Remarkable Career of “Black Bart”
by James E. Rice
Manager, Filing Department, [Bank of Italy] Head Office
Former Wells Fargo & Company Agent
During many years of service with Wells Fargo & Company and intimate contact with various types of humanity, one of the most interesting personalities with which I became familiar was that of Black Bart, the accomplished road agent of most original methods. Though the courtesy of Sheriff Riecks of Stockton, I haveucceeded in obtaining a photograph of Black Bart and a resume of his career.
This party’s real name is said to C.E. Bolton and he was a resident of [37 Second St. room 40] San Francisco. His practice was to leave his home in the bay city and take the evening boat for Stockton, arriving in the river town the following morning. Being a wonderful pedestrian, he would usually walk forty miles into the mountains by night time. The next day he would rob a stage and the only evidence he would leave would be a “poem” in which there was some humor andoccasionally a vulgar line. He was therefore known as the poetic robber.
In the period from 1875 to 1883, when he was finally captured, he robbed many stages, particularly in the mountainous part of California, and Sheriff Tom Cunningham of San Joaquin County was always at the scene of the robbery as soonas possible in an endeavor to locate evidence.
Cunningham’s staying qualities were finally rewarded after Black Bart’s holdup of the stage from Sonora to Milton on November 3, 1883. Arriving at the point where the stage was robbed, the sheriff examined the ground very closely. Suddenly he reached down and picked up a handkerchief, which incident marked the end of Bart’s career. Cunningham examined the handkerchief very closely and the officers who were with him eagerly waited to see what he would say. “At last we have a clew,” he said and directed his associates’ attention to the laundry mark “FX07.”
The handkerchief was taken to San Francisco and after a long search similar marks were found on other linen in a laundry, by Harry Morse, head of the Morse Patrol and Detective Agency of San Francisco. While Morse was in the office of the laundry investigating the marks on the handkerchief, he was told by the proprietor that the gentleman who owned that particular handkerchief was a respected customer, having mining interests in California, and he occasionally called at the laundry.
By a rather remarkable coincidence, the “owner” of the linen walked into the building while Morse was there and the detective immediately engaged him in a conversation by stating he understood he was interested in mines. Incidentally Morse told him he had some property he would like to submit for his consideration and that he would be glad to show him sample of ore as well as give him other details of the mining prospect. Bart apparently “fell” for what his newly made acquaintance had to offer and agreed to accompany him to the latter’s office on Montgomery street. When Bart entered and took in the surroundings, he was satisfied he had been trapped for he threw up his hands and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, I pass.”
That was the end of Black Bart’s career in stage robbery and it was brought about by the handkerchief which Sheriff Cunningham found. This sheriff served his county nearly twenty-seven years and died in 1900 with a splendid record for bravery and uncompromising honesty.
Some General Characteristics
Black Bart was a person of great endurance, a thorough mountaineer, who was probably unexcelled in making quick transit over mountains and steep grades. He was comparatively well educated, a general reader and well informed on current topics. He was cool, self-contained, with humorous tendencies, and after his arrest exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances. He was neat and tidy in his dress, highly respectable in appearance, polite in behavior, rather chaste in his language, never used profanity, and was not known to have gambled or to have bought pools in races, or every having dealt in mining stocks.
He was a Civil War veteran, having been affiliated with Company B, 116th Illinois Infantry. He pleaded guilty to the charge of stage robbery, was taken to San Quentin prison on November 21, 1883, and discharged therefrom on January 22, 1888. A short time after his release he disappeared and was never heard from again.