Friday, September 25, 2009

NICASIO MORNING



Outside the dining room window,
last year's twins cross the road with their fawns,
the sound of deer hooves on the pavement
like a hard stacatto of rain on parched clay.
They forage and browse on oak leaves,
the dry grass seethes with crickets.
Little nourishment there.

I'm sitting on my cousin's wreck of a front porch,
watching the traffic whip and grind its way
around the baseball diamond cum village square,
like it was the Indie 500 & bluejays squall like cop cars.
They all rubberneck, I learn to ignore them.
I do not know which type I hate more, the gawkers,
or the ones that make you invisible.
They are all trespassers on the sheaves of morning.

I imagine the commuters to be a smoggy tempest wind,
a dopplegang of music pulses from their coffinships.
At least they make the sharp turn: some didn't.
Sitting on this porch can be more than a moving violation.
Sinead's lost two parked cars to the road warriors, I've lost one.

Victor stops at the bend in his Porsche,
shouts "Hello," mistaking me for my cousin.
Guns off in first gear in his glove of a car.
Cat-eyes on the double line crunch beneath his tires.
The road unequally divides them into friend and foe.
My aunts are managing the shape of their death
in the unforgiving language of cancer.

Two cyclists, oblivious that I can hear their every word,
disparage the sorry state of this porch
and how this is such a ridiculously small town.
I answer their good morning with: "It's not a town, a village."
Two ravens croak and chuff as if in agreement.

Autumn bite in the air, laptop keeps my lap warm,
Cheetos the cat paws and laps from the water bowl,
strokes his dish, marking it with his "all-mine" scent,
half-heartedly fends off the bluejays poaching his kibble,
then inexplicably wants to share my lap with the laptop.

Meanwhile, two hawks keen in the blue bowl of a sky.
The cattle low, forage in brown pastures
and thirsty deer head down to the dry creekbed
for their morning drink out of genetic habit.
Upstream houses have robbed the creek of its water
for their luxury pools and extra bathrooms.
Deer learn to slake their thirst from bathtub troughs.

Between rare bouts of of utter country silence,
flies and hornets sing their small song in the weeds
as woodpeckers plumb the final depths of the dying oaks.



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

HOPE


I'm sitting in the hospital parking lot,
while websurfing on their dime,
sending out links on healthcare reform
waiting for my aunt's chemo session to end.

Today would've been my mother's 77th birthday.

rev., added 9/17

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Huckleberries on the Equinox


We had warm huckleberry pie at midnight (from berries we picked in the afternoon) with HagenDaas Vanilla ice cream. Ahhh, wilderness! But pie at midnight = insomnia, + slow dial up = 4 AM torture, the only solace is listening to the distant coyotes howl. A raccoon fell off the porch while hunting stray huckleberries.

Soon it will be time to head south, over Lucas Valley Road, hoping I'll be going against tourist traffic, but today it's unusually light out in the backroads of West Marin. Few cars at the church too. Church bell and droning flies, the oceanic surcease of passing cars.

added, rev 9/17

Friday, September 18, 2009

KITTY PORN


Old orange tomcat yowls for breakfast,
strokes his water bowl with his cheeks to mark it,
then hunkers down to watch the bluejays
swoop down to steal his kibble from a white bowl
nestled on the front porch.

added, rev. 9/17



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Black Bart Rides Again


On August 3, 1877, the Wells Fargo stagecoach pulled out of Fort Ross and headed south over Seaview Ridge, down Meyer's Grade toward Guerneville. The horses were tired, the stage clattered along the dusty coastal route that linked Point Arena to the outpost of Duncan's Mills on the Russian River, without mishap. So far, so good.

But as he was nearing the end of his arduous journey down the sleepy Sonoma County coast, a strange, cloaked figure stepped out of the scrub and shadows on River Road and yelled, "Halt! We have you surrounded" The startled Wells Fargo driver reined up and stared at an apparition in the sizzling August heat. He rubbed his eyes. Was it a mirage?

A ghost dressed in a linen duster, wheat sacks on his legs, a flour sack over his head, topped by a black derby. He didn't believe the wild stories of a ghost bandit loose in these parts. But this was comical.

The driver soon gave up any notion of a sunstruck ghost when the "ghost" demanded in a deep, hollow voice, that brooked no opposition, that he "throw down the treasure box." And he waved his double barrel shotgun in punctuation.

The driver, looking down the working end of a very real 12-gauge shotgun, decided discretion was the better part of valor and handed over the strongbox with its $300 in coin, a cheque for $3.05, and a silver watch, to the notorious outlaw.

When the apparition disappeared into the chaparral on foot, the Wells Fargo driver took off to Guerneville lickety-split, cracking his whit as the carriage careening along River Road, to report the robbery.

When the Guerneville posse arrived at the scene of the crime, he noted that it was in the same place as the last robbery three years earlier, last July; the mail sacks were slashed with a characteristic "T" shape. "Yep, that's Black Bart's M.O., all right," he said to no one in particular.

The sheriff found the smashed strongbox in the underbrush, devoid of coin and cash. When he found the axe, he noticed a scrap of paper on a tree stump fluttering like a wounded bird, anchored under a rock He tossed the rock into the bushes and examined a waybill with a curious message in different hands, scribbled on the back:

I've labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tred,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

Black Bart
the PO 8
Driver, give my respects to our friend, the other driver; but I really had a notion to hang my old disguise hat on his weather eye.
Respectfully, B.B. (1877)

And so began the dubious literary career of Black Bart, the Gentleman Bandit, who, for the next eight year, with numerous daring thefts, successfully hoodwinked and bilked Wells, Fargo and Company, out of $40,000, relieving them of their petty cash to the tune of—or should I say the pure po8try of—thousands of dollars a year. Someone quipped, that whatever Black Bart lacked as a rhymer, he sure made up for as a robber.

California's first, and most notorious stagecoach robber poet of the West, Black Bart, had left his calling card—a note with a penned verse at the scene of another crime. A second verse left inside a hacked up strongbox at a holdup on the Quincy - Oroville stage line, read:

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I'll try it on,
My condition can't be worse;
And if there's money in that box, '
Tis munny in my purse.

Black Bart
PO 8
(July 25, 1878)

After the second poem, again, each line was written as if in a different hand, there was a price on Black Bart's head. Governor Irwin posted a $300 reward for the capture of Black Bart, PO8. Wells Fargo matched Irwin's reward and the US Post Office added another $200. An $800 reward for bad penmanship, bad poetry, and a whole lot of Wells Fargo's moolah.

The $800 bounty merely upped the ante, Black Bart brazenly robbed three more stages that week alone, but the reward went unclaimed for five years. But never again did he leave his calling card of odd verse at the scene of any crime. Perhaps Black Bart, with his busy burglary schedule, suffered from writer's block.

Apparently C.E "Charles" Bolton, a retired San Francisco mining engineer, had a bone to pick with Wells Fargo and so he decided to lighten Wells Fargo and Company stagecoaches of their payload.

Bolton was born Charles Bolles, in Norfolk, England in 1829, was raised on a farm in upstate New York from age two, and at age 20, he arrived to the California gold fields in 1849, and eventually changed his name to Bolton. After five unsuccessful years of mining ventures on the North Fork of the American River with his cousin and brother, Bolton returned to Illinois after his brother, Robert, died tragically in San Francisco.

Bolton married Mary Johnson in 1854, settled down to raise a family, but soon grew tired of the farmer's life in Illinois.

Bolton enlisted in the Civil War and fought at Vicksburg, where he was seriously wounded, and General Sherman's March to the Sea. He received medals and a commission, but grew weary of civilian life. His feet were itching, so in 1867, he took up prospecting in Idaho and Montana.

In August 1871, Bolton wrote a last letter to his wife, of a dispute with some Wells, Fargo & Company employees who had ruthlessly forced him off his land in Montana by cutting off his water supply, making it impossible for him to mine his silver claim. He vowed to get even.

And thus began Bolton's life of crime. And poetry. Charles Bolton—a man of many aliases including Charles E. Bowles/Boles/Bolles, and T. Z. Spalding when he was arrested, robbed his first stagecoach in July, of 1875 in Calaveras County. His favored pseudonym was "Black Bart."

During the early 1870s, the Sacramento Union ran a weekly serial, a dime novel, "The Case of Summerfield" where a highwayman, Bartholomew Graham, AKA Black Bart, made a habit of robbing Wells Fargo stages.

A case where reality mirrored fiction, Bolton adopted the moniker. The description and persona suited him to a "T."

"He [Black Bart] is five feet ten inches and a half in height, thick set, has a mustache sprinkled with gray, grizzled hair, clear blue eyes, walks stooping, and served in the late civil war....It is said that he was engaged in the late robbery of Wells & Fargo's express...."
— Caxton, "The Case of Summerfield"
The real Black Bart made good editorial copy, he was the press and the public's darling. An eyewitness later described him as having graying brown hair and deep-set piercing blue eyes under heavy brows.

What made the crimes unusual was that stagecoach passengers reported that Bolton was always very polite, saying, "Please throw down the box." He was a real Robin Hood, always courteous, never robbed them, making a point of returning their items, with a poetic bow or flourish, saying, "Ma'am, I don't rob passengers. I'm only after Wells Fargo."

Bolton often took the train to Stockton and thought nothing of walking 40 miles into the hills, a soldier's quirk he picked up during the Civil War. He knew every road, trail and pass from Sacramento to San Francisco like the back of his hand. And then some. Even Wells Fargo was impressed with his prowess, describing him as a very "thorough mountaineer."

Perhaps it was because of the sheer distances he routinely traversed on foot that gave him the idea to rob Wells Fargo stages. A highwayman riding shank's mare? No one expected to find a man on foot in the middle of nowhere without a telltale getaway pony.

Black Bart, who pulled off at least 28 robberies in eight years, often revisited the scene of his last crime spree, with great success. He favored steep mountain passes, where the exhausted horse team pulling a heavy stagecoach laden with gold, were forced to a slow walk.

Wells Fargo began bolting the strongbox to the carriage floor of the stages to impede Black Bart's progress. But there were so many lonely stretches of road that naturally lent themselves to highway robbery. The stagecoach run from Clear Lake to Cloverdale was dubbed "The longest 30 miles in the World."

There's a road named after Black Bart between Forbestown, once a large mining center, and Robinson Mills i(near Oroville). During one hot summer day in July, 1878, Black Bart held up a stage on the road from La Porte to Oroville. A traveler tried to give her valuables to Black Bart who leld up his hand and said: "No lady, don't get out. I never bother the passengers. Keep calm. I'll be through here in a minute and on my way." He nabbed the Wells Fargo strong box with $50 in gold and a silver watch, the mail sacks, and disappeared into the seething heat.

During one robbery Black Bart quipped, "Sure hope you have a lot of gold in that strongbox, I'm nearly out of money." In Shasta County, stage driver Horace Williams asked Bart, "How much did you make?" Bart answered, "Not very much for the chances I take."

And near French Gulch Bart said, "Hurry up the hounds; it gets lonesome in the mountains." Black Bart eluded the law for nearly a decade until his capture in 1883. His eventual undoing was a silk handkerchief he dropped at the scene of his last crime.

Black Bart's last holdup was—oddly—at the scene of his first crime on Funk Hill, near Copperopolis, in the Sierra foothills. Though he escaped into the hills with one gold bar after he was winged by a young hotshot hitchiker, Jimmy Rolleri, as he was trying to free the strongbox bolted to the stagecoach floor, Black Bart dropped a bloodied silk handkerchief at the scene of the crime.

Bolton was eventually identified by a laundry mark on the handkerchief and duly captured when Wells Fargo detective James Hume and Sheriff Tom Cunningham found the handkerchief, and exclaimed, "At last we have a clew!"

After visiting some 91 laundries in San Francisco, Wells Fargo detectives James Hume and Henry Morse traced a laundry mark, F.X.0.7., on the handkerchief to a Bush Street laundry that Bolton used. When who should walk in out of the blue but the dapper Bolton himself. Hume was startled, the resemblance was uncanny, he thought he was looking at his double in a mirror—right down to the broad white mustache.

Morse noted that Bolton was "elegantly dressed, carrying a little cane.... a natty little derby hat, a diamond pin, a large diamond ring on his little finger, and a heavy gold watch and chain.... One would have taken him for a gentleman who had made a fortune and was enjoying it...." At Wells Fargo's expense.

Hume and Morse engaged Bolton in conversation about mining investment schemes. They discovered that Bolton took frequent "business trips" that coincided with Wells Fargo robberies. Back at the Wells Fargo office, Hume's questions took another turn, stagecoach robberies. When an eyewitness identified him, Bolton knew the jig was up, raised his hands and exclaimed, "Gentlemen, I pass." He confessed that he was indeed "the P 08." Bolton may have gone meekly to his arrest but he bristled when they made fun of his verses.

Charles Bolton pleaded guilty to the charge of one count of stagecoach robbery (and two counts of poetry); he was sentenced to six years in San Quentin prison on Nov. 21, 1883.

Police reported that Bolton was a model prisoner. He was "a person of great endurance." Witty under the most trying of circumstances, he was "extremely proper and polite in behavior. Eschews profanity."

Black Bart's shotgun was never loaded. The "rifles" he had trained on the stage were merely sticks propped up in trees. He worked alone. His gang was an imaginary sleight of hand. Bolton was reputed to have said that he didn't want to take a chance of hurting any of his victims. "I never robbed a passenger or ill-treated a human being," he said.

After his early release from prison for good behavior, on Jan. 22, 1888, and in failing health, Bolton answered the bevy of reporters flooding the prison boat, one wanted to know how prison life treated him, another asked: did he intend to rob any more stages? He shook his head no, and said, "Gentlemen, I'm through with crime." One reporter pressed Bolton, did he intended to write more poetry verses? Bolton threw back his head and chuckled, "Now didn't you hear me say I was through with crime? I repeat, gentlemen, I am through with a life of crime."

Without so much as a goodbye, a month later, Bolton disappeared, leaving his belongings behind in a boarding house, and he was never heard from again. Wild rumors spread: he was spotted in Mexico City, living the life of a king. Or in New Orleans. He was never seen again.

But his work inspired many copycat robbers to pen their own verses left at the scene of their crimes.

So here I've stood while wind and rain
Have set the trees a-sobbin,'
And risked my life for that damned box,
That wasn't worth the robbin'

Agent Hume was called in several times to verify their poseys, but after examining the handwriting, Hume (Black Bart's literary executor?) declared; their doggerel was the work a copycat—it didn't match the work of the Gentleman PO8.

* * *

In May, 1983, in an irreverent history-making attempt— some 100 years after the capture of Black Bart—Sonoma County's own Black Bart Poetry Society held its first (and last) annual poetry festival and membership drive. Over 100 paying audience members were were held captive by poetry at the On Broadway Theatre in San Francisco's North Beach district.

Among the luminaries at the first and last Black Bart Poetry Festival were Beat poets Bob Kaufman, Joanne Kyger, and Bobbie Louise Hawkins; Sonoma State's novelist, Jerry Rosen, and Steve LaVioie, as well as other Bay Area poets. Steve Abbott, Cole Swensen, and Dave Benedetti also performed sets. One featured performer, [NPR's "All Things Considered"] Andrei Codresciu, was unable to attend, but sent his regrets.

The Black Bart Poetry Festival also aired the experimental films of William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlingetti, and Kenneth Patchen as well as streaming live feed overhead videos of the performers in action. Sets were broken up with punk-rock riffles by bass player Dan Schiff.

In an irreverant history making surrender to creative anarchy, Monte Rio's own Po8 Laure8, Pat Nolan and his sidekick in crime, Steve LaVoie, co-founders of the Black Bart Poetry Society, also held their first annual paid membership drive at penpoint. There were few takers.

Besides cajoling patrons to sign up for the "Life of Crime" newsletter, there were featured readings, video loops and random music events. Nolan interviewed several prominent poets and he has plans to produce a video essay on the current State of the Arts in Bay Area Poetry.

The Black Bart Poetry Society whose sole motto is,"For those who think poetry is a crime" was named after the illustrious outlaw with the nome de plume of Black Bart. Black Bart robbed many Wells Fargo stage coaches from Marin to Mendocino—the epicenter of his nefarious activities was in Sonoma—especially the Russian River area were among his favorite harvesting grounds.

Black Bart's colorful history and infamous motto certainly adds an ironic twist to the folk song, Pretty Boy Floyd, "some rob you with six guns; some rob you with a fountain pen." Black Bart always signed his highway robberies with a poem—his trademark, the PO8.

If you think poetry is a crime, or have a momentary lapse in judgment and wish to join BBPS to submit some of your own doggerel, call Outlaw in Chief, Pat Nolan at (707) 865-1253. Says Monte Rio’s PO8 Laure8, Nolan, “All Outlaw Members will be held responsible for memorizing the monthly newsletter that comes out sporadically, at best.”

Future plans include a Black Bart doggerel poetry contest to be held at Duncan's Mills, reputed to be the scene of the original crime.






BLACK BART POETRY FESTIVAL PHOTOS


Bob Kaufman & Pat Nolan


Bob Kaufman & Pat Nolan




Pat Nolan

Steve Abbott & Mimi Mimeaux

Lynn Wildly & ?? ANYONE KNOW WHO THIS IS?

Jerry Rosen

David Moe

HD David Moe




Cole Swensen & David Benedetti


Rod Iverson & Pat Nolan

Steve LaVoie, Gail KIng, Bill Hawley & wife, Susan, Phil & Tony Cotouri


Bobbie Louise Hawkins & Pat Nolan

Bobbie Louise Hawkins & Pat Nolan

Gail King & Bobbie Louise Hawkins


Bobbie Louise Hawkins

Lee Perron looking a little insane between sets





Lee Perron

David Benedetti

Alastair Johnston



Joanne Kyger
Alastair Johnston




















Pat Nolan & Steve LaVoie















© 1983 & 2009 Maureen Hurley Photo. Photos may not be used without express permission from me (except for Alastair Johnston). That's the fine print.

(a shorter version of this article was published in The Paper, Guerneville, CA, 5/83). The problem with revision is that it's endless. The previous version of Black Bart (9/11/09) and its endless revision took me two full days with no time off for lunch. This one ate up most of my Sunday. It's done by virtue of the fact that I'm sick of it. I've sent it onto its fate, whether it appears in the upcoming book, in its entirety, or in a vastly abbreviated format, or not at all, I'm done with it—or it's done with me. I later realized that I nicked the title from a later article I wrote on Black Bart & E. Clampus Vitis (next on board for the preservation of elderly typescript articles written in my hasty youth.) And what will I do for a title?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Black Bart, Gentleman Poet


Charles E. Bolton, AKA Black Bart, the PO8



















THE stagecoach clattered down the final stretch of a lonely rutted coastal route that stretched from Point Arena to Fort Ross. The driver had forded the summer banks of the Gualala River without mishap to Fort Ross, perched on the edge of ancient sea terraces that jutted out in a thin band below the long coastal ridge. So far, so good.

At the crack of dawn, the stagecoach driver hitched up some fresh horses, and pulled out of the Wells Fargo stage stop at Fisk Mills nestled on the sleepy Sonoma coast below Stewart's Point. He waved goodbye to no one in particular, and swung inland near the Fort Ross cemetary, avoiding a stretch of impassable sheer sea cliffs that rose 1,500 feet straight up from sea level. There were few safe routes along this desolate section of the rugged Northern California coast. The stretch of dirt road on either side of Fort Ross was notorious for landslides.


The stagecoach climbed up the steep incline to Seaview Ridge (some folks called it the Campmeeting Ridge—due to a plethora of summer revival camps, I suppose). The stage followed the flat ridge south, and wended its way down Meyer's Grade without losing a wheel or other mishaps.

The driver had heard that the Wells Fargo stage was robbed just north of Fort Ross, near Henry's Station in 1877. Not on his watch. No sir. He had a clean record. He planned to keep it. People were still abuzz over the daring stagecoach robbery in Nevada County in 1875 and there was considerable speculation that the road agent haunting these parts was one and the same.

The driver never grew tired of the view of Point Reyes, and the Farallones from Meyer's Grade. Floating islands, he thought. How poetic. The mountains to the east of Creighton Ridge were impassable, with ornery names like Devil's Ribs, Devil's Backbone, Hellhole, the Brain, The Roughs, The Butcherknife. Black Mountain was like a knife edge, or an Oriental painting he'd once seen on a silk scroll in San Francisco.

He dropped down the switchbacks into Russian Gulch, his brakes smoked and howled like banshees as he descended down the ravine that dropped 1,400 feet to the sea. He needed to grease his axles in Guerneville. Bear grease was best, as it lasted the longest, but with all the weekend warriors running amok in Cazadero, it increasingly hard to find. 


The driver watered the tired horses, let the brakes cool and checked the axles for damage. He hugged the thin outer lip of the coastal mesa south toward Jenner, turned inland following the Russian River, and headed east towards Santa Rosa.

Rule Ranch, 1877 (Thos H. Thompson)

As he rounded the river bend toward the tiny outpost of Duncan's logging camp nestled on the floodplain at the confluence of Austin's Creek, he figured he was nearly at the end of a long run.

Next stop, Guerneville and then Santa Rosa. Maybe he'd take the Petaluma steamer down to 'Frisco for a little R&R on the Barbary Coast. He had some free time coming. No robberies to stain his perfect record. He always delivered. Maybe there was a bonus in it for him.

But near the mill, an outlandish strange figure dressed in a linen duster and flour sacks stepped into the road at Duncan's Mills and cried "Halt!"

The startled Wells Fargo driver reined up short and stared at the clownish apparition dressed in a long linen shroud, wheat bags shrugged up over his legs, a flour sack over his head, with slits cut out for his eyes—and topped by a black derby hat! He didn't know whether to laugh or quake.

The Well Fargo guard riding shotgun gave up any notion or idea of a sunstruck ghost feeling faint in the sizzling August heat when the "ghost" demanded that he "Throw down the treasure box."

The guard, looking down the working end of a very real 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun, decided that discretion was the better part of valor. Besides, it wasn't his money. Only $300. Too bad about the clean record. He unstrapped the stout metal and wood strong box and handed it down to California's most notorious outlaw.

When the apparition melted into the coyote bush on foot, the Wells Fargo stagecoach driver took off to Guerneville, lickety-split, cracking his whip and careening the stage along the dusty Russian River road to report the robbery. Maybe there was some free beer in it for him. Already he was working on his storyline.

When the sheriff arrived at the scene of the crime later that day, he noted that it was in the same place as the last robbery some three years earlier. The mail sacks were slashed in the characteristic "T" shape that was Black Bart's M.O., and he found the hacked up strong box abandoned in the bushes, devoid of cash and gold bullion—except for a scrap of paper weighted down on a stump with a rock, and scrawled on the back of the handbill was this message:

I've labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tred,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

—Black Bart, the PO8 (Aug. 3, 1877)

So began the renown and extended literary career and sleight of hand of Black Bart, the Gentleman Bandit, who, for the next eight year, successfully hoodwinked Wells, Fargo and Company, relieving them of their petty cash to the tune of—or should I say
pome of—thousands of dollars a year.

California's first, and the most notoriously daring stagecoach robber of the Wild West, Black Bart both wooed the muse and dared the lawmakers to catch him by leaving a most unusual calling card—a note with a penned verse. Obviously this was a man with a lot of free time on his hands to hand scribe poseys at the scene of the crime. Another verse that was found in the smashed strongbox left at the scene of a holdup on the Quincy-Oroville stage line, read:

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I'll try it on,
My condition can't be worse;
And if there's money in that box
'Tis munny in my purse.

Black Bart
PO8 (July 25, 1878)


The notorious stagecoach robber and gentleman po8, Black Bart caught the fancy of the public as a Robin Hood figure, and he managed to elude the law for nearly a decade until his capture in 1883. His eventual undoing was an expensive silk handkerchief dropped at the scene of his last crime.

Apparently the dapper C.E "Charles" Bolton, a San Francisco businessman, who had an interest in mining, had a big bone to pick with Wells Fargo and so he decided to lighten Wells Fargo stages of their payload.

Charles Bolton (aka Bowles) was born in Norfolk, England in 1829, and raised in upstate New York. He arrived at the California gold fields in 1849 with a cousin. After an unremarkable attempt at mining, he returned home to Illinois, but the straits of Chrysopylæ in California beckoned, so he returned with his brother. After his brother tragically died, Bolton returned the east coast, but he soon grew weary of the dull life of an itinerant farmer.

Bolton enlisted in the Civil War, fought at the Battle of Vicksburg, where he was seriously wounded, and in the winter of 1864, he served under Major General Sherman and participated in his March to the Sea. Bolton received medals and a lieutenant's commission, but he again grew weary of the ongoing monotony of farm life in Iowa, and took up prospecting in Idaho and Montana.
Sherman's March to the Sea

In August 1871, Bolton wrote a letter to his wife, Mary Johnson, who he had married in 1854, and had two children with, of a dispute he had with Wells, Fargo & Company. It seems Wells Fargo forced him off his land in Montana by strong-arming him, cutting off his water supply, making it impossible for him to mine his silver claim. Bolton lost everything including the mine to Wells Fargo, and he vowed to get even.


Thus began Bolton's life of crime. California's first stagecoach rustler, Charles Bolles/Bolton, was a man of many guises and aliases—including Charles E. Boles and T. Z. Spalding. He robbed his first stagecoach in July, 1875 in Calaveras County. He pretended he was with a gang of robbers and no one ever doubted him, mistaking his strategically placed sticks for rifles.

Victims reported that he was always well spoken and exceedingly polite, saying, "Please throw down the box," in a deep, resonant voice. If there were passengers on the stage, Black Bart was said to have spared them. At the Quincy robbery he reputedly told one woman, "No, ma'am, don't get out. I never bother the passengers." Another passenger reported that Bolton said, "I don't rob the passengers. I'm only after Wells Fargo."

Bolton quickly became the working man's hero, a self-fashioned Wild West Robin Hood, his escapades also made good copy for the tabloids. The highwayman's daring and sensational exploits delighted readers—and sold plenty of newspapers. Black Bart made good serialized copy. 


Stories and rumors spread like wildfire. One driver claimed he shot Black Bart in the head but he ran off, giving rise to the story that he was a ghost. Turned out  that Bolton, sensitive about his height, wore a bowler under the flour sack to give him more height.

During one robbery, Black Bart was reported to have said, "Sure hope you have a lot of gold in that strongbox, I'm nearly out of money." And near French Gulch, Bart quipped, "Hurry up the hounds; it gets lonesome in the mountains." In Shasta County, stage driver Horace Williams asked Bart, "How much did you make?" Bart answered, "Not very much for the chances I take."

Wells Fargo estimated their total losses to the hands of Black Bart at the sum of $40,000. Now even in those post-gold rush days, that was a lot of "stand and deliver,"  $40,000 still was a lot of moolah. I wonder what Black Bart did with it all. Buried it? Gave it away? He would've been hard pressed to spend $5000-6000 a year. Perhaps Wells Fargo grossly overestimated the actual losses they suffered at the hands of the notorious Black Bart.

Wells Fargo agents soon took to bolting the strongbox to the carriage floor in order to impede Black Bart's extraordinary progress. But there were so many lonely stretches of road that naturally lent themselves to highway robbery.

Black Bart, who pulled off at least 28 Wells Fargo robberies in eight years, often revisited the scene of his former crime sprees, and with great success. He favored steep mountain passes, where the tired horses pulling the heavy stagecoach were forced to a slow walk. The isolated stagecoach run from Clear Lake to Cloverdale was dubbed: "The longest 30 miles in the World."

Charles Bolton often took the train to Stockton and thought nothing of walking out 40 miles. He knew every road, trail and pass from Sacramento to San Francisco. Perhaps it was the sheer distances he traversed on foot that led him to the idea of robbing stages with such ease. No one expected to find a man on foot in the middle of nowhere without a telltale getaway horse.

During the early 1870s, the Sacramento Union ran a dime novel serial, "
The Case of Summerfield" written in the format of a deposition by lawyer William Henry Rhodes, who went by the pseudonym of Caxton, where a highwayman, Bartholomew Graham, AKA Black Bart, made a habit of exclusively robbing Wells Fargo stages.
He [Black Bart] is five feet ten inches and a half in height, thick set, has a mustache sprinkled with gray, grizzled hair, clear blue eyes, walks stooping, and served in the late civil war....It is said that he was engaged in the late robbery of Wells & Fargo's express.... The Case of Summerfield
A strange case where reality mirrored fiction, Bolles/Bolton adopted the moniker of of the infamous Black Bart who was wanted for crimes against humanity and against Wells, Fargo and Company. And poetry has never been the same since.





Black Bart Wanted poster (UC Berkeley Bancroft Library) Since Black Bart was captured after he was finally identified, I suspect this is not a real "Wanted" handbill. Bolton was wearing the same distinctive tweed suit in several photos. However, there were several reward on his head to the tune of $800.


Black Bart's last holdup was—oddly—at the scene of his first crime near Bret Harte's mythical town Poker Flat, four miles from Copperopolis in Calaveras County, the Sierra foothills. Bolton was winged by a hitchhiker, a young man, Jimmy Rolleri, who had thummed a ride, and hopped off the stage earlier to hunt some deer or rabbits. 


When Jimmy later caught up with the stage, he surprised Bolton mid-robbery, matching his wits against a secured strongbox holding $4,700 in gold bolted to the floor, and Jimmy clipped him with his rifle. Bolton fled the scene with a gold bar, leaving behind his stash of food, a magnifying glass, and a bloody silk handkerchief filled with buckshot.

Ironically Black Bart's shotgun was never loaded. The "rifles" he had trained on the stage were merely sticks propped up in trees. Bolton was reputed to have said he didn't want to take a chance hurting any of his victims.

The silk handkerchief was Bolton's undoing. He was identified by a laundry mark when Wells Fargo detective (El Dorado Co. sheriff and Hangtown tax collector) James Hume and Sheriff Tom Cunningham of San Joaquin County who found the handkerchief, and exclaimed, "At last we have a clew!"

After visiting some 91 laundry steamies in San Francisco, Wells Fargo detectives
James Hume and Henry Morse traced a laundry mark, F.X.0.7. inked on the silk handkerchief, to The California Laundry on Bush Street that Bolton used. When who should walk in out of the blue but the elegantly dressed Bolton himself. Morse engaged Bolton in a mining scheme idea and when he cornered Bolton with some questions on stage coach robberies, the outlaw knew the jig was up, raised his hands and exclaimed in his best poker voice, "Gentlemen, I pass."

Charles Bolton pleaded guilty to the charge of one count of stagecoach robbery and was sentenced to six years in San Quentin prison on Nov. 21, 1883. Police reported that Bolton, who was missing two front teeth, with his graying brown hair and deep-set piercing blue eyes hooded under heavy brows, was "a person of great endurance." Witty under the most trying of circumstances, he was "extremely proper and polite in behavior. Eschews profanity." Bolton may have gone meekly to prison but he bristled if they made fun of his verses.


Bolton, broken, and in ill health, was released from prison some four years later, on a cold dank morning Jan. 22, 1888. Bolton was greeted by a thronging circus of reporters who asked if he was planning on robbing any more stages: Bolton threw back his head and laughed, "No gentlemen, I'm through with crime."

When the reporters clamored if Bolton intended to write more poetry, he chuckled and replied, "I repeat, gentlemen, I am through with a life of crime."

With that, Bolton disappeared into the void a month later, leaving behind his possessions at the boarding house, and he was never heard from again. Rumors spread like wildfire. He was said to be living like a king in Mexico City or New Orleans. 


But his work inspired copycat robbers to pen their verses left at the scene of their crimes. Agent Hume was called in several times to verify their poseys, but Hume (Black Bart's literary executor?) was sure their doggerel wasn't the work of the Gentleman PO8.



This is a very expanded version of an article I wrote in May, 1983, for The Paper (or the Sonoma County Stump....it was written on their stationery, but they folded by then.) The problem with revising old text is in rendering the order of information. Where I began the story, in medias res, provided some complications in that I felt I had to set the scene, historically, for a wider audience. At the time, there was a publication just out on Sonoma County history and because the audience was insular (West Sonoma Co.), there was less need for setting the scene. Now it really reads like a dime novel! Oh well.

NB: as I uncover more information on Black Bart, this piece will probably change. When I first wrote this piece, there was no internet, and there was almost no ready information on Black Bart other than by word of mouth, and in a few old and funky Sonoma County history books. My friend Simone Wilson later co-authored The River of Time (1990). We often discussed Black Bart in great length. That was the backbone of her story. The stagecoach driver coming down from Fort Ross is solely my own invention.

For more information on Black Bart


Note Bene: The Black Bart photos are used with permission from Poltroon Press, and are from the UC Berkekey Bancroft Library collection—sorry, I don't have a link. (There's so little on the internet on Black Bart). I was working with Poltroon Press scanning my photos for an upcoming book, Life of Crime—Letters from the Black Bart Poetry Society, and wound up also cleaning this seriously damaged (electronic copy) of Black Bart in Photoshop. The original never looked so good!