Crimes against poetry


There is a wonderful story about the famous stagecoach robber Black Bart.  An unlikely western folk hero, he hated horses and carried out his robberies on foot.

Black Bart was an original California gold rush ’49er.  A brave soldier, he fought gallantly for the Union in the Civil War, was promoted from private to first sergeant and was brevetted to first lieutenant.  After the war he returned to prospecting.  He had some kind of nasty encounter with some Wells Fargo employees and turned from digging for gold to holding up stagecoaches.  He specialised in targeting Wells Fargo in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

After leaving verses of poetry at the scene of some of his robberies he gained a reputation as a bush poet and the nickname “Black Bart the Poet”.  It was detectives working for Wells Fargo who eventually tracked him down and arrested him.

Always a polite and well mannered man, who avoided coarse language, his sentence in San Quentin Jail was reduced for good behavior from 6 to 4 years.  The time in jail was hard on him and he emerged old, feeble, half blind and half deaf.  He was quite a celebrity and a crowd of reporters awaited his release.  When asked if he intended to rob any more stagecoaches he told them that he was through with the life of crime.

One reporter then asked if he intended to write any more poetry.  Black Bart said “didn’t you hear me say that I’m through with crime?”

I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

—Black Bart, 1877

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, 1878

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