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    Chapter XI

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    And sure enough, two or three years afterward, we did hear him again.
    News came to the Pacific coast that the Vigilance Committee in Montana
    (whither Slade had removed from Rocky Ridge) had hanged him. I find an
    account of the affair in the thrilling little book I quoted a paragraph
    from in the last chapter--"The Vigilantes of Montana; being a Reliable
    Account of the Capture, Trial and Execution of Henry Plummer's Notorious
    Road Agent Band: By Prof. Thos. J. Dimsdale, Virginia City, M.T."
    Mr. Dimsdale's chapter is well worth reading, as a specimen of how the
    people of the frontier deal with criminals when the courts of law prove
    inefficient. Mr. Dimsdale makes two remarks about Slade, both of which
    are accurately descriptive, and one of which is exceedingly picturesque:
    "Those who saw him in his natural state only, would pronounce him to be a
    kind husband, a most hospitable host and a courteous gentleman; on the
    contrary, those who met him when maddened with liquor and surrounded by a
    gang of armed roughs, would pronounce him a fiend incarnate." And this:
    "From Fort Kearney, west, he was feared a great deal more than the
    almighty." For compactness, simplicity and vigor of expression, I will
    "back" that sentence against anything in literature. Mr. Dimsdale's
    narrative is as follows. In all places where italics occur, they are

    After the execution of the five men on the 14th of January, the
    Vigilantes considered that their work was nearly ended. They had
    freed the country of highwaymen and murderers to a great extent, and
    they determined that in the absence of the regular civil authority
    they would establish a People's Court where all offenders should be
    tried by judge and jury. This was the nearest approach to social
    order that the circumstances permitted, and, though strict legal
    authority was wanting, yet the people were firmly determined to
    maintain its efficiency, and to enforce its decrees. It may here be
    mentioned that the overt act which was the last round on the fatal
    ladder leading to the scaffold on which Slade perished, was the
    tearing in pieces and stamping upon a writ of this court, followed
    by his arrest of the Judge Alex. Davis, by authority of a presented
    Derringer, and with his own hands.

    J. A. Slade was himself, we have been informed, a Vigilante; he
    openly boasted of it, and said he knew all that they knew. He was
    never accused, or even suspected, of either murder or robbery,
    committed in this Territory (the latter crime was never laid to his
    charge, in any place); but that he had killed several men in other
    localities was notorious, and his bad reputation in this respect was
    a most powerful argument in determining his fate, when he was
    finally arrested for the offence above mentioned. On returning from
    Milk River he became more and more addicted to drinking, until at
    last it was a common feat for him and his friends to "take the
    town." He and a couple of his dependents might often be seen on one
    horse, galloping through the streets, shouting and yelling, firing
    revolvers, etc. On many occasions he would ride his horse into
    stores, break up bars, toss the scales out of doors and use most
    insulting language to parties present. Just previous to the day of
    his arrest, he had given a fearful beating to one of his followers;
    but such was his influence over them that the man wept bitterly at
    the gallows, and begged for his life with all his power. It had
    become quite common, when Slade was on a spree, for the shop-keepers
    and citizens to close the stores and put out all the lights; being
    fearful of some outrage at his hands. For his wanton destruction of
    goods and furniture, he was always ready to pay, when sober, if he
    had money; but there were not a few who regarded payment as small
    satisfaction for the outrage, and these men were his personal

    From time to time Slade received warnings from men that he well knew
    would not deceive him, of the certain end of his conduct. There was
    not a moment, for weeks previous to his arrest, in which the public
    did not expect to hear of some bloody outrage. The dread of his
    very name, and the presence of the armed band of hangers-on who
    followed him alone prevented a resistance which must certainly have
    ended in the instant murder or mutilation of the opposing party.

    Slade was frequently arrested by order of the court whose
    organization we have described, and had treated it with respect by
    paying one or two fines and promising to pay the rest when he had
    money; but in the transaction that occurred at this crisis, he
    forgot even this caution, and goaded by passion and the hatred of
    restraint, he sprang into the embrace of death.

    Slade had been drunk and "cutting up" all night. He and his
    companions had made the town a perfect hell. In the morning, J. M.
    Fox, the sheriff, met him, arrested him, took him into court and
    commenced reading a warrant that he had for his arrest, by way of
    arraignment. He became uncontrollably furious, and seizing the
    writ, he tore it up, threw it on the ground and stamped upon it.

    The clicking of the locks of his companions' revolvers was instantly
    heard, and a crisis was expected. The sheriff did not attempt his
    retention; but being at least as prudent as he was valiant, he
    succumbed, leaving Slade the master of the situation and the
    conqueror and ruler of the courts, law and law-makers. This was a
    declaration of war, and was so accepted. The Vigilance Committee
    now felt that the question of social order and the preponderance of
    the law-abiding citizens had then and there to be decided. They
    knew the character of Slade, and they were well aware that they must
    submit to his rule without murmur, or else that he must be dealt
    with in such fashion as would prevent his being able to wreak his
    vengeance on the committee, who could never have hoped to live in
    the Territory secure from outrage or death, and who could never
    leave it without encountering his friend, whom his victory would
    have emboldened and stimulated to a pitch that would have rendered
    them reckless of consequences. The day previous he had ridden into
    Dorris's store, and on being requested to leave, he drew his
    revolver and threatened to kill the gentleman who spoke to him.
    Another saloon he had led his horse into, and buying a bottle of
    wine, he tried to make the animal drink it. This was not considered
    an uncommon performance, as he had often entered saloons and
    commenced firing at the lamps, causing a wild stampede.

    A leading member of the committee met Slade, and informed him in the
    quiet, earnest manner of one who feels the importance of what he is
    saying: "Slade, get your horse at once, and go home, or there will
    be ---- to pay." Slade started and took a long look, with his dark
    and piercing eyes, at the gentleman. "What do you mean?" said he.
    "You have no right to ask me what I mean," was the quiet reply, "get
    your horse at once, and remember what I tell you." After a short
    pause he promised to do so, and actually got into the saddle; but,
    being still intoxicated, he began calling aloud to one after another
    of his friends, and at last seemed to have forgotten the warning he
    had received and became again uproarious, shouting the name of a
    well-known courtezan in company with those of two men whom he
    considered heads of the committee, as a sort of challenge; perhaps,
    however, as a simple act of bravado. It seems probable that the
    intimation of personal danger he had received had not been forgotten
    entirely; though fatally for him, he took a foolish way of showing
    his remembrance of it. He sought out Alexander Davis, the Judge of
    the Court, and drawing a cocked Derringer, he presented it at his
    head, and told him that he should hold him as a hostage for his own
    safety. As the judge stood perfectly quiet, and offered no
    resistance to his captor, no further outrage followed on this score.
    Previous to this, on account of the critical state of affairs, the
    committee had met, and at last resolved to arrest him. His
    execution had not been agreed upon, and, at that time, would have
    been negatived, most assuredly. A messenger rode down to Nevada to
    inform the leading men of what was on hand, as it was desirable to
    show that there was a feeling of unanimity on the subject, all along
    the gulch.

    The miners turned out almost en masse, leaving their work and
    forming in solid column about six hundred strong, armed to the
    teeth, they marched up to Virginia. The leader of the body well
    knew the temper of his men on the subject. He spurred on ahead of
    them, and hastily calling a meeting of the executive, he told them
    plainly that the miners meant "business," and that, if they came up,
    they would not stand in the street to be shot down by Slade's
    friends; but that they would take him and hang him. The meeting was
    small, as the Virginia men were loath to act at all. This momentous
    announcement of the feeling of the Lower Town was made to a cluster
    of men, who were deliberation behind a wagon, at the rear of a store
    on Main street.

    The committee were most unwilling to proceed to extremities. All
    the duty they had ever performed seemed as nothing to the task
    before them; but they had to decide, and that quickly. It was
    finally agreed that if the whole body of the miners were of the
    opinion that he should be hanged, that the committee left it in
    their hands to deal with him. Off, at hot speed, rode the leader of
    the Nevada men to join his command.

    Slade had found out what was intended, and the news sobered him
    instantly. He went into P. S. Pfouts' store, where Davis was, and
    apologized for his conduct, saying that he would take it all back.

    The head of the column now wheeled into Wallace street and marched
    up at quick time. Halting in front of the store, the executive
    officer of the committee stepped forward and arrested Slade, who was
    at once informed of his doom, and inquiry was made as to whether he
    had any business to settle. Several parties spoke to him on the
    subject; but to all such inquiries he turned a deaf ear, being
    entirely absorbed in the terrifying reflections on his own awful
    position. He never ceased his entreaties for life, and to see his
    dear wife. The unfortunate lady referred to, between whom and Slade
    there existed a warm affection, was at this time living at their
    ranch on the Madison. She was possessed of considerable personal
    attractions; tall, well-formed, of graceful carriage, pleasing
    manners, and was, withal, an accomplished horsewoman.

    A messenger from Slade rode at full speed to inform her of her
    husband's arrest. In an instant she was in the saddle, and with all
    the energy that love and despair could lend to an ardent temperament
    and a strong physique, she urged her fleet charger over the twelve
    miles of rough and rocky ground that intervened between her and the
    object of her passionate devotion.

    Meanwhile a party of volunteers had made the necessary preparations
    for the execution, in the valley traversed by the branch. Beneath
    the site of Pfouts and Russell's stone building there was a corral,
    the gate-posts of which were strong and high. Across the top was
    laid a beam, to which the rope was fastened, and a dry-goods box
    served for the platform. To this place Slade was marched,
    surrounded by a guard, composing the best armed and most numerous
    force that has ever appeared in Montana Territory.

    The doomed man had so exhausted himself by tears, prayers and
    lamentations, that he had scarcely strength left to stand under the
    fatal beam. He repeatedly exclaimed, "My God! my God! must I die?
    Oh, my dear wife!"

    On the return of the fatigue party, they encountered some friends of
    Slade, staunch and reliable citizens and members of the committee,
    but who were personally attached to the condemned. On hearing of
    his sentence, one of them, a stout-hearted man, pulled out his
    handkerchief and walked away, weeping like a child. Slade still
    begged to see his wife, most piteously, and it seemed hard to deny
    his request; but the bloody consequences that were sure to follow
    the inevitable attempt at a rescue, that her presence and entreaties
    would have certainly incited, forbade the granting of his request.
    Several gentlemen were sent for to see him, in his last moments, one
    of whom (Judge Davis) made a short address to the people; but in
    such low tones as to be inaudible, save to a few in his immediate
    vicinity. One of his friends, after exhausting his powers of
    entreaty, threw off his coat and declared that the prisoner could
    not be hanged until he himself was killed. A hundred guns were
    instantly leveled at him; whereupon he turned and fled; but, being
    brought back, he was compelled to resume his coat, and to give a
    promise of future peaceable demeanor.

    Scarcely a leading man in Virginia could be found, though numbers of
    the citizens joined the ranks of the guard when the arrest was made.
    All lamented the stern necessity which dictated the execution.

    Everything being ready, the command was given, "Men, do your duty,"
    and the box being instantly slipped from beneath his feet, he died
    almost instantaneously.

    The body was cut down and carried to the Virginia Hotel, where, in a
    darkened room, it was scarcely laid out, when the unfortunate and
    bereaved companion of the deceased arrived, at headlong speed, to
    find that all was over, and that she was a widow. Her grief and
    heart-piercing cries were terrible evidences of the depth of her
    attachment for her lost husband, and a considerable period elapsed
    before she could regain the command of her excited feelings.

    There is something about the desperado-nature that is wholly
    unaccountable--at least it looks unaccountable. It is this. The true
    desperado is gifted with splendid courage, and yet he will take the most
    infamous advantage of his enemy; armed and free, he will stand up before
    a host and fight until he is shot all to pieces, and yet when he is under
    the gallows and helpless he will cry and plead like a child. Words are
    cheap, and it is easy to call Slade a coward (all executed men who do not
    "die game" are promptly called cowards by unreflecting people), and when
    we read of Slade that he "had so exhausted himself by tears, prayers and
    lamentations, that he had scarcely strength left to stand under the fatal
    beam," the disgraceful word suggests itself in a moment--yet in
    frequently defying and inviting the vengeance of banded Rocky Mountain
    cut-throats by shooting down their comrades and leaders, and never
    offering to hide or fly, Slade showed that he was a man of peerless
    bravery. No coward would dare that. Many a notorious coward, many a
    chicken-livered poltroon, coarse, brutal, degraded, has made his dying
    speech without a quaver in his voice and been swung into eternity with
    what looked liked the calmest fortitude, and so we are justified in
    believing, from the low intellect of such a creature, that it was not
    moral courage that enabled him to do it. Then, if moral courage is not
    the requisite quality, what could it have been that this stout-hearted
    Slade lacked?--this bloody, desperate, kindly-mannered, urbane gentleman,
    who never hesitated to warn his most ruffianly enemies that he would kill
    them whenever or wherever he came across them next! I think it is a
    conundrum worth investigating.
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