The Devil in the Bottle
Mark Twain wrote in Roughing It that west of Fort Kearney, "men feared Jack Slade more than the Almighty."
After Vigilantes ended a criminal conspiracy in Alder Gulch during the winter of 1863-1864, they founded a "People's Court" to administer justice. At the same time, Joseph (aka Jack) Slade has settled near Alder Gulch with his wife and adopted son. As a manager with the Overland Stage Co., he ruled 600 hostile miles by intimidation. Passengers traveled safely, and the mail arrived on time.
But Slade, a fine man when sober, turns into a demon when he drinks. Fired from the Overland when he and his men destroyed Army supplies at Fort Halleck, he moves to a ranch outside Virginia City.
His friends warn him that his behavior will not be tolerated here, but he either cannot or will not stop drinking. Daniel Stark says, "It's as if there's a devil in the bottle when Slade drinks."
Early in March 1864, after wrecking businesses and saloons, and attacking a brothel, a drunken Slade puts a gun to the head of the People's Court judge, and tells Daniel Stark and other Vigilantes that they are "all played out." Now Dan and the Vigilantes face a horrible choice.
By yielding to Slade, they expose honest people to danger and the destruction of their livelihoods. Yet Slade, despite his murderous reputation, has committed no capital crime to justify hanging him.
Will the devil in the bottle get Jack Slade?