Tag Archive | Banking

Object: Teller’s Cage

I-0198e scan

Teller’s Cage
Date: 20th Century
Materials: Metal, wood

The teller’s cage at the Institute of Texan Cultures would likely have been used in a bank lobby, connected to several other teller cages. The teller’s cage is made up of two parts. The bottom part resembles a wooden podium with drawers and a cupboard. The cupboard is equipped with a latch for the teller to keep bank notes, money, or other small items. The cage portion of the object is made of a metal frame that is meant to protect the bank teller. It leaves only a small opening through which to pass money or other small items to customers.

The first bank in Texas, the Banco Nacional de Texas, was founded while Texas was still a part of Mexico, and Mexico had only recently declared its independence from Spain. Before the first bank, Mexican officials were paid in gold, silver, or specie (coin money which was transported from San Luis Potosi, the nearest depository of the treasury for the Mexican government). These payments were shipped from Mexico. Sometimes the payment shipments were delayed due to unsafe travel conditions. During these long periods between paydays and shipments, Mexican troops and families relied on local merchants to supply them with goods by creating credit. Credit, at that time, was a trust between a creditor or lender and a borrower who was to pay back the creditor when resources or money became available. The Governor of Texas, Jose Felix Trespalacios, decided to establish a national bank to remove the credit system and remedy the long delays between shipments and payments of Mexican officials.


Copy of a portrait of Agustin I, Constitutional Emperor of Mexico, made for the Iturbide Gallery (current Ambassador’s Hall) at the National Palace. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Governor Trespalacios wanted a Mexican banking system that was backed by specie and could issue loans, regulate gold and silver, pay its troops, and free the people of creditors. Feeling confident, Governor Trespalacios issued a decree on October 21, 1822 to establish this bank without authorization from Mexico. This bank, Banco Nacional de Texas, was to be the first national bank west of the Mississippi and the first institution of its kind in Mexico. In his decree to create the bank, Trespalacios also cleverly stated that its creation was subject to the ultimate approval of the Government. This plan eventually reached the emperor of Mexico, Emperor Agustin de Iturbide, who approved the decree. He gave the decree a national application and incorporated the plan into an Imperial Decree on December 29, 1822. The national treasury in Mexico City issued four million dollars in paper money to the bank, thus officially establishing the first bank of Texas. In 1959 the Banco Nacional de Texas, known as the First National Bank, was sold by the Beretta family and dissolved.

Following the establishment of the first bank in Texas, was the introduction of many famous Texan bank robbers. Two of the most infamous are the romantic and ruthless pair of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Champion Barrow. The couple is known for their violent string of bank robberies during the Great Depression, some of which resulted in murder. However, the amount the couple stole never actually exceeded $1,500 at a time. The couple traveled throughout Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Illinois. Along their travels, the couple robbed, kidnapped, killed, and helped in the escape of prisoners from a Texas prison. On May 23, 1934, the couple drove into a trap set by the police that was near their hide-out in Black Lake, Louisiana which ended in their deaths. Their bodies were displayed in Arcadia, Louisiana and then eventually taken to Dallas to their families. [Elizabeth Volz, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

-Watch videos on Bonnie and Clyde.

-Watch a video on the death scene of Bonnie and Clyde

Additional Resources:
Beretta, John W. 1959. The story of Banco nacional de Texas and 136 years of banking in San Antonio de Bexar, 1822-1958. San Antonio: [s.n.].

Guinn, Jeff. 2009. Go down together: the true, untold story of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hendley, Nate. 2007. Bonnie and Clyde: a biography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

 Iturbide, Agustín de, and Michael J. Quin. 1971. A statement of some of the principal events in the public life of Agustin de Iturbide. Washington: Documentary Publications. 


Object: Stationery

I-0005a (4)

Fredericksburg, TX
Date: ca. 1900
Materials: Paper

This artifact is a single sheet of stationery used by the Bank of Fredericksburg in Texas. The seal, dated with the year 1900 in the upper left corner of the page denotes the name Temple D. Smith, the bank’s president at that time. The actual town of Fredericksburg was founded in 1848 by John O. Meusebach. The town existed without a bank until Temple Smith founded the Bank of Frederickburg in 1887. Mr. Smith had recently moved to San Antonio from Indiana, and when he arrived he learned that the small town of Fredericksburg needed a bank and took it upon himself to move north.

Fredericksburg had grown quite a bit by that time: the city had built a wagon road to Austin, established the Meuseback-Comanche Treaty to ward off Indian attacks, completed the construction of the Vereins-Kirche (translated to mean “Society Church”), and signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo[7] all before 1850. Because the town was primarily full of German immigrants, World War II proved to be a challenging time. The residents refused to become involved in state or national affairs, and instead took to living a happy, independent, and peaceful German lifestyle. Most of the town refused to learn or use English, and even their newspaper, the Fredericksburg Wochenblatt was written entirely in German; it was the first German-language newspaper ever printed in the country.

Smith established the Bank of Fredericksburg in the Edward Maier Building in 1887, but erected a two-story building two years later once his institution had become more financially established. Deciding to expand his market, in 1894 Smith organized and was president of the First National Bank of Carthage. Three years later he built the Cotton Belt State Bank of Timpson. He was a significant part of the movement to construct a railroad between Fredericksburg and San Antonio, which became known as the Fredericksburg Northern Railway. A town by the name of Bankersmith (named in honor of Temple Smith), opened up along the railroad line and at its peak in the 1920s boasted a population of nearly fifty people. The first train rolled into Fredericksburg on November 17, 1913; the last on July 25, 1942. It was closed due to competition from the much more efficient roads and automobiles becoming ever more prominent in the era.


Map via: Texas Transportation Museum website

Smith passed away in 1926 in San Antonio. Today, Fredericksburg is primarily a tourist destination with quaint bed-and-breakfasts, tasty wineries, and beautiful outdoor parks that are still significantly influenced by German culture. The town has an excellent array of small shops with everything from household trinkets, to clothing, to custom candles made in the store right in front of your eyes. It is also known for its extravagant display of Christmas lights during the holidays. [Jordan Kinnally, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Betty, Gerald. Comanche Society Before the Reservation. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2002.

Carlson, Avery Luvere, and Michelle M. Haas. A Banking History of Texas, 1835-1929. [Rockport, Tex.]: Copano Bay Press, 2007.

King, Irene Marsehall. John O. Meusebach German Colonizer of Texas. Austin: UNIV. TX., 1967.

“Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Signed.” ABA Journal 96.2 (2010): 72.

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