The Untold Story Of Black Bart
by Bruce Bradley
In the early 1870's a man named Charley had a gold claim on Deer Creek, near present day Butte, Montana. Wells Fargo tried to buy the claim, but Charley wouldn't sell, so they bought all the land around him and cut off his water. Unable to work his claim, he wrote to his wife and swore to get even. He did. Between 1875 and 1883 he robbed Wells Fargo 28 times, as Black Bart...
But who was Charley? Charles Earl Bowles--born in 1829 in Norfolk, England. When he was two years old his family moved to America and he grew up on a farm in Jefferson County, New York. In 1849 Charley, like many Americans, developed gold fever. He and his cousin David headed for California. By 1850 they were prospecting on the North Fork of the American River. They apparently did okay, enough to head back east for the winter of 1851. In 1852 they were back again, joined this time by Charley's brother Robert. Unfortunately, both Robert and David became ill and died shortly after arriving. Some misguided sense of guilt caused Charley to drop the "w" from his last name and, for the rest of his life, he spelled it "Boles".
In 1854 Charley married Mary Elizabeth Johnson. They had three daughters before the Civil War and one son after the war. Charley joined the 116th Illinois Infantry Regiment and fought with distinction in several major battles. After the war, he settled in as an Iowa farmer, but soon gave it up to go back to prospecting.
This book was written as fiction, but many of the people, places and events were real. The events that happened aboard the paddle-wheeler Zanesville were real and were documented in G.W. Thissell's "Crossing The Plains In 49". Likewise, the shooting of the Pawnee squaw was real and came from an undocumented account that I read while researching the Pawnee Indians for "Hugh Glass". The men of the 116th Illinois Infantry Regiment and the battles they took part in were also all very real.
The newspapers called Charley "The Gentleman Bandit"--he was always very polite and never took from passengers. Twice women threw out their purse to him. Both times he returned the purses, making it very clear that his business was only with Wells Fargo. He was also called "The Plundering Poet" because twice he left poems at the sites of his holdups. When, after 28 robberies, they did catch him, they discovered he had never loaded his shotgun.
Charley spent four years in San Quentin prison. When he got out he crossed the Bay and spent a month in San Francisco, writing to his wife that the Pinkerton Detectives were everywhere he went. Then he headed south. He checked into the Visalia House Hotel in Visalia, CA, and disappeared. The Pinkerton's never found him again and there was much speculation on their part and on the part of others as to what happened to him. In recent decades, documents and family recollections have revealed what actually did happen, and where Charley went after escaping from the Pinkertons...