Blankets keep Wells Fargo wagon horses warm in Chicago in this undated photo.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

How horses have been the ‘pride of Wells Fargo service’

Whether delivering mail and money to customers or starring in the Stagecoach Appearance Program, Wells Fargo’s horses have always been well-fed, well-cared for, and well-loved.

November 17, 2017
Alyssa Bentz
Alyssa Bentz

Alyssa Bentz is a Wells Fargo historian.

One cold winter day in 1917, Alvina James looked out the window of her Chicago office and saw a Wells Fargo wagon on the street outside. A young man, Arthur Oehme, jumped down from the driver’s seat. James expected Oehme to take a package from the wagon for delivery, but instead he pulled out a warm blanket and gently draped it over his horse. After a few pats and quiet words, the horse and driver moved on.

Wells Fargo driver Arthur Oehme in the 1910s.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Alvina was touched by his kindness. What she had just witnessed was model behavior for handling workhorses, and she felt compelled to write Wells Fargo about it. When the team at Wells Fargo’s Chicago office received a letter from James admiring the company’s care of horses, they sent a letter of their own to Oehme, thanking him for his kind acts and for representing Wells Fargo’s name and values so well.

Demanding better treatment for workhorses

Wells Fargo has always believed in the importance of taking good care of its horses — even in the 1860s. While other stagecoach horses at the time were often overworked and underweight, Wells Fargo kept its horses healthy and well-fed. One passenger described them as a “standing wonder … as a rule, they were fat, fiery, and would have done credit to a horseman anywhere.”

This photo appeared in a 1915 edition of Wells Fargo Messenger with the caption, “Our equine employees, tried and true.”
This photo appeared in a 1915 edition of Wells Fargo Messenger with the caption, “Our equine employees, tried and true.”
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Black Beauty, written by Anna Sewell in 1877, influenced many Americans to demand better treatment for the workhorses of every color and breed who made daily life possible in the 1800s. Newspapers praised drivers and companies that treated their horses well, and those with abused or sickly horses were shamed. Local groups organized workhorse parades for companies to show off their healthy wagon teams, and winning horses got ribbons and trophies that were displayed in offices.

Pictures from Wells Fargo’s stables in Chicago, which could hold almost 400 horses.
Pictures from Wells Fargo’s stables in Chicago, which could hold almost 400 horses.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Starting in the 1880s, Wells Fargo formalized the high standards it already had for caring for its horses. New policies ensured that as the company grew, horses in thousands of towns experienced the same good treatment. Drivers needed to inspect the horses for signs of injury and replace worn equipment every day. Horses received water and sponge baths in hot weather and blankets to keep warm in the cold. Stable foremen ordered hay and oats, but they also bought molasses, carrots, and alfalfa to add nutritional value and treats.

A driver sponges down his horse on a hot day in 1915.
A driver sponges down his horse on a hot day in 1915.
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Horses in busy cities rotated every couple of months between work and rest on nearby pastures. These pastures became retirement communities for some equine employees as they became too old to work. Wells Fargo even held classes to teach employees the best practices for properly caring for the company’s horses. A July 1913 edition of Wells Fargo Messenger summarized its philosophy by declaring, “Our horses, wagons, and harness are the pride of Wells Fargo service ― our best advertisement.”

A 1914 edition of Mason County Democrat included this comment: “We noticed that each horse in his (Driver Max Meyer’s) charge wore a waterproof raincoat while many other horses were shivering in the rain.
A 1914 edition of the Mason County Democrat commented: “We noticed that each horse in his (Driver Max Meyer’s) charge wore a waterproof raincoat while many other horses were shivering in the rain. This speaks well for the company as wells as for the care and thoughtfulness of Driver Meyer.”
Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Customers noticed, and Wells Fargo gained a reputation as a humane company that cared for its horses. In 1918, one newspaper expressed a common view when it reported, “Horses have always been an interesting feature of the Wells Fargo equipment. They are so well cared for and kindly treated, and seem so entirely equal to their work.”

The company continues to ensure the safety and well-being of its horses through a dedicated team of stagecoach drivers who care for and travel with them through the Stagecoach Appearance Program, and each year it honors horses from the past through its plush pony program.

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