Black Bart: The Search is Over

Law enforcement lost track of Charles E. Boles, the gentleman bandit known as Black Bart, after his release from San Quentin Prison on January 21, 1888.

During March he was seen in Stockton, Oakdale, and Modesto. He was last spotted in Visalia, staying at the Palace Hotel. After that he disappeared. Some later stagecoach robberies were attributed to him, but they were not consistent with his usual methods. He seemed to have vanished.

Boles had a wife and daughters living in Hannibal, Missouri, but they never heard from him.

Where did he go?

A likely answer can be found in this book: Black Bart: The Search is Over, by Robert E. Jernigan and Wiley Joiner, published by Shalako Press in 2015. I bought the book at The Bookworm, the used and new bookstore in Oroville conveniently located next door to the Pioneer Museum. An expanded version of the book has been published under the title Black Bart’s Resting Place: In Everlasting Sleep, by the same authors.

Over the next few posts I’ll be telling you about the authors’ conclusions about Bart and where he ended up. But let’s start with the “why.” Why did Charles E. Boles, an intelligent and well-educated man, turn to a life of crime?

He was born in England in 1829 and the family emigrated to the United States in 1831. In 1849 Charles and two brothers joined the California Gold Rush. Returning to Illinois in 1854, Charles married and took up farming. He served as a Union soldier in the Civil War. Upon his discharge in 1865 he returned to his farm and his wife and children, only to find that his wife had a baby boy that was not his. He soon left for the mining fields of Idaho and Montana.

According to Jernigan and Joiner:

Charles had a good-paying claim [in Silver Bow, Montana] and was doing well when two members of the Wells Fargo Company approached him and made an offer to buy his claim, advising him it would be beneficial to his well-being to sell. Charles informed them his claim was not for sale. The two agents bought up all the lesser claims around Charles’s claim, thereby shutting off his water. He could no longer mine his claim. Under the threat of violence, Charles left his Montana claim, vowing to get even someday. {p. 89]

This story may come from a newspaper interview with Charles Boles (who went by the name Charles Bolton in California). The authors don’t always cite their sources, so I am not sure. But such an event could lead to lasting animosity toward Well, Fargo & Co. And certainly Black Bart targeted the Wells, Fargo strongbox on the coach. He didn’t rob passengers.

Wells, Fargo owed him, he thought, and he would make them pay.

Next time: How Black Bart was captured

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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