Mid 1880s, Wyoming Territory
The Ladies Aid Society of Big Rock met once a month, unless one of the members had an urgent idea, or strongly wished to discuss ongoing projects, or one of them knew an item that would be of interest to the other ladies. Even a tiny tidbit, particularly if it pertained to other townsfolk. To be sure, they often met more than once a month.
The meeting that night was a special one called by the society president, Harriet Smithers. Harriet and her husband, Arthur, were relative newcomers to Big Rock but had established themselves quite well. He was a successful businessman, so successful in fact that he opened an additional business in town, a brewery, and it was thriving.
“Ladies,” Harriet said, gathering the attention of those in attendance, “we have a matter to discuss that is of utmost importance to the continued growth of our town. You are all aware of the growth we’ve experienced in recent years—why, it’s practically doubled just since I’ve been here. While that’s a wonderful thing, it won’t last, and many of those people will leave.”
That drew a gasp from a few of the ladies, and that collective gasp was what Harriett wanted.
“Unless we do something.” Harriet gave the group a conspiratorial smile, and it eased their discomfort. “That increase in population has been mostly men. I’ve spoken with some of Arthur’s employees and a few of the men at the sawmill. They want wives. They want families. They want feminine companionship and more than the kind they can get at the Big Rock Poker Palace Saloon.” The ladies laughed, and Harriet continued. “Why, even old Mr. Williamson at the bank is lonely. Since his wife Vera passed, he’s practically bereft. I can’t help but believe somewhere out there, there’s a lovely widow or unmarried older woman who would also love the joy of having a partner in life.”
Chatter broke out among the women, and Amy Larkin, the sheriff’s wife, spoke up. “Well, Harriet, what can we do?”
“Let me put that question back to the group. Ladies, what can we do?”
“Well, I do know a few young, unmarried ladies back in Baltimore, and I’m sure they might know a few more. Perhaps one or two might be interested in moving out here for marriage,” said Bethie Hickam.
“All right, that’s good—that’s an excellent start. Who else?” Harriet asked.
Amy Larkin began to get a little excited. “I know several young ladies in Omaha who are still unmarried. My brother Caleb and I have lots of friends there. I can reach out to them.”
“Wonderful,” Harriet said, gratified that the ladies were becoming as excited about the prospects as she was.
“You know,” said Sadie Larkin, the doctor’s wife, “it sounds like we need a larger effort. It sounds like we need to open our own mail order bride type of enterprise.”
“Yes!” Harriet exclaimed, almost shouting. “That’s exactly the conclusion I came to. And starting with our own contacts, I believe, is the best way to begin. We wouldn’t have to worry about the character or intentions of the women.”
“At some point, we might have to worry about that, though,” said Mrs. Copperfield, the Methodist minister’s wife. “It might be a good idea to deal with something like regional agents, who can vet applicants. You know, Willis and I have lived and ministered all over. We’ve made friends everywhere. Perhaps we can reach out to them and see how much interest there may be.”
“That’s an excellent idea, Mrs. Copperfield—I hadn’t considered that possibility,” Harriet said. “I did talk to Deacon Snow yesterday—you all know he’s a detective here in town—and he said he’d help out if background checks were needed for either the men or the women.”
“He didn’t tell me anything about that!” Lilac Indigo Snow, Deacon’s sister-in-law, faked a little outrage. “He had dinner with us last night, and that rascal didn’t say a word. I’m surprised he didn’t ask to be the first one to get a bride. He surely does need one!”
When the titters died down, Harriet continued. “This is a wonderful start, ladies. I’d like for each of you who know eligible women to write to them and check on their interest in coming west to find a mate. I have two or three men in mind who can be our first prospective grooms. I think when we have one success and more experience, we can begin posting ads in various periodicals and newspapers across the country. Ladies, Operation Big Rock Brides is officially launched!”
Applause broke out, and soon the ladies all left to go home and begin writing letters.
* * *
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco mint was an impressive place. Armed guards made their presence felt, ensuring everyone’s confidence that safety was a high priority.
In one area of the complex, sixty thousand dollars in newly minted twenty dollar gold coins were being readied for transport. It was split into three twenty thousand dollar shipments, one each, headed for the Rawlins Territorial Bank, the Cheyenne City Bank, and the National Bank of Omaha.
Horace S. Milner was the armed expressman for all of the shipments, since the cities were all stops on the Union Pacific railway and would be sent together. As such, it was his job to oversee the packing and transportation of the gold and to ensure it was received by the appropriate representative of each bank. Horace took great pride in his responsibility.
Each box of gold had one individual key. One key only. It was the responsibility of Horace S. Milner to keep those keys safe and to turn the keys over to the bank representatives at the time they received the gold. It was policy and practice for the receiver to await the train to meet the expressman at the baggage car, where Horace would watch carefully as the bank’s personnel unloaded the gold. He would then use the key to unlock the box just to demonstrate that it was the proper key, but they would not open the box. There could be prying eyes. At that point, Horace S. Milner’s responsibility was complete. The gold was then the responsibility of the bank personnel.
At the mint, the gold was loaded onto a wagon, with the men transporting it groaning under the weight. They had a wheeled conveyance, a sturdy hand cart, to actually cover distance, but just the picking up of the boxes and placing them on the hand cart was enough to sorely strain the strongest back. The wagon made its way directly to the railroad station, accompanied by Horace S. Milner and three other armed guards. When they reached their destination, the railroad employees were not allowed to load the boxes onto the baggage car. To ensure the safety of the gold, the mint guards loaded them. Horace S. Milner was satisfied that the boxes were away from the doors and safely tucked in among other baggage, and only then did he allow the mint employees to leave and go back to their duties at the mint.
The Union Pacific railroad had at least one special security agent on their trains whose job it was to ensure the safety of the passengers and cargo and work with any other security or law enforcement personnel who might be aboard. The man with that responsibility on this particular train was Elias Frazier.
Mr. Milner and Mr. Frazier waited until just before the departure time before leaving the baggage car and heading to one of the passenger cars themselves, both pleased that there had been no complications.
Milner’s job, and he was a stickler for doing it well, was to check the baggage car at each railway station stop, food stop, and water stop along the way to ensure the cargo was safe from both railroad personnel and thieves who might board during the stop.
The two nicely dressed men, each carrying a heavy suitcase and standing by their trunks, bought their tickets for the eastbound Union Pacific train headed for Washakie, in the Wyoming Territory. They graciously tipped the porters most generously due to the weight of the bags and trunks, joking that their work required heavy materials.
“Thank you, sirs, we’ll take care of them,” the baggage handlers assured them, grateful for a gratuity that nearly equaled what they normally made in a week.
The two men walked away from the baggage car and boarded the first passenger car, which was two cars ahead. They discussed the latest political news and their own previous personal travels. They sat together on one row, amid other rows of what appeared to be other businessmen on their way to important business dealings. Only a handful of women were on the train, and there were no children, at least not in their car.
When the conductor passed through the car and punched a hole in their tickets, they barely looked up at him, so engrossed were they in quiet discussion. They kept up this type of conversation, or they kept to themselves and read or dozed. They were courteous to other passengers when it was necessary to interact.
When the excitement of the journey’s beginning began to wane in the car, the two men, one by one, stood and made their way to the baggage car. They were quite careful making their way between the railroad cars, not wanting any undue mishaps. When their business in the baggage car was completed, they made their way quietly back to their seats, one by one.
The trip to Washakie was uneventful for the men, and they once again handsomely tipped the baggage handlers who ran to the businessmen as soon as they spotted them groaning under the weight of their bags. They wanted to be the lucky ones to offload the heavy bags and trunks, anticipating a large tip.
The train continued on its route. The next stop of great consequence to Horace S. Milner was at Rawlins, where he’d meet representatives of the Rawlins Territorial Bank. Thus far, his boxes of gold had been exactly where and as they should be when he checked them at each stop. He was grateful there had been no robbers attempting to board the train at the water or food stops. It had certainly happened before, although not on his watch.
At Rawlins, Milner and Frazier were met by the president of the bank, Mr. Robert Bennett, two armed guards, and two burly bank employees who had been pressed into service to lift and carry the burden of gold. Once identities had been verified, Horace S. Milner allowed the muscled men to put the gold on a hand cart that was very similar to the one used back at the mint. This cart would be used to transfer the gold to the wagon that would be used to carry it to the bank.
With utmost dramatic gravity, Horace S. Milner demonstrated that the key would unlock the box’s lock. Security protocol, as defined by the mint, didn’t allow the box to be opened in a public place, but it could be, and had to be, unlocked to prove he had the correct key. He relocked the box with an equal amount of drama, and placed the key ceremoniously in the hand of Mr. Bennett, bowing slightly with a smug sense of a job well done. He bid gracious goodbyes to the bank staff and re-boarded the train.