“MAN IN THE SHADOWS”

— TRACKING LAWBREAKERS — 

A young gambler by the name of Fred Dodge sat behind the driver of the stagecoach that rolled into Tombstone on a sunny but nippy winter afternoon in early December 1879. His journey to Arizona Territory, however, involved much more than spending time at a card table.

Wells Fargo

Gambling provided Dodge the flexibility he needed to carry out his duties as an undercover agent for Wells Fargo & Co.

Wells Fargo authorities sent the 25-year-old to Tombstone to investigate a series of recent stagecoach holdups and also wanted him to determine whether any company employees were involved in the crimes. 

Soon after arriving, he struck up a friendship with Wyatt Earp and his brothers, although they knew nothing about the shadowy life he led.

Fast with a gun and a man of superior tracking skills, Fred Dodge spent fifty years—most of his adult life—working undercover assignments for Wells Fargo.

Frederick J. Dodge, born August 29, 1854, in Spring Valley, California, once described himself as the “first White Child to be Born in the northern part of Butte County.”

His father befriended a tribe of Indians that taught his son how to use the bow and arrow and the sling shot. The younger Dodge also learned his tracking skills from the tribe.

Before traveling to Tombstone, he worked as an operative for Wells Fargo throughout California, Nevada, and Arizona.

In the spring of 1880, Dodge managed to convince Wells Fargo to hire Wyatt Earp as a stagecoach shotgun messenger. Earp became deputy sheriff of Pima County a few months later and passed the same job on to his brother, Morgan.

Dodge served as a constable in Tombstone at one point. He also supported the Earps in their simmering feud preceding the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

He and Wyatt remained friends for the rest of their lives. 

Dodge spent much of his time traveling by rail and stagecoach for Wells Fargo and, according to one account, logged as many as 37,000 miles in one year.

Throughout this demanding lifestyle, Dodge kept meticulous notes in daily diaries about crime-fighting adventures.

He filled twenty-seven diaries, most of which he used to write, Undercover for Wells Fargo, (edited by Carolyn Lake) which detailed his sometimes dangerous days on the American frontier.

A master detective, Dodge earned an enviable reputation as a lawman who solved numerous stagecoach holdups and train robberies.

Working undercover brought him into contact with several infamous outlaws—including Curly Bill Brocius, who got into various scrapes with the Earps.

Dodge also teamed up with lawman Heck Thomas to track down lawbreakers in Kansas and Oklahoma, including train robbers Charles Bryant, J.B. Humphrey, and Ed Reeves.

His investigative skill also helped pave the way to the demise of the Bill Doolin gang, and the Dalton brothers.

Before retiring in 1917, Dodge purchased two-thousand acres of land in the Boerne, Texas, area, just outside San Antonio, and called it Dodge Ranch.

He lived there with his family until his death, December 16, 1938, at the age of 84.

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10 comments to “MAN IN THE SHADOWS”

  • Sam Nicolosi

    Another fascinating tale of the Old West. Mr. Dodge was one saavy fellow. He must have been really good at keeping a low profile.

  • Thanks, Sam. Dodge certainly was savvy and efficient and effective. Keeping a low profile for that many years was quite a feat.

  • Thank you Tom for another great story. Your story led me to search for the book by Dodge and I found it on Amazon, but reading the reviews made my heart sink into my stomach. I found the below along with 4 other reviews. From two of the reviews the writers indicated that Dodge never worked for Wells Fargo. Please read the below and let me know what you think. I value your opinion and I now question buying the book. Thank you, John

    ByEarl Chafin (historywiz@aol.com)on October 27, 1999
    Format: Hardcover
    Casey Tefertiller who brought us a brilliant book on Wyatt Earp (The Life and Legend) in 1997 wrote an introduction to this book, knowing that it was written by two different people. Dodge was never undercover for Wells Fargo. There is not a shred of evidence of that. His widow said his Tombstone notes were burned so Lake faked the first half and now Tefertiller should have used terpentine to remove varnish and reveal truth. Another hoax a la …. Another demerit for a University Press.

  • Hi John, thanks for the comment. I must admit this approach is all

    Historians often wage feuds over source material and Tefertiller is no exception. In fact, here are a couple of verbal battles being waged about Wyatt Earp, as examples
    http://www.historynet.com/boyer-vs-tefertiller-penslingers-face-off-over-wyatt-earp.htm & http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tw/08-27-98/feat.htm

    I can’t speak to the legitimacy of Tefertiller’s viewpoint. I’ve never seen anything questioning Dodge’s role with Wells Fargo. I will admit finding specifics about Dodge is difficult. But everything I’d read about him seems favorable and noted his accomplishments. So I’m at a loss to give you a clear answer. Unlike Tefertiller, I’m not a professional historian but try to nail down the facts as I can find them. I will say I’m not a big fan of Stuart Lake, but mainly for his work about Earp. But that’s another discussion. Whether reading the Dodge’s book would shed any light on reality, I don’t know. I guess that depends on how much you buy into the adventures Dodge trots out. If you reach any conclusions, John, please let me know. I’d be interested in your take on this.
    Again, thanks for adding to the discussion.

  • Thank you for your response. I appreciate your thoughts and I thank you very much for providing the links. Looking fwd. to your next to your next story.
    Take care,
    John

  • Stop by anytime, John. Thanks.

  • Crista

    While researching family history, we came upon this page about Capt. Dodge. My great-grandmother was his personal secretary while he was in charge of Wells Fargo in Kansas City. I have her personal written testimony to this effect and it was, of course, widely known in our family. Much of her job, at the time, included working with coded communication by wire. Unfortunately, she didn’t tell many stories as she refused to utter the names of hoodlums who didn’t deserve that much respect, in her estimation. My grandfather and father were avid historians, so this was particularly aggravating. The only story I remember hearing was that the gunfight at the OK Corral was a set-up. My g-grandmother lived to be in her 90s and accomplished in many other ways. I remember her well. Hopefully this helps with the previous questions about Capt. Dodge’s association with Well’s Fargo.

  • Crista, thanks so much for writing about your family history. What a fascinating story. I can understand the frustration felt by your father and grandfather. But the most fascinating part of what you wrote was your comment about hearing that the gunfight at the OK Corral was a set-up. Now, that’s worthy of a followup.

  • Crista

    Tom, I wish I had more to offer in the way of further information about the OK Corral. My g-grandmother was employed with Wells Fargo in the 1890’s, well after the gunfight, so whatever she knew was from personal discussion with Capt. Dodge. I have no idea if he ever discussed the specifics of the “set-up” with her. However, I have a couple of relatives who may have heard more, so it’ll be interesting to check.
    Originally my g-grandmother was hired out of secretarial school into the main office of the Wells Fargo Express Company in Omaha, Nebraska. Apparently they moved the entire office and everyone with it to Kansas City, Missouri. It was later that Capt. Dodge arrived from California to help clean up bandit gangs in the Central Division. My g-grandmother was selected to act as his personal secretary, which meant wiring and deciphering coded messages while he was out in the field. She claimed his motto was “The only good bandit is a dead one”.

  • Ah, the tales your g-grandmother kept to herself. A true loyalist. It probably would be interesting for you to check with a few other relatives. Maybe they have tales of their own to pass along. She obviously played a key role with Wells Fargo and must have been well thought of to be chosen to work so closely with Dodge. Thanks again for stopping by. Fascinating stuff, Crista.

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