California's Infamous Stage Robber
CHARLES E. BOLES
Calaveras County Historical Society.
Charles E. Boles Signature
Charles E. Bowles was
born in Norfolk Co. England in 1829, the seventh child to John and
Maria Bowles. He later changed his name to Boles. At the age of two he
migrated with his parents to Alexandria township, Jefferson County, in
upstate New York. His father, John Bowles, farmed their homestead of
nearly 100 acres, which lay 4 miles north of Plessis Village.
Charley, as everyone called him, had a common school education but
excelled at sports and was probably, for his weight, the best collar
and elbow wrestler in Jefferson County. As a small child he had
smallpox but was strong enough to overcome it. It was an endurance quality
that would serve him well during his gold mining days, during the Civil
War and again during his career as Black Bart.
In 1849 Charley and cousin David set out for the goldfields, spending a
hard winter in either St. Joseph or Independence, Missouri. They arrived in
California in early 1850 and started mining at the north fork of the
American River, near Sacramento. Gold mining in the early days was
back-breaking work, often with few rewards. Charley and his cousin mined
for only a year before retuning home in 1852. Charley insisted on
returning to the California gold fields. This time his brother, Robert,
accompanied Charley and David to California. However, tragedy struck on
this trip, and both David and Robert were taken ill and died in
California soon after their arrival. Charley continued mining for two
more years before returning home. Charley then went to Illinois where
he married Mary Elizabeth Johnson in 1854. They had four children.
In 1861 the Civil War broke out and in 1862 Charley volunteered to join
the Union Army. He enlisted for three years with the 116th Regiment of
the Illinois Infantry on August 13th, 1862 at Decatur. On July 1, 1863
Charley was promoted to a First Sergeant in Company B and twice had the
opportunity of becoming a Lieutenant. On May 26, 1864 at Dallas,
Georgia, he received a severe wound in the right side/abdominal region.
Considering the conditions of the wound, it is remarkable that he
survived. After his recovery Charley returned to his unit and fought in
the battle of Atlanta. Charley served honorably as a soldier during the
war and was mustered out as a First Sergeant on June 7, 1865.
After the war Charley returned home and started farming again, but
farming was not to his liking and he became restless. After all the time in
the army and living in the open air, along with memories of the goldfields, Charley
decided he could make more money mining than farming. With his wife's
permission he left his family to look for gold. Charley went to Montana
and located a small mine that he worked with a miner named Henry Roberts* from Missouri. Charley's
mine made use of long "toms," which are basically troughs of boards
12 feet long and 8 to 10 inches deep. Covering the end of the tom was a
metal sheet with holes in it to let grains of sand and gold pass
through. A steady stream of water was the key to the operation. One day
several men tried to buy Charley out, but he refused believing that he
was better off keeping the mine. That decision was significant to
Charley. The men who had approached him were connected to Wells Fargo
and they wanted the land the mine was on. They cut off Charley's supply
of water and he was forced to abandon the mine. Charley was very angry
and he wrote about it in letters home. In one letter he said "I am
going to take steps," but never said what steps. It seems
according to his own letters it was the forced abandonment of his mine
that made Charles Boles turn on Wells Fargo and make them his target.
The last letter** Mary Boles received from Charley was from Silver Bow,
Montana, dated August 25, 1871. After that she did not hear from him
again until after he had been captured and identified as Black Bart in
1883. Mary thought he had died***.
Now things start to change. Exit Charles E. Boles, Enter Charles Bolton,
a dapperly dressedman in his mid-fifties. He stood 5 feet 8 inches tall
with clear blue/grey eyes and he sported a brushy moustache.
He was a man who liked to live well and intended to do just that. He
stayed in fine hotels, ate in the best restaurants and wore the finest clothes.
Now all he had to do was find a way to earn a living to support his preferred
lifestyle, and he found a dandy.
After robbing 28 Wells Fargo stages over a period of eight years Bart was captured and served
four years and two months of a six year sentence in San Quentin Prison. On January 21, 1888, Black
Bart walked out of prison a free man. Bart went back to San Francisco and took a room at the Nevada
House located at 132 Sixth Street. There Wells Fargo kept close track of him and Bart did not like it.
In February, 1888 Bart left the Nevada House and vanished. Wells Fargo tracked him to the
Palace Hotel**** in Visalia where a man answering the description of Bart checked in and then
disappeared. That was the last time anyone saw Black Bart, February 28, 1888.
In 1892 Mary Boles listed herself in the city directory as the widow of
Charles E. Boles. She may have known more than she was telling, but then
again she may have just given up and done it to get on with her life.
Supposedly In 1917, a
New York newspaper printed an obituary for a Charles E. Boles, a Civil
War veteran. If this was Bart, he would have been 88 years old.
* The 1870 Montana Census shows Charles Boles and
Henry Roberts living on a mining claim near Deer Creek, close to Silver Bow, the present day Butte.
** During his early times in Montana, Charles wrote
to Mary as many as four time a week. Few letters survive today: most letters contained sentiments of
love and affection but contained little information about his life or plans.
*** When the letters from Charles suddenly stopped,
Mary thought Charles was dead. She heard a rumor that he and a party of travellers had been killed
by Indians. It would be twelve years before she found out that Charles was not only alive but
was also the bandit, Black Bart.
**** Local Historians in Visalia, CA dispute which
hotel Bart stayed in at Visalia. Local historians claim that Bart actually stayed at the Visalia House Hotel.
The two hotels were a block apart on Visalia's Main St. The Palace Hotel building still exists. The Visalia
House was torn down in 1917.
Photo courtesy Wells Fargo Historical Services
and cannot be reproduced without
Boles home in Decatur.
Destroyed in the 1980's
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