The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1982, Volume 28, Number 4
Thomas Scharf, Managing Editor

By Elizabeth C. MacPhail

Images from the article

Wells Fargo—the name immediately brings to mind a stagecoach with horses galloping over bumpy roads transporting passengers and treasure from one town to another, undaunted by weather and threat of holdup. It was the stagecoach that provided the first rapid transit in the American West.

The founders of Wells, Fargo & Company were two prosperous eastern expressmen, Henry Wells and William G. Fargo, who were convinced that the discovery of gold in California in 1848 had opened up a whole new need for transportation in an area where there were no railroads. They proposed to compete with the few express companies then in business, of which Adams & Company was the most active. On March 18, 1852, at the Astor House in New York City, Wells and Fargo formed the company to be known as Wells, Fargo & Company.1 Within the year an office was opened in San Francisco on Montgomery Street, followed by offices in Sacramento, Benicia, Monterey and San Diego.2 Soon agencies were opened throughout the Mother Lode country until a Wells Fargo office was always near at hand.3

Wells Fargo advertised that it was in the banking and general forwarding business. It would buy and sell gold dust, gold and silver coin, and bullion. Its banking business would include deposits, collections and remittances, and it would accept packages, mail and freight for delivery between San Francisco and New York, and the principal cities and towns in California. The company promised to provide an iron chest for the safety of valuables and deliveries of valuables would be accompanied by an armed messenger.4

Wells Fargo did not at first operate stagecoaches, instead it used those lines already in business. The first stagecoaches in California appeared in 1849 and ran between San Francisco and Sacramento, and San Francisco and San Jose.5 In 1852 Phineas Banning began a line between Los Angeles and San Diego, using mules, wagons and stagecoaches.6 A Wells Fargo messenger frequently sat beside the driver with a treasure chest under his seat and his trusty shotgun much in evidence. He became known as the “shotgun messenger.”

Deliveries of express and mail to New York were accompanied by a shotgun messenger and went by steamer from San Francisco, with crossings at Panama or Nicaragua. Gold was sent to the Philadelphia mint until a United States Mint was opened in San Francisco in April, 1854.7 Shipments going around the Horn took three to six months, but those going by way of Panama took only thirty-four days.8

The years 1852 and 1853 saw a growth in express companies in California. In 1854 James E. Birch consolidated many of the smaller ones into the California Stage Company, leaving Adams & Company and Wells Fargo as the other large operators.9

One of the most important services offered by the express companies was the delivery of mail. The first government postal agent arrived in California in 1848 with instructions to open post offices in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Pedro and San Diego; by 1851 there were sixty post offices in California.10 However, the public preferred the service provided by the express companies because they charged less and served towns where there were no post offices.11 Wells Fargo erected bright green mail boxes at its stations, and these competed with the bright red ones set out by the Post Office in larger towns.12 There was great rivalry between the Post Office and the express companies during the decade of the 1850s, and this resulted in profit to the express companies. Letter mail was important to Wells Fargo which became known for getting mail through faster than the Post Office, and this helped to build faith in the company.”13

In San Diego all mail service was irregular, most of it going by way of the occasional ship that stopped there. In 1854 the San Diego Herald reported there were no regular mail steamers stopping in San Diego, so mail and all news from the east was coming through Adams & Company, Wells Fargo, and the pursers of the few vessels that did stop.14

By 1855 mining activity was declining in California with only the larger companies remaining. In the east a business depression developed causing a bank panic throughout the country. The nineteen banks in San Francisco struggled to stay open, and Adams & Company failed, leaving Wells Fargo as the dominant express and banking company in the west.15 Wells Fargo was the only company making large shipments of gold,16 and continued to serve miners by delivering mail and supplies. Gold was transported to the assay office in San Francisco, and when the government had determined its value, that amount, less express charges, was credited to the miner’s account at the Wells Fargo branch nearest to the claim.

The first Wells Fargo agent of record in San Diego was Eugene B. Pendleton, a merchant in Old Town,17 whose home is today one of the historical attractions in Old Town. An important event for San Diego in 1857 was the establishment of the San Antonio & San Diego Mail Line, known as the Jackass Mail because of the use of mules that could stand the rugged trip better than horses. The route was from San Antonio to El Paso, Yuma, and San Diego. From San Diego, mail, parcels and passengers continued by steamer or stagecoach to Los Angeles. On August 12, 1857, the San Diego Herald reported “the pioneer mail train from San Diego to San Antonio, Texas . . . left here on the 9th inst. and is now pushing its way for the east at a rapid rate.”18 The first mail from San Antonio arrived in San Diego on August 31, taking thirty-four days.19 The operator of the San Antonio to San Diego line was James E. Birch, who in 1854 had consolidated stage lines in northern California into the California Stage Company that ran as far south as Los Angeles. The San Antonio & San Diego line was used by Wells Fargo and ran intermittently until 1861 when it was discontinued.20

The Great Overland Mail Company of John Butterfield, operating under a government contract to carry mail from St. Louis to San Francisco, began its service on September 15, 1858. It used Concord stages which carried nine passengers. William G. Fargo was a Director of this new company, of which Butterfield was President. This line did not stop in the town of San Diego. From Yuma it crossed the Colorado Desert through Vallecito and Warner Springs in San Diego County, to San Bernardino and Los Angeles, and made the trip from St. Louis to San Francisco in twenty-five days.21

By the late 1850s Wells Fargo was the most important express and mail carrier in California.22 In 1857 the San Diego Herald noted that Wells Fargo was doing most of the express business in town and was highly regarded by the public, but warned it should not commit the error of making charges too high.23 Transportation of gold was the chief concern of Wells Fargo, and in 1858 it handled over $58 million in gold bullion in California, giving it the nickname of the “Fat Cat” of Montgomery Street. Then in 1859 the Comstock Lode was discovered in Nevada, and Virginia City became the new boom town.24

In Southern California, agriculture became increasingly important, especially grain and fruit growing. Dairying was prospering and the cattle growers were proliferating so much that the southern counties became known as “cow” counties.25

Wells Fargo, with 147 offices in California, had a monopoly on the express business.26 There were only a few towns without a Wells Fargo office, identified by its green shutters—a trade mark—and its green mailbox. By the early 1860s Wells Fargo had begun to buy out stage lines throughout the west until it became the greatest stage empire in the country.27 Many of its coaches were Concords, manufactured in Concord, New Hampshire.28 Each Concord carried fifteen passengers, nine inside and six outside, including the driver and a Wells Fargo messenger, and was drawn by six horses.29 Stagecoach passengers were admonished to observe the following rules posted in each coach:

Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.

If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.

Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.

Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.

Don’t snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger’s shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.

Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.

In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.

Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.

Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It’s a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.30

Wells Fargo bought out the Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company, its largest competitor, in 1866, and with this purchase it controlled virtually all stage lines from Mississippi to California.31 Competition was now coming from another source—the railroad. In 1862 President Lincoln had signed the Pacific Railroad Bill which started in motion a railroad line from Missouri to Sacramento as a joint venture of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific.12 The completion of this line with the hammering in of the golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, sounded the death knell of the transcontinental staging empire and Wells Fargo was faced with financial ruin unless it could secure a contract to carry mail and express on the railroad.33 But Lloyd Tevis, another expressman, had already prevailed on the Big Four, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington, to grant his Pacific Union Express Company exclusive express privileges on the Central Pacific.34 War was declared between Wells Fargo and the railroad, with the result that Tevis with his Big Four backers gained control of a majority interest in Wells Fargo, and then Wells Fargo was given the desired express rights on the trains.35 Tevis was named President of Wells Fargo in 1872 at a time when there were 463 Wells Fargo offices on the west coast.36 Stage business continued to thrive in California in the areas not served by the railroad.

There had been no let up in stage robberies and now the trains were subject to holdup. The first big train robbery occurred in 1870 when the Central Pacific out of Oakland was held up near Truckee and seven masked men got away with $42,000 in gold and gold coin.37 Wells Fargo hired James B. Hume as Chief Detective to try to stop holdups and he remained with the company for thirty-two years, becoming one of the most famous detectives in the country.38 He promptly assigned an armed guard to ride in every express car carrying mail and Wells Fargo valuables. During Hume’s tenure as Chief Detective it was said “There are two institutions dangerous for bad men to tinker with— the United States Government and Wells Fargo.”39

The most famous of the stage robbers was Black Bart who began his lucrative career of robbing Wells Fargo stages in 1875. He operated alone, armed with a double barrel shotgun, dressed in a long linen duster with a flour sack over his head. He robbed twenty-eight stages before Hume and his men caught up with him eight years later, when during a holdup attempt he carelessly dropped a handkerchief with a laundry mark, which was traced to him in San Francisco where he was a respected citizen. He was sentenced to San Quentin, released after a few years, and then dropped from sight.40

Meanwhile, changes were taking place in San Diego. E. B. Pendleton, after a long tenure as Wells Fargo agent, was succeeded in 1865 by his partner, Frank Ames, and then in rapid succession by E. W. Morse, J. S. Mannasse and José Estudillo. In 1870 gold was discovered in Julian, setting off a minor gold rush, and so Wells Fargo experienced a growth in business in the transporting of gold from San Diego to the mint in San Francisco. A four-horse stage line was established between San Diego and Julian by William Tweed, and Wells Fargo opened an office in Julian with Chester Gunn as agent. Gunn was also the Postmaster. Later, George Dannals, one of the first preachers in Julian, took over as agent and it was said of him: “George would guard the express treasures during the week and on Sunday would preach to those who chose to listen.”41 By then New San Diego, founded in 1867 by Alonzo E. Horton on the bay three miles south of Old Town, was growing by leaps and bounds. With the action now centered in New Town, Wells Fargo in 1870 opened an office in the new two story brick building at the northwest corner of Sixth and G, recently completed by Horton whose real estate office was in the same building. San Diegans were proud of this new building and the San Diego Union bragged, “It is the most substantial building in the city and would be a credit to San Francisco.”42

With the opening of the office in New San Diego, Wells Fargo closed its agency in Old Town, much to the displeasure of Old Towners who praised agent José Estudillo and complained that it would be inconvenient to go to New Town.43 The new agent in San Diego was Frank S. Lawrence. By then there was a tri-weekly stage service between Los Angeles and San Diego, transporting mail, express and passengers, and another operating between San Diego and Yuma, both operated by A. L. Seeley.44 It was customary for the public to call at the Wells Fargo express office for mail, where the names of persons for whom mail was being held were posted. It was said mail and express were delivered “By God and by Wells Fargo.”45 In March, 1872, the Union advised its readers there were sixty-one letters being held by Wells Fargo, and reminded them to check for mail.46

In April 1873 John J. Valentine, General Superintendent of Wells Fargo, paid a visit to San Diego to look over its local office and determine its future prospects. He was accompanied by James Gamble, Superintendent of Western Union. Together they were making a tour of Southern California in the interests of both companies.47

A month earlier there had occurred the “Case of the Lost Treasure Box,” the outcome of which delighted San Diegans. A stage from Julian to San Diego was carrying a Wells Fargo strongbox containing $10,000 in gold amalgam from the Golden Chariot Mine. The stage carried only the driver and another employee of the stage company who was sitting next to the driver. The box had first been placed under the driver’s seat but after a short distance it was placed in the back of the coach. When the stage reached San Diego the driver discovered the box was missing. Instead of notifying Wells Fargo, he hired a horse and sulky and started to retrace his route. After several inquiries, he was told a Mr. Davies had found the box and taken it to his home near the old Mission. He hurried to Davies’ home where the box was found intact. However, Davies did not know the driver and refused to turn it over to him. Instead, he hitched up his team, drove to town and delivered the box to Wells Fargo’s agent, Lawrence, who received it gratefully and told Davies of its great value.46 Davies presented a bill to Wells Fargo for $10 to cover his time and use of his team in bringing in the box. A few weeks later when he went to town to collect his $10 he was greeted by agent Lawrence who presented him with the $10 and handed him a small package containing a magnificent pocketwatch and chain, and a letter from General Superintendent Valentine commending him for his service. Inscribed on the case were the words: “Presented by Wells Fargo & Company to Thomas W. Davies as recognition of his integrity in protecting and restoring the treasure box with valuable contents lost from the Julian City Stage near San Diego Oct. 1st 1873.” The watch and chain were believed to have a value of at least $600. Davies was both surprised and delighted. The Union assured its readers, “His gratification at this wholly unexpected recognition of what to him was a simple act of duty is shared by the entire community.”49

A few months later the Julian stage was stopped by two highwaymen who demanded the Wells Fargo treasure box. When the driver refused, one of the robbers covered him with a shotgun while the other took down the box. They opened the box and took the money, amounting to $1,000, but nothing else.50 Wells Fargo offered a reward of $750 for the arrest of the robbers but there is no record of their being apprehended.51 Two years later when the stage from Anaheim was stopped by highwaymen near San Juan Capistrano and the Wells Fargo box had to be handed over on demand, the Union asked the question, “Would it not be a good idea to provide these stages with a dummy box to be handed to highwaymen on occasions of this kind?” This particular heist netted the robbers little cash.52

In early 1875 San Diego was honored by several visits from Henry Wells, one of the founders of Wells Fargo, who was interested in establishing a new stage line between San Diego and the East. On March 11 Wells presided at a meeting in the Horton House at which there were present, besides some leading San Diegans, “several eastern gentlemen of capital temporarily so-journing in the city.” The purpose of the meeting was to form a company to carry on express business between San Diego, Tucson and New Mexico. It was reported that $200,000 had been subscribed toward the venture, but it apparently never got off the ground as nothing more was heard about the scheme.53 The year 1876 brought a major change in the operation of Wells Fargo in that its express and banking departments in San Francisco were moved to separate locations as the nature and volume of each part of the company’s business had increased considerably.

The mid-seventies were years of depression in the country. In San Francisco there were numerous bank closures, but Wells Fargo survived the dark days.54 During this period the Southern Pacific Railroad completed its line from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but San Diego was left in the doldrums. The Texas & Pacific Railroad had made glowing promises to build a railroad from Marshall, Texas, to San Diego, and this caused a mild boom in San Diego, but when it met with financial disaster and cancelled its plans, there was a mad scramble by the speculators to get out of town. Only those residents willing to live on climate and great expectations remained in town. Rapid changes were made in the Wells Fargo office in San Diego. Agent Lawrence died and was replaced by B. F. Seibert,55 who in turn was soon succeeded by S. M. Hilton, an old-time employee.56 Then in 1878 Wells Fargo combined its office with Western Union, moving to the telegraph office at the southeast corner of Fifth and Broadway. The express agency was transferred to J. W. Thompson, manager of Western Union, who would remain with Wells Fargo for many years.57 By the next year Wells Fargo was back at Sixth and G in its old office, but in the company of Western Union. This buildíng also housed the agency for Seeley’s Santa Ana and Julian stages.58 In April of 1881 Wells Fargo announced a reduction in express rates effective in all 700 offices, and the Union reported that Wells Fargo was cheaper and more reliable about delivering mail than the United States Post Office.59

It was not until 1882 that San Diego finally realized its dream of a railroad. In August the first trains of the California Southern Railroad began running between National City and Colton, and Wells Fargo promptly made arrangements to use this train service for its express business. The first Wells Fargo express messenger arrived from the north on the train on August 19.60 For the convenience of the Post Office and Wells Fargo, California Southern constructed two railway postal cars which went into use in January, 1883.61 Wells Fargo then opened express offices in National City and Fallbrook.62 The new train service enabled San Diego produce growers to ship their products quickly to Los Angeles, and fishermen sent their freshly caught fish to northern cities in care of a Wells Fargo messenger.63 Wells Fargo was among the first to use the new refrigerator cars when they went into use in the late 1880s, and this proved a great boon to San Diego growers and fishermen.64 

The route of the California Southern was poorly planned as it went through low-lying areas subject to flooding. Disaster struck in February 1884. After six days of rain, San Diego was completely shut off from the outside world, trains could not get through and the telegraph lines were down, so there was no mail or telegraph communication. San Diegans who had important correspondence were advised to use Wells Fargo because mail entrusted to it would be forwarded by steamers.65 San Diego was cut off from the north for weeks, during which time Wells Fargo was well patronized for mail delivery. In fact it was said, “San Diego businessmen would have fared badly this winter without Wells Fargo.”66

By 1885 the California real estate boom was beginning to be felt in San Diego. Business and new buildings were moving north toward D Street (Broadway). In March, Wells Fargo and Western Union moved to the impressive Horton Bank Block at Third and D. J. W. Thompson was still Manager and Agent for both firms and also handled bookings for the Julian and Temecula stage lines. An advantage of this new location was that the two companies now had the use of a large and secure bank vault built at great expense by Alonzo Horton who had expected the building to be occupied by a bank.67 Wells Fargo in San Francisco sent the new office a handsome window curtain, seven by ten feet in size, which read: “Wells Fargo & Co’s Express” and impressed the passers-by.68 Furthermore, the Wells Fargo delivery wagon blossomed out in a new coat of paint, and Ben Stevens, the driver, with his fine horse, “made an attractive turnout.”69

The California Southern, after re-routing its roadbeds to higher ground and affiliating with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe finally was able to offer San Diego a direct service to the east by making a connection at Barstow. When the first train left San Diego for the east on November 15, 1885, a Wells Fargo messenger, with the valuables entrusted to him, was aboard.70

During the height of the boom in 1886 Wells Fargo’s business in San Diego was booming, too. Express goods had grown so heavy that it was necessary to attach two horses to its wagon,71 and later to acquire a second delivery wagon.72 Then more office space was needed so in September, 1887, it moved to the ground floor of the I.O.O.F. Building, corner Sixth and H (Market).73 Even that was not adequate for its needs, so the next year it moved to spacious quarters in the Gunn Building, southeast corner Sixth & F, where it remained for so many years the building became known as the “Express Building.”74 At the time of this move, the local office was visited by William Pridham, General Superintendent of Wells Fargo in Southern California, who was sojourning at the newly opened Hotel del Coronado. He was enthusiastic about the prospects of Wells Fargo in San Diego and said: “We expect that San Diego will become the second city of importance in California and we will prepare in the near future a banking department in connection with the express office here like we have done in Los Angeles and San Francisco.”75 Unfortunately, the boom was about to collapse at the time these words were spoken, and a Wells Fargo bank in San Diego would not materialize until another eighty years had passed.

The Boom of the Eighties was sparked by the coming of the railroads from the east to Southern California. When the boom collapsed at the end of that decade, it was due to a general business depression throughout the country, culminating in what was called the “panic of 1893.” Of the eight banks in San Diego in 1889, five went out of business in the early nineties, leaving only the First National Bank, the Bank of Commerce and the San Diego Savings Bank.76 The panic of 1893 had not affected Wells Fargo’s banking business at all.77

In San Diego, Wells Fargo had a new agent, J. M. Dooly, who served from 1889 to 1895 and was succeeded by J. R. Beardsley. It was not until 1895 that Wells Fargo stopped delivering mail, finally leaving that service to the United States Postal System.

At the turn of the century Wells Fargo’s Directory listed 3,103 offices in nearly every state and Mexico. Mileage covered included 28,762 by rail, 1735 by stages, 777 by inland steamers and 5,761 by ocean steamers, for a total mileage of 37,035, with connections to Australia, China, South America and Europe.78

By 1902 Wells Fargo had been in business fifty years. On March 18 it celebrated its semi-centennial at its respective offices by presenting to every employee who had served the company more than one year a silver commemorative medal. In San Diego three medals were presented, to J. R. Beardsley, its agent, and to J. E. Rice, cashier, and A. F. Reed, Clerk. These medals were highly prized by the recipients.79

The next year Wells Fargo established its first pension system for employees who had been with the company for twenty-five years. Upon reaching the age of seventy, employees were obliged to retire unless they could show that they could efficiently discharge their duties.80

For several years there had been proposals of separating the express and banking departments, and then E. H. .Harriman, the railroad tycoon, became a Director of Wells Fargo and he immediately proposed the sale of the banking business. His efforts were successful, and the banking department merged with the Nevada National Bank in 1905. The Nevada National Bank, founded in 1875, was known as the “Great Bonanza Bank” because its founders had been the Big Four of Comstock fame, James Flood, William O’Brien, John Mackay and James G. Fair. The Wells Fargo-Nevada National Bank opened for business on April 22, 1905, with I. W. Hellman, who had been managing the Nevada bank, as President, and E. H. Harriman, as Director.81

On April 18, 1906, San Francisco suffered its devastating earthquake and fire. The Wells Fargo-Nevada Bank building was totally destroyed but its fireproof vault came through the fire intact and the bank never officially closed its doors. Almost immediately it opened in a private home without loss to depositors.82

Wells Fargo Express Company was also able to render valuable service during the crisis. Its nearly 300 horses and wagons were used without charge to aid the refugees in removing goods and valuables, as well as people, from the path of the flames. The company put up a circus tent for its headquarters near Golden Gate Park. When the holocaust was over all of its horses and wagons were returned to it.83

Both the bank and express company continued to grow. The last horse drawn stage carrying Wells Fargo treasure was over the 42 miles between Tonopah and Manhattan, Nevada, in 1909.84

During World War I Wells Fargo was the largest carrier of perishables using refrigerator cars.85 During the war there was government pressure on American Express, Adams Company, and Wells Fargo, the three largest express companies in the United States, to merge “in the interests of winning the war,” and so on June 30, 1918, a merger took place. The new company became known as American Railway Express.86

Wells Fargo’s express office in San Diego had remained in the Express Building at Sixth and F until 1915 when it moved to the southwest corner of Eighth and Broadway. Its last agent in San Diego, C. A. Townsend, continued on with the American Railway Express in the same Eighth and Broadway location. Most of the Wells Fargo employees remained as employees of the new company but were sad to see the name of Wells Fargo disappear from San Diego.87

Wells Fargo-Nevada National Bank continued to grow in the north. At the end of 1923 it merged with Union Trust Company and became Wells Fargo Bank & Union Trust Company. Then in 1954 the name Union Trust Company was dropped and it became Wells Fargo Bank.88

In 1935 San Diego proudly presented to the world the California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. Although this was in the middle of the great depression, the Fair proved very successful. One of the exhibitors was Wells Fargo, and its exhibit was popular with the visitors. In fact, it contributed to the decision by Wells Fargo Bank management in San Francisco to open a History Room in its main office for the enjoyment of the public. That History Room has become one of the outstanding sources of information on the history of the west and the part Wells Fargo played in its development.89

Wells Fargo Bank re-entered the Southern California market in 1967 with an office in Los Angeles.90 Early in 1969 it received authority to open branch offices in downtown San Diego and La Jolla; after an absence of more than fifty years Wells Fargo was returning to San Diego.91 The bank planned a gala celebration on August 22 for the grand opening of the two offices. By that time Wells Fargo Bank had 251 offices in California, of which fourteen were in Southern California, so the La Jolla and downtown offices became the fifteenth and sixteenth in Southern California. At 9:30 a.m. on the twenty-second there was a ribbon cutting ceremony at the La Jolla office, 1020 Prospect Street. At 10:45 a.m. a procession of stagecoaches and carriages rolled up Broadway announcing the return of the renowned company to San Diego. A ribbon cutting ceremony was then held at the new downtown office at Fifth and Broadway, in the old First National Bank Building. Present for the opening ceremonies were the top officers of the bank, Ernest C. Arbuckle, Chairman; Richard P. Cooley, President and Chief Executive Officer; and John R. Breeden, Vice President in charge of the Southern California operations. Maurice E. Berchdorf was to be the Manager of the downtown office, and Donald N. McLendon of the La Jolla office.92 At a luncheon at the U. S. Grant Hotel for San Diego business leaders, Cooley related the history of the company and expressed his enthusiasm for the Southern California area by saying: “It is the best market in the world.”93 He also told the story of the watch presented to Thomas Davies who found the Wells Fargo treasure box lost in 1873 on the road from Julian to San Diego. He held the watch in his hand and explained it had recently been acquired from Darrell Daly, great-grandson of Davies, and then he presented it to Berchdorf who said it would be on permanent display in the San Diego bank.94

In the next ten years Wells Fargo offices in Southern California grew from sixteen to 116, proving Richard Cooley’s enthusiasm had not been misplaced. In September of 1980 Wells Fargo announced a new twenty-story office tower would be built on the block bounded by Broadway, E, First and Front, to be a part of the redevelopment of San Diego’s CentreCity.95

In 1982, Wells Fargo Bank, the primary subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company, a bankholding company with 417 offices in the United States and abroad and 396 in California, is the eleventh largest in the country and third in the state. It has been continuously in the banking business longer than any other bank in California, and has survived all the ups and downs of economic fluctuations, bank panics and depressions, during the past 130 years.

The eye-catching new Wells Fargo Bank Building at Front and Broadway, an elongated eight-sided building set at an angle from the street, with its solar gray reflective glass exterior giving it a looking glass appearance, should prove to be a centerpiece for San Diego’s new downtown. With fourteen offices in San Diego County, Wells Fargo Bank is proving its faith in San Diego as expressed by William Pridham, General Superintendent, in 1888, when he said, “We expect that San Diego will become the second city of importance in California.” Wells Fargo, a legendary name which first served San Diego in 1852, is today, 130 years later, an important factor in the continuing growth of California’s first city.



1. Edward Hungerford, Wells Fargo, Advancing the American Frontier (New York: Random House, 1949), p. 5.

2. Ibid., p. 7.

3. Ibid., p. 11.

4. Noel M. Loomis, Wells Fargo (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1968), p. 17.

5. Oscar Osburn Winther, Express and Stagecoach Days in California (Stanford University: Stanford University Press, 1936), p. 81.

6. Ibid., p. 95.

7. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 54.

8. Winther, Express & Stagecoach Days, p. 69.

9. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 54.

10. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 36.

11. Ibid., p. 39.

12. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 41.

13. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 86.

14. San Diego Herald, April 8, 1854, 2:3.

15. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 82.

16. Winther, Express & Stagecoach Days, p. 141.

17. Richard Pourade, The Silver Dons (San Diego: Union-Tribune Publishing Co., 1963), p. 220.

18. Winther, Express & Stagecoach Days, p. 163.

19. Pourade, Silver Dons, p. 220.

20. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 123.

21. Ibid., p. 128.

22. Ibid., p. 140.

23. San Diego Herald, April 18, 1857, 2:2.

24. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 63.

25. Winther, Express & Stagecoach Days, p. 140.

26. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 62.

27. Ibid., p. 47.

28. Ibid., p. 50.

29. Ibid., p. 52.

30. San Diego Union, Sept. 28, 1969.

31. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 92.

32. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 160.

33. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 114.

34. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 199.

35. Ibid., p. 212.

36. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 116.

37. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 214.

38. Ibid., p. 222; also see Richard Dillon, Wells Fargo Detectíve: A Biography of James B. Hume (New York: Coward-McCann, 1969).

39. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 157.

40. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 231.

41. James A. Jasper, “Trail Breakers & History Makers of Julian,” Vol. I, p. 18, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

42. San Diego Union, February 17, 1870, 3:1.

43. Ibid., Editorial, June 30, 1870, 2:2.

44. W. Turrentine Jackson, “Stages, Mails & Express in Southern California. The Role of Wells Fargo and Company in the Pre-railroad period.” Southern California Quarterly, Fall, 1974, p. 233.

45. Felix Riesenberg, Jr., The Golden Road (New York: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1962).

46. San Diego Union, February 3, 1872, 3:4.

47. Ibid., April 13, 1873, 3:3.

48. Ibid., March 10, 1873, 3:2.

49. Ibid., October 21, 1873, 3:3.

50. Ibid., February 24, 1875, 3:1.

51. Ibid., February 25, 1875, 3:1.

52. Ibid., May 22, 1877, 1:5.

53. Ibid., March 12, 1875, 3:2.

54. Loomis, Welts Fargo, p. 243.

55. San Diego Union, April 18, 1875, 3:6.

56. Ibid., August 8, 1876, 3:2.

57. Ibid., September 18, 1878, 1:5.

58. Memoirs of john Waldo Thompson, 1842-1932, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

59. San Diego Union, April 16, 1881, 4:3.

60. Ibid., August 18, 1882, 3:1 & August 20, 1882, 3:3.

61. Ibid., January 6, 1883, 3:1.

62. Ibid., October 7, 1883, 3:1.

63. Ibid., October 17, 1882, 3:1.

64. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 260.

65. San Diego Union, Feburary 19, 1884, 3:1.

66. Ibid., March 29, 1884, 3:1.

67. Ibid., March 27, 1885, 3:1,2.

68. Ibíd., October 23, 1885, 3:2.

69. Ibid., May 12, 1885, 3:1.

70. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 256.

71. San Diego Union, October 24, 1886, 3:1.

72. Ibid., September 9, 1887, 3:1.

73. Ibid., March 4, 1887, 5:1.

74. Ibid., October 26, 1888, 1:2.

75. Ibid., October 8, 1888, 5:2.

76. Elizabeth C. MacPhail, The Story of New San Diego and Its founder, Alonzo E. Horton (San Diego: San Diego History Center, 1979), p. 115.

77. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 199.

78. San Diego Union, May 16, 1897, 5:3.

79. Ibíd., March 21, 1902, 5:3.

80. Ibid., April 26, 1903, 9:3.

81. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 197.

82. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 306.

83. Ibid., p. 307.

84. Ibid., p. 309.

85. Ibid., p. 314.

86. Hungerford, Wells Fargo, p. 234.

87. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 318.

88. Ibid., p. 320.

89. San Diego Union, ]anuary 31, 1960, 21:1-6; 22:1-3.

90. Ibid., February 15, 1969, C 10:3-4.

91. Ibid., May 29, 1969, C 6:3-4.

92. Ibid., August 10, 1969, H 11:1-2.

93. Ibid., August 22, 1969, C 8:1-2.

94. Ibid., August 23, 1969, B 1:7-8.

95. Ibid., September 21, 1980, F 29:1-2

THE PHOTOGRAPH  facing page 213 (bottom) is courtesy of the San Diego Public Library. Those on pages 218, 219, and 227 are from the Wells Fargo Bank, History Department, San Francisco. The photo on page 228 is by Mary MacPhail. All others are from the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.