The Hanging of Jack Slade, A Rowdy Drunk

Don’t cross him, don’t boss him

He’s wild in his sorrow

— Willie Nelson, The Red Headed Stranger

Double hanging, Montana Vigilantes

Jack Slade (1) was hanged at Virginia City – in what was then Idaho Territory– by the local Committee of Vigilance on March 10, 1864.  According to Frederick Allen’s tabulation, Slade was the 23rd (of a total of 57) outlaws strung-up by the committee over the course of its half-dozen-year-long period of activity.(2)  What’s interesting about Slade’s execution – at least from an alcohol history perspective – is that he’d committed no capital crime.  Slade, by most accounts, was simply a bad drunk, a hellraiser, and also oftentimes, when in his cups, an insufferable bully.  Nathanial Pitt Langford, an early chronicler of this vigilante movement – in an area that became part of the new Montana Territory in May, 1864 – closed his chapter on Slade by quoting a friend’s lamentation on the man (3):

“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.”

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