Wild West

THEY RODE FOR WELLS FARGO

Wells, Fargo & Co. Express was one of the most important business enterprises in American history. From 1852 to 1918 it reigned as the country’s biggest and most reliable express delivery service. In an era when the U.S. mail was unreliable, the private company shipped gold, silver and other valuables, and unlike the federal government, it promptly paid for any items lost or stolen in transit.

Wells Fargo, founded by Henry Wells and William Fargo, burst to life during the California Gold Rush and came to the forefront of every frontier that followed. As soon as a new mining camp or cattle town sprang up, the company was there. It provided both delivery and banking services, shipping gold and silver from the mining regions, accepting deposits and buying and selling bullion and dust. Wells Fargo followed the money, and robbers followed Wells Fargo. The company achieved legendary status as it waged a relentless battle against highwaymen and train robbers, hiring hard men handy with guns to protect its shipments and ace detectives to investigate holdups and track down thieves.

The name Wells Fargo is inextricably linked to stagecoach travel. But while the company did own and operate stage lines out West, it was an express service, not a transportation business. Wells Fargo carried letters, packages and treasure, not passengers. It often paid local stage lines to carry its green strongboxes, and on the opening of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, Wells Fargo increasingly sent its shipments by train.

Wells Fargo’s earliest express messengers made deliveries to and from mining camps by horseback during the California Gold Rush. They toted guns to protect against highway robbers. In the late 1850s, as stagecoach robberies were on the rise in California, Wells Fargo directed its local agents to hire armed guards to accompany treasure shipments. Such

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