring said to be worth $200, and a silver watch valued at $25. As before, he also robbed the mail. Next day the box was recovered and in it was another verse signed by "Black Bart the P 08."

Here I lay me down to sleep

To wait the coming morrow,

Perhaps success, perhaps defeat

And everlasting sorrow.

[repeat here the 1st poem]

Yet come what will, I'll try it once,

My condition can't be worse

And if there's money in that box

Tis munny in my purse.

Each line of the verse was written as though in a different hand. Wells, Fargo & Co. put up a reward of $800 for his capture.

Black Bart's robberies were unusual in that there never was any bloodshed. He just took the strongbox, removed what he wanted, left his message in the box and then vanished.

His last holdup was in late 1883 on the line from Sonora to Milton, near Copperopolis. The strongbox was more secure than most and Black Bart cut his hand working on the lock. Finally opening it, he found $4,800 in cash. At this moment a rider arrived and the driver, borrowing the newcomer's gun, fired at the highwayman. Black Bart scooped up the money and rode away, leaving behind his bloodstained handkerchief, which bore the laundry mark "F.O.X.7."

After checking with 91 laundries, detectives were rewarded with the real name of Black Bart. He was Charles E. Bolton, a fine-looking old gentleman with a white moustache, goldheaded cane and dapper clothes. When asked if he were Black Bart he replied, "Sir, I am a gentleman." As questioning persisted, he confessed that he was indeed "the P 08."

Bolton was born in Jefferson County, N. Y., and came west at the age of 10. "I never robbed a passenger or ill-treated a human being," he told them. He was convicted and given a long term at San Quentin, but was released about 4 years later for exceptional behavior. After that, nothing is known of his life.

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