Last week, we saw John Lee, a condemned prisoner who amazingly survived attempts to hang him. This week, we return to the Old West and meet Jack Slade. Slade met an untimely end at the hands of a vigilante gang in 1864.
Jack Slade (born Joseph Alfred Slade) worked at various times as a wagon master, Pony Express superintendent, and stagecoach divisional superintendent. Most people liked Jack Slade—when he was sober. The problem was that he wasn’t sober that often. In his cups, he’d fire off his guns in bars and make numerous, usually idle threats. It’s important to note that his shenanigans didn’t injure anyone.
Another problem for Slade was his reputation as a tough guy and gunfighter. This came partly from the time he met Mark Twain in 1861. Twain included an embellished account of Slade in his 1872 book, Roughing It. In it, Twain painted Slade as a vicious killer with up to 27 victims to his credit. In truth, Slade did kill one man named Andrew Ferrin, but he was not the desperado Roughing It made him out to be.
In 1864, Slade was in the mining town of Virginia City, Montana Territory. His antics irritated the movers and shakers of the town, who were eager to create a more peaceful community.
With the nation’s attention on the American Civil War, law enforcement in the territories was a low priority. A year before Jack Slade arrived, a gang of robbers led by Henry Plummer preyed on the citizens of Virginia City. Weary of Plummer’s depredations, many leading citizens formed a semi-secret “vigilance committee” to reassert order. In the first two months of 1864, the vigilantes caught and hanged 24 men, including Plummer. While strictly speaking illegal, the hangings targeted only guilty men.
Slade’s hanging was wholly unjustified. On March 10, 1864, a group of vigilantes arrested Slade, fed up with his drunken rages and threats. Told he was to be hanged, Slade pleaded for his life or at least a chance to say goodbye to his wife. Undeterred by his pleas, the mob hanged Slade before his wife, Maria, arrived.
Not long after Slade’s hanging, legitimate courts and law enforcement began functioning in Montana Territory. By 1867, vigilantism had mainly died out. In March of that year, miners in one Montana mining district posted a notice in the local newspaper. The announcement promised to hang five vigilantes for every man hanged by vigilantes. That was effectively the end of vigilantism in Montana Territory.
You can read more about Jack Slade in The Devil in the Bottle: The Tragedy of “Jack” Slade.
Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter
Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this. Sign up for the newsletter today.