Black Bart in Butte County

On this date — June 21 — in 1879 the notorious stage robber Black Bart held up a stage coach near Forbestown in Butte County. It was his first robbery in the year 1879 and his ninth robbery since he began his career in 1875. This incident would be followed by two more robberies in October in Shasta County. He generally committed his crimes in the summer and fall, and then retired to San Francisco to live off his ill-gotten gains over the winter.

Here is the notice from the Chico Weekly Enterprise reporting that robbery. No name is given the robber and according to the report, he didn’t get much from the robbery.

Chico Weekly Enterprise 27 June 1879

Of all the stagecoach robbers in California history — and there were many — Black Bart is the name that still holds a place in the minds of the public.

Why does he remain the most famous hold-up artist in California history?

One reason is the length of his career. He committed 28 robberies and eluded capture for eight years. That’s a long time in a chancy business.

Another reason is his choice of pseudonym and his penchant for advertising himself by leaving notes in verse at the scene of the crime.

His real name was Charles Boles, but “Black Bart”, a name he seems to have picked out of thin air, sticks in the memory. His verse was crude, but it caught the public’s attention, especially when he signed himself as “Black Bart, the Po-8.”

It also helped that he was a “gentleman bandit.” He was never cruel or vicious. He didn’t molest women. He didn’t murder stagecoach drivers or passengers. He politely asked the driver to “Please throw down the box” while holding a shotgun that he would later claim wasn’t even loaded.

For eight years, from July 1875 to to November 1883, “Bart” got away with it. Wells Fargo detectives and county sheriffs couldn’t catch him. A left-behind handkerchief with a laundry mark was his undoing. Black Bart was finally captured and sent to San Quentin prison in November 1883. He spent five years in prison and disappeared from public notice after his release in 1888.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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