Monday, February 7, 2011

Black Bart . . . Stagecoach Robber!

This fellow, Black Bart, was California's most famous stagecoach robber! He was the "gentleman" robber, mostly because I hear tell that he was always polite when robbing folks. My brother Mitch told me all about this fellow. He started robbing stagecoaches back in 1875, when I was about seven. 

I think Mitch was hoping a dime novel would be written about Black Bart. He's a real robber, even though he sounds like a storybook character. Here's a picture of him. 

The first time Black Bart held up a stage, he stepped out in front of it with a 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun, and said, "Please throw down the box." (That would be the Wells Fargo strong box, full of gold and money.) The stage driver did what Bart told him, on account of it looked like there were six other highwaymen behind rocks. But guess what! They were STICKS! Black Bart tricked them!

Black Bart only robbed Wells Fargo stagecoaches, and he only took the strong boxes. He was always polite to the ladies and never, ever stole their jewelry. He was a tricky highwayman. He only robbed the stagecoaches up in the mountains, where they had to slow down to go around curves. And he never harmed anyone. Ever. Fact is, when he finally got caught, they figured out his gun was never loaded! 

Black Bart sometimes left poetry after he robbed the stagecoaches. I asked Mitch why he would do that, but Mitch doesn't know. Nobody knows. 

He got away with his robberies for eight years and stole $18,000 from Wells Fargo. But of course, his luck finally ran out. Black Bart got arrested and went to San Quentin prison in 1883, when I was about fourteen. 

But the most mysterious thing about Black Bart was this: After he served his time in prison, he was released (he got out early). And then . . . Black Bart left prison, walked away, and disappeared without a trace! 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stagecoach Robbers!

I was not excited to learn that my new brother-in-law might be a stagecoach robber (see Family Secret). When Kate announced that at supper, my mouth fell open. Why would anybody want to rob a stagecoach? Well, mostly for the strong box, I think, and for the passengers’ valuables.

One place where stagecoaches get robbed (according to the Fresno Expositor newspaper, which Mitch likes to read out loud) is along the road to the Yosemite Valley, up in the Sierras. Later on, Yosemite will become the first national Park in the U.S. But right now in 1880, Yosemite is wild and rugged. When that fella, John Muir, wrote about the beauty of those mountains, word got around. Then everybody wanted to visit that place. They also wanted to see the giant sequoias. They still do.

Up north in Madera, the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company offers trips to Yosemite for $45 round trip. That's a heap of money, when you think that most folks earn only a dollar a day around here. Only rich folks can afford these trips. And it takes all day to get there. I'm not in a hurry to visit Yosemite, but Mother thinks we might take a look at it this next summer. The roads are dusty and dangerous, steep and narrow. And because the rich folks are on these stages, it hasn't taken the road agents (that's another word for outlaw) long to figure out they are easy pickin's.

I've heard tell that these highwaymen (another word for outlaw) hold up the stage in the middle of nowhere. They steal watches, rings, money, and even buttons (I wonder if they take them all so ladies' dresses don't stay up. Wouldn't Melinda yell about that!) They also demand the cash box the driver carries under his seat.

I would think these robberies would scare the tourists away (but they wouldn't scare me. Sounds kind of exciting, actually). And guess what? Other folks feel the same way as I do. I read in the paper the other day that some visitors think it's "romantic" to be held up by stagecoach robbers. While the men passengers are on the alert, prepared for the terrible possibility of getting robbed on the trip, the ladies think differently. One lady asked (so the Expositor says), “Do you think they will rob us this trip?”
     “Oh, no, madam,” came the station master’s reply. “There is no danger at all.”
     “Oh,” the lady said, downcast. “I do wish they would!”
     I'm with her. The idea of an exciting encounter with a real, live road agent in the dark forests of a mountain trail would go a long way in getting me excited about a trip up to Yosemite.
    What about you? Would you be scared? Or excited?