by Susan Page DavisMy topic this month is a somewhat gruesome one, as the settlement at Julesburg, Colorado, was the scene of much violence.
Julesburg was a trading post, established in 1859 for Jules Beni, a French trader. This little hamlet in northeast Colorado became an important stop for many travelers. When a branch of the Oregon Trail dipped south from Wyoming into Colorado, Julesburg was on the route, and it became a Pony Express station in 1860-61 and a stop on the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express stage line and later the Overland Stage.
|Pony Express statue at the Julesburg Welcome Center|
photo by Tom Arthur
The trading post was located on the south bank of the South Platte River, at what was called the Upper California Crossing. People who did not want to follow the Oregon Trail along the North Platte to Oregon and California would at this point branch off toward what became the city of Denver.
Besides the trading post, Julesburg grew to have a store, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, a warehouse, stables, homesteaders’ cabins, and the stagecoach station. The settlement became a magnet for gamblers and criminals.
|Modern day Julesburg, |
photo by J. Stephen Conn
Jules Beni himself was accused of cheating his customers and overcharging them. The post was robbed several times, in fact, so often that after a while Jules was accused of being involved in the thefts. For about a year, he was the agent for the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company and managed the stage station. During this time, the station was robbed many times. The robbers seemed to target only the stages carrying money or other valuables. It wasn’t long before “Old Jules” was accused of being behind the activity.
When Ben Holladay, the “stagecoach king,” took over the mail route that ran through Julesburg, his division agent for that section of trail, Jack Slade, fired Beni. People tried to change the name of the town to Overland City, but it didn’t stick. People kept on calling it Julesburg, and it was known as the toughest town west of the Missouri River.
|Virginia Dale station, Colorado. It is claimed that |
Jack Slade is on the left, and his wife,
Virginia, for whom the station is named,
next to him.
Later, Slade was at Julesburg. Some say he chased some thieves there who were stealing horses from the stage line, and Beni was with them. Other sources claim Slade was there and unarmed when Beni attacked him.
At any rate, Beni shot him several times, emptying his six-shooter at Slade, and ended with a shotgun blast. He told his men that when Slade was dead, they could put him in a packing box and bury him. Everyone who witnessed the shooting assumed Slade would die. Jack Slade, though badly wounded, was far from dead. He got up and yelled at Beni not to trouble himself with his burial, and the that he would live to carry one of his ears on his watch chain—which he later did.
|Robber's Roost at Virginia Dale, a well known stage station of the Overland Route from 1862 to the opening of the railroad. At one time the home of Jack Slade. Larimer County, Colorado.|
Slade killed Beni in 1861 or 1862. He had been warned repeatedly by friends along the stage line that Beni was out to kill him. Slade claimed the old trader had made another attempt on his life, and indeed, sources say Beni tried to ambush Slade at his ranch at Cold Springs. Slade caught him and told him to make a will. He tied Beni to a fencepost and shot him several times. There are several versions of the story, each more gruesome than the last, but since there is no hard evidence that Slade tortured Beni in the ways some writers have described, we’ll leave it at that. But it’s certain that when Beni was dead, Slade cut off his ears for trophies, and so Old Jules was dead. Slade went to Fort Laramie and turned himself in, but was let go.
|Julesburg depot, 1886|
The violence at Julesburg, however, was not over. In January and February, 1865, Julesburg and the stage line were attacked many times by Indians. It is believed this was in retaliation for the Sand Creek Massacre. The Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota tribes were involved. On January 7, they attacked Julesburg, defeating about 60 U.S. Army soldiers and around 50 armed civilians.
In the following weeks, the Indians reportedly burned twelve ranches, destroyed more than 100 tons of hay, and attacked a wagon train. They also returned to destroy all of the buildings at Julesburg and cut about 75 miles of telegraph lines west of Julesburg. Ben Holladay presented his claims for losses from the stage company to Congress, totaling about $115,000, a huge fortune at the time.
SURPRISE! If you would like to enter the drawing for a copy (print or e-book) of The Lady’s Maid, leave a comment below. In this book, an English lady and her maid take to the Oregon trail, and they stop at a trading post that is a little like (but not nearly so violent as) Julesburg. The drawing will be held June 29.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than forty published novels. A history major, she’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .