Wells Fargo in Texas

Overland Mail stagecoach in Texas, 1861. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Overland Mail stagecoach in Texas, 1861. From ambrotype. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

In 1852, Henry Wells and William Fargo founded a banking and express company to deliver reliable financial and transportation services to customers on the frontier. Wells Fargo sent gold, mail, and express shipments by the fastest means possible. Wells Fargo’s story in the Lone Star State goes back to the beginning.

Wells Fargo’s banking heritage in Texas goes back to 1854, and the F. Groos & Company merchant banking firm in Eagle Pass. Texas law at the time forbade banks and unreliable paper money—gold and silver were the money of choice. The Groos brothers started out as freighters, then evolved into bankers. They gained a national charter as the Groos National Bank in 1912. This oldest Texas bank became part of Norwest Bank in 1996, and is now Wells Fargo.

In 1858 Wells Fargo helped found the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. Stagecoaches carried mail and passengers across 900 miles of Texas territory, on the three-week journey between Missouri and California. Overland stages entered Texas at Colbert’s Ferry, crossing the Red River.

Stagecoaches of the “Butterfield” rolled south to Sherman and then west to Gainesville en route to El Paso, the halfway point. They changed horses approximately every twelve miles, and stopped for meals about every 45 miles. In 1861 the Civil War forced a detour of overland stages north.

Wells Fargo returned to Texas in 1881 aboard the new railroad lines. Long distance stagecoaches were giving way to the iron horse, and Wells Fargo agents provided business solutions for Texas’ merchants, farmers, and ranchers, by connecting them with a great network of offices across Texas and around the world.

Wells Fargo offices were in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, Wichita Falls, and a thousand Texas towns where Wells Fargo did business until 1918.

Wells Fargo Agent CL Aubin (far right) in rescue effort, 1913. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Agent CL Aubin (far right) in rescue effort, 1913. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Exceptional personal service marks the history of Wells Fargo, in Texas and everywhere. When floods struck Bay City in December 1913, agent C.L. Aubin rescued fifteen people by rowboat and housed them in his own home until the flood waters subsided. Gilbert Onderdonk represented Wells Fargo in Victoria County  for thirty-five years. His orchards and expertise on fruit cultivation,combined with customized service and the fastest possible shipping, helped build Texas’ farming industry. Onderdonk shipped so many plants from his Mission Valley nursery that the railroad extended its tracks to his orchard, ten miles east of Victoria.

Other historic Texas banks such as State National Bank in El Paso, A. Levi & Company of Victoria, Bank of Lubbock, and the Waco National Bank, weathered the tough economic times and outlasted their rivals. These community banks and many others helped finance Texas prosperity built on oil, manufacturing and technology. Their legacy in the Lone Star State continues today.

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Tax time

1991 article on "Right Back Refund" (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

1991 article on “Right Back Refund” (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

For those of us in the U.S., the deadline to file personal income taxes is swiftly approaching!1  Tax Day can still cause a mad rush to the post office, but in vastly increasing numbers, taxpayers are opting to file electronically.

E-file has been around since 1986, when the Internal Revenue Service sought to make the tax process more efficient.  In the beginning, only professional tax preparers could use e-file, and an IRS employee had to manually plug in a modem each time tax returns were transmitted.

In late 1989 Minneapolis-based Norwest Corporation introduced “Right Back Refund,”2 a service which took customers’ self-prepared tax returns, verified the calculations and filed them electronically.  The first year it was available, about 8,200 Minnesota taxpayers participated, making Norwest the largest tax filer in the state.  Right Back Refund allowed taxpayers to receive their refunds in a speedy 2-3 weeks, a significant improvement over the 6-8 weeks they could expect to wait if they filed by snail mail.  The award-winning ad campaign featured an image of a taxpayer anxiously awaiting his refund check. In 1998, Norwest joined Wells Fargo in a merger of equals.

After the world wide web went mainstream, e-file became available to the average citizen.  Today, it’s the preferred method for completing tax returns—the IRS reports that as of the end of March, about 91% of returns they’d received were filed online.

There are still a few days left before the deadline, Tuesday, April 15.  How are you filing your taxes this year?  Check out Wells Fargo’s Tax Center for ideas.

1This article is provided for informational purposes only. You should consult your professional tax adviser for your specific situation.

2Right Back Refund service is no longer offered.

Right Back Refund Ad, 1990 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Right Back Refund Ad, 1990 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Wells served

Christopher Adix is Museum Assistant at our Phoenix Museum. He also works as a tour guide at Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school of architecture).  He lives in Scottsdale with his wife, three children and two dogs. When not working, Chris is camping and hiking, visiting other museums or vacuuming dog hair.

Chris Adix (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Chris Adix (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Chris could probably start his own museum some day with his collections of old oscillating fans, Tonka trucks, sleds, matchbox cars, and lanterns. (CR)

Wells Fargo recently celebrated our 162nd birthday. This longevity is the result of the efforts of many people over time. In addition to Wells Fargo’s team members today, we hail the service of the many people who have created Wells Fargo’s legacy. Most were ordinary people who lived quiet lives; others went on to further success. There was cake in several of our Museums as part of the celebration, as is often done on our birthday. One Wells Fargo man from our past had quite a bit to do with that, too—in his career after Wells Fargo.

Duncan Hines was from Bowling Green, Kentucky.  His father was a friend of Wells Fargo’s president, John J. Valentine, also from Bowling Green.  Valentine helped Duncan gain employment with Wells Fargo & Co in 1898.  He was first assigned to Albuquerque, New Mexico. When young Hines came to Albuquerque, he discovered a booming western town on the Santa Fe Railroad.  One of the famous Harvey House restaurants was there, where good meals were available to for travelers, and perhaps inspired Hines’ appreciation of the art of food.

Hines was assigned to guard the Wells Fargo express on a railroad car. While on duty as a messenger, Hines foiled a hold-up by replacing cash in money bags with plain paper.  He always kept the medal he was awarded for his bravery in service to Wells Fargo.

Hines was promoted to agent in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was sent to Denver, charged with picking up and returning a Wells Fargo express wagon. He left Denver in July, but found himself lost in a in the Rocky Mountains snowstorm! To make matters worse, he was at one point surrounded by hungry, howling coyotes.  He eventually made it back to Cheyenne, but without the horse and express wagon, which were retrieved several days later.  As it  turned out, he was only 14 miles off course.

Hines left Wells Fargo for other work in 1902. He had always had a taste for good restaurants while traveling, and kept notes that he freely shared. Friends and colleagues encouraged him to publish, and his books became essential travel and dining guides.  He is the author of Adventures in Good Eating, which highlight his travels (and meals!) throughout the United States.  He also later licensed his name to a well-know cake-mix company, which is still popular today.  Duncan Hines died in 1959.

Duncan Hines was a talented fellow with a marvelous will to succeed and enjoy life. Wells Fargo remembers his service, and as such, it’s totally appropriate we have a cake in celebration of our long heritage.

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S.S. Central America

Steven GreensteinSteve Greenstein works in our Philadelphia History Museum. This is his third blog for Guided by History. (CR)

When Wells Fargo & Company was founded in 1852, the overland stagecoach travel was six years in the future. Wells Fargo shipped express from San Francisco to points east via steamship to Panama, crossed there by rail, then by steamship again to the final destination. This steamer route operated as a partnership between the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (Pacific Side), and the United States Mail Steamship Company (Atlantic side).

Ocean passage was often dangerous—storms, delays, or shipwrecks, which might cost people their fortunes, or even their lives. Goods and wealth were often insured: Wells Fargo was quick to make good on losses as a part of the Express service. But not all wealth, especially that carried by individuals, was necessarily protected, which might have strong effects on markets. Today, innovations such as debit and credit cards, and Mobile Banking allow travelers to go confidently, without needing to carry as much currency as they did in those years.

One of the largest shipwrecks of the nineteenth century happened in September 1857 when the S.S. Central America sunk off the coast of North Carolina. About 1.5 million dollars in gold was in transit aboard the ship, and likely just as much was carried by passengers. The gold aboard the Central America was equivalent to a fifth of the gold stored in the vaults of major banks at the time, and the lost hard currency could not be replaced quickly, as it takes time to send more gold. Many New York banks were forced to suspend payment of gold because they simply could not meet the demand.

Passengers aboard the Central America had embarked on the S.S. Sonora in San Francisco on August 22, 1857. They disembarked and boarded a train at Panama City to Aspinwall (now Colon), where they boarded the ill-fated Central America.

After a stop in Havana, the ship was caught in what today would be called a Category 2 hurricane. Two factors sealed the ship’s fate: First, excessive motion made it too difficult to get coal to the engines in wheelbarrows. Most damaging, rough waters ruptured a seal in the engine room, and water extinguished the boilers. Steam pressure could not be restored, and the engines stopped, leaving the ship at the mercy of waves. On September 11, the Central America sunk. Out of 578 persons who set sail, only about 150 were pulled from the sea.

S.S. Central America (Wells Fargo historical collection)

S.S. Central America (Wells Fargo historical collection)

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The Road Ahead: Wells Fargo and Trucking

Wells Fargo Messenger (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Messenger (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

In support of its dedication to the transportation industry, Wells Fargo Equipment Finance and Wells Fargo Capital Finance are making a big appearance at the Mid-America Trucking Show this week.

It makes sense: Wells Fargo has been in the transportation business since its very first day.

In 1852, Wells Fargo’s first office opened in gold rush San Francisco to provide express and financial services to pioneer merchants, ranchers, miners and settlers.  Agents shipped money and goods by the fastest means available—steamship, railroad, Pony Express or stagecoach.

Wells Fargo’s stagecoach network was the nation’s largest in the 1860s, with lines running from desert to mountains, Pacific Ocean to Missouri River; and from there, connections east. When railroads expanded across the continent, Wells Fargo was aboard, and boasted “Ocean to Ocean” service in 1888. A fleet of refrigerated rail cars could deliver Washington Salmon to the Piedmont, or fresh California fruit to snowbound prairies.

Wells Fargo’s express deliveries rolled through America’s streets in famed Wells Fargo wagons. (Different from stagecoaches.) The excitement created by the horse-drawn Wells Fargo wagons was captured in the song “Wells Fargo Wagon,” from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.

In 1910, Wells Fargo deployed motor trucks in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Orange, New Jersey with “splendid results.” The trucks from New Jersey covered the Bronx, and one five-ton truck did as much work as three or four wagons. Until 1918, and the end of Wells Fargo’s express business, motor trucks carried Wells Fargo express in many urban locations.

Wells Fargo truck, 1913. Orange, New Jersey (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo truck, 1913. Orange, New Jersey (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo’s family of companies has long financed trucks and heavy equipment. Norwest really got things going in 1972, and by the 1990s, had a solid reputation for expertise and for having a financial services specialty in the transportation industry. Norwest joined Wells Fargo in a merger of equals in 1998.

Today, Wells Fargo-branded tractor trailers carry stagecoaches to and from appearances and events, hundreds of times each year—including an appearance of both tractor trailer and stagecoach at the Mid-America Show.

Wells Fargo Equipment Finance and Wells Fargo Capital Finance support the industry every day. In 2013, over $1.5 billion in loans and leases were originated, and over $1 billion in accounts receivable financing programs were funded.  Now, as always, Wells Fargo is committed to supporting the industry, and helping it navigate the road ahead.

Wells Fargo tractor trailer (Wells Fargo Stagecoach appearance program)

Wells Fargo tractor trailer (Wells Fargo Stagecoach appearance program)

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San Francisco Museum Refresh

Today, the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco reopens after months of hard work. The space has been refreshed with new treatments: floors, walls…Even a new reception station. But there’s more that’s new: Exhibits are updated, and include interactive touch screens, telegraph equipment and a set of reins. (You can learn how to drive a stagecoach!) There is an “immersive” experience inside a stagecoach body.

A new mobile activity  allows visitors to participate in Wells Fargo’s journey stories, sending items by Express, and sending coded messages in conjunction with the telegraph. The “Travelogue” you create can be shared on your favorite social media site.

Visit us, and have a whole new Wells Fargo History Museum experience!

The "new look" San Francisco Museum

The “new look” San Francisco Museum

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Happy Birthday, Wells Fargo

162 years young today!

On March 18, 1852 Henry Wells and William Fargo signed the Articles of Association at the Astor House in New York City creating Wells, Fargo & Co. They were already successful express businessmen on the Atlantic Coast, but looking west they saw an opportunity to expand and bring reliable banking and express services to customers on the Pacific Coast. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 changed the financial landscape of the country, as thousands rushed there in search of fortune.  It would take an honest and reliable company with express experience and a customer focus to earn the trust of the miners and help connect the coasts. Wells, Fargo & Co. was just the company for the job, and was quickly deemed so honest and reliable that miners would swear, “By God and Wells, Fargo.”

Henry Wells and William G. Fargo (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Henry Wells and William G. Fargo (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

The past 162 years have seen great changes, but the entrepreneurial spirit of Henry Wells and William Fargo lives on. Please help us celebrate by visiting one of our museum locations on March 18, 2014!

All events and activities are free and open to the public!



Tom BennettTom Bennett is our Curator at the Alaska Heritage Museum at Wells Fargo, in Anchorage. He has been involved with museums for 29 years as a Museum Attendant to Director. Tom is involved with the Alaska Zoo and is currently a Board Member with the Alaska Museum of Natural History.  (CR)

Wells Fargo and Alaska are entwined through history—like lashings on kayaks and gold sleds. After the purchase of Alaska from Russia in March 1867, for a mere 7.2 million dollars, Alaska was known as “Seward’s Folly” because the territory was seen as a vast and empty, much too far away to be much good for anything. History, though, tells us it was more fortune than folly.

Gold was discovered near Wrangell in 1861, creating the first true Alaska gold rush. But it was the discovery of gold in Canada’s Klondike that brought tens of thousands of people north to try and cash in. Rich gold deposits extended a thousand miles of discovery after discovery. The throngs of prospectors needed financial services, as well as mail, news, goods in and tons of gold out.

Wells Fargo’s presence in Alaska goes back to 1883, when seasonal express offices were established in Wrangell, Sitka and Juneau. Offices served fish canneries and gold camps. In 1911, Wells Fargo opened offices in 32 Alaska communities from Wrangell to Nome, bringing secure, reliable transport of mail and commodities as well as basic financial services.

The first winter gold shipment by dog sled from the mining town of Iditarod in interior Alaska ran on December 14, 1911 . With two veteran dog mushers,  Wells Fargo expressmen Bob Griffith and and U.G. Norman guided teams for 55 days, (mushers often used more than one sled to haul out the heavy loads of gold) over frozen lakes, rivers, tundra and two mountain ranges, south to Seward; a route that came to be known as the Seward to Nome Mail Trail.

Wells Fargo treasure box packed low in the sled. (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Wells Fargo treasure box packed low in the sled. (Wells Fargo History Museum)

In just a few years, such long distance runs were replaced by airplanes. Today, most know “Iditarod” as the last great sled race on earth. (The Athabaskan word means “far away place” or “clear water.”) The Iditarod Race commemorates an urgent 1925 run for medicine to Nome. In the modern race, mushers consider Iditarod a halfway point en route to the finish at Nome. (In odd years, that is. In even years, the race  bypasses Iditarod altogether.)

While mushers today travel the Iditarod trail in light-weight sleds, old time “freighters” were made of hardwoods and weighed over 200 lbs. before loading. Freight mushers also employed an invention called a “ouija board,” used to help pivot and steer the heavy sled through tight turns along the trail. Of particular interest to us in the Alaska Heritage Museum is the similarity of the ouija boards to traditional Native kayaks, which lashed frame pieces together rather than using rigid connections. This method allowed both vehicles to flex and move with changes in terrain or waters. It’s another ingenuity connection between past and present.

To commemorate Wells Fargo’s historical connections to Alaska, Iditarod historian Rod Perry, his brother Allan and their friend Cliff Sisson completed an old-style freighter, one of the few produced in 70 years, just in time to lead the ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod race. While it didn’t carry a ton of gold, it did set out two Wells Fargo strong boxes. And as such, 130 years of Wells Fargo history in Alaska.

Wells Fargo Messenger, May 1913 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Wells Fargo Messenger, May 1913 (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

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Sacramento Union

The Sacramento Union was a prominent newspaper in old—and new—California. It ran from 1851 to 1994. Today, all that remains of the newspaper is a sign marked “Daily Union” on a building in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. This can be seen from the middle of J Street across the way from the Wells Fargo Museum in Old Sacramento. That Sacramento Union building has become a local attraction that receives a myriad of visitors. Those that inquire about it always ask the same question: “where was the newspaper company that Mark Twain worked for?”

Sacramento Daily Union from 1865 (Wells Fargo History Museum)

Sacramento Daily Union from 1865 (Wells Fargo History Museum)

During its run, the Sacramento Union had several noteworthy contributors, including William Wright, Francis Bret Harte, and Mark Twain. In his writings, Mark Twain described his journey out west aboard a Wells Fargo stagecoach. Many patrons that come into the Wells Fargo Museums in Sacramento are admirers of Mark Twain, and venture to our museums to follow his journey. Twain wrote a series on Hawaii for the Sacramento Union in 1866 that brought him popularity; the series can be viewed on microfilm at the Sacramento Library’s main branch on I street.

Sacramento, 1854. 2nd Street, between 'J' and 'K' Sts. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

Sacramento, 1854. 2nd Street, between ‘J’ and ‘K’ Sts. (Wells Fargo Corporate Archives)

The Sacramento Sacramento Union‘s bound volumes, and a bronze bust that once sat in the lobby of the newspaper building, are now part of a donated collection displayed in  Davis, California at Shield’s Library at the University of California. The Wells Fargo Museum also owns a desk that was once the property of Orion Clemens, Twain’s brother. (Images of this desk can be viewed at the Old Sacramento Museum.)

Though not as famous as Mark Twain, William Henry Rhodes wrote for various newspapers in northern California, under the alias “Caxton.” Rhodes’ most noted work is a dime novel produced during the early 1870s called The Case of Summerfield, which was published in the Sacramento Union. Dime novels—true “Americana”—came into existence during the 1850s in the United States, with continuing popularity till the early 1900s. Dime novels have a melodramatic and sensationalized nature, and feature a mythic landscape of a rapidly developing American West. The name implies the price of the paperback novels, but they  were also featured in local newspapers. The Case of Summerfield revolved around a protagonist who dressed in all black clothing, with untamed black hair, a menacing black beard and piercing grey eyes: a notorious Wells Fargo stagecoach robber by the name of Black Bart, “the Po8.”  The historical Black Bart, Charles Boles, was supposedly an avid reader of dime novels and had read The Case of Summerfield. Legend has it that this inspired Boles to leave his famous poems at the scene after robbing stagecoaches.

The Sacramento Union was later purchased by Copley Press, which moved the paper’s production to a more contemporary location on the Capitol Mall, where it once again found itself across the street from Wells Fargo, at the Wells Fargo Center at 400 Capitol Mall (home of the Wells Fargo Capitol Mall Museum). The Sacramento Union was eventually sold, and the collection donated after the paper closed. The building where the paper once stood was sold, then razed; an empty lot still exists where the presses once ran. The Wells Fargo Museum at Capitol Mall features a reproduction copy of the Sacramento Union, from March 20, 1865.

If you are planning on visiting Sacramento this spring, there will be a new tour on Saturdays by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. The walking tour, entitled “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” takes patrons on a journey through time, and includes the Wells Fargo Museum in Old Sacramento and our other museum on Capitol Mall. Along the way there are several historical stops; including the Sacramento Union, where famous writers told their tales and invented the Old West.

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Global continuity

While much of the Asian world is celebrating the Lunar New Year,  I took some time to review some of the historical items I’ve collected, and reflect on what they represent. One interesting object in my collection is a postcard, sent to the Wells Fargo & Co Express Foreign Department in San Francisco in 1903. When I got the postcard in December and saw both sides, I found that the card had an interesting connection to Wells Fargo today.

From the earliest, Wells Fargo promoted business with Asian customers in California, and even published Chinese-language business directories in the 1870s. Wells Fargo was interested in both sides of the Pacific; the Company had direct trade links to Japan and China since the 1860’s with the first advertised express service aboard Pacific steamships in 1867. Wells Fargo Express even printed envelopes with a “China and Japan Express” surcharge, in expectation of that business. Presently, Wells Fargo Global Banking is currently expanding its offices and branches around the globe. In my job as a Finance Manager for Wells Fargo Global Banking, I help with banking systems that maintain customer accounts in all the different currencies.

Detail, 1903 Wells Fargo correspondence

Detail, 1903 Wells Fargo correspondence (Ryan Baum collection)

The front of my postcard from 1903 shows it’s a Universal Postal Union postcard, printed in Japanese and French. It has a beautiful purple cancellation from Yokohama, Japan, and on the left is a San Francisco cancellation. Faintly visible is a magenta private receiving mark of “Wells Fargo & Co. Express, E. B. Honn Chief Clerk, Nov 18 1903, Tariff and Foreign Department, San Francisco. The card was pre-printed, so we can assume there was enough business that a supply of the cards was needed.  With a Yokohama dateline, and the sender one A. Weston, this was in fact the Wells Fargo agent in Yokohama in 1903.  My personal collection features a card from Wells Fargo to Wells Fargo!

Customers today transfer funds online with immediate confirmation, while a hundred years ago it would be confirmed by written documents. But while the means are better and faster, the ends are the same. What we do today is what we were doing a century ago.  I myself am an agent of continuity.

And I have the postcard to prove it!

1903 Wells Fargo correspondence (Ryan Baum collection)

1903 Wells Fargo correspondence (Ryan Baum collection)

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