The Disappearance of Black Bart

San Jose Herald 23 January 1888

Charles E. Bolton was released from San Quentin State Prison on January 21, 1888. What next?

Not “a bad sort of man, for a highway robber,” was the opinion of one lawman, who went on to describe him as “an amiable, pleasant-spoken fellow, with a good command of language and an appreciation of the humorous.” “He is an oldish man now –53– and his incarceration has made him thoughtful as to his future.” He didn’t think he would go back to holding up stages.

Bart stayed for a couple of weeks in San Francisco (at which time he may have been able to recover some of the money he had stolen). He next turned up in the Central Valley — during March he was seen in Stockton, Oakdale, Modesto, and Merced. The last sighting was in Visalia, where Bart stayed at the Palace Hotel under the name of Moore.

He left behind a valise, which he instructed the hotelkeeper to forward to Detective James B. Hume. The valise contained a number of items that were associated with Black Bart, including an item of clothing marked FX07. And that was the last verified sighting of the man called Black Bart.

Chico Weekly Enterprise 30 November 1888

But it was hardly the end of the legend. Stagecoach robberies throughout California and Nevada were attributed to Bart, even when they didn’t fit his modus operandi. Like this one, from November 1888.

People thought they saw Black Bart in all sorts of out of the way places. Desperados in other states claimed to be Black Bart. Hume sent detective Jonathan Thacker to investigate one such case in Kansas. Thacker wrote back that the culprit looked as much like Bart “as a bird’s nest is like a mile post.” In 1897 Thacker stated:

He went to Utah and then up to Montana and then to Hailey, Idaho. I think he had some business to settle there. Anyhow, he was as straight as a string. Finally he made a bee-line for Vancouver and boarded the steamer Empress of China for Japan. He is in that country now.

Wells, Fargo Detective: A Biography of James B. Hume, by Richard Dillon, p. 206

How did he know that? He doesn’t say. Though I do kind of like to imagine Black Bart the Po8 sitting under the cherry blossoms, sipping tea and composing haiku.

But the authors of Black Bart: The Search is Over have another idea, one that is appealing, even if more prosaic, than the image of Bart in the land of the samurai. They think he stayed right here in California.

Next time: Where Is Black Bart’s Resting Place?

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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