Death of a Gunfighter: The Quest for Jack Slade, the West's Most Elusive Legend

Overview

"A superb biography"—Foreword Reviews

"An ambitious, well-written effort to restore a Wild West desperado to history.... Readers will surely remember Jack Slade from henceforth. A treat for Western history buffs and fans of true crime."—Kirkus Reviews

"An enjoyable read, and it is also a heroic effort."—Wall Street Journal

"Every bit the page-turner as Roughing It, with one added advantage—Rottenberg's book approaches the truth."—Wild West ...

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Death of a Gunfighter: The Quest for Jack Slade, the West's Most Elusive Legend

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Overview

"A superb biography"—Foreword Reviews

"An ambitious, well-written effort to restore a Wild West desperado to history.... Readers will surely remember Jack Slade from henceforth. A treat for Western history buffs and fans of true crime."—Kirkus Reviews

"An enjoyable read, and it is also a heroic effort."—Wall Street Journal

"Every bit the page-turner as Roughing It, with one added advantage—Rottenberg's book approaches the truth."—Wild West magazine

"Now and then a book of Western history comes along that captures an era and clears up many a mystery; Death of a Gunfighter is such a book."—Colorado Central magazine

In 1859, as the United States careened toward civil war, Washington's only northern link with America's richest state, California, was a stagecoach line operating between Missouri and the Pacific. Yet the stage line was plagued by graft, outlaws, and hostile Indians. At this critical moment, the company enlisted a former wagon train captain and Mexican War veteran to clean up its most dangerous division. Over the next three years, Joseph Alfred "Jack" Slade exceeded his employers' wildest dreams, capturing bandits and horse thieves and driving away gangs; he even shot to death a disruptive employee. He kept the stagecoaches and the U.S. Mail running, and helped launch the Pony Express, all of which kept California in the Union—and without California's gold, the Union would have failed to finance its cause. Across the Great Plains he became known as "The Law West of Kearny."

Slade's legend grew when he was shot multiple times and left for dead, only to survive and exact revenge on his would-be killer. But once Slade had restored the peace, leaving him without challenges, his life descended into an alcoholic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nightmare, transforming him from a courageous leader, charming gentleman, and devoted husband into a vicious, quick-triggered ruffian—a purported outlaw —who finally lost his life at the hands of vigilantes.

Since Slade's death in 1864, persistent myths and stories have defied the efforts of writers and historians, including Mark Twain, to capture the real Jack Slade. Despite his notoriety, the pieces of Slade's fascinating life—including his marriage to the beautiful Maria Virginia—have remained scattered and hidden. He was never photographed and left almost no personal writings, not even a letter. In Death of a Gunfighter: The Quest for Jack Slade, the West's Most Elusive Legend, journalist Dan Rottenberg assembles years of research to reveal the true story of Jack Slade, one of America's greatest tragic heroes.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Was Jack Slade (1831-64) a murderous gunfighter of the Old West, as depicted by Mark Twain in Roughing It , or was Twain off the mark? Journalist Rottenberg takes the results of research by a small group of amateurs who have been digging through records and carefully examining books for mentions of Slade and adds them to his own efforts to present a portrait of a wagonmaster, Overland Mail division superintendent, and at times a hapless drunk. The first two occupations earned Slade a small fortune, the last cost him his life, hanged by a group of vigilantes in Montana. Rottenberg shows Slade in all his complexity, delineating how his skill at keeping the stagecoaches and mail moving was a factor in keeping California in the Union. He examines how the myths and legends surrounding Slade originated and were propagated, sometimes with the aid of Slade himself. Since Slade left no letters or other writings, Rottenberg fills in with discussions of the times, occasionally becoming so immersed in the era that the reader loses sight of Slade. This won't matter to Western history buffs or general readers, but the record here isn't substantial enough for academics. Recommended for public libraries and comprehensive collections on the West.-Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette

Kirkus Reviews
An ambitious, well-written effort to restore a Wild West desperado to history. Broad Street Review editor Rottenberg (In the Kingdom of Coal, 2003, etc.) has a yen for back roads geographical and historical. This long tale, full of shaggy-dog elements, begins on a back road on the High Plains that was once America's chief highway for wagon trains crossing to California and the Pacific Northwest by way of South Pass, Wyo. There he picks up the trail of Joseph Alfred "Jack" Slade, a figure long forgotten, turning up these days in the occasional monograph or journal article. Slade, by Rottenberg's vigorous account, has all the makings of a Western character that ought to be remembered, begging for portrayal by, say, Tommy Lee Jones or Russell Crowe. Zelig-like, he turns up as a muleteer, wagon-train driver and stagecoach exec along the Emigrant Trail, serving as de facto law of the land over a large area of what is now Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming. His stern enforcement of the law in a time of outlaws and dry-gulchers, to say nothing of secessionists, kept a steady flow of ore streaming from the western goldfields to the federal treasury. Yet this lawman went bad, turning to drink and crime, becoming a bully and general pest across his former domain. Ironically, given that he was one of those who "could believe that a few salutary hangings might enhance their security," he met his end at the hands of a vigilante mob, as Mark Twain recorded in Roughing It-inaccurately, Rottenberg shows. Likening Slade to the twin leads of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Rottenberg considers why Slade's trail went south, and why he is not better remembered-perhaps because "he resisted neatcategorization . . . He could not even be labeled a good man or a bad one."Readers will surely remember Jack Slade henceforth. A treat for Western history buffs and fans of true crime. Agent: Linda Langton/Langtons International
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594161124
  • Publisher: Westholme Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/23/2010
  • Edition description: 2
  • Pages: 536
  • Sales rank: 558,874
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Rottenberg is a professional writer.

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