A Better Class of Criminal

Most of the crimes that get reported these days seem to have been committed by people who are either incredibly brutal or intellectually deficient – or both. Perhaps this has always been the case, and the perceived abundance of fiends and morons in the criminal ranks is simply the consequence of better reporting, especially by online news services. In any case, there is at least one glorious exception to this discouraging rule, an exception that comes from the time of the Old West in American history – Charles Earl Bowles (1829 – 1888), better know as “Black Bart.”

Charles Earl Bowles - dapper bandit

Bowles robbed twenty-eight Wells Fargo stagecoaches across northern California between 1875 and 1883. During all of his robberies he remained well-mannered, invariably treating his victims with civility. He never used profanity on the job, and he never once fired a gun in the course of his lucrative career. Further, Bowles dressed and spoke well, and he sported an impressive mustache, which he kept well-groomed.

However, Bowles was far more than an uncommonly genteel highwayman; he was also a poet. On July 26, 1878, he robbed a stage, and when authorities recovered the strongbox, they found the following verses inside:

“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 (money) in my purse.”
Black Bart – The PO8

Bowles was finally captured, but at the end of his career he showed himself to be not just a poet, albeit an awful one, but also a discerning literary critic. A reporter asked him if he ever again planned to rob stagecoaches, and he replied, “No, gentlemen. I’m through with crime.” Another reporter then asked if he would be writing more poetry. Boles laughed and said, “Now, didn’t you hear me say that I am through with crime?”

Now that’s a better class of criminal.

Black Bart - The PO8

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