Ghost Town Explorer
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Charles E. Boles
AKA - Charles E. Bolton
AKA - Black Bart

A severe economic depression in the 1870’s brought about more criminal activity from bandits and highway men than either decades previous or following. Such was the case of Black Bart. Where this story begins is under dispute, some say Boles was born in New York City, Others claim he immigrated to the states from Norfolk England. Settling in Illinois and taking himself a wife and starting a family, Boles eventually enlisted in the Union Army during the civil war where it is said that he served 3 years before being discharged. Sometime after his service to the Union, Boles left Illinois for California to find a better life for his family. Arriving in San Francisco, he eventually found that his way of living was exceeding his income. On a warm July day in 1875 Boles conducted his first robbery hitting the Wells Fargo Sonora To Milton Stage at Funk Hill near Copperopolis California. It would be nearly a year before he struck again. He seemed to space his robberies out, some say to avoid detection, others say he only took when he needed. Either way, Boles employed methods that were surely unusual.

 

Ghost Town Explorer

Witnesses indicated that Boles would stand at the road side armed with a double barrel shot gun and a potato sack over his head with eye holes cut out, as the stage coach came around a slow turn or hill climb, Boles would yell out to toss down the box. With no escape foreseeable, the driver would do as told. The box that Boles was referring to was that of the Strong Box that was carried on the stage coaches at the time as a means of transporting money and gold from banks and or mines on the coaches route. In all Boles was said to have escaped with $18,000. over a 8 year period conducting 28 robberies of Wells Fargo stages. On his fourth and fifth robberies, Boles left poems behind in the empty strong boxes dumped along side the roads where the robberies took place. He signed his poems “PO8” for Poet. It was then that word of these robberies really spread across central California. Black Bart became somewhat of an icon because he never robbed the civilian passengers, kept his manners and only made off with the strong boxes. It was later discovered that Boles would walk to and from his robberies, never employing the use of a horse or assistants; he worked alone and on foot. Boles robberies continued, all spread out with no real pattern. So Wells Fargo called upon one of its own detectives, James B. Hume to investigate and track down the infamous robber who was now known as Black Bart. Other historians argue that it was San Joaquin County sheriff Tom Cunningham of Stockton that tracked down and eventually caught Black Bart.

It was November 3rd 1883, once again the Sonora to Milton Wells Fargo Stage traveling up Funk Hill near Copperopolis, California. Only this time, what Black Bart was not aware of, was that one of the passengers, Jimmy Rolleri, a 19 year old boy, had jumped off of the stage coach as it slowly climbed the hill to hunt some rabbits. As the stage reached the steepest section of roadway, out stepped Black Bart, with his potato sack mask and double barrel shot gun. He called for the strong box, but Wells Fargo had employed a new method of security and started bolting the strong boxes to the floor inside the coaches. As Black Bart proceeded to hack his way in to the strong box inside the coach, he was startled by young Jimmy making his way back. Some say Jimmy actually shot at Black Bart as he fled the scene through the brush, striking him in the hand. Others indicate that Black Bart injured his hand as he was attempting to access the strong box and fled as Jimmy arrived on scene. Whatever the truth, Black Bart was injured and running to avoid capture. The stage driver then proceeded to Copperopolis to report the crime. It was then that either Wells Fargo Detective James Hume or County Sheriff Tom Cunningham was dispatched to the scene. A bloody handkerchief was found near the scene. A handkerchief with distinct laundry markings that were traced to a launderer in San Francisco, who pointed out his long time loyal customer, Charles E. Boles. On November 13th 1883, 10 days after the last robbery, Black Bart, aka- Charles E. Boles, aka- Charles E. Bolton, was taken into custody, eventually appearing before a judge in San Andreas, California and convicted to 6 years in San Quentin State Prison.

Although he was released from prison after serving 4 or his 6 year sentence, Boles never crossed paths with the law again. Some say he was killed in a hunting accident in the Sierra’s, but this theory has never been confirmed. Another rumor was that Black Bart was paid off upon release from prison by the Wells Fargo Company as a means of protecting their clients valuables that they were hired to transport.

During the investigation that placed Boles in prison, it was discovered that the double barrel shot gun was in such poor condition that it was incapable of being fired. It was also discovered that Boles would take the train to the general area of his robbery, and would at times actually walk several miles to and from his robbery sites.

For more information on Black Bart try www.blackbart.com

 

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