The West has always embraced its outlaws.

Jesse James’s birthplace in Kearney, Missouri, just outside Kansas City, was long ago turned into a museum that includes “guns and the boots Jesse was wearing when he was killed by Bob Ford.”

There’s a Billy the Kid museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where he was killed by Sherriff Pat Garrett in 1881 (at the age of 21), and another Billy the Kid museum in Hico, Texas —which makes the unlikely claim that he wasn’t killed after all, but lived in Hico till the ripe old age of 91.

The Butch Cassidy museum in Montpelier, Idaho, commemorates his last bank robbery, when Butch escaped with “$5,000-$15,000 in gold, silver and currency” from the Bank of Montpelier. Utah, meanwhile, is building not one, but two Butch Cassidy museums — one of which will be in Circleville, 200 miles south of Salt Lake City, where the famous outlaw was born.

And then there’s Telluride, Colorado, where a prominent plaque recalls, with considerable fondness, the lawless exploits of Charles D. Waggoner.

Charles D. who???

Waggoner was neither a gunslinger nor a bank robber. Rather, he was a banker, the president of the Bank of Telluride. In 1929, Waggoner saw what was coming with more clarity than most. In “Telluride Promise,” a lightly fictionalized account of Waggoner’s exploits, the writer Edward Massey imagines what the Telluride banker must have been thinking as the Great Depression approached:

I had been watching what was going on in the whole country and any damn fool could see, the loans were too much, the credit was too shaky, and every month more banks were failing. It was like a big wave coming in to shore and I was pretty damn convinced we were all going to get drowned by it. Right here and now and not just in our little town. Those big banks were going to be unable … to give us back the money we put on deposit with them. I needed the money to give my depositors back their money. It was better off in their mattress than in my bank … any bank … for the next couple of years.

I’ve written about bankers and banking on and off for some 30 years. Never can I recall a banker breaking the law to help his or her depositors. It’s usually the other way around: banks that break the law to take advantage of customers. (I’m looking at you, Wells Fargo.) Waggoner feared that when the Bank of Telluride went under (as he knew it would) his depositors would be left penniless. He broke the law to prevent that from happening. In Telluride, they would later call it “The Great Waggoner Swindle.”

Telluride today is a thriving tourist town centered on skiing, but in the mid- to late-1800s, it was a rough-and-tumble mining town, where the main activities included gambling, drinking and prostitution. By the 1920s, however, the mines had become unprofitable, and the population was dwindling.

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