An undated image of Charles Boles. Yuba County Library

Black Bart, gentleman bandit of the Old West, left poems behind after his holdups

A stagecoach robber of the Old West sometimes left poems behind after his holdups. One read:

“I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.”
It was signed, “Black Bart, the Po8.”

His real name was Charles Earl Boles, and he was one of California’s most infamous outlaws during the 1870s and ’80s. In between heists, Boles lived a double life among San Francisco’s high society. He commonly wore a tweed suit, bowler hat, and diamond pinky ring.

From 1875 to 1883, he held up at least 28 stagecoaches in northern California and Oregon. Operating alone and on foot, his modus operandi was to stand in the path of a Wells Fargo stagecoach, his face concealed by a flour sack. According to one account, he leveled a shotgun at the driver, demanded the strongbox, and yelled toward phantom cohorts in the hillside: “If he makes a move, give him a volley, boys.”

Boles met his downfall after he was wounded during a robbery gone awry and left his handkerchief behind. A laundry mark on the cloth was enough for detectives to track down the elusive gentleman bandit. A police report described Boles: “Exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances, and was extremely proper and polite in behavior. Eschews profanity.”

Boles served four years in San Quentin Prison. Upon his release, he told awaiting newspapermen that he was through with crime. Asked if he would write more poetry, Boles laughed and said, “Now didn’t you hear me say that I am through with crime?” He later disappeared without a trace.

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