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Book Review: Shotguns and Stagecoaches

By HistoryNet Staff
9/27/2018 • Wild West Magazine

Shotguns and Stagecoaches: The Brave Men Who Rode for Wells Fargo in the Wild West,
by John Boessenecker, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2018, $29.99

Award-winning author and Wild West contributor John Boessenecker trails the careers of 20 largely overlooked express messengers—the shotgun-wielding guards of the Wells, Fargo & Co. Express–and company detectives. Their jobs weren’t easy. Between 1870 and 1884, Boessenecker writes, some 347 robberies or attempted robberies were made on stagecoaches carrying Wells Fargo express shipments, resulting in the deaths of six guards and drivers and the wounding of 10 others. It didn’t end there. Between 1890 and 1903 the number of actual and attempted train robberies totaled 341, resulting in the deaths of 99 people. “Wells Fargo followed the money,” Boessenecker writes, “and robbers followed Wells Fargo.”

Blending the research skills of a historian and the approach of a novelist, Boessenecker chronicles guards from the California Gold Rush era (e.g., Pilsbury “Chips” Hodgkins), when Wells Fargo was formed, through the stagecoach- and train-robbing periods. Wells Fargo detectives also get their due, including pioneering agent Henry Johnson and James B. Hume, perhaps the most famous of all Wells Fargo men.

Many authors have written about Wells Fargo and stagecoach and train robbers, but Boessenecker finally sees to it that those who “rode shotgun” (a term coined by later fiction writers) finally get their due.

—Johnny D. Boggs

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