California's Infamous Stage Robber
Must have been a slow news day
Eastern newspapers (known to romanticize western outlaws) printed many
stories that had no basis in fact.
For example, the New York Dailey Times printed a story that had Black Bart robbing trains. Bart never was a train robber.
In 1946 a reporter for the New York World Telegram reported this story in a Sunday feature about Bart’s first robbery: Professor Charles Bowles, a mild-mannered schoolteacher in Sierra County, locked up his schoolhouse for the day and noticed an approaching stagecoach. As a joke he tied a handkerchief over his face, picked up a stick which looked like a rifle, and called to the driver to halt his stage and throw down the box. The box burst open when it hit the ground and the penurious teacher found himself staring at more money than he'd ever seen. Robbery being so easy, he quit teaching and went on the road as a highwayman.
There is so much wrong with this story that it is obvious that the author had no respect for the facts. But, it is just one of the many myths that have been spawned by the legend of Black Bart.
The "Black Bart" of the Upper Peninsula.
Black Bart in Michigan? What was he doing there? Well he wasn't, but
Reimund Holzhey was. Holzhey was a really bad man and robber that sometimes
carried a rifle and two guns. Now you ask what possible connection could
there be between Reimund Holzhey and Black Bart? Well, here it is: In his
day Reimund Holzhey was know as the "Black Bart" of the Upper Peninsula.
He was, for a time (five months), the terror to all who were obliged to travel
by other than rail in the Gogebic district. Holzey took Bart's name after reading
about him in a dime novel, sort of a off-hand compliment to Bart. However,
the real Black Bart never shot or killed anybody.
Reimund Holzhey's last robbery had a little history to it: On August 26, 1889 the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi River was in Gogebic County, Michigan, on the road from Gogebic Station to The Gogebic Hotel. During the robbery a passenger decided to be a hero and pulled a gun and started shooting. The robber fired back, the shooter and an innocent passenger (possibly shot by the shooter not the robber) were wounded and the passenger later died. The robber, Reimund Holzhey, escaped. Three days after the robbery Holzhey arrived in Republic, Michigan, and checked into the hotel as Henry Plant but, the hotel manager recognized him and called the sheriff. The next morning as he left the hotel they arrested him. Holzhey served 23 years in prison and was released. Holzhey died in 1952 of suicide.
A Hole in a Tree
There is a story that Black Bart had an affair with a woman that lived on a ranch near Petaluma, California in Sonoma County. On the ranch there is a tree, where at the base of it, a large section of bark (about 3'x3') was perfectly cut out to reveal a 'hole' within the tree. Basically, the 3x3 piece of bark acted like a lid over the 'hole.' Allegedly Black Bart used this to hide cash in during his travels. Could this be the mystery women? Today that tree is on the property of the Bush-Field Estate Vineyards & Winery. If you ask them about it, maybe they will show it to you.
Setting the Table for Black Bart
A story from Mendocino County, California:
A lady said her great grandmother always set an extra place at the table for Black Bart. The story is that all the ranchers up and down the valley kept a place for him at their supper table so that he could join them if he were in the area. If they did this, then Bart would not rob them.
HI HO ...... no one
Unlike all the other bad guys, Black Bart never used a horse in any of his robberies.
Throw down that strong box
In every robbery Bart jumped out in front of the coach, pointed a 12 gauge shotgun at the driver and demanded the strong box. He never fired a shot or harmed anyone. After his capture, in an interview, Bart told Thorn, Stone and Morse that he never even loaded the gun.
Black Bart's Shotgun
In all his robberies Bart used a 12 gauge breach loading shotgun. It has been incorrectly identified as a 10 gauge shotgun by some sources. Bart never carried or used a hand gun. His first robbery was the only time Bart carried two guns. His primary gun was the shotgun and strung over his sholder Bart had a Henry rifle that he later sold. The Henry rifle was a 44 caliber rifle that was sometime called a sixteen shooter. An interesting side note is the Henry rifle was the source for the saying, "That damned Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fired all week."
Where is the Reynolds Ferry?
November 3, 1883 stage driver, Reason E. McConnell stopped at the Reynolds Ferry Hotel on the Stanislaus River. He picked up Jimmy Rolleri, headed for Funk Hill, and the last robbery of Black Bart. Today the Reynolds Ferry and the hotel are at the bottom of the New Melones Lake. New Melones Lake is a reservoir behind the New Melones Dam, on the Stanislaus River, between the cities of Angels Camp and Sonora in the central Sierra Nevada foothills of California. Upon the dam's completion, the valley filled with water, covering the old mining town of Melones, the original Melones Dam and old location of the Reynolds Ferry. The New Melones Lake provides irrigation water, hydroelectric power, flood control, wildlife habitat, fishing, camping, boating, and other recreation as part of the Glory Hole Recreation Area.
About three months after Bart entered prison, one of the many Dime Novels about him came out. Bart was immortalized by the Beadle & Adams Dime Library publication of W.H. Manning's "The Gold Dragon; or, the California Bloodhound:" The story of Black Bart the Po8, the Lone Highwayman. The book bore no resemblances to the exploits of Black Bart or any historical events. It was sensational, however, and was designed to draw attention and sell books. It was the true Dime Novel, lots of action and few true facts, if any.
Black Bart the Movie
In 1948 the movie "BLACK BART" was released by Universal Studios. The 80 minute color movie starred Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea. Duryea played the part of Black Bart (Charles E. Boles). The screen writers, headed by Luci Ward, did not care for historical fact but instead chose to grab the name of Black Bart and write a movie that had absolutely no resemblance to the real Black Bart.
Worthless as history, Black Bart is nonetheless an enjoyable fabrication about the fabled western outlaw. Rescued from a "necktie party," outlaws Charles E. Boles (Dan Duryea) and Lance Hardeen (Jeffrey Lynn) decide that it would be best to part friends and go their separate ways. When next seen, Boles is a prosperous rancher who supplements his income by robbing the Wells Fargo gold shipments under the alias of Black Bart. Upon learning this, Hardeen rides back into Boles' life demanding a piece of the action. Both of the hero-villains are foiled when they succumb to the charms of the bewitching international courtesan Lola Montez (Yvonne DeCarlo). The story is related in flashback-from a jail cell-by the outlaw's erstwhile partner Jersey Brady (Percy Kilbride).
Black Bart the TV Series
In 1975 a pilot for a Black Bart TV series was created. It starred Lou Gosette, Millie Slaving, Nobel Willingham and Steve Lansberg. It was directed by Robert Boiler. The TV series was modeled after the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles, using all the same characters
CBS and Warner Bros made a deal. The deal was that CBS would get to air Blazing Saddles, and any sequels from the movie, in exchange for co-producing a TV show. But Mel Brooks had a clause in his contract that said Warner had to keep producing Blazing Saddles stories, in the movies or TV, or they'd lose the rights to make sequels. The TV show was a way to keep the rights. They didn't have to air it, just keep producing it. After four years they finally figured out the market had changed and they weren't going to make any sequels, so the show that was never to air was cancelled. CBS made six episodes each year. The pilot episode of Black Bart was included as a bonus feature on the Blazing Saddles 30th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray disc. To date, the pilot episode is the only episode of Black Bart that has ever been released publicly.
A little extra piece of trivia: Blazzing Saddles was originally titled Black Bart. It is hard to believe what possible relationship to Black Bart there could be in the movie or TV series. The only thing I can see in common with Black Bart is that both the movie and TV series had a stagecoach in them.
The Wells Fargo Treasure Box
Gold dust, gold bars, gold coins, legal papers, checks, and drafts traveled
in the famous green treasure boxes, stored under the stagecoach driver's seat.
Loaded with bullion, they could weigh from 100 to 150 lbs. "About as much as
one likes to shoulder to and from the stages," wrote John Q. Jackson, Wells
Fargo agent, in an 1854 letter to his father. Because they carried the most
valuable assets of the West, these sturdy boxes of Ponderosa pine, oak, and
iron were more prized by highway bandits than anything else.
But the real security of the treasure boxes came from who was guarding them the Wells Fargo shotgun messengers. Thieves who were foolhardy enough to try and steal a treasure box would find themselves staring down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun, loaded with 00 buckshot.
The Concord Coach
Built high and wide to handle the rough, rutted roads of a new country, the
design of a classic American vehicle was perfected in Concord, New Hampshire.
Carriage builder J. Stephens Abbot and master wheelwright Lewis Downing built
the famed stagecoaches of Wells Fargo & Co.
Concord Coaches weighed about 2,500 pounds, and cost $1,100 each, including
leather and damask cloth interior.
The curved frame of the body gave it strength, and perhaps a little extra elbow room. Perfectly formed, fitted, and balanced wheels stood up to decades of drenching mountain storms and parching desert heat. The unique feature of these coaches was the suspension. Instead of steel springs, the coach body rested on leather "thoroughbraces," made of strips of thick bullhide. This feature spared the horses from jarring and gave the stagecoach a (sometimes) gentle rocking motion, leading Mark Twain to call it, "An imposing cradle on wheels."
While the Concord Coach was considered the 'Star of the Road,' the Passenger Wagon, also
called the Celerity Coach, was the true work horse. The advantage of the passenger wagon
and the origin of its nickname, Mud Wagon, was the lightness that enabled it to pass frequently
over poor and soft roadways, through mud holes, or up steep mountainous slopes. These light
semi-enclosed carriers are equipped with canvas or enameled leather storm curtains, and brakes
for mountain travel.
The Mud Wagons are lighter and the wheels are three inches wide, as opposed to Concord's two-inch wheels. With its outside framing and square body they were less expensive to build and durable in service. These vehicles cost about 35% of what the Concord cost to build. The body of these wagons are bolted to iron rockers that, in turn, rest on leather thoroughbraces. The body measures from 6'10" to over 8' high, the track 5'2" (in the U.S.) or 4'8" (in Canada), and it weighs from 800 pounds, for the commonest nine-passenger model, to 1200 pounds for a 18 passenger. It has two to three inside seats (no roof passengers), and baggage is stored in the single rear boot or piled inside with the passengers. Up front is the driver and shotgun rider. Selection of the type of stage to use might be determined by availability, the terrain such as mud or soft sand, and the passengers and cargo to be carried in each direction.
The Mud Wagon was often employed in hostile Indian country, where the Concords might be too valuable to risk. Indians were likely to set the coach afire if they took it. For the driver's sake, the front boot and the seats were protected by sheet metal, heavy enough to stop an arrow and perhaps a bullet.
Of the many stories about Bart there is the story about Bart and Mary Vollmer, his supposed mistress. There is virtually no evidence of a affair between Bart and Mary Vollmer. Although many claim there was a woman who remained devoted to Bart during his last years in California. There is one story that Bart and Mary left California and settled in Pennsylvania where they lived out their lives. Outside of some family contradictory stories no one can document what happened to Bart.
1800s rules for stage passengers
Some of the rules for proper stagecoach etiquette posted by Wells-Fargo might still be applicable for bus
and auto passengers of today.
Captain Bartholomew Roberts, Pirate ---- aka The Great Pirate Roberts or Black Bart
Bartholomew Roberts was tall, dark, handsome & very brave, though this personal bravery was used for wicked purposes. He was a very snazzy dresser, adorning himself in a rich waistcoat and breeches, a hat with a red feather and his diamond cross which hung on a heavy gold chain around his neck. During battle, he carried two pairs of pistols at the end of a silk sling across his shoulder. His fellow pirates thought he was a bit of a dandy when it came to his choice of attire, though his valor was never questioned.
Roberts (Black Bart) was killed aboard his ship, the Royal Fortune, on February 5, 1722, in a battle with the warship Swallow.
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