Joseph Slade – Hanged By Vigilantes

Slade’s Cabin, 15 miles outside Virginia City, 1908.

He worked here and there in different capacities, and at last settled on a ranch a dozen miles or so from Virginia City, Montana, where he lived with his wife, a robust, fine-looking woman of great courage and very considerable beauty, of whom he was passionately fond; although she lived almost alone in the remote cabin in the mountains, while Slade pursued his avocations, such as they were, in the settlements along Alder Gulch.

Slade now began to grow ugly and hard, and to exult in terrorizing the hard men of those hard towns. He would strike a man in the face while drinking with him, would rob his friends while playing cards, would ride into the saloons and break up the furniture, and destroy property with seeming exultation at his own maliciousness. He was often arrested, warned, and fined; and sometimes he defied such officers as went after him and refused to be arrested. His whole conduct made him a menace to the peace of this little community, which was now endeavoring to become more decent, and he fell under the fatal scrutiny of the vigilantes, who concluded that the best thing to do was to hang Slade. He had never killed anyone as yet, although he had abused many; but it was sure that he would kill someone if allowed to run on; and, moreover, it was humiliating to have one man trying to run the town and doing as he pleased. Slade was to learn what society means, and what the social compact means, as did many of these wild men who had been running as savages outside of and independent of the law.

Virginia City, Montana

Virginia City, Montana

Slade got wind of the deliberations of the committee, as well he might when six hundred men came down from Nevada Camp to Virginia City to help in the court of the miners, before which Slade was now to come. It was the Nevada Camp Vigilantes who were most strongly of the belief that death and not banishment was the proper punishment for Slade. The leader of the marching men calmly told Slade that the Committee had decided to hang him; and, once the news was sure, Slade broke out into lamentations.

This was often the case with men who had been bullies and terrors. They weakened when in the hands of a stronger power. Slade crept about on his hands and knees, begging like a baby. “My God! My God!” he cried. “Must I die? Oh, my poor wife, my poor wife! My God, men, you can’t mean that I’m to die!”

They did mean it, and neither his importunities nor those of his friends had avail. His life had been too rough and violent and was too full of menace to others. He had had his fair frontier chance and had misused it. Some wept at his prayers, but none relented. In broad daylight, the procession moved down the street, and soon Slade was swinging from the beam of a corral gate, one more example of the truth that when a man belongs to society he owes a duty to society and else must suffer at its hands. This was the law.

Slade’s wife was sent for and reached town soon after Slade’s body was cut down and laid out. She loaded the vigilantes with imprecations and showed the most heartbroken grief. The two had been very deeply attached. ‘She was especially regretful that Slade had been hanged and not shot. He was worth a better death than that, she protested.

Slade body was preserved in alcohol and kept out at the lone ranch cabin all that winter.

In the spring it was sent down to Salt Lake City and buried there. As that was a prominent point on the overland trail, the tourists did the rat. The saga of Slade as a bad man was widely disseminated.


By Emerson Hough, 1907. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June 2019.

Editors Note: The hanging took place on March 10, 1864.

Go To Next Chapter – The Desperado of the Plains

About the Author:  Excerpted from the book The Story of the Outlaw; A Study of the Western Desperado, by Emerson Hough; Outing Publishing Company, New York, 1907. This story is not verbatim as it has been edited for clerical errors and updated for the modern reader. Emerson Hough (1857–1923).was an author and journalist who wrote factional accounts and historical novels of life in the American West. His works helped establish the Western as a popular genre in literature and motion pictures.  For years, Hough wrote the feature “Out-of-Doors” for the Saturday Evening Post and contributed to other major magazines.

The Outlaw West

The Outlaw West

Also See:

Jules Beni – Corruption and Violence in Old Julesburg, Colorado

Julesburg, Colorado

Overland Trail

Virginia Dale Stage Station Treasure

Other Works by Emerson Hough:

The Story of the Outlaw – A Study of the Western Desperado – Entire Text

The Cattle Kings

The Cattle Trails

Cowboys on the American Frontier

The Frontier In History

The Indian Wars

Mines of Idaho & Montana

Pathways To the West

The Range of the American West


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