The archetypal Western gunslinger Jack Slade was born today in 1831. Now We know em


Joseph Alfred “Jack” Slade was born January 22, 1831 in Carlyle, Illinois.

By the time Jack was 13 years old, he already had developed a reputation for an uncontrollable temper. Jack is thought to have killed a man who was bothering him and his school friends by hitting him in the head with a rock.

Jack enlisted into the army in 1847 and was sent to Texas where he served in the Mexican War.

During the 1850’s, Jack operated as a wagon-master along the Overland Trail.

The Overland Trail departed from Atchison, Kansas and carried mail and passengers to Salt Lake City, Utah. The trail descended into Colorado before looping back up to southern Wyoming rejoining the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger.

Jack married Maria Virginia Dale around 1857 and tried to settle down as a stagecoach driver in Texas. He even became a stagecoach superintendent along the Central Overland route from 1858 – 1859.

Jack Slade, to the far left, with his wife Virginia standing at the window

Jack Slade, to the far left, with his wife Virginia standing at the window

As superintendent, Jack enforced order and assured reliable cross-continental mail service between Washington and California.

During May of 1859, Jack shot and killed one of his subordinates who was hindering the progress of a freight train.

At this time, shooting deaths of this kind were still rare and Jack was forced to leave Texas and ended up working for the Pike’s Peak Express company.

As the stage station manager at Julesburg, Colorado in 1860, Jack famously got shot five times during a drunken dispute with Jules Beni. Beni was a French Canadian trader and when Jack found stolen horses on his property that clearly belonged to the Stage company, Jack proceeded to confiscate them. Later that spring, Jules Beni opened fire on Jack as he entered the combination general store and bar. Beni hit Jack with five of six shots from his pistol. Not satisfied, Beni ran back in and got a shotgun emptying both barrels of buckshot into the helpless Jack Slade.

Satisfied that he had finished the job, Beni told a couple of bystanders. “When he is dead, you can put him in one of those dry goods boxes and bury him.”

Jack Slade looked up from the ground and said, “I’ll live long enough to wear your ears on my watch chain.” With that Jules Beni laughed.

Jack exacted revenge by ambushing Beni, tying him to a fencepost and shooting off his fingers before delivering a coup de grace to Beni’s head and cutting off his ears as trophies. Jack then put the ears on his watch chain.

Illustration of Mark Twain meeting Jack Slade

Illustration of Mark Twain meeting Jack Slade

Then one day in Julesburg, Jack met and had breakfast with Samuel Clemens, making quite an impression on the young writer Mark Twain.

Jack’s reputation as a “gunfighter” spread rapidly across the country, with Jack Slade exploits spawning newspapers seeking readership.

In reality, Jack was helping to launch and operate Pony Express stations.

In 1861, Jack hired Buffalo Bill Cody as a stagecoach driver when Bill was only 15 years old.

Virginia Dale stage station

Virginia Dale stage station

Early in 1862, Jack established the Virginia Dale stage station (named for his wife) that today is Virginia Dale, Colorado. Virginia Dale was a “home station” meaning passengers could disembark, get a meal, and stay overnight in a hotel if the stage was delayed by weather or nightfall. Jack kept 30 to 50 horses near the station along a stream later named Dale Creek.

Jack was an excellent stage manager as long as he stayed sober.

Many stories credited Jack Slade with outrageous actions such as shooting up a saloon in LaPorte for serving whiskey to his stage drivers, or for his fondness for shooting canned goods off grocery store shelves, to robbing the one of his own stages of gold which had disappeared.

Then in November of 1862, Jack was fired as the stage manager after another such drunken shooting spree at nearby Fort Halleck and left with his wife for Virginia City, Montana.

Jack Slade’s drinking problem continued and during another drunken spree in Virginia City, Montana on March 10, 1864, he was lynched by local vigilante miners for nothing more than disturbing the peace.

Jack Slade was buried in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 20, 1864.

In 1894, Mark Twain wrote Roughing It with Jack Slade portrayed as the vicious killer of 26 victims.


The gunslinger exploits of Jack Slade continued when in 1953 actor Mark Stevens starred in the movie Jack Slade.  Dorothy Malone costarred as Jack’s wife Virginia Maria Dale.

The slogan for the Jack Slade movie was:

“Everyone knew the terror of his blazing iron . . . Only she knew the fire in his heart!”

Now WE know em


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