Virginia Dale: The Woman Behind the Ghost Town

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Nearly halfway between Laramie and Fort Collins lies the remnants of a stagecoach with a troubled and rich history.  The abandoned Virginia Dale Cafe serves as a welcoming sight for travelers anxious to get to their next major destination.  Nestled in the foothills of the Front Range, the tattered exterior of the cafe sets the scene for the ghost town’s rugged past.

Picture it:  Northern Colorado, 1863.  In a location colloquially known as Robbers Roost, outlaw Jack Slade spotted a stagecoach gaining momentum towards the station.  On board was approximately $60,000 in Army payroll; not in money, but in pure gold coins.  Slade’s cohorts seized the payroll from the stage and took off with it, only to bury it for safekeeping.  However, before the bandits could spend their new fortune, they were captured and killed by U.S. cavalrymen.  They only one to escape death by cop?  Jack Slade.

Legend has it that Jack Slade was in charge of this specific outlaw group.  He avoided execution as law enforcement officials and local vigilantes did not have enough evidence to place blame solely upon himself.  Slade played the ignorance card as well; he claimed not to have knowledge about the robbery by his gang because he was the superintendent of the Robbers Roost station along the Central Overland line.  Management of the Overland Trail stage line had their doubts, so they fired Slade.

Slade subsequently moved to Virginia City, Montana, and couldn’t escape his troubled past.  A heavy drinker with an unadulterated temper, he found himself being whisked away to the gallows shortly after his arrival.  The charge that sent him there was not that of stagecoach robbery, but of destruction of property.  He might have gotten away with simple jail time had he not ripped up the arrest warrant nor cursed the judge.  No amount of cajolery could convince the judge of a more lenient sentence.  March 10, 1864 marked Jack Slade’s final day.

His girlfriend, Virginia Dale, waited at the Robbers Roost station for her lover’s body to arrive.  One of Jack’s closest friends traveled by stagecoach to retrieve his body, by now pale, limp, and cold.  Still grief-stricken, Virginia took his corpse home and stowed him in a metal casket.  In a time before formaldehyde was the preservatory norm, she filled the casket with alcohol.  Virginia stowed Jack Slade’s body underneath her bed for nearly four months, wanting to be as close as she could to her one true love.  After the reality of what happened set in, she gave Jack a proper burial in Salt Lake City.

The stagecoach station and village were both named in honor of the former station superintendent’s girlfriend – a woman who endured the cycle of human emotion in such a short time.  Her name weaves a story of a wild, outlaw past with an unbound loyalty and commitment, regardless of circumstance.  The stagecoach and school still stand not far off of Highway 287.  The shackled remains of the town’s post office and cafe remind the public of a place in time riddled in ruggedness, love, and dejection.

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