The stagecoach, actually a box on wheels pulled by a set of horses, was a mode of travel across the United States and between communities.
Many of the western historical towns, known today in some areas as ghost towns, use the stagecoach as a ride for tourist so that they would have an experience of what it felt like to ride in one. Mark Twain, a well known author of California, in his book “Roughing It” describes his adventure across the United States to Nevada in a stagecoach.
Besides carrying people, the stagecoach carried all kinds of packages, mail, newspapers, etc. One of the mane items carried was a strongbox of valuables and gold from California and Nevada mines. Because of this, many legends or folklore stories were told about people who robbed the stagecoach for the gold it carried in strongboxes. One of these popular persons was a robber known as “Black Bart.”
Black Bart, stagecoach outlaw of California’s Motherlode area, never fired a shot and would walk from his robberies because he did not like to ride horses. Charles Earl Bowles, aka Black Bart, robberies started in Calaveras County in 1875, when he robbed a Wells Fargo stagecoach. When the horses climb a small incline on the road near a curve, he stop the horses on top of the incline and stood between the two lead horses with a 12-gage shot gun, so that the driver would hit the horses if he tried to shoot him.
“Sling down the strongbox. If the driver fires a shot, boys, shoot back” The drive saw six rifles sticking out from behind boulders. Quickly, the driver took out the Wells Fargo strongbox( a wooden box with iron bands and a padlock) and threw it on the ground.
A lady on the stagecoach threw her purse from the stagecoach. Black Bart picked up the purse, bowed to the lady, and handed it back. “I do not want your money only Wells Fago’s money.” After the robbery, the driver drove around a curve and stopped the stagecoach. He went back to where the robbery took place and discovered the rifles were only sticks.
Black Bart continued to hold up Wells Fargo stagecoaches in California along mountain roads, where the driver had to slow down. He never fired a shot, but was wounded slightly once. Sometimes he would leave a poem, example:
After the fifth robbery: “Here I lay me down to sleep To wait the coming morrow, Perhaps success, perhaps defeatAnd everlasting sorrow. Yet come what will, I’ll try it once, My condition’s can’t be worse, And if there’s money in the box,’Tis money in my purse Black Bart, the Po8”
Eventually, he was caught when he drop a handkerchief with a Chinese laundry mark, and it was traced back to a Chinese Laundry in San Francisco China Town. It lead back to a Mr. Charles E. Boles. Mr. Boles, aka Black Bart, was sent to San Quentin where he served his time. When released he disappeared, so the legend goes, and was never seen again. Some people said that he did one more robbery in Southern California and then went back east.
Black Bart was one of California’s famous legends about a stagecoach robber–he never fired a shot, was a quiet man in San Francisco, courteous to the ladies, always walk between robberies, never rode a horse, left poems after his robberies.