Desperado Slade

"I tell you it’s as much as Slade him­self want to do!"This re­mark cre­ated an en­tire re­volu­tion in my curi­os­ity. I cared noth­ing now about the In­di­ans, and even lost in­terest in the murdered driver. There was such ma­gic in that name, SLADE! Day or night, now, I stood al­ways ready to drop any sub­ject in hand, to listen to something new about Slade and his ghastly ex­ploits. Even be­fore we got to Over­land City, we had be­gun to hear about Slade and his "di­vi­sion" (for he was a "di­vi­sion-agent") on the Over­land; and from the hour we had left Over­land City we had heard drivers and con­duct­ors talk about only three things—"Cali­forny," the Nevada sil­ver mines, and this des­per­ado Slade. And a deal the most of the talk was about Slade. We had gradu­ally come to have a real­iz­ing sense of the fact that Slade was a man whose heart and hands and soul were steeped in the blood of of­fend­ers against his dig­nity; a man who aw­fully avenged all in­jur­ies, af­front, in­sults or slights, of whatever kind—on the spot if he could, years af­ter­ward if lack of earli­er op­por­tun­ity com­pelled it; a man whose hate tor­tured him day and night till ven­geance ap­peased it—and not an or­din­ary ven­geance either, but his en­emy’s ab­so­lute death—noth­ing less; a man whose face would light up with a ter­rible joy when he sur­prised a foe and had him at a dis­ad­vant­age. A high and ef­fi­cient ser­vant of the Over­land, an out­law among out­laws and yet their re­lent­less scourge, Slade was at once the most bloody, the most dan­ger­ous and the most valu­able cit­izen that in­hab­ited the sav­age fast­nesses of the moun­tains.Really and truly, two thirds of the talk of drivers and con­duct­ors had been about this man Slade, ever since the day be­fore we reached Ju­les­burg. In or­der that the east­ern read­er may have a clear con­cep­tion of what a Rocky Moun­tain des­per­ado is, in his highest state of de­vel­op­ment, I will re­duce all this mass of over­land gos­sip to one straight­for­ward nar­rat­ive, and present it in the fol­low­ing shape:Slade was born in Illinois, of good par­ent­age. At about twenty-six years of age he killed a man in a quar­rel and fled the coun­try. At St. Joseph, Mis­souri, he joined one of the early Cali­for­nia-bound emig­rant trains, and was giv­en the post of train-mas­ter. One day on the plains he had an angry dis­pute with one of his wag­on-drivers, and both drew their re­volvers. But the driver was the quick­er artist, and had his weapon cocked first. So Slade said it was a pity to waste life on so small a mat­ter, and pro­posed that the pis­tols be thrown on the ground and the quar­rel settled by a fist-fight. The un­sus­pect­ing driver agreed, and threw down his pis­tol—whereupon Slade laughed at his sim­pli­city, and shot him dead!He made his es­cape, and lived a wild life for awhile, di­vid­ing his time between fight­ing In­di­ans and avoid­ing an Illinois sher­iff, who had been sent to ar­rest him for his first murder. It is said that in one In­di­an battle he killed three sav­ages with his own hand, and af­ter­ward cut their ears off and sent them, with his com­pli­ments, to the chief of the tribe.Slade soon gained a name for fear­less res­ol­u­tion, and this was suf­fi­cient mer­it to pro­cure for him the im­port­ant post of over­land di­vi­sion-agent at Ju­les­burg, in place of Mr. Ju­les, re­moved. For some time pre­vi­ously, the com­pany’s horses had been fre­quently stolen, and the coaches delayed, by gangs of out­laws, who were wont to laugh at the idea of any man’s hav­ing the temer­ity to re­sent such out­rages. Slade re­sen­ted them promptly.The out­laws soon found that the new agent was a man who did not fear any­thing that breathed the breath of life. He made short work of all of­fend­ers. The res­ult was that delays ceased, the com­pany’s prop­erty was let alone, and no mat­ter what happened or who suffered, Slade’s coaches went through, every time! True, in or­der to bring about this whole­some change, Slade had to kill sev­er­al men—some say three, oth­ers say four, and oth­ers six—but the world was the rich­er for their loss. The first prom­in­ent dif­fi­culty he had was with the ex-agent Ju­les, who bore the repu­ta­tion of be­ing a reck­less and des­per­ate man him­self. Ju­les hated Slade for sup­plant­ing him, and a good fair oc­ca­sion for a fight was all he was wait­ing for. By and by Slade dared to em­ploy a man whom Ju­les had once dis­charged. Next, Slade seized a team of stage-horses which he ac­cused Ju­les of hav­ing driv­en off and hid­den some­where for his own use. War was de­clared, and for a day or two the two men walked war­ily about the streets, seek­ing each oth­er, Ju­les armed with a double-barreled shot gun, and Slade with his his­tory-cre­at­ing re­volver. Fi­nally, as Slade stepped in­to a store Ju­les poured the con­tents of his gun in­to him from be­hind the door. Slade was plucky, and Ju­les got sev­er­al bad pis­tol wounds in re­turn.Then both men fell, and were car­ried to their re­spect­ive lodgings, both swear­ing that bet­ter aim should do dead­li­er work next time. Both were bedrid­den a long time, but Ju­les got to his feet first, and gath­er­ing his pos­ses­sions to­geth­er, packed them on a couple of mules, and fled to the Rocky Moun­tains to gath­er strength in safety against the day of reck­on­ing. For many months he was not seen or heard of, and was gradu­ally dropped out of the re­mem­brance of all save Slade him­self. But Slade was not the man to for­get him. On the con­trary, com­mon re­port said that Slade kept a re­ward stand­ing for his cap­ture, dead or alive!After awhile, see­ing that Slade’s en­er­get­ic ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­stored peace and or­der to one of the worst di­vi­sions of the road, the over­land stage com­pany trans­ferred him to the Rocky Ridge di­vi­sion in the Rocky Moun­tains, to see if he could per­form a like mir­acle there. It was the very para­dise of out­laws and des­peradoes. There was ab­so­lutely no semb­lance of law there. Vi­ol­ence was the rule. Force was the only re­cog­nized au­thor­ity. The com­mon­est mis­un­der­stand­ings were settled on the spot with the re­volver or the knife. Murders were done in open day, and with spark­ling fre­quency, and nobody thought of in­quir­ing in­to them. It was con­sidered that the parties who did the killing had their private reas­ons for it; for oth­er people to meddle would have been looked upon as in­del­ic­ate. After a murder, all that Rocky Moun­tain etiquette re­quired of a spec­tat­or was, that he should help the gen­tle­man bury his game—oth­er­wise his churl­ish­ness would surely be re­membered against him the first time he killed a man him­self and needed a neigh­borly turn in in­ter­ring him.Slade took up his res­id­ence sweetly and peace­fully in the midst of this hive of horse-thieves and as­sas­sins, and the very first time one of them aired his in­solent swag­ger­ings in his pres­ence he shot him dead! He began a raid on the out­laws, and in a sin­gu­larly short space of time he had com­pletely stopped their de­pred­a­tions on the stage stock, re­covered a large num­ber of stolen horses, killed sev­er­al of the worst des­peradoes of the dis­trict, and gained such a dread as­cend­ancy over the rest that they re­spec­ted him, ad­mired him, feared him, obeyed him! He wrought the same mar­velous change in the ways of the com­munity that had marked his ad­min­is­tra­tion at Over­land City. He cap­tured two men who had stolen over­land stock, and with his own hands he hanged them. He was su­preme judge in his dis­trict, and he was jury and ex­e­cu­tion­er like­wise—and not only in the case of of­fences against his em­ploy­ers, but against passing emig­rants as well. On one oc­ca­sion some emig­rants had their stock lost or stolen, and told Slade, who chanced to vis­it their camp. With a single com­pan­ion he rode to a ranch, the own­ers of which he sus­pec­ted, and open­ing the door, com­menced fir­ing, killing three, and wound­ing the fourth.From a bloodthirstily in­ter­est­ing little Montana book.—["The Vi­gil­antes of Montana," by Prof. Thos. J. Dims­dale.]—I take this para­graph:"While on the road, Slade held ab­so­lute sway. He would ride down to a sta­tion, get in­to a quar­rel, turn the house out of win­dows, and mal­treat the oc­cu­pants most cruelly. The un­for­tu­nates had no means of re­dress, and were com­pelled to re­cu­per­ate as best they could."On one of these oc­ca­sions, it is said he killed the fath­er of the fine little half-breed boy Jemmy, whom he ad­op­ted, and who lived with his wid­ow after his ex­e­cu­tion. Stor­ies of Slade’s hanging men, and of in­nu­mer­able as­saults, shoot­ings, stabbings and beat­ings, in which he was a prin­cip­al act­or, form part of the le­gends of the stage line. As for minor quar­rels and shoot­ings, it is ab­so­lutely cer­tain that a minute his­tory of Slade’s life would be one long re­cord of such prac­tices."The Vi­gil­antes of Montana" by Prof. Thomas J. Dims­daleSlade was a match­less marks­man with a navy re­volver. The le­gends say that one morn­ing at Rocky Ridge, when he was feel­ing com­fort­able, he saw a man ap­proach­ing who had of­fen­ded him some days be­fore—ob­serve the fine memory he had for mat­ters like that—and, "Gen­tle­men," said Slade, draw­ing, "it is a good twenty-yard shot—I’ll clip the third but­ton on his coat!" Which he did. The bystand­ers all ad­mired it. And they all at­ten­ded the fu­ner­al, too.On one oc­ca­sion a man who kept a little whisky-shelf at the sta­tion did something which angered Slade—and went and made his will. A day or two af­ter­ward Slade came in and called for some brandy. The man reached un­der the counter (os­tens­ibly to get a bottle—pos­sibly to get something else), but Slade smiled upon him that pe­cu­li­arly bland and sat­is­fied smile of his which the neigh­bors had long ago learned to re­cog­nize as a death-war­rant in dis­guise, and told him to "none of that!—pass out the high-priced art­icle." So the poor bar-keep­er had to turn his back and get the high-priced brandy from the shelf; and when he faced around again he was look­ing in­to the muzzle of Slade’s pis­tol. "And the next in­stant," ad­ded my in­form­ant, im­press­ively, "he was one of the dead­est men that ever lived."-drivers and con­duct­ors told us that some­times Slade would leave a hated en­emy wholly un­mo­les­ted, un­noticed and un­men­tioned, for weeks to­geth­er—had done it once or twice at any rate. And some said they be­lieved he did it in or­der to lull the vic­tims in­to un­watch­ful­ness, so that he could get the ad­vant­age of them, and oth­ers said they be­lieved he saved up an en­emy that way, just as a school­boy saves up a cake, and made the pleas­ure go as far as it would by gloat­ing over the an­ti­cip­a­tion. One of these cases was that of a French­man who had of­fen­ded Slade. To the sur­prise of every­body Slade did not kill him on the spot, but let him alone for a con­sid­er­able time. Fi­nally, however, he went to the French­man’s house very late one night, knocked, and when his en­emy opened the door, shot him dead—pushed the corpse in­side the door with his foot, set the house on fire and burned up the dead man, his wid­ow and three chil­dren! I heard this story from sev­er­al dif­fer­ent people, and they evid­ently be­lieved what they were say­ing. It may be true, and it may not. "Give a dog a bad name," etc.Slade was cap­tured, once, by a party of men who in­ten­ded to lynch him. They dis­armed him, and shut him up in a strong log-house, and placed a guard over him. He pre­vailed on his captors to send for his wife, so that he might have a last in­ter­view with her. She was a brave, lov­ing, spir­ited wo­man. She jumped on a horse and rode for life and death. When she ar­rived they let her in without search­ing her, and be­fore the door could be closed she whipped out a couple of re­volvers, and she and her lord marched forth de­fy­ing the party. And then, un­der a brisk fire, they moun­ted double and gal­loped away un­harmed!In the ful­ness of time Slade’s myr­mid­ons cap­tured his an­cient en­emy Ju­les, whom they found in a well-chosen hid­ing-place in the re­mote fast­nesses of the moun­tains, gain­ing a pre­cari­ous live­li­hood with his rifle. They brought him to Rocky Ridge, bound hand and foot, and de­pos­ited him in the middle of the cattle-yard with his back against a post. It is said that the pleas­ure that lit Slade’s face when he heard of it was something fear­ful to con­tem­plate. He ex­amined his en­emy to see that he was se­curely tied, and then went to bed, con­tent to wait till morn­ing be­fore en­joy­ing the lux­ury of killing him. Ju­les spent the night in the cattle-yard, and it is a re­gion where warm nights are nev­er known. In the morn­ing Slade prac­tised on him with his re­volver, nip­ping the flesh here and there, and oc­ca­sion­ally clip­ping off a fin­ger, while Ju­les begged him to kill him out­right and put him out of his misery. Fi­nally Slade re­loaded, and walk­ing up close to his vic­tim, made some char­ac­ter­ist­ic re­marks and then dis­patched him. The body lay there half a day, nobody ven­tur­ing to touch it without or­ders, and then Slade de­tailed a party and as­sisted at the buri­al him­self. But he first cut off the dead man’s ears and put them in his vest pock­et, where he car­ried them for some time with great sat­is­fac­tion. That is the story as I have fre­quently heard it told and seen it in print in Cali­for­nia news­pa­pers. It is doubt­less cor­rect in all es­sen­tial par­tic­u­lars.In due time we rattled up to a stage-sta­tion, and sat down to break­fast with a half-sav­age, half-civ­il­ized com­pany of armed and bearded moun­tain­eers, ranch­men and sta­tion em­ploy­ees. The most gen­tle­manly- ap­pear­ing, quiet and af­fable of­ficer we had yet found along the road in the Over­land Com­pany’s ser­vice was the per­son who sat at the head of the ta­ble, at my el­bow. Nev­er youth stared and shivered as I did when I heard them call him SLADE!Here was ro­mance, and I sit­ting face to face with it!—look­ing upon it—touch­ing it—hob­nob­bing with it, as it were! Here, right by my side, was the ac­tu­al ogre who, in fights and brawls and vari­ous ways, had taken the lives of twenty-six hu­man be­ings, or all men lied about him! I sup­pose I was the proudest strip­ling that ever traveled to see strange lands and won­der­ful people.He was so friendly and so gentle-spoken that I warmed to him in spite of his aw­ful his­tory. It was hardly pos­sible to real­ize that this pleas­ant per­son was the piti­less scourge of the out­laws, the raw-head-and-bloody- bones the nurs­ing moth­ers of the moun­tains ter­ri­fied their chil­dren with. And to this day I can re­mem­ber noth­ing re­mark­able about Slade ex­cept that his face was rather broad across the cheek bones, and that the cheek bones were low and the lips pe­cu­li­arly thin and straight. But that was enough to leave something of an ef­fect upon me, for since then I sel­dom see a face pos­sess­ing those char­ac­ter­ist­ics without fancy­ing that the own­er of it is a dan­ger­ous man.The cof­fee ran out. At least it was re­duced to one tin-cup­ful, and Slade was about to take it when he saw that my cup was empty.He po­litely offered to fill it, but al­though I wanted it, I po­litely de­clined. I was afraid he had not killed any­body that morn­ing, and might be need­ing di­ver­sion. But still with firm po­lite­ness he in­sisted on filling my cup, and said I had traveled all night and bet­ter de­served it than he—and while he talked he pla­cidly poured the flu­id, to the last drop. I thanked him and drank it, but it gave me no com­fort, for I could not feel sure that he would not be sorry, presently, that he had giv­en it away, and pro­ceed to kill me to dis­tract his thoughts from the loss. But noth­ing of the kind oc­curred. We left him with only twenty-six dead people to ac­count for, and I felt a tran­quil sat­is­fac­tion in the thought that in so ju­di­ciously tak­ing care of No. 1 at that break­fast-ta­ble I had pleas­antly es­caped be­ing No. 27. Slade came out to the coach and saw us off, first or­der­ing cer­tain re­arrange­ments of the mail-bags for our com­fort, and then we took leave of him, sat­is­fied that we should hear of him again, some day, and won­der­ing in what con­nec­tion.The stage-drivers and con­duct­ors told us that some­times Slade would leave a hated en­emy wholly un­mo­les­ted, un­noticed and un­men­tioned, for weeks to­geth­er—had done it once or twice at any rate. And some said they be­lieved he did it in or­der to lull the vic­tims in­to un­watch­ful­ness, so that he could get the ad­vant­age of them, and oth­ers said they be­lieved he saved up an en­emy that way, just as a school­boy saves up a cake, and made the pleas­ure go as far as it would by gloat­ing over the an­ti­cip­a­tion. One of these cases was that of a French­man who had of­fen­ded Slade. To the sur­prise of every­body Slade did not kill him on the spot, but let him alone for a con­sid­er­able time. Fi­nally, however, he went to the French­man’s house very late one night, knocked, and when his en­emy opened the door, shot him dead—pushed the corpse in­side the door with his foot, set the house on fire and burned up the dead man, his wid­ow and three chil­dren! I heard this story from sev­er­al dif­fer­ent people, and they evid­ently be­lieved what they were say­ing. It may be true, and it may not. "Give a dog a bad name," etc.Slade was cap­tured, once, by a party of men who in­ten­ded to lynch him. They dis­armed him, and shut him up in a strong log-house, and placed a guard over him. He pre­vailed on his captors to send for his wife, so that he might have a last in­ter­view with her. She was a brave, lov­ing, spir­ited wo­man. She jumped on a horse and rode for life and death. When she ar­rived they let her in without search­ing her, and be­fore the door could be closed she whipped out a couple of re­volvers, and she and her lord marched forth de­fy­ing the party. And then, un­der a brisk fire, they moun­ted double and gal­loped away un­harmed!In the ful­ness of time Slade’s myr­mid­ons cap­tured his an­cient en­emy Ju­les, whom they found in a well-chosen hid­ing-place in the re­mote fast­nesses of the moun­tains, gain­ing a pre­cari­ous live­li­hood with his rifle. They brought him to Rocky Ridge, bound hand and foot, and de­pos­ited him in the middle of the cattle-yard with his back against a post. It is said that the pleas­ure that lit Slade’s face when he heard of it was something fear­ful to con­tem­plate. He ex­amined his en­emy to see that he was se­curely tied, and then went to bed, con­tent to wait till morn­ing be­fore en­joy­ing the lux­ury of killing him. Ju­les spent the night in the cattle-yard, and it is a re­gion where warm nights are nev­er known. In the morn­ing Slade prac­tised on him with his re­volver, nip­ping the flesh here and there, and oc­ca­sion­ally clip­ping off a fin­ger, while Ju­les begged him to kill him out­right and put him out of his misery. Fi­nally Slade re­loaded, and walk­ing up close to his vic­tim, made some char­ac­ter­ist­ic re­marks and then dis­patched him. The body lay there half a day, nobody ven­tur­ing to touch it without or­ders, and then Slade de­tailed a party and as­sisted at the buri­al him­self. But he first cut off the dead man’s ears and put them in his vest pock­et, where he car­ried them for some time with great sat­is­fac­tion. That is the story as I have fre­quently heard it told and seen it in print in Cali­for­nia news­pa­pers. It is doubt­less cor­rect in all es­sen­tial par­tic­u­lars.In due time we rattled up to a stage-sta­tion, and sat down to break­fast with a half-sav­age, half-civ­il­ized com­pany of armed and bearded moun­tain­eers, ranch­men and sta­tion em­ploy­ees. The most gen­tle­manly- ap­pear­ing, quiet and af­fable of­ficer we had yet found along the road in the Over­land Com­pany’s ser­vice was the per­son who sat at the head of the ta­ble, at my el­bow. Nev­er youth stared and shivered as I did when I heard them call him SLADE!Here was ro­mance, and I sit­ting face to face with it!—look­ing upon it—touch­ing it—hob­nob­bing with it, as it were! Here, right by my side, was the ac­tu­al ogre who, in fights and brawls and vari­ous ways, had taken the lives of twenty-six hu­man be­ings, or all men lied about him! I sup­pose I was the proudest strip­ling that ever traveled to see strange lands and won­der­ful people.He was so friendly and so gentle-spoken that I warmed to him in spite of his aw­ful his­tory. It was hardly pos­sible to real­ize that this pleas­ant per­son was the piti­less scourge of the out­laws, the raw-head-and-bloody- bones the nurs­ing moth­ers of the moun­tains ter­ri­fied their chil­dren with. And to this day I can re­mem­ber noth­ing re­mark­able about Slade ex­cept that his face was rather broad across the cheek bones, and that the cheek bones were low and the lips pe­cu­li­arly thin and straight. But that was enough to leave something of an ef­fect upon me, for since then I sel­dom see a face pos­sess­ing those char­ac­ter­ist­ics without fancy­ing that the own­er of it is a dan­ger­ous man.The cof­fee ran out. At least it was re­duced to one tin-cup­ful, and Slade was about to take it when he saw that my cup was empty.He po­litely offered to fill it, but al­though I wanted it, I po­litely de­clined. I was afraid he had not killed any­body that morn­ing, and might be need­ing di­ver­sion. But still with firm po­lite­ness he in­sisted on filling my cup, and said I had traveled all night and bet­ter de­served it than he—and while he talked he pla­cidly poured the flu­id, to the last drop. I thanked him and drank it, but it gave me no com­fort, for I could not feel sure that he would not be sorry, presently, that he had giv­en it away, and pro­ceed to kill me to dis­tract his thoughts from the loss. But noth­ing of the kind oc­curred. We left him with only twenty-six dead people to ac­count for, and I felt a tran­quil sat­is­fac­tion in the thought that in so ju­di­ciously tak­ing care of No. 1 at that break­fast-ta­ble I had pleas­antly es­caped be­ing No. 27. Slade came out to the coach and saw us off, first or­der­ing cer­tain re­arrange­ments of the mail-bags for our com­fort, and then we took leave of him, sat­is­fied that we should hear of him again, some day, and won­der­ing in what con­nec­tion.


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