California's Infamous Stage Robber
BLACK BART THE LEGEND ENDS
"Wells Fargo Never Forgets"
Since its beginnings in
1853 Wells Fargo had taken pride in the safe delivery of gold and other
express. It had relentlessly tracked down other desperadoes who had
dared to rob treasure entrusted to the company. And now this single
individual with his outlandish costume and annoying little poems was
making a shambles of this proud tradition. Bart even had the audacity
to tell more than one stage driver during a holdup, " Please give
my regards to Detective Hume." Now things were about to change.
When Hume received the evidence from Sheriff Thorn, he turned it over to Harry Morse4, who had been hired by Hume for the specific purpose of tracking down Black Bart. They agreed that the handkerchief with the "F.X.O.7.5" laundry mark was their best clue. But, where to start? Being as they were in San Francisco, they would start here. A check of city records revealed there were 91 laundries in the city. Morse knew he had a job in front of him, so he started going from laundry to laundry looking for a match to the laundry mark. After about a week, on Monday, November 12, Morse was at the Biggs California Laundry, at 113 Stevenson Street. The owner, Phineas Ferguson, recognized the mark and sent Morse to the tobacco shop of one of the company agents, Thomas C. Ware, at 316 Post Street. Tobacco shops in the 1880's were sort of early-day convenience stores. Ware said the washing belonged to C.E. Bolton a friend of his. Bolton was a mining man who often visited his mines. Sometimes he would be gone for a week or two, sometimes for as long as a month. Morse introduced himself as Harry Hamilton and said he too was involved in mining and would like to meet Bolton. Ware said that Bolton had just dropped off some laundry and would be around again the next morning. Morse also found out that Bolton lived at Webb House, No. 37 Second Street, room 40. Morse placed a watch on the house to keep an eye to see if any person went in or out. Morse returned to the laundry office to talk to Ware. Ware said, "Why, there comes Bolton now, I'll introduce you to him." Morse knew immediately from the description they had from people who had seen a stranger after the robbery that he had his man. Bolton was elegantly dressed, carrying a little cane. He wore a natty little derby hat, a diamond pin, a large diamond ring on his little finger and a heavy gold watch and chain. He was 5 feet 8 inches in height with deep sunken bright blue eyes, straight as an arrow, broad shouldered, high cheek bones and a large handsome grey moustache and imperial; the rest of his face was clean shaven. One would have taken him for a gentleman who had made a fortune and was enjoying it. Morse introduced himself as Hamilton and asked if Bolton was the mining man? Bolton said, "Yes I am." Morse then told Bolton he had a matter of importance relating to some mines that he wished to consult with him about. Could he spare a few moments? Bolton said, "Certainly." They walked down Bush to Montgomery Street, then to California and Sansome just like a couple of businessmen, right up to the door of Wells Fargo and Company's office. When Charles Bolton entered the office he seemed undisturbed. Morse requested to be seated and then the long awaited introduction was made to James B. Hume. Hume said he just wanted to have a little talk with him and commenced by inquiring about his business. Where were his mines located? On being closely pressed, Bolton was unable to give either the name of the mine or its exact location. Bolton began to get a little excited and great drops of perspiration stood out on his forehead and nose. He said, "I am a gentleman and I don't know who you are. I want to know what this inquiry is about? "Hume said he would tell him if Bolton would answer his questions. Morse noticed a piece of skin knocked off Bolton's right hand and brought it to the attention of Hume. Bolton said he struck it when getting off a train car at Truckee. Bolton was asked a great number of questions that he could not or would not answer. The interview had gone on for over three hours and Bolton finally grew indignant and said he was a gentleman and refused to answer any more questions.
Hume called Captain Stone of City Prison, and along with Hume and Bolton they went to Bolton's room at Webb House. In his room they found a large trunk, two valises, three or four suits of clothes, and among them a suit answering the description of those worn by the man who robbed the stage near Copperopolis. In one of he pockets they found a handkerchief bearing the same laundry mark as the one found at the scene of the robbery. In the trunk were a lot of cuffs and collars and shirts all with the same laundry mark. On being asked about the mark Bolton said, "I am not the only one whose things bear that mark. Others have their washing done at the same place. Somebody may have stolen the handkerchief from me, or I may have lost it and someone else found it." Bolton usually spoke with calmness and a pleasant smile. "Do you take me for a stage robber? I never harmed anybody in all my life, and this is the first time that my character has ever been called into question." Also found in Bolton's room was a Bible. The inscription read, "This precious Bible is presented to Charles E. Boles, First Sergeant Company B, 116th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, by his wife as a New Year's gift, God gives us hearts to which His -- faith to believe. Decatur, Illinois, 1865." It was signed by Mary Boles.
The next morning at 7:30 AM Captain Stone and Detective Hume took Charles Bolton and started out for Stockton. They telegraphed Sheriff Thorn to get Thomas P. Martin, "Old Martin" the hunter, to identify the stranger he saw after the robbery that had been committed by Black Bart. As soon as he saw Bolton he said, "That's the man, that's him!" Even now as the evidence piled up Bart did not show concern. He still joked and was amused that the huge crowd outside the jail thought that he was one of the officers and one of them was the prisoner. They took Bolton to Reason McConnell to see if he could identify him. When McConnell took the shot at Bart, he was at least 100 yards away, and up close he was wearing a mask. But when the two talked, McConnell told Morse that this was definitely the man that had robbed him. After many more hours of questioning Bart realized that things were not going his way. Bart asked Morse, "I don't admit that I committed this robbery, but what benefit would it be to the man who did, to acknowledge it?" Morse was excited, Bart was showing the first signs of weakening. Morse said, "If a stage robber forced his accusers to take him to trial and he was found guilty of several robberies, a judge might well give him a maximum sentence." Morse continued, "On the other hand, if a stage robber pleaded guilty to a single crime with which he was charged, then went on to make restitution, that probably would be taken into consideration by the judge." Bart asked Morse, "Suppose the man that did commit the robbery should do this, would it not be possible for him to get clear altogether?" To his credit Morse did not lie. "No. The law does not look upon stage robbery lightly. A man who pleads guilty to robbery must expect a prison sentence. However, that would certainly be better than a trial and the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars." Bart stood up, it was cool in the jail but there were beads of sweat on his forehead. Bart said, "I want you to understand that I'm not going to San Quentin, I'll die first." The interview went on for a little longer, always with the benefits of confession and restitution and the fear Bart had of a lengthy prison sentence. Then Morse called in Sheriff Thorn and Captain Stone. Bart had decided that he would take his chances with confession and restitution for the Funk Hill robbery. Then Bart said, "Let's us go after it." Thirty minutes later Morse, Stone and Black Bart were headed to Funk Hill to recover the stolen gold.
On November 16, 1883, in the Justice Court of Judge P.H. Kean in San Andreas, Charles E. Bolton entered a plea of "guilty" to the single charge of having robbed the Sonora-Milton stage on Funk Hill on November 3, 1883. He was bound over to the Calaveras County Superior Court for trial. The following day, November 17, 1883, after waiving jury trial, Bolton pleaded guilty to the same robbery charge before Superior Judge C.V. Gottschalk. Judge Gottschalk sentenced Charles E. Bolton to six years in San Quentin Prison. On Wednesday, November 21, 1883, he began serving his sentence at San Quentin.
In court Bart always denied that he was either Black Bart or Charles E. Boles. The prison records at San Quentin list him as Charles E. Bolton. However, during his incarceration, and after, he wrote many letters to his wife, Mary Boles. Many have speculated that Bart used the Bolton name in prison so as not to embarrass and draw attention to his family.
From a San Quentin form: Charles Bolton's markings:
Reg. No. 11046...Small mole left cheek bone, scar right top forehead, scar inside left wrist, Fat. shield Right upper Arm. (tattoo). Gunshot wounds right abdomen. High cheek bones, heavy eye brows. Head: large & long. Forearms hairy & tuft of hair on breast. Prom. Nose and Broad at Base."
1 In a recently discovered journal written by Reason McConnell some 20 years after the Black Bart hold-up, McConnell says that he fired all the shots at Black Bart and that Jimmy Rolleri did not fire the gun. However, at the time of the robbery, McConnell did not dispute the fact that Rolleri fired the shot that wounded Bart. And he did not say anything when Wells Fargo awarded Rolleri the Winchester Rifle. But, there is speculation that may validate McConnell's claim when you question the reason why Rolleri never received any of the reward money.
2 Harry Morse and other accouts say that the laundry mark, F.X.O.7., was on the shirt cuffs but John Thacker said it was actually was on a hankerchief found with all the other items.
3 Some historians say that Sheriff Thorn discovered the laundry mark, but it has been refuted and the laundry mark is said to have been discovered by John Thacker.
4 When George Baker was a teenager he was a shotgun guard on the wagons that carried gold from the trains to the mint in San Francisco. He didn't know Harry Morse personally, but all the employees shared the same lunchroom and people often met the detective there to hear him re-tell the story of capturing the outlaw Black Bart. Everyone could hear Morse relate the adventure. He said the laundry mark that led to Bart's capture was on a shirt cuff, there was no mention of a handkerchief. This story was told by George Baker to his family.
5 There is some dispute over what the laundry mark actually was. Sheriff Thorn said it was F.X.O.7., all in caps. John Thacker said it was F.O.X.7. Harry Morse twice said it was F.O.K.7. and he was most familiar with the laundry mark on the handkerchief. Boles said in a letter that the mark was Fox7, but he was far-sighted and the K could have looked like an X to him. Thomas Ware, the tobacconist/laundry agent, never did say what the laundry mark was.
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