In 1852, Henry Wells and William Fargo founded a banking and express company to deliver reliable financial and transportation services to customers on the frontier. Wells Fargo sent gold, mail, and express shipments by the fastest means possible. Wells Fargo’s story in the Lone Star State goes back to the beginning.
Wells Fargo’s banking heritage in Texas goes back to 1854, and the F. Groos & Company merchant banking firm in Eagle Pass. Texas law at the time forbade banks and unreliable paper money—gold and silver were the money of choice. The Groos brothers started out as freighters, then evolved into bankers. They gained a national charter as the Groos National Bank in 1912. This oldest Texas bank became part of Norwest Bank in 1996, and is now Wells Fargo.
In 1858 Wells Fargo helped found the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. Stagecoaches carried mail and passengers across 900 miles of Texas territory, on the three-week journey between Missouri and California. Overland stages entered Texas at Colbert’s Ferry, crossing the Red River.
Stagecoaches of the “Butterfield” rolled south to Sherman and then west to Gainesville en route to El Paso, the halfway point. They changed horses approximately every twelve miles, and stopped for meals about every 45 miles. In 1861 the Civil War forced a detour of overland stages north.
Wells Fargo returned to Texas in 1881 aboard the new railroad lines. Long distance stagecoaches were giving way to the iron horse, and Wells Fargo agents provided business solutions for Texas’ merchants, farmers, and ranchers, by connecting them with a great network of offices across Texas and around the world.
Wells Fargo offices were in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, Wichita Falls, and a thousand Texas towns where Wells Fargo did business until 1918.
Exceptional personal service marks the history of Wells Fargo, in Texas and everywhere. When floods struck Bay City in December 1913, agent C.L. Aubin rescued fifteen people by rowboat and housed them in his own home until the flood waters subsided. Gilbert Onderdonk represented Wells Fargo in Victoria County for thirty-five years. His orchards and expertise on fruit cultivation,combined with customized service and the fastest possible shipping, helped build Texas’ farming industry. Onderdonk shipped so many plants from his Mission Valley nursery that the railroad extended its tracks to his orchard, ten miles east of Victoria.
Other historic Texas banks such as State National Bank in El Paso, A. Levi & Company of Victoria, Bank of Lubbock, and the Waco National Bank, weathered the tough economic times and outlasted their rivals. These community banks and many others helped finance Texas prosperity built on oil, manufacturing and technology. Their legacy in the Lone Star State continues today.