The new station master for Colorado’s Julesburg Division of Overland Stage Company set out to retrieve a few horses and mules from the previous supervisor. This relatively straightforward mission, however, put Jack Slade on death’s doorstep. 

The company had fired supervisor Jules Beni, who was suspected of cheating.

Slade and one of his employees rode out to Benis’ ranch. He dismounted and headed for the ranch house alone.

Beni (sometimes known as Jules Reni) greeted Slade with brutal violence, ambushing him with his shotgun barrels.

Some accounts say Beni also emptied his six-gun into Slade.

Beni ordered the stage line employee who rode along with Slade to take the body of his bullet- and buckshot-riddled boss back to the station and bury him.

Despite the severity of the wounds, Slade survived. He later boarded a stagecoach for his boyhood home in Carlyle, Illinois, to recuperate.

After his recovery, Overland re-hired the former wagon train captain and Mexican War veteran to supervise the Rocky Ridge Division in Colorado.

With the memory of his ambush still fresh in his mind, Slade offered a $500 reward for anyone capturing Beni and bringing him in alive. 

According to author Dan Rottenberg, two of Slade’s Central Overland employees captured Beni after wounding him in a gunfight. They lashed Beni’s body to a post at station headquarters and apprised Slade. 

A skeptical Slade pulled a knife, sliced off Beni’s ears, and supposedly carried them around as souvenirs.

Rottenberg, in his book Death of a Gunfighter: The Quest for Jack Slade, the West’s Most Elusive Legendexplored the myths and legends of Jack Slade in an attempt to paint a fair portrait of the gunman.

But Joseph Alfred “Jack” Slade remains one of the mysterious and misunderstood figures of the American West.

In his 1872 book, Roughing It, Mark Twain described Slade as “once the most bloody, the most dangerous … citizen that inhabited the savage vastnesses of the mountains.”

Slade helped bring law and order to two divisions of the Overland Stage Company. But a taste for demon rum began clouding his judgment and behavior.

Slade dismantled a sutler’s store at Fort Halleck during a drunken rage

The incident and others eventually cost Slade his job, forcing him and his wife, Virginia Maria Dale, to move to the mining boomtown of Virginia City in Montana Territory.

Slade tried his hand at ranching. But gambling and drinking became his priority. His behavior usually involved a series of fistfights and general rowdiness. He even got blamed for several robberies, although no proof existed that he committed them.

On a Thursday in early March 1864, a mob of vigilantes in Virginia City dragged Slade from a saloon. They lifted him onto a packing crate and lynched him for the “crime” of disturbing the peace.

After the hanging, his wife buried Slade’s body in Salt Lake City but never revealed his grave’s location. 

Years later, authorities discovered a tombstone that read I.A. Slade rather than J. A. Slade.


Join the StoryTeller Posse
and receive a FREE copy of
“When the Smoke Clears: Gunslingers and Gunfights of the Old West.”

6 comments to “BACK FROM THE DEAD”

  • The tales of Slade during his Julesburg days made him sound like a wanton killer and crooked as a snake, but he settled problems encountered by the Ben Halliday’s Overland Stage Company.
    Another great story about well-known Old West characters.
    Thanks, Tom.

  • Hi Frank. Slade struck me as a complicated guy. A real pioneer and on the receiving end of incredible violence. He managed to make his way back, only to fall again and hard, mostly by his own dance with demon rum. Halliday was an interesting guy too and I plan on posting something on him coming up. Thanks for visiting.

  • Your article is always very interesting and different accounts are always welcome to read.

  • Hi Sonny-Thanks so much.
    Great to hear you enjoy the stories. Please visit again.

  • I get the impression that law & order could only be maintained by folks that had a stomach for violence against those more violent. Slicing off ears, however? Doubtful that it was in the actual job description.

  • Howdy, Pardner–Those job descriptions can be a mite confusing. As a result, some folks take it upon themselves to change, alter, or mutilate (so to speak) the guidelines. Actually, I was surprised how much information exists about ear removal. It was called “Cropping”–the removal of a person’s ears as an act of physical punishment; (I can’t fathom that other reason there would be to remove someone’s ears if not for punishment). I traced the practice back to the 1500s. Coppings took place in the US in the late 18th century, particularly in Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Have a nice Labor Day.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.