November 3

This Day in History

Old West

Nov 3, 1883:

Black Bart makes his last stagecoach robbery

On this day, authorities almost catch the California bandit and infamous stagecoach robber called Black Bart; he manages to make a quick getaway, but drops an incriminating clue that eventually sends him to prison.

Black Bart was born Charles E. Boles, probably in the state of New York around 1830. As a young man, he abandoned his family for the gold fields of California, but he failed to strike it rich as a miner and turned to a life of crime.

By the mid-1850s, stagecoaches and Wells Fargo wagons transported much of the huge output of gold from California. Often traveling in isolated areas, the Wells Fargo wagons and stagecoaches quickly became favorite targets for bandits; over the course of about 15 years, the company lost more than $415,000 in gold to outlaw robbers.

It is believed that Boles committed his first stagecoach robbery in July 1875. Wearing a flour sack over his head with holes cut for his eyes and a fancy gentleman's black derby, he intercepted a stage near the California mining city of Copperopolis. When guards spotted gun barrels sticking out of nearby bushes, they handed over their strong box to Boles. He cracked open the box with an axe and escaped on foot with the gold, though his "gang" of camouflaged gunmen stayed behind. When the guards returned to pick up the box, they discovered that the "rifle barrels" were just sticks tied to branches.

Heartened by this easy success, Black Bart embarked on a series of stagecoach robberies. During the course of his criminal career he never shot anyone nor robbed a single stage passenger; he gained fame for his daring style and the occasional short poems he left behind, signed by "Black Bart, the Po-8." Wells Fargo, however, was not amused--the company ordered its private police force to capture the bandit, dead or alive. After several years of searching and tracking down clues, Wells Fargo detectives finally located Boles.

Arrested and tried, Boles pleaded guilty and received a sentence of six years in San Quentin prison. He served just over four years and reportedly moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after receiving a pardon. All told, the "Po-8" bandit had stolen only $18,000 during the eight years of his criminal career.

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