July 23

This Day in History

Crime

Jul 23, 1878:

Black Bart strikes again

Black Bart robs a Wells Fargo stagecoach in California. Wearing a flour sack over his head, the armed robber stole the small safe box with less than $400 and a passenger's diamond ring and watch. When the empty box was recovered, a taunting poem signed "Black Bart" was found inside:

Here I lay me down to sleep
to wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat
And everlasting sorrow,

Yet come what will, I'll try it once,
My conditions can't be worse,
And if there's money in that box,
'Tis money in my purse.

This wasn't the first time that Black Bart had robbed a stagecoach and left a poem for the police; however, it was the last time he got away with it. His next stagecoach robbery secured a lot more cash, $4,800. At yet another robbery, on November 3, 1888, though, he left behind a handkerchief at the scene. Through a laundry mark, Pinkerton detectives traced the handkerchief back to Charles Bolton, an elderly man in San Francisco.

Bolton later confessed to being Black Bart but bitterly disputed his reputation as an outlaw. "I am a gentleman," he told detectives with great dignity. How Bolton became Black Bart is unclear. What is known is that Bolton had tried to hit it big in the Gold Rush, but had ended up with a lifestyle beyond his means.

Black Bart ended up serving only a short stretch in prison and spent the rest of his days in Nevada.

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