A rip-roaring history of moving the mail in the wildest of the Wild West days.
As fans of Westworld know, it was big money that made the buckboards bounce and the transcontinental railroad chug from coast to coast. One big-money engine was Wells Fargo, the banking concern founded in the gold rush era by two owners of the American Express company in New York who saw in California the possibility of riches in moving wealth—literally—for other people. Thus it is, writes lawyer and former police officer Boessenecker (Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde, 2016, etc.), that “In the popular imagination, Wells Fargo is inextricably linked to stagecoaches.” Put a stagecoach or train driver and a shotgun together, stick a cash box onboard, and you’ll get robbers. The formula affords the author the opportunity to parade a catalog of good guys and bad guys across the story. Early on comes the admirable Wells Fargo pioneering rider Chips Hodgkins, who ran away from home, became an apprentice to a shipwright, and then moved to California to carry millions of dollars in gold over the course of a four-decade career. “He was so scrupulously honest,” writes Boessenecker, “that is was commonly said of him, ‘No man in the United States ever actually handled more money than he did, but not a nickel of it ever stuck to his fingers.’" Not so the likes of the desperado named “Rattle Jack,” who, shot to pieces in a robbery attempt, begged his fellow outlaws to kill him. They obliged, “and after tying a rope to his neck to make it look like he had been lynched, they tossed his body into the Russian River.” Also figuring in these pages are Wells Fargo lawmen like Jeff Milton, tough railroaders like Aaron Ross, and unsung bad guys like Ormus B. Nay. It’s a readable if old-fashioned exercise in criminal yarn spinning.
Though clearly for Old West buffs, this is an enjoyable excursion.