Shotguns And Stagecoaches: The Brave Men Who Rode For Wells Fargo In The Wild West, by John Boessenecker
One of the remarkable aspects to reading a book like this one is the way that it serves as a counterpoint to other reading that I have done on the same subject. For example, I recently read a book that was a corporate sponsored history by Wells Fargo that made it seem as if the company was going better in the post Norwest-acquisition in recovering and appreciating its history, but this book makes it clear that was not the case, not when it came to the morals and ethics of the honest and hard-working (and often hard-drinking, sadly) men who rode shotgun on express stagecoaches, and not when it comes to an appreciation of history, where Wells Fargo’s historical understanding of itself has faced massive budget cuts and efforts at whitewashing its history to avoid paying attention to the importance of guns and firepower to the protection of economic interests during the developmental phase of the Wild West. What is a mild and implicit hostility towards corporate thievery and dishonor throughout most of the book becomes very pointed at the end, which is well worth reading for anyone with any interest in Wells Fargo or the economic growth of the West.
This book of a bit more than 300 pages is divided into three parts and 20 chapters. The first part of the book contains four biographical sketches of some noted Wells Fargo messengers during the Gold Rush era: Pilsbury “Chips” Hodgkins, Henry Johnson, Henry C. Ward, and Daniel C. Gay. After that, the author writes about ten messengers who worked during the violent stage robbery era of the Old West (some of whom ended up dying in service or due to accidents): “Shotgun Jimmy” Brown, Steve Venard, John X. Beidler, Eugene Blair, James B. Hume, Andy Hall, Harry N. Morse, Mike Tovey, Buck Montgomery, and Billy Hendricks. After that the third book discusses six messengers who worked for Wells Fargo during the train robbery era, namely Aaron Y. Ross, John N. Thacker, J. Ernest Smith, Charles F. Charles, Jeff Milton, and David Trousdale. After having discussed various dramatic lives and tales of mostly forgotten men, the author then closes the book with a look at how Wells Fargo squandered their legacy and good name in the attempt to bundle services together for profit without caring for the well-being of customers.
Some of the stories in this book are particularly poignant, with tales of how alcoholism drove families apart, and how people who had worked diligently and well faced old age in reduced circumstances, how difficult it was for a good and honest man to win an election for sheriff in much of the West and the way that the law tended to skew in favor of the thieves in charge of the railroad, while proving light in dealing with thieves of stagecoaches and trains at the same time. The author also does a good job at pointing out the thin line between justice in the courts and the omnipresent threat of vigilante justice, pointing out that sometimes it was felt that justice was impossible to get apart from a lynchman’s mob, a reminder to our own age that when the justice system fails, there is a great deal of pressure placed on people to put justice in their own hands, which can prove very dangerous for those who run afoul of community norms. For the most part, though, this book mainly delivers on two goals the author had near and dear to his heart, praising some neglected and unjustly forgotten messengers for Wells Fargo while roasting the contemporary company for its ethical failures.