Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bass Hill & Black Bart

Shasta County August 29, 1993

It’s quite the view from the long bridge over Shasta Lake as one can look down what seems like hundreds of feet to the banks of this reservoir lake and by the water’s height, tell exactly what kind of previous winter (or winters) California had. At 500 feet, the double-decker Pit River Bridge is the highest combination road and rail bridge in the world, and also the highest rail bridge ever built in the United States. It looks much newer than its 1942 completion date and has been a little unnerving a few times on wet icy morning crossings with its low sidewall.  The water conceals its true height. Just after the southbound crossing is the Bridge Bay turnoff and the landmark. Bass Hill is named for the pioneer Bass family who lived on the south side of the hill.  A duplicate plaque is located at Shasta State Historic Park.

Photo of the old Pit River Bridge which remains fully intact but entirely underwater, coming up only in severe drought years.

On September 17, 1882 in Shasta County at Bass Hill; the well dressed, articulate and crack mountaineer Black Bart robbed the stage and got the Wells Fargo box and mail. They caught him not long afterward and starting in 1883, he served a mere four years in San Quentin for this and dozens of other robberies and was released, never to be heard from again. Just as it is now, the notorious get the fame and recognition while the working stiff gets ignored, so with that in mind, this monument was placed due to the work of Mae Helene Bacon Boggs to honor her uncle and the other stage drivers of this route.

The misfortunate driver Black Bart robbed was Horace Williams, who had the further misfortune of being robbed in the same place by Black Bart the year before. Also along this route on another occasion, Horace rolled the stagecoach down a hillside. The stages used here generally weren’t the luxurious Concorde coaches, but the lighter and more common ‘Mud Wagons’ that had a 3” wheel rather than the Concord’s 2” for rough roads.

Black Bart poem:
"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, the P o 8"

Boy howdy! These dispatches are finally yielding some new songs; Shasta Man,
Coloma Road
, Hangtown Fry, Diamond Springs, and this one about Bass Hill and Black Bart.
Note to historical nit pickers: No, Black Bart didn’t do all of these things in the Bass Hill robberies, the song is a composite of a few of  Charles Earl Bowles’ (Black Bart’s) highlights.

BLACK BART’S BASS HILL CATCH      © Radio Flier Music

Horace Williams down the road, Drives the Wells Fargo stage
Strongbox with a load of gold, A goin’ Redding way

Passengers they number six, Wish the ride was over soon
Soon to see the bag of tricks, From the shadow in the midnight moon

Long dark duster, brogan shoes, Fine gloves on his shotgun hands
The treasure box to be the dues, For the wayside gentleman

Verses in his pocket packed, To let them know the score
A poem for his dangerous act, He wrote the night before

(Black Bart’s poem – Chorus)
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 money in my purse!

“By your leave sir, stop the coach, To this agent you’ll throw down
Your litter of gold I aim to poach, Here on Bass Hill’s mound”

“My men have their rifles trained, From the hillside’s boulders”
Moonlight showed to Horace plain, As the gun on the outlaw’s shoulders

Inside the coach a woman said, “Please take my jewels and cargo”
“Miss, I only take my bread, From the office of Wells Fargo”

And with that line they know’d, The suspicion from the start
The shadow in the moonlight’s glow, Was the legend, Black Bart

Black Bart vanished in the cold, Leaving Horace in a fix
For the rifles in the boulders, Were nothing more than sticks

A poem left to have some fun, With the gentleman’s outlaw game
For empty was his shotgun, He got the money just the same

Plaque inscription: NO. 148 BASS HILL - On the summit of Bass Hill a remnant of the California-Oregon stage road crosses the
Pacific Highway
and descends to the Pit River. Because this was a favorite 'holdup' spot in stage-coach days, a marker has been placed there in memory of W. L. Smith, division stage agent of the California and Oregon Stage Company, and of the pioneer stage drivers along this road.
Location: Bridge Bay Resort parking lot, Bridge Bay turnoff and I-5, 6 mi N of Central Valley
Coordinates are for plaque, marker is in parking lot.
Google maps: 40.754507,-122.323108

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