During an early SOTP event at San Jose Historical Museum back in 1984, someone in the crowd called out "Hey, Black Bart!" I answered "knowingly" and in reality wondered if it was just because I had on a black hat and a black frock coat? Then I pondered that it may have something to do with my "sinister" looks? My knowledge about the legend of the name was limited! I searched my subconscious mind: There was Disney's Peg Leg Pete who had been called Black Pete or Bart, in some of the early cartoons. There were also the badguys who were my western heroes who wore black. So because I liked the name and association, I began to identify with it. The "audiences" kept calling me Black Bart and soon my pards picked it up as well. Oddly enough in the early days I had salt & pepper hair and it wasn't until 1988 when I did Pirates of Penzance (as the Pyrate King!) that I dyed my hair black! Soon after, I realized I was the "Legend!"

I use the term "The Legend" because after doing the necessary research on the character, I discovered that Charles E. Boles never wore black nor was his hair black (at least not while he robbed)! He had picked a name from a serial story which had appeared in the Sacramento Union in the early 1870's, called "The Case of Summerfield" written by a San Francisco lawyer, William H. Rhodes, under the pen name of "Caxton." A Dime Novel style adventure with a man who wears all black, has a full black beard, a mess of wild curly black hair and was a wild and unpredictable villain!

The story is about the misadventures of a "scientist" (a word not well known to the 19th century) who creates a weapon of mass destruction: a powder that turns all water to fire! A certain Bartholomew Graham, also called the "Black" Bart, who is wanted for crimes against humanity and Wells Fargo & Co.(!) steals the liquid and is never seen again. Therefore the fear of the unknown is left to the readership to ponder.

So the likely alias for a stage robber is this villain's handle! (The name "Black" Bart had an early "evil" connotation, due to the 19th century and earlier concept that a person with a "dark heart" was a "black" fellow. This is also why the term "Blackman" was derogatory before the mid 20th century.)

In this "pulp" fiction accounting dated 1871 (four years before Charles E. Boles stagecoach robberies began) the following faux poster for the arrest of a Black Bart was issued:

It goes on and describes a heroic act by Bart and the scar on his hand that he received for his good deed. It ends with mentioning how he should only be taken dead. The story was never finished as to his fate and this was a very popular fiction that was spread all over California and the rest of the western world. (Newspapers ran fictional accounts to spice up their papers and too many times these were assumed factual accounts by readers.) (NOTE: I find the similarities between the fictional character and the real person ironic!)

There was another "Black Bart" known in 19th century, which could have been known to Boles as well; the Pyrate (pirate) Captain Bartholomew Roberts who created havoc in the early 1720's.
His flag!

Here we find the most interesting similarities with this Bart and Boles' actual traits:
Both men drank tea instead of alcohol! Avoided contact with loose women. Treated ladies with great respect. Both men wore the best clothes for public display (no BLACK). Generally polite and abhorred foul language. AND out did their contemporaries with successful "holdups"; 400 ships by Roberts and 28+ Stagecoaches by Boles.
  • See Roberts' Articles

    These kind of fellows is what Charles E. Boles wanted folk to invision when they saw him covered in his flower sacks, a long linen duster, pointing his empty 10 gauge shotgun at them. He knew they had read the old stories of the pirate, the Caxton story and/or equally known "dark" men with dark pasts. He knew they would see the "unruly and wild villain" hidden beneath his disguise!


    When I portrayed this Legend, I tried to keep alive the memories of the men who created the images and fabricated their legends! If you visit me today at the Columbia Booksellers & Stationers, I'd gladly discuss the men with you and my 15 years as the legend.

    Here's my second "BBclub" member! submitted 10/10/99

    Jay Thorington out of Wyoming as Charles E. Boles
    Image by Dean Edwards

    If you know a Black Bart or are one yourself, I would like a note about yourself and an image sent to:

    Write to: The Black Bart Club

    all images, as the above selfportrait, ought to have this flavor! To keep the legend alive!

  • Read about the "real" legend maker Charles E. (Black Bart) Boles

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