Robberies of treasure carried by Wells Fargo Express aboard stagecoaches, unfortunately did take place. But Wells Fargo’s crack detective force pursued the bandits with cold calculation and didn’t stop pursuing till they netted the bad guys and locked them away. The legend “Wells Fargo Never Forgets” is the single best artifact from those years.
The town of Umatilla, Oregon is nestled on the Columbia River about three hours east of Portland. On October 21st, 1875, six miles outside of Umatilla, two men robbed the stagecoach from Boise City and made off with gold from the Idaho mines .
Wells Fargo’s detective force immediately sprang into action. Portland’s Special Agent H. C. Paige sent a telegram to John J. Valentine, General Superintendent of Wells Fargo, to inform him that the extent of loss was unknown — but agents were in pursuit of the robbers. On October 29th, Paige wrote a letter to Valentine from Baker City , reporting a loss of up to $4,000, based upon the value of the gold listed on the manifest. Once the loss was known, Paige distributed a reward poster .
At first, Paige went after a red-headed fellow he had been suspicious of, based on a comb with red hairs found at the crime scene. A nearby hotel keeper confirmed the comb belonged to the suspect. On November 5th, Paige wrote Valentine from Pendleton . Two other suspects had confessed to the robbery and were in custody.
Paige had solved the case.
There is more about Wells Fargo’s detective force at the Portland Museum. Our new exhibit, “Crime Scene Investigation: Officers in Pursuit,” officially opened on January 16th. Check it out!