The Story of Charles E. Boles
aka Black Bart

(Fact & Legend)

After the Calaveras County, Sonora to Milton stage was robbed on November 3, 1883, a Charles Bolton of 37 Second Street in San Francisco was arrested from the evidence of a laundry mark (FXO7) on a handkerchief dropped at the sight. Four blocks down from the Wells Fargo Headquarters. What they found was a dapperly dressed man in his mid-fifties. Sporting a brushy moustache and an "Imperial" below the bottom lip, with clear blue/grey eyes he stood 5 feet 8 inches. Sometime during his stay in the army he had rec'd a bible from his wife which was inscribed, "This precious Bible is presented to Charles E. Boles, First Sergeant Company B 116th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, by his wife as a New Years gift. God gives us hearts to which to believe. Decatur, Illinois, 1865" This Bible was taken from "Bolton's" apartment in San Francisco by Wells Fargo Special Officer, James B. Hume.

He was actually Charles Earl(?) Bowles born in Norfolk Co. England in 1829 (seventh child to John and Maria). At the age of two he migrated with his parents to Alexandria township, Jefferson County, in upstate New York. His father John Bowles farmed their homestead of nearly 100 acres which lay 4 miles north of Plessis village, toward Alexandria Bay, across the road from the school house. Two more children were born. (See family chart)

Charles and cousin David set out for the goldfields in late 1849, stopping in St. Joseph or Independance Missouri for the winter. By early 1850 they were in California and started mining at the Northfork of the American River and soon moved on to places in Butte, El Dorado and Tuolumne counties. (In March of 1850 gold was discovered in Columbia and 3000 miners swarmed into this place in Tuolumne and set up camp. Charlie could have been one of these.) They even mined with some success in Shasta and Trinity counties before heading home to New York. (The life of a miner was one that made rough and rugged individuals. The experience of these years spent in the gold fields would have prepared him for his military life. It is also worth noting that these were the years that also prepared him for the life he would lead after the war in very familiar surroundings!)

He went back to California by 1852 with family and suddenly his younger brother Robert Boles died. (He is buried in the Yerba Buena Cemetery in San Francisco.) Two years later Charles was done with mining and headed for home, stopping at Decatur, Illinois. Here he married his wife Mary Elizabeth Johnson and he had two daughters by 1861.
(The remains of his home in Decatur saw its last days in the 1980s.)

Being home with his family wasn't excitement enough with the nation at war. He enlisted for three years with the 116th Reg't Illinois Infantry on August 13th, 1862 at Decatur.

  • The Regiment left the state for Memphis, Tennessee, November 8th.
  • At Memphis till November 26 with Grant's Central Mississppi Campaign.
  • "Tallahatchie March" November 26 - December 12.
  • Sherman's Yazoo Expedition December 20 to January 2, 1863.
  • Assault on and capture of fort Hindman, Arkansas Post, January 10-11.
  • During the siege of Vicksburg, May 18 - July 4th he was promoted a First Sergeant in Company B (July 1, 1863).
  • Siege of Jackson July 10-17.
  • Operations on Memphis & Charleston RR in Alabama October 20-29.
  • At the foot of Missionary Ridge November 24, 1863.
  • Moved to Alabama and then to Geogia by the first of the year.
  • Fought at the battle of Resaca May 14-15, 1864.
  • Advanced on Dallas, Georgia with Gen.
  • Sherman's army May 18-25 and on May 26, 1864 he received a severe wound in the right side/abdominal region.
  • By August he had returned to his unit for the siege of Atlanta July 22 - August 28.
  • He continued the "March to the Sea" with Sherman and was with him during the Campaign of the Carolinas.
  • He was mustered out in Washington D.C. June 7th, 1865. He had marched many miles a day and had relearned to sleep on the ground. When he went home, he set up farming near New Oregon, Iowa and the life was too alien and sufficating to him and he decided to search for an alternative.

    By 1867 he was on his way to the silver mines of Idaho and Montana. After writing his wife from Silver Bow, Montana in August of 1871 (He had a bad experience with men who worked for Wells, Fargo & Co. and swore to get back what was his....) he headed for the gold fields of California for more excitement. Not much for horses he walked almost everywhere he went. Having marched 20+ miles a day with the Union army and living in the open air,(something he had first learned while a goldminer for four years!) California suited him nicely. Some legends have him teaching school. His wife assumed him dead when he stopped writing. Something happened in those four years to change his way of looking at things. On July 26, 1875 the Sonora to Milton stage in Calaveras County was robbed by a man wearing a flour sack over his head with two holes cut out for the eyes. The stage driver, John Shine, (later became a US Marshal & State Senator) said he carried a double barreled shotgun and wore a long linen duster and sacks on his boots as well, to hide his garb. His voice was resonnant and deep and he only said, "Please throw down the box!" He was polite and used no foul language. These became his trademarks. (Another robbery attributed to him and his "Gang" netted the robber(s) $1800 in gold & $600 in coin on August 17, 1875. But this one was never officially counted in the 28.)

    This is one variety of the first wanted poster for his first holdup.

    The Known Stage Holdups - He "nodded" to only the ones they asked about.

  • On December 28, 1875 the stage from North San Juan to Marysville in Yuba County is robbed. A newspaper says it was held-up by four men. This too has a discription of the lone robber and his "trademarks". The "three other men" were in the hills around the stage. The driver saw their "rifles". When the posse arrive at the scene they find the "rifles" used: sticks.
  • June 2, 1876 the Roseburg to Yreka stage in Siskiyou County is robbed. Again the "trademarks" and now Wells Fargo thinks the man is an amateaur because he fails to get the bigger stage going Northbound.
  • Charles E. Boles, like many of his contemporaries read Dime Novel style serial adventure stories which appeared in the local newspapers. In the early 1870's the Sacramento Union ran such a serial called "The Case of Summerfield" (more details) The last villain in the story is dressed in black with unruly black hair, large black beard and wild grey eyes and the character has already brought fear to the hearts of it's readers. The character is a certain Bartholomew Graham, also called the "Black" Bart, who is wanted for crimes against humanity and Wells Fargo & Co.(!) Charles decides to build on this legend. August 3, 1877 the stage from Point Arena to Duncan's Mill in Sonoma County is robbed of $300 in coin and a check for $305.52 from the Grangers Bank of San Francsico. Bart was afraid to cash this check. The posse go back to the sight to look for clues and find the first poem written on a waybill, under a stone atop a tree stump:

    It was rumored that he went to the town of Guerneville the next morning.

  • July 25, 1878 Black Bart leaves another signed poem after stealing $379 and a diamond ring worth $200:

    Soon an $800 reward was issued for the capture of the stage robber Black Bart. By this time James B. Hume is on the trail of the outlaw. Hume knows that Bart wears a No. 8 shoe. Legend states that Bart stopped at the Commercial Hotel and partied on Saturday night at the Gem Saloon. He was also supposed to have had a laison with a Mary Vollmer at the Woodleaf Hotel.

  • On July 30, 1878 he is robbing the stage from La Porte to Oroville in Plumas County. The express box contained $500 in Gold and a silver watch. D.E. Berry was the driver. It is here that he tells a woman passenger, "No, don't get out. I never bother the passengers." Another quote is also attributed to him here, "No ma'am, I don't rob the passengers. I'm only after Wells Fargo."
  • October 2, 1878 Cahto to Ukiah, Mendocino County. Bart is seen picnicing along the roadside before the robbery.
  • October 3, 1878 Covelo to Ukiah, Medocino County. Bart walks to the McCreary farm and pays for dinner. 14 year old Donna McCreary provides first detailed description of Bart: Greying brown hair, missing two of his front teeth, deep set piercing blue eyes under heavy eyebrows. Slender hands & intellectual in conversation, well flavored with polite jokes.
  • June 21, 1879 La Porte to Oroville, Butte County. Bart says to driver, "Sure hope you have a lot of gold in that strongbox, I'm nearly out of money."
  • October 25, 1879 Roseburg to Redding, Shasta County Robs US mail pouches on this Saturday night.
  • October 27, 1879 Alturas to Redding, Shasta County. Jim Hume is sure that Bart is the one-eyed ex-Ohioan Frank Fox.
  • July 22, 1880 Point Arena to Duncan's Mills Sonoma County (Same location as on Aug. 3, 1877. Wells Fargo adds it to the list when he is captured.)
  • September 1, 1880 Weaverville to Redding, Shasta County Near. French Gulch, Bart says, "Hurry up the hounds, it gets lonesome in the mountains."
  • September 16, 1880 Roseburg to Yreka, Jackson County, Oregon. Farthest north Bart is known to have robbed.
  • September 23, 1880 Yreka to Roseburg, Jackson County, Oregon. (Three days later President Rutherford Hayes & Gen. William T. Sherman are on this stage.) On October 1st a person (Frank Fox?) who closely matches the description of Bart is arrested at Elk Creek Station and later released.
  • November 20, 1880 Redding to Roseburg, Siskiyou County. This robbery fails by either noise of approaching stage or hatchet in drivers hand.
  • August 31, 1881 Roseburg to Yreka, Siskiyou County. Mail sacks are cut like a "T" shape, another Bart trademark.
  • October 8, 1881 Yreka to Redding, Shasta County. Stage driver Horace Williams asked Bart, "How much did you make?" Bart answers, "Not very much for the chances I take."
  • October 11, 1881 Lakeview to Redding, Shasta County. Hume keeps loosing Bart's trail.
  • December 15, 1881 Downieville to Marysville, Yuba County. Takes mail bags and evades capture due to his swiftness afoot.
  • December 27, 1881 North San Juan to Smartsville, Nevada County. Nothing much taken, but Bart is wrongly blamed for another stage robbery in Smartsville.
  • January 26, 1882 Ukiah to Cloverdale, Mendocino County. Again the posse is on his tracks within the hour and again they loose him after Kelseyville.
  • June 14, 1882 Little Lake to Ukiah, Mendocino County. Hiram Willits, Postmaster of Willitsville (Willits today) is on the stage.
  • July 13, 1882 La Porte to Oroville, Plumas County. This stage is loaded with gold and George Hackett is also loaded with a shotgun that foils the robbery and Bart looses his derby. The same stage is again heldup in Forbestown and Hackett blasts the would-be robber into the bushes and this is also mistakenly blamed on Bart.
  • September 17, 1882 Yreka to Redding, Shasta County. A repeat of October 8, 1881 (Same stage, same place & driver), but Bart gets barely a few dollars.
  • November 24, 1882 Lakeport to Cloverdale, Sonoma County. "The longest 30 miles in the World."
  • April 12, 1883 Lakeport to Cloverdale, Sonoma County. Another repeat of the last robbery.
  • June 23, 1883 Jackson to Ione City, Amador County.
  • November 3, 1883 Sonora to Milton, Calaveras County.

    Some Details of the Last Robbery

    The stage driver, Reason E. McConnell picks up a 19-year-old named Jimmy Rolleri, who wanted to do a little small-game hunting down the stagecoach road. McConnell was happy to have the company. But Jimmy wasn't seeing any animals, so when the stage had to go up one particularly steep hill, the teenager grabbed his repeating rifle (Henry) and said he'd rather walk around it, maybe flush some dinner out of the brush.

    When Bart held up the stage he noted the missing "shotgun" and asked the driver. McConnell said that he went hunting. Bart sent him away with the horses and McConnell kept an eye out for Jimmy. Together they came back up to the coach and they saw Bart was hatcheting the strong box when McConnell fired twice and Jimmy took the rifle and fired once. Bart ran for the brush, clutching his gold but dropping a bundle of stolen mail.

    There was signs of blood on the mail and it showed that Jimmy had made the best shot. They also found that Bart had dropped his derby and failed to pick up some belongings that he'd sequestered behind a nearby rock; bags of crackers and sugar, a pair of field glasses, a couple of flour sacks, three dirty linen cuffs, a razor, and a handkerchief full of buckshot. Without too much trouble, the Calaveras County sheriff located the woman who had sold Bart his provisions, along with two other men who'd seen a stranger matching the highwayman's physical description. But the clue that broke the Black Bart case was a laundry mark on that abandoned handkerchief: FXO7

    Ninty-one laundries in San Francisco. One week of searching & in the California Laundry the name and mark are matched. When booked he signed his name "T.Z. Spaulding." He entered his place of birth as New York in 1832. He was a dapper old fellow and didn't look like the evil creation of the wild legend.

    His annual average "income" amounted to $6000. That's a tidy sum for that day and age.

    Wells Fargo detective James Hume and his agents traced the mark through the 91 San Francisco laundries to find that the handkerchief belonged to Charles E. Bolton, a respectable mine engineer who was staying at Room 40, 37 2nd Street, San Francisco. Hume had him arrested and in his report recorded that Black Bart was, "A person of great endurance. Exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances. Extremely proper and polite in behaviour, eschews profanity."

    He was sentenced to San Quentin Prison for six years but it was shortened to four years for good behavior. Reporters swarmed around him when he was released. They asked if he were going to rob anymore stagecoaches. "No gentlemen," he smilingly replied, "I'm all through with crime." Another reporter asked if he would write more poetry. He laughed, "Now didn't you hear me say that I am through with crime?"

    Wells Fargo Note
    A 1920's summation of his career Note the incorrect last name!
    NOTE: From a San Quentin form: Black Bart's markings; "Reg. No. 11046...Small mole left cheek bone, scar right top forehead, scar inside left wrist, 'Fat. shield'(?) Right upper Arm. (He apparently had an india ink shield tatoo! From his days during the Civil War?)..Gunshot wounds right abdom. (rec'd during Civil War). High cheek bones, heavy eye brows. Head: large & long. Forearms hairy & tuft of hair on breast. Prom. Nose and Broad at Base."
    The last time Bart was seen was in San Francisco on February 28, 1888 at the Nevada House. The next day he was gone. Leaving his belongings behind.


  • Black Bart: Boulevardier Bandit by George Hoeper
  • Black Bart: The True Story of the West's Most Famous Stagecoach Robber by William Collins, Bruce Levene
  • Bad Company by Joseph Henry Jackson 1939.
  • Black Bart: Elusive Highwayman-Poet by Laika Dajani 1996.

    "GIT BACK!"
    Write to: Black Bart the Legend at

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