Fred J. Dodge


Born in Butte County in California in 1854, FRED J. DODGE grew up in Sacramento, and became a detective for Wells Fargo, working for them for over fifty years, much of it undercover, in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

There’s no doubt Dodge got around. While working in Tombstone, Arizona in 1879, he recommended that Wyatt Earp  (pre-OK Corral) be hired as a guard and messenger for Wells Fargo, and the two became friends. Dodge, in fact, passed along information to the Earps regarding Ike Clanton and his boys from another undercover Wells Fargo man just days before the infamous 1881 shootout.

Dodge was also part of the team investigating the so-called Bisbee Massacre, an armed robbery of a store in Bisbee, Arizona that left four people dead (including a pregnant woman), which ended with the conviction of the six men, five of whom were hung, and one who was lynched by angry townsfolk.

Later, while still employed undercover by Wells Fargo, Dodge was elected constable of Tombstone, and solved a number of train and stage robberies. Dodge finally went to work “openly” for Wells Fargo in Texas and Oklahoma in 1890, and worked on a number of cases, including the pursuit of the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Dodge was supposedly quick with a gun, and was involved in the pursuit and capture of numerous varmints: outlaws, rustlers, thieves, killers, stage and train robbers.

In 1917, Dodge retired from Wells Fargo and settled on land he had purchased near Boerne, Texas back in 1906, and became a rancher, spending the rest of his life raising cattle and working on his memoirs.

Although his exploits may not have been as colorful  as those of his contemporary “cowboy detectives” such as Charlie Siringo, or as notorious as Tom Horn, perhaps understandable given he spent much of his career undercover. But his life was nothing to sneeze at, allegedly serving as the inspiration for such early TV westerns such as Tales of Wells Fargo and the short-lived Pony Express.


  • Of course, like the “memoirs” of many an early lawman, be it Vidocq or Pinkerton, a lot of this must be taken with several large grains of salt. There are even claims that Dodge never worked for Wells Fargo. Even his Under Cover for Wells Fargo: The Unvarnished Recollections of Fred Dodge, finally published in 1969, may contain some “varnish”.


  • Under Cover for Wells Fargo: The Unvarnished Recollections of Fred Dodge (1969) | Buy this book
    By Fred J. Dodge
    Edited by Carolyn Lake
    “Carefully edited” by Carolyn Lake, who discovered Dodge’s journals in “an old wooden box at the bottom of a closet” among the papers of her father, Wyatt Earp biographer Stuart N. Lake, who never quite got around to writing a planned Dodge biography. 


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

Leave a Reply