Charles "Black Bart" Bowles // Howcheng via Wikimedia Commons
Charles "Black Bart" Bowles // Howcheng via Wikimedia Commons

5 Habits of Highly Effective Outlaws

Charles "Black Bart" Bowles // Howcheng via Wikimedia Commons
Charles "Black Bart" Bowles // Howcheng via Wikimedia Commons

By David Norris

Guns? Check. Masks? Check. Poetry book? If you're going to rob a stagecoach, here's how to do it with flair. 

1. IF YOU'RE A POET, SHOW IT.

Even if you’re a no-good, law-flouting bandit, it pays to mind your manners—and your meter. In California, between 1875 and 1883, Charles E. “Black Bart” Boles held up more than two dozen Wells Fargo stagecoaches. Even though he seemed to have an intense private grudge against the bank, he was always polite to its employees, asking stage drivers to “please” throw down the money. Stranger still, Boles often left poetry at his crime scenes. This poem was his most well-known:

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.

In 1883, Boles was wounded during a holdup and accidentally left a handkerchief at the crime scene. When Wells Fargo detectives traced it back to him, he was arrested and imprisoned, and although Boles’s career as a robber was over, his literary influence was just beginning. During his imprisonment, several copycat stagecoach robbers left truly dreadful bits of poetry at the scenes of their crimes.

2. SPIN THE MEDIA.

Jesse James spent as much time honing his public image as he did robbing people. In fact, James frequently wrote letters to newspapers, stressing that his gang never attacked innocent farmers, only corrupt banks and railroad companies. He also claimed lawmen hounded James and his brothers because they had been Confederate soldiers, which won the gang sympathy in the South. His letters were widely reprinted, even in The New York Times, helping turn the Missouri bandits into national legends.

One night in 1875, Pinkerton detectives threw a flare into the James family home. The agents were trying to light up the dark house so they could shoot at the outlaws, but the flare exploded in the fireplace, killing Jesse’s young half-brother and maiming his mother, who lost her right forearm. James made the incident seem even worse than it was in his letters to the press, falsely claiming the detectives had tossed a 32-pound military shell into his mother’s home. The public was horrified, and after the explosion, Pinkerton agents received little help from Jesse’s neighbors, who were often happy to provide the James gang with food, information, and hiding places.

3. ROB SMARTER, NOT HARDER.

In the early 1900s, automobiles were starting to replace stagecoaches, which meant that stagecoach robbers were a dying breed. One of the last havens for the bandits was Yellowstone National Park, because the park didn’t allow motor vehicles. On the lonely, isolated trails, robbers could loot stagecoaches with remarkable efficiency. On July 29, 1914, an ex-con named Ed Trafton chose a spot about eight miles from the Old Faithful geyser, where there was only one route for stagecoaches. With the aid of an armed accomplice who kept his victims from turning around to get help, Trafton held up 15 coaches, one by one, as though he were operating a drive-through bank.

4. GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FEMININE SIDE.

During the 17th century, English highwayman Tom Rowland menaced coach travelers with a string of holdups that lasted for 18 years, and the entire time, he was dressed like a lady. Rowland worked hard to keep up the charade, even riding sidesaddle when getting away from crime scenes. Caught and convicted in 1699, Rowland was hanged at Tyburn Hill, the historic place of execution for London-area criminals. 

5. WAIT FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP.

Arizona stagecoach robber Bill Brazelton threw lawmen off his trail with a cunning horseshoe trick. Before committing a crime, he would place shoes on his horse normally, then once he’d stolen the goods, he’d quickly turn the shoes around. After he rode off, it would look as though there were two sets of tracks leading to the crime scene, but no tracks leading away.

Brazelton’s scheme worked until one day in 1878, when one horseshoe fell off his steed after a robbery. The horse left behind a bizarre set of tracks, with three shod hooves running in one direction and one bare hoof running in the other. A suspicious tracker traced the odd hoofprints to a corral near Tucson, where a posse laid an ambush for Brazelton, and he was killed in the attack. That thing about horseshoes being lucky? Not so much.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Get a risk-free issue!

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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North America: East or West Coast?
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