A Wells Fargo historian details how a shoe lost in 1896 inspired Wells Fargo express agents to become poets.
A Wells Fargo historian details how a shoe lost in 1896 inspired Wells Fargo express agents to become poets.
History
January 13, 2017

‘This Old Shoe’

A Wells Fargo historian details how a shoe lost in 1896 inspired Wells Fargo express agents to become poets.

Since 1852, Wells Fargo has been a company of personal service. There are many historical examples, but here’s one with poetic proof.

In 1896, Wells Fargo & Co.’s express office in Vacaville, California was one of nearly 3,000 offices where customers could send money and goods by the fastest means available — stagecoach, steamship, railroad, or telegraph.

One day, a young woman lost a shoe in the office, and the agent there assumed she was heading north, so they sent it forward along the railroad line in an effort to have it reunite with her at her destination. Agents on the line received the shoe and waited. But the woman was nowhere to be found, neither to claim the lost shoe nor to report it missing. At each stop, agents forwarded the mislaid shoe to the next, hoping to catch up to her, and to complete the pair.

During that time, Wells Fargo express agents sent money, critical documents, and articles of importance to customers. The essence of the express service was to ship items successfully from one person to another. Letting it stop was contrary to that purpose. The lonely shoe traveled throughout California and Oregon for several years, gathering express tags from each office as it went. By the time that any likelihood of returning the shoe was gone, it had become a tradition for Wells Fargo express agents to keep the shoe on the move.

A Wells Fargo historian details how a shoe lost in 1896 inspired Wells Fargo express agents to become poets.
“This Old Shoe” is on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Los Angeles.

As the old shoe went from office to office, it brought out the poet in agents, who took to writing verses on the express tags. One from Glen Ellen, California, had a limerick:

This little shoe
Is one of two
That’s looking for a mate.
To find it, go,
But don’t be slow
Or else you’ll be too late.

An unknown agent, who understood a solitary life, penned this ode:

We hope this shoe will keep its strength
As it goes from state to state.
For truly we know how to sympathize —
We, too, are without a mate.

In Oregon, B.H. Boles displayed his prosodic aptitude:

Ah, poor little tracer, it’s far you have traced
While barefooted mistress without you has chased.
Still you must trace onward although it is late.
Perchance you may yet meet your long-missing mate
On the foot of some maiden down by the gate.

Boles closed with an invitation to the shoe’s owner to bring closure to everyone:

If in your wide travels your mate you should meet
And then gently cover your mistress’ small feet
If then to our village you kindly should stray
I promise you now we’d not send you away.

One poem referred to the shoe as “This Old Shoe.” Since then, for over a century, Wells Fargo historians continue to refer to the shoe itself, and to the story of it, as “This Old Shoe.” While the shoe’s owner vanished into history, the poetry remains.

“This Old Shoe” is on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Los Angeles.

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