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James_B._Hume

James B. Hume

James B. Hume (January 23, 1827–May 18, 1904) was one of the American West's premier lawmen. Born in Stamford Township, Delaware County, New York, he left home in 1850 headed for the gold fields of California with his brother John. He panned gold and mined for a number of years in addition to operating a trade store off and on. In 1860 he began his career as a peace officer serving as deputy tax collector for El Dorado County, California. In 1864 he was elected City Marshal of Placerville, California, and in 1864 hired as Undersheriff of El Dorado County. He ran for Sheriff in 1865 and remained in office until 1870. In 1871 Wells, Fargo & Company hired him as a detective, but gave him a year's leave in 1872 to serve as deputy warden of the Nevada State Prison. He became one of the most prominent detectives of the times. He married Lida Munson on April 28, 1884, and had a son. He never retired from the company, but after an illness in 1897 he slowed down and began working fewer road trips. He died at his home in Berkeley, California.

Black Bart

On of Hume's most famous cases was that of Black Bart. Black Bart may have been a cunning and intelligent stage coach robber, but detective Hume was an equally skilled lawman who eventually brought Bart to justice. James B. Hume had an impressive record as a California and Nevada lawman before he joined the Wells Fargo freight company in 1873. In both appearances and actions he had all the characteristics of a model western lawman: he was tall, handsome, modest, reticent, quietly efficient, and resourceful in his use of modern detection methods, including the science of ballistics.

Hume had been trailing Black Bart almost from the beginning of the thief’s career. He visited the sites of all the robberies and patiently put together a valuable list of information. Witnesses in settlements near the scenes of the robberies described seeing a polite, friendly man in his fifties, about five foot eight or ten in height with brownish gray hair, a fierce gray mustache and matching goatee, carrying a bedroll (which Hume correctly inferred carried his duster, sack disguise, shotgun and loot), passing through on foot and quickly disappearing. Hume made special note of the reports by several witnesses that the man’s boots were neatly slit at the toes as if to relieve corns – small wonder, given the territory Bart covered on foot (he never traveled by horse). Hume was well aware that this figure the locals had reported was likely to be the culprit.

Hume’s major break occurred on November 3, 1883, when Bart robbed a Wells Fargo coach headed from the town of Sonora to Milton, in Calaveras County. One of the drivers fired a shot at Bart, and forced him to promptly flee. Within the nearby brush, Hume found a cache of rations and correctly assumed that the goods were the bandit's. More importantly however, a blood-stained handkerchief bearing the laundry mark "F.X.0.7" was recovered. With the assistance of his associate Harry Morse, he spent a week visiting every laundry in the Bay Area – nearly a hundred of them, to track down where the mark originated. Eventually they inquired its origin at a laundromat on Bush Street in San Francisco. The proprietor identified the F.X.0.7 handkerchief mark as that assigned to C.E. Bolton, a man who lived in a hotel on Second Street. The arrest of Black Bart was at hand.

Hume and Morse were real detectives in a time when law work, outside of the Pinkerton Agency and Wells Fargo Operations, consisted principally of forming posses, serving warrants with a gun, and preventing mobs from lynching the miscreants. Few lawmen in 1883 put their noses on the carpet and searched for clues in the manner of a Sherlock Holmes (Holmes had not yet surfaced – his first adventure was published in 1887) and not many did the legwork that ended Black Bart’s escapades.

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