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Charley Bolton was fed up with his life. He had a wife and three small daughters, but they never had enough money. Life was very hard. At 45 years old, he decided to start a new life. He wanted travel, excitement and money. He left his family in Illinois and moved to California. He gave up all his old values of honesty and hard work and became 'Black Bart the stagecoach robber. He chose the the new name  because he thought it made him sound very tough and strong.

Over the next 8 years he committed a total of 28 robberies against the Wells Fargo Company.  In other years this would have made him a rich man, but by the time he became a robber, the Gold Rush was over and the coaches were no longer carrying large amounts of money. He never became rich but he did become famous in a very strange way.

He carried a gun to commit his crimes, but he never fired a single shot. Most bandits worked in pairs, but he always worked alone. Other bandits worked on horseback so they could make their getaway quickly, but he always walked away on foot. people began to tell stories about him. They said he was a wild man who lived in the forest, that he came from nowhere and vanished as soon as the stage-coach had gone. Some even believed that he was a ghost!

One other thing made him very different from other robbers. He was always polite. He waited patiently while the money was collected and then calmly told the driver to get on with his journey. 

On one robbery he picked a spot to make the hold up of a coach. he was dressed in a smart business suit. As the coach came near, he put a bag with two holes for his eyes over his head and then put on a bathrobe to cover his suit. He looked very strange. As the coach came nearer, he jumped into the middle of the road and pointed his gun at the driver.  Frightened, the driver stopped the horses. Bart spoke softly to the driver "Throw down your box of money" he said quietly. When the driver did what he wanted, Bart told him to drive on again. The Bart took a big axe and chopped the box into pieces. Inside he found $600. He took an envelope from the mailbox and wrote a poem on the cover. It read

'Yet come what will ,I'll try it once

My condition can't be worse;

And if there's money in that box

It's  money in my purse"

With a smile on his face, he put the poem in the box and left it for the detectives who would try to hunt him down. He often left poems at the scene of his crimes after this.

As the word about the robberies spread, so he became more and more popular. The silly disguise, the poems and his politeness made him a topic of conversation. He continued his strange life of crime until 1883 when he finally had bad luck. By this time Wells Fargo had started to screw the mailboxes to the floor of the coach, so that bandits couldn't take them away. Bart stopped a coach, and told the driver to take the horses away while he hacked the box into pieces and took the money out. A young boy was hunting in the woods. He saw the driver take the horses along the road and guessed what was happening. He took his own rifle and with the driver made their way back to the coach. Bart saw them coming and ran into the woods. The boy fired his gun and a bullet just caught Bart. He dropped the money bag, but still disappeared. When the detective examined the bag, he found a handkerchief inside. On it there was a laundry mark which showed where it had been washed. Using that clue, the detective tracked down where Bart lived.

At first Bart, who looked like a quiet businessman, denied the story. Finally he admitted everything. When he had told his story to the police, the newspapers began to write stories making him sound like a hero. Still, the court found Bart guilty and sentenced him to 6 years in prison. Before he was led away, Bart told the police one more thing. He had never wanted to hurt anyone and it was true he had carried a rifle, but it had never been loaded!

Wells Fargo Coach


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