Joseph Alfred “Jack” Slade was a stagecoach and Pony Express superintendent early in his life. He was instrumental in the opening of the American West, and he was also the archetype of the Western gunslinger. Slade was born on January 22, 1831, in Carlyle, Illinois, the son of Illinois politician Charles Slade and Mary Dark (Kain) Slade. Slade’s life started out decent. He served in the US Army that occupied Santa Fe, 1847-1848, during the Mexican War. His father died in 1834, Slade’s mother married Civil War General Elias Dennis in 1838, when Slade was just seven years old.
In about 1857, Slade married a woman named Maria Virginia. Her maiden name is unknown. In the 1850s, he was a freighting teamster and wagon master along the Overland Trail, and then became a stagecoach driver in Texas, around 1857-1858. After years on the job, Slade became a stagecoach division superintendent along the Central Overland route for Hockaday and Company from 1858–1859, and when it was purchased, he worked for its successors Jones, Russell and Company in 1859 and Central Overland, California and Pike’s Peak Express Company from 1859 to 1862. With the latter concern, he also helped launch and operate the Pony Express in 1860-61. These were critical lines of communication between the East and California. As superintendent, he enforced order and assured reliable cross-continental mail service, maintaining contact between Washington DC, and California on the eve of Civil War.
Slade was know as a strict, and even ferocious boss. While division superintendent, he shot and killed Andrew Ferrin, one of his subordinates, who was hindering the progress of a freight train, in May 1859. This type of situation was rare for the time, but it served to build his reputation as a gunslinger. In March 1860, Slade was ambushed and left for dead by Jules Beni, who was a corrupt stationkeeper at Julesburg, Colorado, and whom Slade had removed. Remarkably, Slade survived, and in August 1861, Beni was killed by Slade’s men after ignoring Slade’s warning to stay out of his territory.
Slade’s temper and the reputation that came with it, combined with a drinking problem, caused his downfall. After he was fired by the Central Overland for drunkenness in November 1862, Slade crossed paths with the Virginia City Vigilance Committee, which was composed of honest, determined citizens, including bankers, storekeepers, miners, stockbrokers, and other citizens of all backgrounds, who had decided to take the law into their own hands and combat lawlessness in Virginia City. Slade found himself in Virginia City, Montana on a drunken spree. After being arrested, he was lynched by local vigilantes on March 10, 1864, for disturbing the peace. Of all the killings he was guilty of, Slade was lynched for disturbing the peace. Unbelievable, but the truth, nevertheless. He was buried in Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 20, 1864.
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