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California's Infamous Stage Robber

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On Wednesday, November 21, 1883, Black Bart began serving his six year sentence at San Quentin Prison. It had only been 18 days since that last fateful robbery at Funk Hill. He was logged in as Charles E. Bolton and officially known as Number 11046. He denied being Black Bart or Charles E. Boles. Some think the reason he insisted on keeping the Bolton name was in some way to protect the family that he had so long ago deserted. However, during his stay in San Quentin he did send and receive letters from his wife, Mary Boles, and other family members. For the most part his letters were warm and friendly.

During most of his stay at San Quentin Bart worked as a clerk or bookkeeper in the prison hospital. His work in the dispensary of the prison had gained the respect of the physician, Doctor Rich, and apothecary, Fred Fuller. By close attendance to his duties Bart had become sufficiently acquainted with the art of compounding prescriptions to enable him to take a position in a drug store. When asked, Bart said he might settle down somewhere after his release as a drug clerk. While in prison Bart did not have many associations with prisoners, feeling himself superior to other convicts. He did, however, have one unlikely close friend, Charles E. Dorsey. Dorsey was a cold-blooded murder and robber. One wonders what they had in common.

While Bart was in prison there was no record of him having any visitors. However, there were many stories and rumors of the people that had visited him. There was one interesting story from a family member, saying the information came from one of Bart's letters to his wife. It suggested that a very wealthy man had become interested in him and may have been instrumental in his early release.

On January 21, 1888, after serving four years and two month of a six year sentence, Black Bart walked out of San Quentin prison a free man. It was said that his early release was because of the "Goodwin Act" that allowed prisoners time off for good behavior. Even though he had been in prison for over four years, the press was still interested in a new Black Bart story, and they were there to greet him when he was released. The press bombarded him with questions. He said his name was Charles Bolton and that is what he wanted to be called. He said he was older now and could feel the added years, not that prison life had hurt him, for he was still in good health. He added he was becoming a bit deaf now and needed glasses for reading. One reporter asked if he would go back to robbing stage coaches; Bart said he was through with crime. Another reporter asked if he would write any more poems? Bart turned to him and said, "Young man didn't you hear me say I would commit no more crimes?"

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. He kept to himself and did not have contact with any of his former friends or acquaintances. One interesting thing: a newspaper ad appeared in the "Personals" on January 23, 1888, two days after Bart was released. It was printed only once and read "Black Bart will hear something to his advantage by sending his address to M.R. Box 29, this office." No one knows if Bart saw the ad or responded to it. Whoever placed the ad still remains a mystery.

Bart never returned to his wife, Mary, in Hannibal, Missouri. However, he did write to her after his release. In one of the letters he said he was tired of being shadowed by Wells Fargo, felt demoralized, and wanted to get away from everybody. In February, 1888 Bart left the Nevada House and vanished. Hume said Wells Fargo tracked him to the Palace Hotel in Visalia. The owner said a man answering the description of Bart checked in and then disappeared. He left a valise in the room. It contained a can of corned beef, a can of tongue, a pound of coffee, packages of crackers and sugar, a jar of jelly, two neckties and two pairs of cuffs bearing the laundry mark F.X.O.7. Was this Bart's way of getting back at Hume, was it to confound Wells Fargo, or was it just to leave a false trail? Whatever the reason, the last time anyone saw Black Bart was 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.

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