Monday, May 20, 2013

William Fargo and Wells Fargo’s West

Wells Fargo Express Co. Deadwood Treasure Wagon and Guards with $250,000 gold bullion from the Great Homestake Mine, Deadwood, S.D., 1890

Both William George Fargo and the iconic bank that bears his name were born on May 20, in 1818 and 1852 respectively.

Wells Fargo & Co. started out as an express mail business. Today the Wells Fargo stagecoach holds an almost mythical place in Western lore, in part because it served a vital function for the growing nation.  Its mail delivery service made it possible for people to communicate--to stay connected--across the country's great, new expanse, a service the US Postal Service was not able to provide as cheaply and effectively.

A proposed tax on mail delivered on the overland mail route (then managed by Wells Fargo) that made getting newspapers and other periodicals prohibitively expensive was viewed as "a tax upon the intelligence of the people of the Territories."

At a senate hearing, Congressman James Cavanaugh from Minnessota (and a delegate from the Territory of Montana) described the importance of affordable mail delivery for Westerners.

"We are a reading people in the West. It is not the fossilized remnants of civilization that go to the West, but young men with living blood in their veins. 

It is the poor young men and not the wealthy who go West; the young, the middle-aged, and old men of energy and pluck from New England and the middle states; and sir they go to reap fortunes in the development of the great resources which God in his wisdom has hidden in our mountains, men who create and build up new states, who found new Commonwealths, who add new stars to the national flag, who lay broad and deep the foundations of civilizations in the hitherto unknown sections of the continent, the axe and the rifle lead, the church and school-house follow.

"We hope to see terms such that we may not see the desires of the West for intelligence limited to so many pounds avoirdupois."

Image from the Library of Congress
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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.