Good men who were intimate with Joseph A. Slade before he went to Montana gave him credit for possessing many excellent qualities. He is first heard of outside of his native village of Carlisle, in the State of Illinois, as a volunteer in the war with Mexico, in a company commanded by Captain Killman. This officer, no less distinguished for success in reconnoitre, strategy, and surprise, than service on the field of battle, selected from his regiment for this dangerous enterprise, twelve men of unquestioned daring and energy. Slade was among the number. A comrade of his during this period bears testimony to his efficiency, which he said always won the approbation of his commander. How or where his life was passed after the close of the war, and until he was entrusted with the care of one of the divisions of the Great Overland Stage route in 1859, I have no knowledge. This position was full of varied responsibility. His capabilities were equal to it. No more exalted tribute can be paid to his character than to say that he organized, managed, and controlled for several years, acceptably to the public, to the company and to the employees of the company, the great central division of the overland stage route, through six hundred miles of territory destitute of inhabitants and law, exposed for the entire distance to hostile Indians, and overrun with a wild, reckless class of freebooters, who maintained their infamous assumptions with the pistol and bowie knife. No man without a peculiar fitness for such a position could have done this.
Stealing the horses of the stage company was a common crime. The loss of the property was small in comparison with the expense and embarrassment of delaying the coach, and breaking up the regularity of the trips. If Slade caused some of the rascals engaged in this business to be hanged, it was in strict conformity to the public sentiment, which in all new countries regards horse-stealing as a capital offence. Nothing but fear could restrain their passion for this guilty pursuit. Certain it is, that Slade's name soon became a terror to all evil-doers along the road. Depredations of all kinds were less frequent, and whenever one of any magnitude was committed, Slade's men were early on the track of the perpetrators, and seldom failed to capture and punish them.
The power he exercised as a division agent was despotic. It was necessary for the service in which he was employed that it should be so. Doubtless, he caused the death of many bad men, but he has often been heard to say, that he never killed but one himself. It was a common thing with him, if a man refused to obey him, to force obedience with a drawn pistol. How else could he do it, in a country where there was no law?
In the purchases which he made of the ranchemen he sometimes detected their dishonest tricks and generally punished them on the spot. On one occasion, while bargaining for a stack of hay, he discovered that it was filled with bushes. He told the rancheman that he intended to confine him to the stack with chains, and burn him, and commenced making preparations, seemingly for that purpose. The man begged for his life, and, with much apparent reluctance, Slade finally told him if he would leave the country and never return to it he would give him his life. Glad of the compromise the fellow departed the next morning. This was all that Slade desired.
Stories like these grate harshly upon the ears of people who have always lived in civilized communities. Without considering the influences by which he is surrounded, this class pronounce such a man a ruffian. An author who writes of him finds it no task to blacken his memory, by telling half the truth. People who have once heard of him are prepared to believe any report which connects his name with crime. Wrong as this is on general principles, it has been especially severe in the case of Slade. Misrepresentation and abuse have given him the proportions, passions, and actions of a demon. His name has become a synonym for all that is infamous and cruel in human character. And yet not one of all the great number of men he controlled, or of those associated with him as employes of the overland stage company, men personally cognizant of his career, believe that he committed a single act not justified by the circumstances provoking it.
He could not be true to his employers and escape censure, any more than he could have discharged the duties expected of him without frequent and dangerous collision with the rough elements of the society in which he moved. That he lived through it all was a miracle. A man of weaker resolution, and less fertility of resource, would have been killed before the close of his first year's service. Equally strange is it, that one whose daily business required a continual exercise of power in so many and varied forms, at one moment among his own employes, at the next among the half-civilized borderers by whom he was surrounded, and perhaps at the same time sending out men in pursuit of horse thieves, should have escaped with so few desperate and bloody encounters.
The uniform testimony of those who knew him is, that he was rigidly honest and faithful. He exacted these qualities from those in his employ. Among gentlemen he was a gentleman always. He had no bad habits. Men who were brought in daily contact with him, during his period of service, say that they never saw him affected by liquor. He was generous, warmly attached to his friends, and happy in his family. He was of a lively, cheerful temperament, full of anecdote and wit, a pleasant companion, whose personal magnetism attached his friends to him with hooks of steel.
Many jarring and discordant incidents disfigured this flattering foreground in Slade's border life, but there was only one which gave it a sanguine hue. That in all its parts, and from the very first, has been so tortured and perverted in the telling, that persons perfectly familiar with all its details do not hesitate to pronounce every published version a falsehood. I have the narrative from truthful men, personally familiar with all the facts.
Among the ranchemen with whom Slade early commenced to deal was one Jules Reni, a Canadian Frenchman. He was a representative man of his class, and that class embraced nearly all the people scattered along the road. They regarded him as their leader and adviser, and he was proud of the position. He espoused their quarrels with outsiders, and reconciled all differences occurring among themselves. In this way, he exercised the power of a chief over the class, and maintained a rustic dignity, which commanded respect within the sphere of its influence. Jules and Slade had frequent collisions, which generally originated in some real or supposed encroachment by the latter upon the dignity or importance of the former. They always arose from trivial causes, and were forgotten by Slade as soon as over; but Jules treasured them up until the account against his rival became too heavy to be borne. A serious quarrel, in which threats were exchanged, was the consequence. If Slade had treasured up any vicious memory of this difficulty, no evidence of it was apparent when he afterwards met Jules. They accosted each other with usual courtesy, and soon fell into a friendly conversation, in which others standing by participated. Both were seated at the time on the fence fronting the station. At length Jules left and entered his house, and a moment afterwards Slade followed. Slade was unarmed. He had gone but a few rods, when one of the men he had just left, in a tone of alarm, cried to him,-
"Look out, Slade, Jules is going to shoot you!"
As Slade turned to obey the summons, he received the bullet from Jules's revolver. Five shots from the pistol were fired in instant succession, and then Jules, who was standing in the door of his cabin, took a shot-gun which was within reach, and emptied its contents into the body of Slade, who was facing him when he fell. Slade was carried into the station, and placed in a bunk, with bullets and buck-shot to the number of thirteen lodged in his person. No one who witnessed the attack supposed he could survive an hour. Jules was so well satisfied that he was slain, that in a short time afterwards he said to some person near, in the hearing of Slade, "When he is dead, you can put him in one of these dry-goods boxes, and bury him."
Slade rose in his bunk, and glaring out upon Jules, who was standing in front of the station, exclaiming with an oath, "I shall live long enough to wear one of your ears on my watch-guard. You needn't trouble yourself about my burial."
In the midst of the excitement occasioned by the shooting, the overland coach arrived, bringing the superintendent of the road. Finding Slade writhing in mortal agony, he, on hearing the nature of the assault, caused Jules to be arrested, and improvised a scaffold for his immediate execution. Three times was Jules drawn up by willing hands and strangled until he was black in the face. On letting him down the last time, the superintendent, upon his promise to leave the country, ordered his release. He left immediately.
Slade lingered for several weeks at the station, and finally went to St. Louis for treatment. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he returned to his division, with eight remaining bullets in his body. The only sentiment of all, except the personal friends of Jules, was, that this attack upon Slade, as brutal as it was unprovoked, should be avenged. Slade must improve the first opportunity to kill Jules. This was deemed right and just. In no other way could he, in the parlance of the country, get even with him. Slade determined to kill Jules upon sight, but not to go out of his way to meet him. Indeed, he sent him word to that effect, and warned him against a return to his division.
Jules, in the mean time, had been buying and selling cattle in some parts of Colorado. Soon after Slade's return to his division, Jules followed, for the ostensible purpose of getting some cattle that he owned, which were running at large; but his real object, as he everywhere boasted on his journey, was to kill Slade. This threat was circulated far and wide through the country, coupled with the announcement that Jules was on his return to the division to carry it into speedy execution. He exhibited a pistol of peculiar pattern, as the instrument designed for Slade's destruction.
Slade first heard of Jules's approach and threat at Pacific Springs, the west end of his division, just as he was about leaving to return to Julesburg. At every station on that long route of six hundred miles, he was warned by different persons of the bloody purpose which Jules was returning to accomplish. Knowing the desperate character of the man with whom he had to deal, and that the threats he had made were serious, Slade resolved to counsel with the officers in command at Fort Laramie, and follow their advice. On his arrival at that post he laid the subject before them. They were perfectly familiar with former difficulties between Slade and Jules, and the treacherous attack of the latter upon the former. They advised him to secure the person of Jules, and kill him. Unless he did so, the chances were he would be killed himself; and in any event, there could be no peace on his division while Jules lived, as he was evidently determined to shoot him on sight. Slade had been informed that Jules had passed the preceding night at Bordeaux's ranche, a stage station about twelve miles distant from the fort, and had repeated his threats, exhibited his pistol, and declared his intention of lying in wait at some point on the road until Slade should appear.
When Slade was told of this, he hesitated no longer to follow the advice he had received. Four men were sent on horseback in advance of him to capture Jules and disarm him. Soon after they left, Slade, in company with a friend, followed in the coach. Jules had left Bordeaux's before his arrival, but the story of the threats he had uttered there, were confirmed by Bordeaux, who, when the coach departed, took a seat in it, carrying with him a small armory of guns and pistols. It was apparent that the old man, whose interest was with the winner in the fight, whichever he might be, was prepared to embrace his cause, in case of after disturbance.
As the coach approached the next station, at Chansau's ranche, with Slade as the driver, two of the four men sent to secure Jules were seen riding towards it at a spanking pace. Slade and his friends at once concluded that they had failed in their designs, but the shouts of the men who swung their hats as they passed the coach reassured them, and Slade drove rapidly up in front of the station. Jumping from the box, he walked hurriedly to the door. There were several persons standing near, all, as was customary, armed with pistol and knife. Slade drew the pistol from the belt of one standing in the doorway, and glancing hastily to see that it was loaded, said -"I want this." He then came out, and at a rapid stride went to the corral in rear of the station where Jules was a prisoner. As soon as he came in sight of him, he fired his pistol, aiming to hit him between the eyes, but he had aimed too low, and the ball struck him in the mouth, and glanced off without causing material injury. Jules fell upon his back, and simulated the mortal agony so well, that for a few moments the people supposed the wound was fatal. Slade discovered the deception at a glance.
"I have not hurt you," said he, "and no deception is necessary. I have determined to kill you, but having failed in this shot, I will now, if you wish it, give you time to make your will."
Jules replied that he should like to do so; and a gentleman who was awaiting the departure of the coach, volunteered to draw it up for him. The inconvenience of walking back and forth from the corral to the station, through the single entrance in front of the latter, made this a protracted service. The will was finally completed and read for Jules. He expressed himself satisfied with it, and the drawer of it went to the station to get a pen and ink, with which he could sign it. When he returned a moment afterwards, Jules was dead. Slade had shot him in the head during that temporary absence.
Slade went to Fort Laramie and surrendered himself a prisoner to the officer in command. Military authority was the only law of the country, and though this action of Slade may have a farcical appearance when taken in consideration with the circumstances preceding it, yet it was all that he could do to signify his desire for an investigation. The officers of the fort, familiar with all the facts, discharged him, with their unanimous approval of the course he had pursued. The French friends of Jules never harmed him. The whole subject was carefully investigated by the stage company, which, as the best evidence it could give of approval, continued Slade in its employ.
This is the history of the quarrel between Slade and Jules Reni, as I have received it from a gentleman familiar with all its phases from its commencement to its close. The aggravated form in which the narrative has been laid before the public, charging Slade with having tied his victim to a tree, and firing at him at different times during the day, taunting him meantime, and subjecting him to a great variety of torture, before killing him, is false in every particular. Jules was not only the first, but the most constant aggressor. In a community favored with laws and an organized police, Slade would not have been justified in the course he pursued, yet, under our most favored institutions, more flagrant cases than this daily escape conviction. In the situation he accepted, an active business man, intrusted with duties which required constant exposure of his person both night and day, what else could he do, to save his own life, than kill the person who threatened and sought an opportunity to take it. Law would not protect him. The promise which Jules had made with the halter about his neck, to leave the country, did not prevent his return to avenge himself upon Slade. It was impossible to avoid a collision with him; and to kill him under such circumstances, was as clear an act of self-defence, as if, in a civilized community, he had been slain by his adversary with his pistol at his heart.
Slade's career, relieved from the infamy of this transaction, presents no feature for severe public condemnation, until several years after its occurrence. He retained his position as division agent, discharging his duties acceptably, and was, in fact, regarded by the company as their most efficient man. When the route was changed from Laramie to the Cherokee Train, he removed his headquarters to a beautiful nook in the Black Hills, which he named Virginia Dale, after his wife, whom he loved fondly.
His position as division agent often involved him unavoidably in difficulty with ranchemen and saloon-keepers. At one time, after the violation of a second request to sell no liquor to his employes, Slade riddled a wayside saloon, and poured the liquor into the street. On another occasion, seemingly without provocation, he and his men took possession of the sutler's quarters at Fort Halleck, and so conducted as to excite the animosity of the officers of the garrison, who determined to punish him for the outrage. Following him in the coach to Denver, they arrested him and would not release him, until the company assured them he would leave the division.
This threw him out of employment, and he went immediately to Carlisle, Illinois, whence, early in the spring of 1863, he drifted with the tide of emigration to the Beaverhead mines. As will all men of ardent temperament, his habits of drinking, by long indulgence, had passed by his control. He was subject to fits of occasional intoxication, and these, unfortunately, became so frequent, that seldom a week passed unmarked by the occurrence of one or more scenes of riot, in which he was the chief actor. Liquor enkindled all the evil elements of his volcanic nature. He was as reckless and ungovernable as a maniac under its influence, but even those who had suffered outrage at his hands during these explosive periods, were disarmed of hostility by his gentle, amiable deportment, and readiness always to make reparation on the return of sobriety. His fits of rowdyism, moreover, always left him a determined business man, with an aim and purpose in life. As a remarkable manifestation of this latter quality, soon after he went to Montana, a steamboat freighted with goods from St. Louis, unable from low water to ascend the Missouri to Fort Benton, had discharged her cargo at Milk River, in a country filled with hostile Indians; and Slade was the only man to be found in the mines willing to encounter the risk of carrying the goods by teams to their place of destination in the Territory. The distance was seven hundred miles, full half of which was unmarked by a road. The several bands of the Blackfeet occupied the country to the north, and the Crows, Gros-Ventres, and Sioux on the south. Slade collected a company of teamsters, led them to the spot, and returned safely with the goods, meeting with adventures enough on the way to fill a volume.
After the discovery of Alder Gulch, Slade went to Virginia City. It was there that I first met him. Slade came with a team to my lumber-yard, and selecting from the piles a quantity of long boards, directed the teamsters to load and take them away. After the men had started with the load, Slade asked me,-
"How long credit will you give me on this purchase?"
"About as long as it will take to weigh the dust," I replied.
He remarked good-humoredly, "That's played out."
"As I can buy for cash only, I must of necessity require immediate payment on all sales," I said, by way of explanation.
Slade immediately called to the teamster to return and unload the lumber, remarking, as soon as it was replaced upon the piles,-
"Well, I can't get along without the boards anyhow; load them up again."
The man obeyed and left again with the load, Slade insisting as before, that he must have time to pay for it, and I as earnest in the demand for immediate payment. The teamster returned and unloaded a second time.
"I must and will have the lumber," said Slade; and the teamster, by his direction, was proceeding to reload it a third time, when I forbade his doing so, until it was paid for.
Our conversation now, without being angry, became very earnest, and I fully explained why I could not sell to any man upon credit.
"Oh, well," said he, with a significant toss of the head: "I guess you'll let me have it."
"Certainly not," I replied. "Why should I let you have it sooner than another"
"Then I guess you don't know who I am," he quickly rejoined, fixing his keen dark eyes on me.
"No, I don't; but if I did, it could make no difference."
"Well," he continued, in an authoritative tone and manner, "my name is Slade."
It so happened that I had never heard of him, my attention being wholly engrossed with business, so I replied. laughingly,-
"I don't know now, any better than before."
"You must have heard of Slade of the Overland."
"Never before," I said.
The reply seemed to annoy him. He gave me a look of mingled doubt and wonder, which, had it taken the form of words, would have said, "You are either trying to fool me, or are yourself a fool." No doubt he thought it strange that I should never have heard of a man who had been so conspicuous in mountain history.
"Well," he said, "if you do not know me, ask any of the boys who I am, and they will inform you. I'm going to have this lumber; that is dead sure," and with an air of much importance, he moved to a group of eight or ten men that had just come out of Skinner's saloon, all of whom were attaches of his. "Come, boys," said he, "load up the wagon."
Several of my friends were standing near, and the matter between us had fully ripened for a conflict. At this moment, John Ely, an old friend, elbowed his way through the crowd, and learning the cause of the difficulty, told me to let Slade have the lumber, and he would see that I was paid the next day. I readily consented. Ely then took me aside and informed me of the desperate character of Slade, and advised me to avoid him, as he was drunk, and would certainly shoot me at our next meeting.
Early in the evening of the same day, Slade, instigated by the demon of whiskey, provoked a fight with Jack Gallagher, which, had not bystanders disarmed the combatants, would have had a fatal termination. Soon after this was over I saw him enter the California Exchange, accompanied by two friends whom he invited to drink with him. When in the act of raising their glasses, Slade drew back his powerful arm and struck the one nearest him a violent blow on the forehead. He fell heavily to the floor. Slade left immediately, and the man, being raised, recovered consciousness and disappeared. Slade returned in a few moments with another friend whom he asked to drink, and struck down. Again he went out, and soon came in with another whom he attempted to serve in the same manner, but this man rose immediately to his feet. Slade was foiled by the interference by bystanders, in the attempt to strike him again. Turning on his heel, his eye caught mine. I was standing a few feet from him by the wall. He advanced rapidly towards me, and, expecting an assault, I assumed a posture of defence. Greatly to my surprise, he accosted me civilly, and throwing his arm around me, said jocosely,-
"Old fellow! You didn't think I was going to cheat you out of that lumber, did you?"
He then asked me to drink. I respectfully declined.
"It's all right," said he, and walked away.
I met him afterwards several times during the evening, but he said nothing more.
Nine years after these occurrences, in July, 1872, I went from Helena to Fort Hall by coach, to accompany the United States Geological Survey, under charge of Dr. Hayden, to the National Park. Dan Johnson, the driver from Snake River to the fort, being unwell, and having a vicious horse in his team, asked my assistance, and I drove for him to the station. We fell into desultory conversation, and Dan's reserve wearing off, he gave me a look of recognition from under the broad rim of his abruptly exclaiming,-
"If I'm not much mistaken, I've seen your face before."
"Very likely. I've passed over the line many times."
"That's not it. It's a long time since I have seen you, and have got you mixed up with some old recollections of Virginia City, as long ago as 1863."
"I was there a good portion of the time during the fall of that year."
"Just as I thought," he replied; "you're the very man who sold the lumber to Slade. We boys thought Slade would shoot you, when you refused to trust him for the boards. He came pretty near doing it, and it wa'n't a bit like him not to. I was one of the teamsters then, and we all expected a big row about it, and stood by, ready to pitch in. I ain't that kind of a man now, but things were different then, and anybody that worked for Slade, if he wished to escape being shot, had to stand by him in a fight. I never knew why Slade didn't shoot you, but there was never any telling what he would do, and what he wouldn't. Sometimes it was one thing and sometimes another, just as the notion took him; but if he ever was put down by a man, which wasn't often, he always seemed to remember it, and was civil to him afterwards. You were in mighty big luck to get out of the scrape as you did."
In illustration of this latter peculiarity, an incident is related of Slade, which occurred during that portion of his life passed on the overland stage route. He and one Bob Scott, a somewhat noted man of the time, had become interested in a set-to at poker; game followed game, and drink followed drink. Both were exhilarated by liquor, bets grew larger, and finally in one game each had "raised" the other till Slade's money was exhausted. Slade pointed to the piles of coin heaped upon the table, exclaiming,-
"Bob, that money belongs to me."
"It does if the cards say so," said Bob, "not otherwise."
"Perhaps," rejoined Slade, "my cards are not better than yours; but," drawing his revolver and pointing it at Scott, "my hand is."
Scott glanced at him with amazement, and for a moment both parties were silent. At length Slade reached forward to pull down the pile of double eagles and transfer them to his pocket, when, with the quickness of lightning, Scott pushed aside the pistol with one hand, and dealt his antagonist a stunning blow between the eyes with the other. Slade fell, and Scott fell on him, and gave him a severe drubbing, only permitting him to rise on his promising to behave himself.
The game was renewed and no reference made to the fight, until Slade, thoroughly sobered, quietly remarked,-
"Well, Bob, if you'd pounded me about two minutes longer, I'd have got sober sooner."
Soon after he came to Virginia City, Slade located a ranche on the margin of Meadow Creek, twelve miles distant, and built a small stone house in one of the wildest dells of the mountains over-looking it. This lonely dwelling, seldom visited by him, was occupied solely by his wife, who fittingly typified the genius of that majestic solitude over which she presided. This ill-fated lady was at this time in the prime of health and beauty. She possessed many personal attractions. Her figure was queenly, and her movements the perfection of grace. Her countenance was lit up by a pair of burning black eyes, and her hair, black as the raven's wing, fell in rich curls over her shoulders. She was of powerful organization, and having passed her life upon the borders, knew how to use the rifle and revolver, and could perform as many dexterous feats in the saddle as the boldest hunter that roamed the plains. Secure in the affection of her husband, she devoted her life to his interests, and participated in all the joys and sorrows of his checkered career. While he lived, she knew no heavier grief than his irregularities. In his wildest moments of passion and violence, Slade dearly loved his wife. Liquor and license never made him forgetful of her happiness, or poisoned the love she bore for him.
The frequent and inexcusable acts of violence committed by Slade made him the terror of the country. His friends warned him of the consequences, but he disregarded their advice, or if possible behaved the worse for it. It was an invariable custom with him when intoxicated, to mount his horse and ride through the main street, driving into each saloon as he came to it, firing at the lamps, breaking the glasses, throwing the gold scales into the street, or committing other acts equally destructive and vicious, and seldom unaccompanied by deeds of personal violence as unprovoked as they were wanton and cruel. People soon tired of pecuniary reparation and gentlemanly apologies for a course of brutality, which, sooner or later, they foresaw must culminate in outrage and bloodshed. All the respect they entertained for Slade when sober, was changed into fear when he was drunk; and rather than offend one so reckless of all civil restraint, they closed and locked their doors at his approach. In the absence of law, the people after the execution of Helm, Gallagher, and their associates, established a voluntary tribunal, for the punishment of offenders against the peace, which was known as the People's Court. It possessed all the requisites for trial of a constitutional court; and its judgments had never been disputed. Alexander Davis, a lawyer of good attainments in his profession, and a man of exemplary character, was the judge. Slade had been often arrested and fined by this tribunal, and always obeyed its decrees, but an occasion came when he refused longer to do so, and treated its process and officers with contempt.
He was arrested one morning after a night of riot and violence. He and his companions had made the town a scene of uproar and confusion. Every saloon in it bore evidence of their drunken mischief and lawlessness. They were taken before Judge Davis, who ordered the sheriff to read the writ to them, by way of an arraignment. Fairweather, one of Slade's comrades, placed his right hand on his revolver and with his left hand menacingly snatched the writ from the sheriff before it was half read, and tearing it in twain, cast the pieces angrily upon the floor and ground them under his feet.
"Go in, Bill," said Slade, addressing him and drawing his revolver, "I am with you. We'll teach this volunteer court what its law is worth anyhow."
The sheriff, who probably entertained Falstaffian ideas of valor, made no resistance, and the court was thus virtually captured. This transaction roused the Vigilantes, who had only been prevented from summarily punishing Slade on several occasions during the previous three months at the earnest intercessions of P.S. Pfouts, Major Brookie and Judge Davis. The two first named of those gentlemen now abandoned him. A large number of the Committee assembled, and while they were engaged in council, a leading member sought out Slade, and in an earnest quiet tone, said to him,-
"Slade, get your horse at once and go home, or you will have serious trouble."
Slade, himself a member of the Vigilantes, startled into momentary sobriety by this sudden warning, quickly inquired,-
"What do you mean?"
"You have no right to ask me what I mean. Get your horse at once, and remember what I tell you."
"All right," he replied; "I will follow your advice."
A few moments afterwards he made his appearance on horseback, to obey, as his friend supposed, the warning he had given him; but, seeing some of his comrades standing near, he became again uproarious, and seemed by his conduct to ignore the promise he had made. Seeking for Judge Davis, whom he found in the store of Pfouts and Russell, he interrupted him while conversing with John S. Lott.
"I hear," said he, addressing him, "that they are going to arrest me."
"Go home, Slade," said Davis; "go at once, and behave yourself, and you may yet escape,"
"No," he replied, "you are now my prisoner. I will hold you as a hostage for my own safety."
"All right, Slade," said the judge, smiling, and still continuing to converse with Lott.
"Oh, I mean it," replied Slade with an oath, pulling a derringer from his pocket and aiming it at Davis.
William Hunt, who had been an eyewitness of these proceedings, now stepped up, and, facing Slade defiantly, said to him,-
"You are not going to hurt him. He can do and act as he pleases, and don't you dare to touch him."
Slade made some careless rejoinder.
"Slade," said Hunt, "if I'd been sheriff, the first thing I would have done when I got up this morning would have been to arrest you. By that means I would have saved your life, probably prevented bloodshed, and we would have had a quiet town today."
"We had better make you sheriff, then," replied Slade.
"No, I have no wish for it; but if I were, I have got nerve enough to arrest you, and would certainly have done so."
"Well, well," said Slade, now thoroughly quieted, "let us go out and get a drink."
The two men left the store. In a few moments Slade returned, and, approaching Davis, said -
"I was too fast. I ask your pardon for my conduct, and hope you will overlook it."
In the meantime the Vigilantes, undetermined what course to pursue, had sent a request to their brethren at Nevada to join in their deliberations. Six hundred armed miners obeyed the summons, sending their leader in advance to inform the Executive Committee, that in their judgment, Slade should be executed. The Committee, unwilling to recommend this measure, finally agreed that, if unanimously adopted, it should be enforced. Alarmed at the gathering of the people, Slade again sought the presence of Judge Davis, to repeat his apologies and regrets for the violence of his conduct. He was now perfectly sobered, and fully comprehended the effect of his lawlessness upon the community. The column of Vigilantes from Nevada halted in front of the store, and the executive officer stepped forward and arrested Slade.
"The Committee," said he, addressing him, "have decided upon your execution. If you have any business to settle, you must attend to it immediately."
"My execution! my death! My God! gentlemen, you will not proceed to such extremities! The Committee cannot have decreed this."
"It is even so, and you had better at once give the little time left you to arrange your business."
This appalling repetition of the sentence of the Committee seemed to deprive him of every vestige of manliness and courage. He fell upon his knees, and with clasped hands shuffled over the floor from one to another of those who had been his friends, begging for his life. Clasping the hands of Judge Davis and Captain Williams, he implored them for mercy, mingling with his appeals, prayers and promises, and requests that his wife might be sent for. "My God! my God! must I die'? Oh, my dear wife! why can she not be sent for?" were repeated in the most heart-rending accents.
Judge Davis alone stood by the unhappy man in this his great extremity, and tried to save his life. He conversed with several leaders of the Committee, suggesting that they should substitute banishment for death. But the people were implacable. Slade's life among them had been violent, lawless, desperate. No brigand was more dreaded by all who knew him; and the speech which, at the foot of the gallows, Davis addressed to the crowd in his behalf, fell like water upon adamant. There was no mercy left for one who had so often forfeited all claims to mercy. Yet there were a few men, even among those who had doomed this man to death, that would have given all they possessed to save his life. They could not witness his execution; and some of them, stout of heart and accustomed to disaster, it is no shame to say, wept like children when they beheld him on his march to the scaffold.
As soon as Slade found all entreaty useless, he sent a messenger for his wife, and recovered in some degree his wonted composure. The only favor he now asked of the Committee was, that his execution might be delayed until his wife arrived,-a favor that would have been granted could the Committee have been assured that her presence and remarkable courage would not have excited an attempt at rescue, and been the cause of bloodshed. The scaffold, formed of the gateway of a corral, was soon prepared, and, everything being in readiness, Slade was placed upon a dry-goods box, with the fatal cord around his neck. Several gentlemen whom he sent for came to see him and bid him farewell. One of his comrades, who had exhausted himself in prayers for his release, as the fatal moment drew nigh, threw off his coat, and, doubling his fists, declared that Slade should be hanged over his dead body. The aim of a hundred rifles brought him to his senses, and he was glad to escape upon a promise of future good behavior. The execution immediately followed, Slade dying with the fall of the drop. His body was removed to the Virginia Hotel, and decently laid out.
A few moments later his wife, mounted on a fleet horse, dashed up to the hotel, and rushed madly to the bed on which the body lay. Casting herself upon the inanimate form, she gave way to a paroxysm of grief. Her cries were heartrending, mingled with deep and bitter curses upon those who had deprived her of her husband. Hours elapsed before she was sufficiently composed to give directions for the disposition of the body.
"Why, oh, why," she exclaimed, in an agony of grief, "did not some of you, the friends of Slade, shoot him down, and not suffer him to die on the scaffold? I would have done it had I been here. He should never have died by the rope of a hangman. No dog's death should have come to such a man."
The body was placed in a tin coffin filled with alcohol, and conveyed to the ranche, where it remained until the following spring, when it was taken to Salt Lake City and buried in the cemetery. A plain marble slab, with name and age graven thereon, marks the burial place of Slade,-a man who surrendered all that was noble, generous, and manly in his nature to the demon of intemperance. A friend of his, in a recent letter to me, relating to him, says,-
"Slade was unquestionably a most useful man in his time to the stage line, and to the cause of progress in the Far West, and he never was a robber, as some have represented; but after years of contention with desperate men, he became so reckless and regardless of human life that his best friends must concede that he was at times a most dangerous character, and no doubt, by his defiance of the authority and wholesome discipline of the Vigilantes, brought upon himself the calamity which he suffered."