Black Bart, Bitter Poet

     In this episode, we will discuss the bitterness which drove Charles Earl Bowles to become the western outlaw Black Bart.

     Affiliate Message – If you have been thinking about blogging, this post will walk you through how I started blogging in 2013.  The post contains my recommendations for your blogging journey.

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     Main Content –  Charles Earl Bowles was born in England in 1829.  His family immigrated to the United States in 1831.  Bowles lived on his father’s farm until he and his two brothers got caught up in the California Gold Rush of 1849.  Bowles stayed in California for two years before returning broke.  Both his brothers died in California.

     Bowles married Mary Elizabeth Johnson in 1854.  They would have four children together and settle in Decatur, Illinois.  Their idyllic home life was interrupted by the Civil War.  Bowles enlisted in 1862.  Bowles proved an able soldier and rose to the rank of sergeant during the Civil War.  After the war, he briefly returned home before setting off to prospect again.

     Bowles prospected in Idaho and Montana but met little success again.  In 1871, he wrote his wife complaining of poor treatment by Wells, Fargo and Company employees.  This bitterness turned Charles Earl Bowles into the western outlaw Black Bart.  Bowles allegedly robbed 28 Wells Fargo stagecoaches over the next 8 years.

     Black Bart was considered a gentleman robber who relied on surprise tactics for his robberies and not violence.  He was also known as a poet even though he only left poems at 2 of his 28 robberies.  Bowles left only two authenticated verses. The first was at the scene of the August 3, 1877, holdup of a stage traveling from Point Arena to Duncan’s Mills:

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[3]

The second verse was left at the site of his July 25, 1878, holdup of a stage traveling from Quincy to Oroville. It read:

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[4]

     Eventually like almost all criminals, Bart’s luck ran out.  Wells, Fargo and Company Detectives caught up with Bart after his last robbery was uncharacteristically botched.  The November 15, 1883 edition of the Sacramento New Bulletin told the story of his capture.  On November 3, 1883, the Wells Fargo stagecoach was travelling along a mountain pass.  As the stagecoach approached a dense thicket, a robber wearing a torn and laundered flour sack stepped out of the bushes with guns drawn.   Black Bart was known to obscure his face with a flour sack.

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Podcast Artwork for Twice a Month Podcast

     The driver named McConnell was compelled to stop and Bart helped himself to the stagecoach strong-box.  Bart was following his typical mode of operation with the unarmed McConnell standing by.  While Bart was occupied, McConnell noticed a young man carrying a hunting rifle.  McConnell motioned the boy over and took his rifle.

     As Black Bart started to flee the scene, McConnell fired a shot at him.  Instead of shooting it out, Bart ran down the trail.  McConnell fired three more shots.  Black Bart lost his derby as well as dropping a handkerchief and some paper.  The paper was blood stained leading McConnell to believe he hit Bart.  A laundry mark on the handkerchief led to Bart’s arrest.

     The laundry mark was traced to T.C. Ware’s laundry.  From Ware, they learned Charles E. Bolton, who was staying at the Webb House, 73 Second Street, Room 40 in Downtown Sacramento, was the owner of the handkerchief.  After hearing Bolton’s description, they were positive Bolton and Black Bart were the same man.  Bolton was thought to be a mining man and took his meals at some of the nicer restaurants.

     Wells Fargo Detective Captain Hume and his men set up on Bolton.  They observed him enter 37 Second Street and took him without a fight.  Bolton aka Bowles aka Black Bart did not initially admit his guilt.  When Captain Hume told Bowles he had tracked him for six years, Bowles admitted his guilt.  Bart was sentenced to six years in prison but only served four years.  Prison aged Bowles, who wrote his wife but never returned home.  Bowles disappeared in February 1888 and was never seen again.

     The million dollar question is whether Wells, Fargo and Company did or did not actually do him wrong.  People often feel slighted when none was intended or use a perceived slight as a reason to do something they know is wrong like robbing stagecoaches.  The bottom line is whether the slight was real or perceived it cost Charles Earl Bowles his family and eventually freedom.

     Whether those slights are real or perceived, let them go.  Bitterness is drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick.

     Movie RecommendationBulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939).  The film is a later entry in the series but is one of the most entertaining.

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