Outlaw Slade had ties to Fayette County

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By The Staff

Mark Twain wrote of his Western travels in the book, “Roughing It.” Twain said that the men he traveled with had three subjects on their mind – "Californy, the Nevada silver mines and the desperado, Slade."

Twain wrote, “From Ft. Kearney west, he was feared a great deal more than the Almighty. Mothers used his name to strike terror in the hearts of their misbehaving children.”

Jack was a member of the influential Slade family of Carlyle, and had family living in Vandalia. Born Joseph Alfred Slade, the second youngest of five children, Jack was a juvenile delinquent early.

His father, Charles Slade, laid out the town of Carlyle, and with his wife, Mary Dark Slade, gave the land on which the Clinton County courthouse was built.

Charles served in the Illinois House of Representatives in 1820, and in 1831 represented Illinois in the United States 23rd Congress. While on his way home from the capital, feeling poorly, Rep. Slade stopped in Vincennes, Ind. He was suffering from cholera, and died on July 11, 1834, in Vincennes.

Jack was 5 years old when his father died, and his premature death may have played a part in what became Jack’s life of crime.

His oldest brother, William, married Maria Prentice of Vandalia. Her father, Charles, had the distinction of being Vandalia’s first storekeeper, and was a friend to Lincoln. His brother, Charles Jr., married Eloise Breeze, daughter of U.S. Sen. Sidney Breeze. Jack had connections if he wanted to use them.

Jack’s life in Illinois came to an abrupt end in 1856, when he shot a man in Carlyle and fled west. An earlier account tells that he had become, to put it bluntly, a hoodlum, and with other hoodlums had stoned an old man to death in a Carlyle park.

Heading west, Jack joined up with a wagon train at St. Joseph, Mo., as train master. One day he got into an argument with one of the drivers and shot him down. By the end of his murderous career, the tally of deaths by his hand would number 26.

The Overland Stage Co. hired Slade to oversee their stage route that was being preyed upon by thieves. Jack determined where the trouble came from, and killed the three men he suspected of driving off the stock and robbing the stagecoaches. The folks at the Overland Stage Co. were thrilled, and made him superintendent.

His next post was Julesburg, Colo., named for Jules Reni, the freight agent. The three men Slade had killed were friends of Reni, and a tension built up between the men. The morning dawned with Reni and Slade at opposite ends of the main street, guns drawn.

Reni shot Jack 13 times, which was not enough. It was said of Slade that he avenged all injuries, affronts and slights of whatever kind – on the spot if he could, years later if lack of earlier opportunity presented itself. Slade swore he would wear Reni’s ears on his watch chain.

A year or so later, they met again, this time with a different result. Slade had Reni’s ears dried and got quite a kick out of pulling his watch chain from his pocket to show to people.

Jack married Virginia Dale a few years before his death. Virginia stayed at home while Slade ranged far and wide to deter horse rustling and stage robbing. One time, after killing a man, he adopted the man’s orphaned son, Jemmy.

Mark Twain met up with the outlaw in 1864, a short time before Slade’s death at the hands of Montana vigilantes. After hearing all the horrifying stories of Slade’s bloodlust, Twain was surprised that he could be so affable and courteous. “He was so friendly and gentlespoken that I warmed to him in spite of his awful history,” Twain said.

The two breakfasted together, and when Slade noticed Twain’s coffee cup was empty offered him the last remaining coffee in the coffeepot. Twin wrote that he demurred, “I was afraid he had not killed anybody that morning, and might be needing diversion.”

Slade was known to ride his horse through stores, and, as the movies depict, would ride up to the bar and order a drink. Storekeepers closed their doors and pulled down the shades when Slade was in town.

On March 8, 1864, Joseph Alfred Slade got drunk one time too many and tore up Virginia City, Mont. The vigilante committee had a meeting, found him guilty of being a public nuisance, a misdemeanor, and sentenced him to die by hanging.

When his wife, Virginia, was told, she rode at breakneck speed into town, but was too late to stop the hanging. Swearing that he had died like a dog, she refused to let his body be buried in Montana. She then had the body placed in a tightly sealed zinc and tin-lined coffin, filled with whiskey to preserve the remains.

Following the spring thaw, Virginia Slade had the casket placed on top of a Peabody & Caldwell Co. stage, strapped it down and began the journey to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Jack’s body was buried in the veterans’ plot in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Although the exact place of his burial within this section is unknown, a veteran’s monument recognizes his service in Company A., 1st Regiment, of the Illinois Foot Soldiers in the Mexican War of 1848.

Slade’s life was what Hollywood makes movies from. In fact, the movie "Jack Slade" hit the screen in 1953, followed two years later by "The Return of Jack Slade." The character "Evil Roy Slade" was another representation of the desperado, Jack Slade.