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HISTORY & PREHISTORY

Vigilante Justice

Boot Hill

Vigilante Justice? The Wells Fargo office in Virginia City used to be the office of Ben Holladay's Overland Stage Line. Holladay bought the stage line from the unsuccessful Overland Mail Express Company. He bought new equipment and hired new people to improve the operation. One of the people he hired to run the mail route to Denver, Colorado, was named Jack Slade.

Slade was accused of being a member of the notorious Plummers Gang and hanged by the Vigilantes in Virginia City. People still argue about whether he was guilty or not. Jack Slade had supervised the construction of relay stations for the Pony Express. One of the employees he hired for the Express was a fifteen-year-old boy later known as "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Slade went to work for the Holladay line in the early 1860s.

Slade was considered a good, honest businessman but was also known for having a temper and getting drunk. His temper got him in trouble with one man who'd stolen horses from the stage line. The man later caught him unarmed and shot Slade six times. He then shot him again with a shotgun. Slade survived, later killed the man, and took his ears to put on his watch chain.

Kiskadden Building

Slade bought a ranch near Virginia City. The Vigilantes held their meetings at the building that came to be called Kiskadden's Barn and Blacksmith. It still stands in Virginia City, not far from where they hanged their suspects. The Vigilantes suspected Slade of involvement with the road agents.

Tombstones

As the Vigilantes took him to hang, Slade's friends argued against it, saying he was an honest man. He was hanged anyway. When his wife Virginia heard the news, she rode into town and shouted curses at the Vigilantes, until they told her to get out of town or she'd be hanged too.

She took Slade's body home, pickled it in alcohol, and kept it under her bed for months. She finally took it by stagecoach to Salt Lake City for burial. She then returned to Virginia City and married James Kiskadden. She moved to St. Louis and divorced Kiskadden only three years later. She returned to Virginia City in 1883, and married another man. Around 1890 she filed unsuccessful lawsuits to try to regain the ranch Slade bought in 1863 at Virginia City.

Hangman Building

Slade's hanging wasn't the only act of the Vigilantes to be questioned. The Bannack Vigilance Committee approached the cabin of suspected criminal Joe Pizanthia to question him. They called for him to come out, but instead he shot two of the men. The townspeople that had collected around the Vigilantes were so angered by the shooting that they used a cannon to fire three shots into Pizanthia's cabin. They found his feet sticking out from under the door that had fallen in on him. The crowd dragged him out. One of the men he'd wounded fired six bullets into Pizanthia, killing him. That wasn't punishment enough for the mob. They hanged the body and shot it hundreds of times.

Some people have said that even though the Vigilantes weren't responsible for Pizanthia's death, the fear they created was. Pizanthia may have acted the way he did because he thought he wouldn't get a trial and would die if he didn't shoot first. People hated and feared the road agents and criminals, but over time some came to fear the Vigilantes as well.

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