Black Bart Was Not As Ferocious As Ralphie Made Him Out To Be


Ralphie on the prowl for Black Bart with his Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun

On This Date in Criminal History: Do you remember the movie A Christmas Story in which Ralphie wants a BB gun and has visions of shooting Black Bart? It leads one to believe that Bart was some desperado. Well, in the 1870’s there was a dime novel that was loosely based on a true story. The writer called his main character Bartholomew Graham who took the name of “Black Bart” because he wore black clothes, had black long curly hair and a dense black beard. In real life, there was a man named Charles Bowles  who was born in England in 1829 who immigrated to New York in the United States a few years later with his family.

Dapper Black Bart

Dapper Black Bart

As a young man, the real Charles Bowles changed his name to Charles Boles and, in 1849, he and his cousin went to California to seek their fortune in gold. They failed and, a few years later, came back. Charley Boles tried again with his cousin and his brother. Not only did they fail again, but the brother and cousin both died from an illness. Charley eventually returned and got married. After spending time in the Union Army and serving with distinction, Charley again went out west, this time to Montana where he set up a mining site that depended on water. Some men from Wells Fargo offered to buy his claim and he refused. The men reacted by cutting off his water and Charley had to abandon his mine but said in a letter to his wife,”I am going to take steps.” No one knew what he meant.  For quite some time, the last letter his wife received from him was in 1871.

Bart Often Left a Nasty Poem Behind For the Wells Fargo Boys

On this date in 1878 a Wells Fargo stagecoach was robbed of $400. It wasn’t the first time that a stagecoach from Wells Fargo had been robbed. It is believed that the culprit first began robbing stagecoaches in 1875 because, each time, a poem that intimated the perpetrator was going to strike again. It was signed “Black Bart”. Bart robbed Wells Fargo stage coaches numerous times throughout the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. He wore a flour sack on his head and never fired a shot, though on a few occasions, shots were fired at him. There was never any mayhem or extreme violence. On November 3 1883, Bart made a mistake when he left behind a handkerchief as he made his escape following what would be his last stagecoach robbery. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was able to track the hanky from a laundry mark to an elderly man in San Francisco named Charles Bolton. Bolton admitted that he indeed was Black Bart, but he disputed his reputation as being an outlaw by telling the Pinkertons. “I am a gentleman.” It was also learned that Bolton was really Charles Boles, who years before vowed to “take steps” against the company who forced him to abandon his mining claim. His wife, who had thought he was long since dead, found out that Boles was alive when she learned of his arrest.

Wanted Poster Promises $1000 in Gold For Bart

Just 18 days after his arrest, Black Bart found himself in California’s San Quentin Prison to begin serving his 6 year sentence.  His prison number was 11046.  But, he denied being Charles E. Boles or Black Bart.  Instead, he insisted his name was Charles E. Bolton.  The prevailing thought was that he was trying to protect the family that he had long since abandoned.  However, he wrote letters to his wife.  There is no record of his having received any visitors while he was in prison though rumors ran about, supposedly arising from a letter he wrote to his wife, that a wealthy man had become interested in his condition.  Speculation is that this mystery man, if he did exist, may have helped secure his early release.  Officially, he was released after 4 years and 2 months for good behavior which was a relatively new procedure.  Reporters came calling at his release and again he insisted his name was Charles Bolton and his life of crime was behind him, though reporters tried to get him to say something different.  I guess 19th century reporters did the same thing as today’s journalists when a subject doesn’t say what they want him to say. 

By This Time, Black Bart Insisted He Was Charles Bolton

Bart returned to San Francisco where officials of Wells Fargo kept close tabs on him. He wrote his wife that he was tired of being shadowed by the boys from the bank and felt demoralized.  He wanted to get away from everyone.  He never returned to his wife but in 1888 a man answering Bart’s description checked into a hotel in Visalia and then vanished.  In his room was found a can of tongue, a can of corned beef, coffee, crackers, sugar and a jar of jelly.  There were also two neckties and a set of cuffs that had a laundry mark that read F.X.O.7.   Speculation is that he was trying to throw up a smokescreen for the boys at Wells Fargo.  If he did, it worked.  The last time anyone saw him was February 28, 1888.  The 1892 city directory listed Mary Boles as the widow of Charles E. Boles, which may indicate that she knew something. Or maybe she just gave up.  If the 1917 obituary in a New York newspaper regarding Civil War Veteran Charles E. Boles was indeed that of Black Bart, he would have been 88 years old.  Either way he lives on each Christmas with Ralphie.

Bonnie Spaghetti Model Track 18Z 7.23.10

Bonnie Spaghetti Model Track 18Z 7.23.10

Weather Bottom Line:  Tropical Storm Bonnie (See satellite loop below)  is stirring up more in the media than it is in the Gulf or South Florida.  I got an email from my cousin’s husband in Fort Lauderdale, Fred Flintstone, who said they had about a half inch of rain…they get more than that in a run of the mill thunderstorm.  The problem for Bonnie is that there is a huge upper level low in the center of the Gulf and that is serving to just beat the crap out of the upper wind flow…its disrupting or shearing the winds aloft such that Bonnie cannot get any upper support and without that, you do not get a hurricane.  Centered over the northern part of the Dixie states is a big ridge.  It has expanded north and is why the Ohio Valley is so h0t today and will be in the upper 90’s with dewpoints in the low 70’s again on Saturday. 

Bonnie Spaghetti Intensity Model 18Z 7.23.10

Between the upper low with its counter clockwise flow and the clockwise flow of the area of high pressure will be the track of Bonnie.  It will be shot out like a cannon with the help of both of the other systems flow.  That is another reason why Bonnie will not be much of a storm.  It’s moving so fast, even if the upper conditions were good (they’re awful), it would not have time to develop. In fact, I bet it gets downgraded  to a depression as it comes off of Florida and then there is a fair chance that it will not reach tropical storm status again.   And with that speed, its not likely to produce any crippling rain when it does make landfall late Saturday night or early Sunday morning in the north central coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  Now, the flow around the high will break down with the advance of a cold front into the Ohio Valley.  That will raise the prosects for rain and t’storms in our area.  The moisture from Bonnie will then wrap around and move up the Mississippi and Ohio Valley and continue to bring us rain.  I suspect that the biggest threat for Bonnie will be the rainfall that it brings in, say the Tennessee Valley or perhaps the Ohio Valley early next week.  Our temperatures will be reduceds somewhat starting Sunday….so we only have to deal with a heat index of 105 to 110 for today and tomorrow.

Click image for Western Atlantic 2 day satellite loop

One Response

  1. Do I remember “A Christmas Story”? It’s my personal Rocky Horror Show. Every year when the marathon returns, I sit in my pink bunny slippers and recite the lines ahead of the actors, remembering what it was like when my own dad dealt with the clinkers in the coal furnace😉

    But I didn’t know Black Bart was real. I didn’t even know there had been a dime novel. This was really fun to read and intriguing for this: at the very time that Charles Boles was in California looking for gold, my great-great grandfather was in Colorado doing the same.

    Wonderful post.

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