Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

JUNE 14, 1287: PROSE AND KHANS

In 1287, Kublai Khan, on a bit of a tear through Asia, defeated the forces led by princes of Mongolia and Manchuria. Kublai was a grandson of Genghis, another Khan known for being rather hard to get along with. Like his grandfather, Kublai was a holy terror right from infancy when he frequently seized power from fellow toddlers. Eventually, Kublai pushed the Mongol Empire to new heights, creating a unified, militarily powerful China and gaining international attention in the process.

Marco Polo, in the accounts of his travels, made Kublai well-known to western audiences, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge added a romantic aura in the early 19th century with his description of Kublai (Kubla to Coleridge) Khan’s summer cottage at Xanadu:

     In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

     A stately pleasure-dome decree:

     Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

     Through caverns measureless to man

     Down to a sunless sea.

     When the sacred river Alph plunged into that sunless sea it naturally created a great waterfall. In the rush of this waterfall, the voices of Kubla’s ancestors could be heard — that strident, discordant one being Genghis.

 

Face down in a cranberry bog, part 3: somebody stole my corpse

“A person ought to remain at the scene of the crime,” said the chief of police, taking me to task when he should have been commending my citizenship, as we drove back toward the bog.

“What crime?” I complained. “I’m sure it’s just an accident. And even if I had stayed at the scene of the accident, how could I report it? I don’t have a cell phone. It might be weeks before anyone came by. I’d eventually starve. I couldn’t even eat cranberries because the sign said not to. And I’m too law-abiding to disobey a sign let alone do something criminal to a person, if someone did indeed do something criminal, which I don’t think anyone did, but I have no way of knowing.”

“You’re acting mighty guilty.” I thought I was behaving quite calmly. Upon hearing the word guilty, however, any veneer of calm was violently stripped away. And then I remembered with a jolt of nausea that the recently departed wore only red boxer shorts.

“I always act guilty,” I said, squirming to confirm my words. “Even as a kid. If someone put a baseball through a window, the owner of the house would look at me and figure I did it – just because I looked guilty. People who act guilty are almost always innocent; did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t,” said the chief, looking skeptical. “Here we are.” He stopped the car and we got out. “Now exactly where is this body?”

“Over there. On the other side of that bog.”

We approached and began to circle the bog. We circled it once, and we circled it again. We saw nothing but cranberries. “Are you sure you got the right bog?” the chief asked, giving me that look.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said. We circled three more bogs, and a deputy who joined us began to circle the rest.

The chief of police leaned back against his car, reached into his pocket and pulled out a pen and a small tablet. “This wouldn’t be a joke, would it? If it was, it wouldn’t be very funny; I can tell you that.”

“Of course not. Do I look like a joker?” I wished I hadn’t said that.

“Had anything to drink today?” He scratched at the tablet as he spoke.

“It’s ten a.m.”

“Had anything to drink this morning?”

“Tomato juice and coffee, that’s it.”

“Do you take medication or any other kinds of drugs?”

“No, I don’t, and I resent that implication.”

“I resent spending my time searching cranberry bogs for bodies that don’t exist.” He looked at me as though he wanted nothing more out of life than to throw me into a jail cell. “You say you’re not joking, you’re not drunk or spaced out. Tell me what you think.”

“It’s obvious,” I said. “Somebody stole the corpse. Otherwise, it would be there.”

“Not that obvious to me. What’s obvious to me is that I’m going to be watching you. Now describe this alleged body to me.”

“It looked dead.”

“Nice start. Would you care to elaborate?”

“Male Caucasian.”

“Now you’re getting it. Go on.”

“Hair gray. Face sort of blue. Mustache.”

“You think this whole thing is some kind of big joke, don’t you?”

“Not at all,” I answered. “I take dead bodies quite seriously. I’m doing my best to help.”

“Okay, mustache. Gray like his hair?”

“Hmmm.” I tried to visualize the mustache but couldn’t. “I don’t know. I think it was dark. But maybe it just looked darker because it was wet. I’m just not sure. In real life, people don’t really remember all the little details. Anyone who knows all the details probably memorizes them. And maybe because that person is guilty – even though he doesn’t look it.”

“Or she.”

“What?”

“Never assume the guilty party is a man. Women kill too. Now can we dispense with the criminology and get on with it?” He continued to write in his little tablet. I wished I could have seen what he was writing; I’ll bet it wasn’t flattering.

“Okay,” I said. “The mustache was three shades darker than the hair. His forehead had six, no seven, wrinkles.”

“Okay, I’ve got enough,” he said, flipping the notebook shut and giving me a nasty look. “If we come up with a body, we’ll get back to you.”

“Don’t call us, we’ll call you?”

“Something like that.”

I watched as he and his trusty deputy returned to their respective police vehicles and pulled away, leaving me alone, angry and confused. Someone had stolen my corpse.

continued

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 12, 1812: POETRY WITHOUT NAUGHTY WORDS

Edward Lear, born in England in 1812, was a true dabbler — artist, illustrator, musician, author, poet. Starting off his career as an illustrator, he was employed to illustrate birds and animals first for the Zoological Society and then for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who had a private menagerie. He also made drawings during his journeys that later illustrated his travel books. and illustrations for the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. As a musician, Lear played the accordion, flute, guitar, and piano (not simultaneously). He also composed music for a number of Romantic and Victorian poems, most notably those of Tennyson.

Lear is remembered chiefly for his work as a writer of literary nonsense. He might easily have been given the title Father of the Limerick for bringing the much maligned form into popularity (without the raunchiness that later found its way into the form). In 1846, he published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of the Earl of Derby.

Lear’s nonsense books were successful during his lifetime, but he found himself fighting rumors that he was just a pseudonym and that the books were actually written by the Earl of Derby. Conspiracy theorists cited as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that Lear is an anagram of Earl. A few even suggested he was born in Kenya, not England.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Naughty Words Without Poetry

Stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, actor, writer/author George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937 (died 2008). Noted for his black humor as well as his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects, he won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin and his classic “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

In his own words:

george

Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That’s just common sense!

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.

george-carlin2

The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

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APRIL 18, 1968: IF YOU BELIEVE THIS, I’VE GOT A BRIDGE . . .

Famous real estate deals abound — the sale of Manhattan for beads, the Louisiana Purchase, Seward’s Folly. One of the more unusual is the April 18, 1968, sale of London Bridge for a mere $1 million (of course, as any schoolchild knows, the thing was falling down). American oil sphinx_magnate Robert McCullough was the buyer and he bought it as a large conversation piece for his Arizona real estate development in an out-of-the-way spot that had previously only been an inspiration for Roadrunner cartoons.  The bridge was disassembled in London, each piece numbered, then hauled to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where it was reassembled.

McCullough had wanted to buy the Brooklyn Bridge for his project, but it had already been sold. Many times, actually. One George Parker had made his living selling the bridge to oil magnates and other naive visitors to New York, some of whom actually tried to erect toll booths.

The relocation of London Bridge inspired, in addition to a great deal of laughter, a forgettable 1985 made-for-television movie Bridge Across Time (aka Arizona Ripper or Terror at London Bridge) in which several murders are committed in Lake Havasu by the spirit of Jack the Ripper, whose soul is transported to the United States in one of the stones of the bridge (sorry you missed it, aren’t you).

Although the Sphinx may have been more architecturally appropriate to the location, McCullough wasn’t interested. “Something about the nose,” he said.

Legumes in Love

British poet and physician Erasmus Darwin died on April 18, 1802.  As a physician graduated from Cambridge, he didn’t really distinguish himself. When he is remembered at all, it is for his poetry, and one particular poem, The Loves of the Plants, part of a larger work called The Botanic Garden (the other part being The Economy of Vegetation), in which the physiology and classification of the vegetable world is presented in a rather lofty and lyrical manner. Although the subject was mundane and the technical accuracy questionable, the poetic frenzy reached amazing heights. Had Erasmus Darwin’s grandson Charles presented his discoveries in a more poetic fashion, perhaps they would have been more warmly received.

 

 

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March 7. 1766: Gentlemen Rhymesters Out on a Spree

A certain Miss Molly Mogg of the Rose Tavern in Wokingham, England, turned up her dainty toes on March 7, 1766, at the age of 66. Some 40 years earlier she had been the subject of an amusing ballad written by “two or three men of wit.” The ballad — perhaps to the surprise of its authors, became quite popular. Literary historians have determined that the “men of wit” were Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Gay and that the three were probably quite drunk when they penned the tribute to the pretty Molly.

It begins:

The schoolboy delights in a play-day,

The schoolmaster’s delight is to flog;

The milkmaid’s delight is in May-day,

But mine is in sweet Molly Mogg.

and continues on for eleven verses each ending with “sweet Molly Mogg. This, of course required the three rhymesters to come up with 11 words to rhyme with Mogg. Which they did, the aforementioned flog, bog, cog, frog, clog, jog, fog, dog, log, eclogue and agog — bypassing hog and Prague.

 

All Day, All Night, Marianne, Part II: A Nice Face with a Tiny Nose

“I want you to help me,” said the chastened Roberto. He stared at his feet as he swirled them in the water.

“Okay,” said Toussaint, once again in command. “Now, Herbert was telling me this very, very famous story by a guy that’s been dead for close onto 400 years. Four hundred – now that makes him mighty important. The guy in the story is like you. His name is Romeo; that even sort of sounds like Roberto. This Romeo, he loves a girl whose name I forget. It doesn’t sound like Marianne, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Julianne, that’s it. I guess it sounds a little like Marianne. Now Julianne’s family don’t like Romeo one little bit.”

“Why doesn’t her family like him?” asked Roberto whose face now showed only confusion.

“Because Julianne is very beautiful, just like Marianne, but Romeo has this great big nose. So Romeo sneaks to Julianne’s back porch every night and hides in the bushes and says pretty words while her big fat mama sleeps inside. He says things like, ‘Julianne, my sweetest sweet, your face is like the moon.’ And Julianne says, ‘Oh Romeo, I can’t see your face; it’s behind the bushes. Show me your face.’ And Romeo says, ‘No, no, fair princess. I cannot. But it’s a nice face – with a tiny nose.’ And Julianne says, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are you, Romeo?’ See how they use each other’s names a lot? That’s very romantic.”

“Wherefore?”

“That’s 400-year-old talk. But this is what puts smart dudes like me and Herbert over here and dumb dudes like you over on the beach with your mouth open and bugs flying in and out. When Julianne says wherefore, she isn’t wondering where Romeo is.”

“No?”

“Of course not. She knows he’s in the bushes. What she’s really saying is why. Herbert explained that to me.”

“Why?”

“Because him and me is friends.”

“No, I mean why is wherefore ‘why’? And why would she ask Romeo why he is Romeo?”

“Because it’s literacy,” said Toussaint, trying his best not to patronize poor Roberto. “She wants to know why it has to be Romeo out there instead of someone else.”

“How come?”

“Because he has such a big nose, of course.”

Roberto thought about this story for a moment, kicking at the water with one foot and then the other. Toussaint studied him, looking for some sign that maybe he understood.

“Why doesn’t she just tell him to go away?” asked Roberto finally.

Toussaint grinned. “Because she loves all the pretty words he says to her. And before long, she loves him, too – nose and all. And all because he talked pretty. As Herbert says, the story don’t end until the fat lady sings.”

“What?”

“The fat lady. I guess at the end of all these famous stories a fat lady sings. That’s how you know it’s over. So all you got to do, Roberto, is hide outside Marianne’s porch and say pretty words and hope she falls in love with you before a fat lady sings.”

“But I don’t know any pretty words,” Roberto whined.

“I’ll help you find some pretty words. It’s easy the songs on the jukebox at the Crab Hole are just filled with pretty words.”

continued

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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January 29, 1845: And You Can Quoth Me on That

For most of his career during the 1830s and 1840s, Edgar Allan Poe was your typical struggling, hungry writer. His poetry and short stories were often published but rarely paid for. The lack of copyright laws meant that publishers could freely steal the work of British writers rather than pay their American counterparts.

Poe’s life changed dramatically on January 29, 1845, when his atmospheric narrative poem The Raven appeared in the New York Evening Mirror and was attributed to him for the first time. Before you could say “nevermore,” it went viral and Poe became a literary celebrity, although still economically challenged.

The Raven takes place in Poe’s typical Gothic world., full of mystery and the macabre. It traces the descent of a distraught lover into madness. The guy’s pretty broken up over the loss of his love Lenore. He talks this over with a raven, but the raven doesn’t have much empathy or give much sympathy, offering only the heartless refrain “nevermore.”

For the poem itself it was evermore, although Poe had just a few year’s left to enjoy its success. Others have enjoyed its success , however, with a steady stream of reprints, analyses, films, parodies, and even comic books.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

 

Always Carry a Small Snake

Born on January 28, 1880, as William Claude Dukenfield, W. C. Fields was an iconic American comedian, actor, misanthrope, egotist, drunkard, writer, juggler, and writer who loudly declared his contempt for women, children and small animals. Americans adored him. The publicity departments at Paramount and Universal studios did their best to conceal the fact that he had a happy childhood, had been married, supported two sons, and doted on his grandchildren.

Fields got his start as a juggler in vaudeville and on Broadway. When he found that he could get laughs by adding dialogue to his routines, he developed the mumbling patter and sarcastic asides that became his trademarks. It was in the movies and on radio that he eventually found stardom. A handful of silent films in the 20s led to such classics as You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, The Bank Dick and My Little Chickadee with Mae West. He also became a popular guest on many radio shows, most notably perhaps Edgar Bergen’s Chase and Sanborn Hour, where he traded barbs with Charlie McCarthy, calling him among other things a woodpecker’s pin-up boy.

Fields always professed to hate Christmas, and to show his disdain for the holiday, he died on Christmas Day in 1946.

I always keep some whiskey handy in case I see a snake. . .which I also keep handy.

Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.

I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally.

I never hold a grudge. As soon as I get even with the son-of-a bitch, I forget it.

Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water.

 

 

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January 20, 1820: Dream a Little Dream of Me

It’s a red letter day for fair young maidens everywhere, for in addition to being January 20, it is the Eve of St. Agnes, a night in which, if they play their cards right, they’ll gaze upon the countenance of their true love. Naturally there’s a ritual that must be performed to make this happen. First the maiden must go to bed without her supper, having got herself buck naked and placing a sprig of rosemary and one of thyme (no parsley, no sage) each in a shoe at the side of her bed. She then lies with her hands under her pillow and staring upward chants: “St. Agnes, that’s to lovers kind / Come ease the trouble of my mind” whereupon she falls asleep and conjures up the lucky fellow.

St. Agnes was a martyr who was born back in 291, who died a virgin in 304, and is the patron saint of young women hoping to lose theirs.

The Eve of St. Agnes ritual was celebrated in an 1820 poem by John Keats titled, oddly enough, “The Eve of St. Agnes.” For 42 rather lyrical stanzas (read that steamy, no Grecian urns or nightingales here) Keats recounts the St. Agnes Eve adventures of Madeline and her paramour Porphyro. Keat’s publishers were uncomfortable with his lyricism and forced him to bring it down a few notches (to PG-13 lyricism).

Madeline’s family is all liquored up (another custom) so she scurries off to bed to perform the ritual, hoping to see Porphyro in her sleep. Porphyro hopes to see Madeline as well, but not in his sleep. He sneaks into her room and waits in the closet. From there, he watches her as she readies herself for bed and falls asleep, after which the naughty fellow creeps closer to get a better look. She awakes having been dreaming of him and sees him in the flesh. Naturally she assumes this is still as dream, so she welcomes him into her bed. When she is fully awake, she realizes her mistake and is a bit chagrined until he declares his love for her. They dash off together across the moors and we are left to wonder about their fate. (As anyone who’s ever read Hound of the Baskervilles knows, you don’t go out on the moors at night.

To Air Is Human

Here’s an idea for a television game show: Get four contestants – makebikini them celebrities – have them stick their heads through a life-sized illustration of a famous scene or a song lyric and then take turns asking the host yes/no questions and try to figure out what scene they’re a part of.  Just for insurance, get a big star to be the host. Sound like a winner?

The scenario played out for the first time on CBS at 9:30 pm EST on January 20, 1961, the evening of the inauguration on John F. Kennedy. The program was called You’re in the Picture. The guest celebrities were Pat Harrington Jr., Pat Carroll, Jan Sterling, and Arthur Treacher. The host was Jackie Gleason, who’d been around television for a while hosting his own variety shows and a little number called The Honeymooners. That first episode was also the last episode.

Talk about a bomb. “The biggest bomb in history” said Jackie Gleason, adding that it “would make the H-Bomb look like a two-inch salute.” Time later called it proof that the 1960-61 TV season was the worst in the history of U.S. network television.

 

Born January 20, 1922, Ray Anthony became a successful band leader during the 1950s, despite composing “The Bunny Hop.”

 

Mama Eu Quero, Part 2: Fantastic News

When Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha was sixteen, she was already an entertainer in her own small part of the world.  She quickly became known in her own country, and in 1939, as Carmen Miranda, she sambaed to the United States for a part in a Broadway musical review.  The tower of fruit above the slight five-foot-one Brazilian Bombshell became an instant trademark, which along with her musical exuberance carried her to super stardom.  She appeared in many films, but Delia’s favorite was an outrageous Busby Berkeley musical in which she sang “The Lady with the Tutti Frutti Hat” while an army of dancers waved giant bananas.  Why would a young teenager idolize Carmen Miranda when the other girls her age wished to be Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth or Grace Kelly?  Perhaps it was because even though Carmen wasn’t so pretty, she was so vital.  And they said she was really very shy.  Just like Delia.

Jorge’s last words to her were:  “We’ll be together soon, I promise.”  His first words had been:  “Another Norteamericano.  Would you like me to lie on the floor so you can walk on me?”   She had cried both times.  His last words echoed for many months even as she realized that although they were probably truthful in intent, they were spoken in summer, in Cuba, and in youth.  Jorge’s first words were quickly forgotten. They burned, made her feel a guilt that should not have been hers.  But even though his words were mean and insensitive, Jorge was not, and as soon as he had uttered them, he felt shame at having hurt a person who had done him no harm, at having acted in the same manner as those he criticized.  Spurred by her tears, his apologies rushed forth.  And within five minutes they were sharing their first Cuban beer, their first conversation and the first day of a summer idyll that would careen through the hot weeks of June and July like a possessed Cuban taxi on an open road.

Many of those conversations would turn to politics, and Delia showed a naiveté about the affairs of the country that stood just 90 miles from her own country’s doorstep.  At the center of such conversations stood Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar, and Jorge would loudly decry his infamy. “Fulgencio cares only for Fulgencio,” he would snort.  When on a soapbox, he always used Batista’s given name.  “He doesn’t give a damn for the people.  They hate him, too.  And he knows it.  But he has the army and the police, so he doesn’t need the people.  Let me tell you how the great Fulgencio cares for his people.  Two years ago, Fidel’s attempt at revolution was put down almost as quickly as it started.  The gunfire that we could hear off and on through Saturday night had died down by Sunday morning, and my father insisted we go to church as usual.  During the service, the police appeared at all entrances to the church, blocking our exit except through the one door that opened onto the square.  Just in front of that door, close enough so that we must negotiate around it, the police had dumped a wagonload of bloodied bodies.  As we passed by we could see movement within this noxious heap and hear low groans.  Some of them had not yet died.”

Jorge turned his face away from Delia as the tears appeared in his eyes.  She shuddered and cried with him.  What seemed to bother him the most was the hopelessness.  The people grumbled and cursed, but they were apathetic. The opposition made speeches, but they were meaningless; when in power, the opposition had been corrupt too. Fidel had been released from prison but was in exile.

As deep as Jorge’s anger was, Delia conquered and subdued it as their relationship grew.  And for a time his country’s turmoil became as distant to him as Ike and Iowa were to her.

To Delia’s father, what was happening at home was infinitely more important than what was happening here in Cuba.  As a result Cuban papers rarely found their way into the household.  The New York Times did, however, although by the time it arrived the news was as cold as a Manhattan January.  Nevertheless it served the noble purpose of convincing him that he had not fallen off the edge of civilization.  And it was from this unlikely source that Delia learned the fantastic news.

continued

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

 

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NOVEMBER 3, 1883: STAGECOACH POETICA

STAGECOACH POETICA

The California Gold Rush was in full swing by the latter half of the 19th century. Stagecoaches and Wells Fargo wagons were hauling gold out of blackbartCalifornia by the, well by the wagonload.  All this gold was just too much of a temptation for some folks, transplanted New Yorker Charles Boles being one such tempted soul.

In the summer of 1875, Boles donned a white linen duster, put a flour sack over his head and a black derby on top of that and set about robbing the gold from a stagecoach leaving the mining city of Copperopolis. Boles stepped out in front of the stage, aimed a shotgun at the driver, forcing him to stop and demanding him to “Throw down the box.” The driver was reluctant to comply until he saw several gun barrels aimed at them from nearby bushes. He calculated the odds, and turned over the strongbox. Boles whacked the strongbox with an ax until it disgorged its treasure, which Boles hauled off while the stagecoach driver remained a captive of Boles’ fellow conspirators. After this standoff had lasted a bit too long, he moved to retrieve the empty strongbox and found that the rifles pointing at him were nothing but sticks tied to branches of the bushes.

Boles was rather amazed at how easy this robbery business was and so, adopting the moniker Black Bart, he embarked on a life of crime. He became a bit of a legend due to his daring, the fact that he never rode a horse and leaving bits of verse “po8try” behind at each robbery:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread —

For honor and for riches —

But on my corns too long you’ve tred,

You fine-haired sons of bitches.

His victims also called him a gentleman. Once after ordering a stage drive to throw down the box, a frightened passenger tossed him her purse. Bart returned it to her, saying that he wanted only the strongbox and the mailbag.

Black Bart the Po8 robbed his last stagecoach on November 3, 1883 — that is, attempted to rob his last stage. Wells Fargo, not amused at having lost close to half a million to bandits, had secreted an extra guard on the stage. Bart escaped the trap but dropped his derby and left several other incriminating items behind a nearby rock. Within days, Black Bart had been apprehended.

During his eight years as a highwayman, Black Bart never shot anyone, nor did he ever rob an individual passenger. He stole a grand total of $18,000. Sentenced to six years in prison, he served four before receiving a pardon and disappearing into retirement.