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"For Intrepid Action"

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

"For Intrepid Action"

"A damn big bullion watch and chain !" That's what stagecoach driver Jim W. Miller gruffly replied when offered a reward for saving a $30,000 payroll shipment from an attempted holdup on the desolate trail between Ely and White Plain, Nevada. The time was 1862.

Wells Fargo officials in San Francisco took Jim at his word and presented him with a four-pound silver bar and an American Watch Company watch, one of the better makes available on the Pacific Coast shortly after the gold rush. Jim ordered every ounce of the bullion designed into a case, chain and fob for the watch. The finished product-a skillful though gargantuan creation by a San Francisco jeweIer - weighed four pounds plus the weight of the workings! It was an inch thick and four inches across.

And today this same reward watch, loaned to the Wells Fargo Bank and Union Trust Company history room by Charles L. Sedgley of Cloverdale, California, is one of the standout museum pieces in San Francisco. In 1939 the story of Jim Miller's calm courage in saving the payroll was enacted on the popular radio program, "Death Valley Days." Naturally, the incident of the creation of this unusual watch was a fitting and colorful climax to the performance.


But Jim Miller's feat is not the only one assured a niche in posterity. There were many other Wells Fargo men - "Knights of the Whip" - who, like him, were "tough hombres" and saved their employer much money, the reward in most cases being the best make of watch that money could buy. Today several of these relics are being loaned to Wells Fargo in San Francisco for exhibition and what has proven an effective means of recapturing the spirit of the Old West.

Take for example the gold cased "Riverside" model made by the A. M. Watch Company of Waltham, Massachusetts, which was awarded to Bank Messenger George D. Roberts in 1892 for "cool and courageous conduct." George had been selected as a courier-guard to deliver a large shipment of money from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and all went well until his Southern Pacific passenger train arrived at Collis, near Fresno. As the train stopped for water, the robbers, Chris Evans and George and John Sontag, hopped aboard the express car. Roberts, in the manner typical of men of his breed, put up a stiff battle and was disabled only after the bandits discharged a dynamite bomb in the car. Unfortunately, the robbers made a getaway, but were later brought to justice.

Two matched watches, one made by Shrever Company of San Francisco, and the other presumably the same make although only its ornate gold case remains, were also given by Wells Fargo to a Southern Pacific engineer, Dan B. Bunnell and a bank messenger, T. - G. Hutchinson, 'for intrepid action and devotion to duty' during an attempted holdup by the infamous Dalton gang in 1889.

Another such tribute 'as a token of esteem' went to Alexander Majors of the old San Francisco firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell, who pioneered the world famous Pony Express in 1867. Majors was ceremoniously given the watch, a B. D. Johnson of London, set in a skillfully tooled gold case, by the citizens of Nebraska City, California, for his enterprise in this colorful communications system. This timepiece is the property of Dr. Ergo A. Majors, the grandson of the original owner.

A sixth watch on exhibit in the bank's history room is a "California Bear" timepiece, made by Rockford Watch Company of Rockford, Illinois, a type purchased frequently as a reward watch for outstanding feats by the banking and express company's riders, messengers, stage drivers and guards. Its unusual feature is the face of a grizzly bear engraved on the back of the case. This particular watch was purchased in 1877 by Wells Fargo to be awarded to one of the employees - whose name and deed are apparently lost forever. It belongs to Harry Likes of San Francisco.

And like this work of the watchmaker's art, a great many other reward watches were presented to Wells Fargo's dashing men-now unknown soldiers of the trails and rails -in tribute to their loyalty, bravery and enterprise.

But though the names of these pioneers and their historic actions be lost for all time, the horologer can take full pride in knowing that the coveted symbol of honor in the early West was a timepiece.

Even then the fine watch was a mark of distinction for distinctive men. 


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