Black Bart: Stagecoach Robber and Poet

Subsidized by government contracts, stage lines, such as Wells Fargo and Company began carrying passengers as well as mail into the Western United States in 1840. Stage coaching quickly became the most elegant form of transcontinental transportation.

While there were many bandits who sought easy money by robbing stagecoaches, none had as much dramatic flair as English born Charles Earl Bowles, better known as Black Bart. Bowles conducted a series of successful stagecoach hold-ups throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon during the 1870’s and 1880’s. Bowles, terrified of horses, conducted his robberies on foot, was always courteous and used no foul language. He wore a long linen duster coat and a bowler hat, covered his head using a flour sack with holes cut for the eyes, and brandished a shotgun. These distinguishing features became his trademarks.

On his final robbery, Bowles was wounded in the hand and left a number of personal items at the scene, including a linen handkerchief, with the laundry mark FXO7. The Wells Fargo detectives were able to identify the Chinese laundry that Bowles used thus able to track him to his modest boarding house, where he was arrested.  Bowles was also known to leave handwritten poems at the crime scene, the most  famous:

Here I lay me down to sleep To wait the coming morrow, Perhaps success, perhaps defeat, And everlasting sorrow. Let come what will, I'll try it on, My condition can't be worse; And if there's money in that box 'Tis munny in my purse. – Black Bart

One of the most exciting pieces in our collection is our Wells Fargo Stagecoach. The coach, made in the Concord style was crafted by Gronway Parry, whose restored wagons and farm equipment formed the bulk of our collection in 1973 when the museum opened. Parry built the stagecoach in the 1950’s and it has been used in parades, movies, and television. The Parry coach is the only replica in our collection. We invite our visitors to climb about and imagine themselves on their own stage journey across the West. Just be sure to watch out for Black Bart.