Montana vigilantes hang Jack Slade - HISTORY
Year
1864

Montana vigilantes hang Jack Slade

Local hell-raiser Jack Slade is hanged in one of the more troubling incidents of frontier vigilantism.

Slade stood out even among the many rabble-rousers who inhabited the wild frontier-mining town of Virginia City, Montana. When he was sober, townspeople liked and respected Slade, though there were unconfirmed rumors he had once been a thief and murderer. When drunk, however, Slade had a habit of firing his guns in bars and making idle threats. Though Slade’s rowdiness did not injure anyone, Virginia City leaders anxious to create a more peaceable community began to lose patience. They began giving more weight to the claims that he was a potentially dangerous man.

The year before, many of Virginia City’s leading citizens had formed a semisecret “vigilance committee” to combat the depredations of a road agent named Henry Plummer. Plummer and his gang had robbed and killed in the area, confident that the meager law enforcement in the region could not stop them. Determined to reassert order, the Virginia City vigilantes began capturing and hanging the men in Plummer’s gang. As a warning to other criminals, the vigilantes left a scrap of paper on the hanged corpses with the cryptic numbers “3-7-77.” The meaning of the numbers is unclear, though some claim it referred to the dimensions of a grave: 3 feet wide, 7 feet long, 77 inches deep.

In the first two months of 1864, the Montana vigilantes hanged 24 men, including Plummer. Most historians agree that these hangings, while technically illegal, punished only genuinely guilty men. However, the vigilantes’ decision to hang Jack Slade seems less justified. Finally fed up with his drunken rampages and wild threats, on this day in 1864 a group of vigilantes took Slade into custody and told him he would be hanged. Slade, who had committed no serious crime in Virginia City, pleaded for his life, or at least a chance to say goodbye to his beloved wife. Before Slade’s wife arrived, the vigilantes hanged him.

Not long after the questionable execution of Slade, legitimate courts and prisons began to function in Virginia City. Though sporadic vigilante “justice” continued until 1867, it increasingly attracted public concern. In March 1867, miners in one Montana mining district posted a notice in the local newspaper that they would hang five vigilantes for every one man hanged by vigilantes. Thereafter, vigilante action faded away.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Speech transmitted by telephone

On this day, the first discernible speech is transmitted over a telephone system when inventor Alexander Graham Bell summons his assistant in another room by saying, “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you.” Bell had received a comprehensive telephone patent just three days ...read more

The Firebombing of Tokyo continues

On March 10, 1945, 300 American bombers continue to drop almost 2,000 tons of incendiaries on Tokyo, Japan, in a mission that had begun the previous day. The attack destroyed large portions of the Japanese capital and killed 100,000 civilians.In the closing months of the war, the ...read more

Rebellion in Tibet

On this day in 1959, Tibetans band together in revolt, surrounding the summer palace of the Dalai Lama in defiance of Chinese occupation forces.China’s occupation of Tibet began nearly a decade before, in October 1950, when troops from its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded ...read more

Communists surround Ban Me Thuot

The North Vietnamese surround and attack the city of Ban Me Thuot, as heavy fighting erupts in the Central Highlands. This action, initiated in late January 1975, just two years after a cease-fire was established by the Paris Peace Accords, was part of what the North Vietnamese ...read more

Army captain charged with My Lai war crimes

The U.S. Army accuses Capt. Ernest Medina and four other soldiers of committing crimes at My Lai in March 1968. The charges ranged from premeditated murder to rape and the “maiming” of a suspect under interrogation. Medina was the company commander of Lt. William Calley and other ...read more

Cuba plays in World Baseball Classic

On March 10, 2006, the Cuban national baseball team plays Puerto Rico in the first round of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. While the Puerto Rican team was made up of major league All-Stars, the Cuban team was largely unknown to the world. Puerto Rico beat Cuba 12-2 that ...read more

Disco sensation Andy Gibb dies at the age of 30

With his knee-buckling good looks and his brothers' songwriting talents backing him up, 19-year-old Andy Gibb staged an unprecedented display of youthful pop mastery in the 12 months following his American debut in the spring of 1977. And his star may have risen even higher were ...read more

The WB premieres its first hit show

On this day in 1997, the fledgling Warner Brothers (WB) television network airs the inaugural episode of what will become its first bona-fide hit show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.Buffy‘s creator, Joss Whedon, developed the series from an original script he had written for the big ...read more

Mine explosion kills 1,060 in France

A devastating mine disaster kills over 1,000 workers in Courrieres, France, on this day in 1906. An underground fire sparked a massive explosion that virtually destroyed a vast maze of mines. The Courrieres Colliery in northern France was a complex series of mines near the ...read more

Strange death of Jan Masaryk

The communist-controlled government of Czechoslovakia reports that Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk has committed suicide. The story of the noncommunist Masaryk’s death was greeted with skepticism in the West.Masaryk was born in 1886, the son of Czechoslovakia’s first president. ...read more

William H. C. Whiting dies

On this day in 1865, Confederate General William Henry Chase Whiting dies in prison from wounds suffered during the fall of Fort Fisher, North Carolina.Born in 1824 in Biloxi, Mississippi, Whiting was educated in Boston and at Georgetown College (now University) in Washington, ...read more

Turkish troops begin evacuation of Baghdad

Less than two weeks after their victorious recapture of the strategically placed city of Kut-al-Amara on the Tigris River in Mesopotamia, British troops under the regional command of Sir Frederick Stanley Maude bear down on Baghdad, causing their Turkish opponents to begin a ...read more