The Ambrose Bierce Site


History in Plain Sight
About Joaquin Miller, Ambrose Bierce, and the Real Black Bart

by Margaret Guilford-Kardell
Archway Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4808-4424-7

A Review

History in Plain Sight by Margaret Guilford-Kardell purports to tell the story of outlaw Black Bart, a notorious stage robber in California and Oregon in the nineteenth-century. Unfortunately, there is no narrative drive; rather, it is a hodgepodge of disparate entries from a variety of sources that are often confusing and contradictory.

The subtitle is Joaquin Miller, Ambrose Bierce, and the Real Black Bart. Outside of a photo, a few passing references, and Bierce's poem, "Black Bart, Po8" (which first appeared in his "Prattle" column in the San Francisco Examiner on January 28, 1888), Bierce plays little if any role in the Black Bart story. The poet Joaquin Miller, a friend and sometimes object of ridicule by Bierce, pounces in and out incoherently.

Typical of self-published books, this effort is filled with typos, misspellings, and errant punctuation, and an odd narrative structure that makes it nearly impossible to follow. It is also an oversized paperback book utilizing an enormous typeface that would cheer a second-grader, and includes any number of maps and photos, as well as an index.

Ms. Guilford-Kardell appears to conclude that the true identity of Black Bart was one Alvy Boles, while other sources suggest he was Charles E. Boles who used any number of aliases.

It would be nice if this book definitively resolved the contradictions regarding Black Bart in the narrative, but it doesn't.

According to the book's author bio, Ms. Guilford-Kardell has a degree in Agricultural Economics from Berkeley, drove a Jeep in WW2, and has written what she calls an "autobiography" of the Life, Times, and Exploits of Cinnatus Hiner Miller (best known as Joaquin).

Ms. Guilford-Kardell, who is ninety-seven (in 2017) -- and more power to her for publishing a book at such a late age -- also has the grating tendency to spell the word clue as "clewe" using quotation marks each time. I have no "clewe" as to why she does this.

--Don Swaim