Black Bart's, historically oriented dining spot in Hills Flat on the Grass Valley-Nevada City Highway and equally popular with tourists and local clientele, has a history as rich as the poet-bandit for which it was named. Its owner, John Shoemaker, originated the name and opened the cafe and bar in Grass Valley after five years of research into western history. He selected this area because of its gold country background and the need for such a place locally. He has now been in operation for five years and although his lease with Oosie Osborn is soon to expire he hopes to relocate in this area.

All the decor and elaborate furnishings in the building belong to him and represent a lifetime of interest in the old west. Prior to coming here he was associated with Rickey's Studio Inn in Palo Alto, adjacent to Stanford University. He and his wife, Roza, have two grown children, Mrs. Sam (Suzanne) Davis of Citrus Heights, who works at Black Bart's on weekends, and a son, Steffan, who works for Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. Many of the old photographs and posters in the cafe were donated to Shoemaker by the Wells Fargo Museum, San Francisco. Ironically, Black Bart, the bandit for whom the establishment was named was noted for his Wells Fargo stage robberies. Pictures of Black Bart bear a striking resemblance to Shoemaker, who dresses in similar costume to greet customers and add greatly to the atmosphere.

Shoemaker (as Black Bart) center left.

Tim (Sapp) makes a move.

Black Bart's real name was Charles E. Boles. A tidy, middle-aged man who left his lidgings at Webb House in San Francisco to begin a career that gave Wells Fargo & Company a financial headache for more than seven years beginning on August 3, 1877 and ending on November 3, 1883. His known holdups during that period were 23, and Wells Fargo offered rewards for his capture which soon totaled $18,000.

His working costume as a highwayman consisted of a soiled linen duster, heavy socks pulled over his shoes and a white flour sack pulled over his head. He generally sprung from behind a rock at his quarry and confronted the stage driver with a shotgun. He told authorities later, that he had never once had a loaded gun but trusted to its psychological effect. He was noted for his courtesy in thanking the stagecoach drivers after the robberies and later, for his bluff, in dismissing them with a wave and "All right men, let them go," as though the lone bandit were assisted by a gang of hidden co-workers. After the stage had left, Black Bart left general notes tagged to bushes in the area of the robberies, goading gently the men he knew would be searching for him. In his second year of robberies, however, his pen turned into poetry. After robbing a stage between Quincy and Oroville on July 25, 1878 and waving the driver on, he sat by the side of the road with pencil and paper and left, affixed to a wild lilac bush the following verse:

Here I lay me down to sleep, To wait the coming of the morrow, Perhaps success perhaps defeat, And everlasting sorrow. I've labored long and hard for bread, For honor and for riches...Let come what will, I'll try it on, My condition can't be worse; And if there's money in that box, 'Tis money in my purse.

In private life, the bandit dressed more in keeping with his poetry and was something of a dandy. When captured he was swinging a light cane, wore a natty derby hat, a diamond stud, a still larger diamond ring, and stood as erect as the soldier he once was. Under questioning he insisted he was a mining man. It was his fettish for fancy clothing that led to his downfall. On November 3, 1883 while robbing a stage near Copperopolis a boy came down the road diverting attention so that the driver was able to gain possession of a gun and fire at the bandit. As he fled he dropped a derby hat, a handkerchief and a cuff of his shivet. It was the laundry mark which was to betray him. Most amazed of all were his police officer friends with whom he lunched daily at the New York Bakery in San Francisco.

This story and pictures (with Tim, Sally and John) were published in The Union's Centennial...1864-1964.



Old Time Stories