Join Date: November 2, 1998
And the conclusion
Bart had seen this passenger through his field glasses and was rattled a bit when the stage arrived at the ambush without him. The driver told him the truth—that the boy had got off to hunt small game—but Bart’s timing was then thrown off a little more because Wells Fargo had recently decided to bolt their express boxes to the floors of the stages. Rather than waste time getting this one unbolted, Bart ordered the driver to unhitch the horses and take them up the road a piece while he himself climbed inside the stage and hacked open the box. He had got the treasure out and was already running for the woods when it happened.
The boy with the gun had found the driver standing with the unhitched team, and the two crept up on the stage and opened fire on the fleeing road agent. Bart was winged, but the main damage was not to his person but to his performance. As he scuttled away into the brush, he dropped things: his derby, his crackers and sugar, the case for his field glasses. Of all the miscellany he left behind, only one item proved a good clue, and it was as prosaic a clue as one could imagine—a handkerchief with the laundry mark F.X.O.7.
About six months earlier, Detective Hume had hired a special operative, Harry N. Morse, to spend all his time running Black Bart to earth. Now, with the laundry-marked handkerchief in his hand, Morse knew that he was finally closing in. By great good luck he began his search in San Francisco, where Black Bart was then living under the name of C. E. Bolton, supposedly a prosperous mining man—which, in a second-hand way, he was.
Morse ran the laundry mark down in a week, located Bart at a lodging house at 37 Second Street, and it was all over but the confession. Bart held out for three days, standing on his dignity, feigning outrage at being questioned, and even inventing an instant new alias, “T. Z. Spaulding.” Nevertheless, he was booked on suspicion of stage robbery, and when the authorities took him back to the holdup area and people began recalling him as having just been seen there, he cracked. By moonlight he led Morse and the local lawmen to a rotting log in which he had cached the gold amalgam—$4,200 worth—and told them everything they wanted to know.
In return for his co-operation Bart got a light sentence—six years, based on his confession to the one holdup. He became Prisoner No. 11,046 in San Quentin Prison on November 21, 1883, only eighteen days after his last stage robbery. With time off for good behavior, he was a free man once again on January 21, 1888, having served four years and two months.
As Black Bart the PoS he was still news. A reporter sent to interview him upon his release asked whether he had any more poetry to give out. The years behind bars had not destroyed Boles’ sense of humor. He replied with a grin: “Young man, didn’t you just hear me say I will commit no more crimes?”
Nor did he, so far as is known, though for a while Hume suspected him of two holdups that occurred later that year. Nevertheless, two more poems were linked to old Bart’s name. One was produced by a newspaper man in the mining country, who tried to palm it off as Bart’s work:
So here I’ve stood while wind and rain
Have set the trees a-sobbin’
And risked my life for that damned stage
That wasn’t worth the robbin’.
The other verse connected with his name was a long, rambling affair written by Ambrose Bierce, then running a column in the San Francisco Examiner, as a comment on Bart’s prison-release news conference. The most memorable stanza was this:
What’s that?—you ne’er again will rob a stage?
What! did you so? Faith, I didn’t know it.
Was that what threw poor Themis in a rage?
I thought you were convicted as a poet!
Black Bart’s poetry may have lacked Bierce’s classical allusions, but it scanned better.
Editor's Notes: Ken and Pat Kraft are a husband-and-wife writing team from Carmel, California. They ran across Black Bart in old California newspaper files while living in Santa Rosa, doing research for their seventh book, a biography of Luther Burbank to be published soon by Appleton-Century.
For further reading: Wild Oats in Eden, by Harvey J. Hansen and Jeanne Thurlow Miller (Hooper, Santa Rosa, 1962); Wells Fargo, by Edward Hungerford (Random House, 1949); Bad Company, by Joseph Henry Jackson (Harcourt, Brace, 1949).
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!