Jack Slade was known throughout Colorado as the “Gentleman Killer.” Having a rumored 26 kills under his belt, he was anything but a gentleman.
Born Joseph A. Slade, he migrated to Colorado in search of wealth during the gold rush of 1859. Not having much luck, Slade traded in his shovel for a job as a wagon master.
This job may have lead to his first killing. It is reported that Slade had given a teamster a hard time for causing a lag in the freighting operation.
The man was irate and drew his gun on Jack. He suggested the man put down his gun and settle the disagreement with their fists. The teamster complied and Slade drew his gun and killed him.
Out of the job as a freighter, Jack started working for a newly formed stage company out of a town, known today as Julesburg.
The company called the new route from Julesburg to Denver the “Overland Trail” and hired a long time resident, Jules Beni to run the station at Julesburg, which is said to be named after him.
Beni was soon accused by the company of horse theft and was fired. He then proceeded to steal all of the company’s livestock.
Enter Jack Slade to confront Beni and demanded he pay the company back for the theft of the animals. Supposedly, the matter was resolved and Slade walked over to the saloon for a drink with his friends.
Jules Beni was furious. So he laid in wait for Slade to come out of the saloon to ambush him with a loaded shotgun.
Evening arrived and Jack left the bar. Beni emptied his shotgun into Slade and ran off. New manager of the stage line, Ben Ficklin, and Jack’s friends, caught up with Beni and hanged him from the tongues between two wagons.
Just as Beni became unconscious, Ficklin cut him down and ran Beni out of town, ordering him to never return.
Slade recovered from his wounds and plotted revenge against Beni. He vowed if he ever saw him again, he would shoot him on sight.
Jules wandered the territory, keeping an eye out for Jack. However, word came from Wyoming that Jules was at the Horseshoe stage station.
Slade arrived and found Beni tied to the corral fence by workers at the stage depot. Jack told Jules that he wasn’t going to kill him yet, so Slade proceeded to shoot at Beni, hitting him in various parts of his body, not killing him.
Jules begged Slade to be merciful, Jack smiled and shot him between the eyes. It is rumored that he cut off Beni’s ears and carried them with him in his pocket.
Traveling west through the northeast corner of Colorado on a stage in route to Nevada, a young man, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), listened to these tales from the stage drivers.
Fascinated with this desperado, Clemens wanted to hear
more. And he did. Excited about the wild west and it’s outlaws,
he sat down to breakfast at a stage stop in on the trail.
There was a group inside consisting of mountain men, cowboys and other toughs. However, at the head of the table sat a quiet, well dressed man finishing his meal.
Clemens and the man conversed amiably and were enjoying each other’s company until someone called the man “Slade”.
Samuel froze. Writing in his memoirs he stated that he was deep in thought when Slade reached toward him to take the coffee pot and Clemens jumped back.
Slade asked him if he would like more coffee, Samuel declined and Jack filled his own cup. Clemens said, “I was afraid he had not killed anybody that morning and might be needing a diversion.”
Fortunately, Jack had not been drinking whiskey that morning. When he was drinking, the killer in him would emerge. Talk about a mean drunk!
Eventually, Slade was sent to a manage a new stage station northwest of Laporte. A rag tag community, Jack named the village Virginia Dale, after his wife.
For years, Jack reigned terror on the front range towns in Colorado and finally the Overland Stage Company fired him.
Jack Slade moved on to Virginia City, Montana, where his behavior became so violent, the townspeople had him arrested. He was tried, found guilty and immediately hanged.