In Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book One, Jenny McNabb buries her mother behind the Virginia Dale stagecoach station in northern Colorado. Virginia Dale served as one of the “home stations” on the Overland Trail. When Jenny passed through in 1867, the station was operated by Wells, Fargo & Co. Virginia Dale was the last station in Colorado before the trail crossed into what then was part of the Dakota Territory. A year later, Wyoming Territory would be carved out of the southwestern portion of Dakota Territory.
Notorious Jack Slade built Virginia Dale Station for Ben Holladay’s Overland Stage Company in 1862. Slade gave the station his wife’s first name coupled to the dale (or glade) through which ran a mountain stream. Some reports also suggest that Virginia’s last name was Dale. Today, Virginia Dale is the only complete stagecoach station along the Overland Trail which extends 575 miles from Julesburg, Colorado, to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. Virginia Dale Station is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Although mean tempered, Slade’s organizational abilities were appreciated by Holladay. Slade had been one of the organizers and managers of the Pony Express. Slade built several stagecoach stations along the Overland Trail. Jules Beni managed the station in his namesake town of Julesburg. The Overland Stage Company sent Jack Slade to investigate rumors that Beni was tampering with the U.S. Mail. The two men got into a fight, and Beni shot Slade five times. Slade survived and later ambushed Beni, tied him to a fence post, shot off his fingers, then cut off his ears and nailed them to the post before shooting Beni dead. Supposedly, Slade wore one of the ears as a watch fob thereafter. Mark Twain wrote about meeting Jack Slade in Roughing It. Vigilantes lynched Slade after a drunken brawl in Virginia City, Montana, in 1864.
I describe Virginia Dale Station and the surrounding countryside in Eagle Talons. This photo, taken from the current highway, shows the old trail (now a dirt road) passing through the rocky, hilly terrain of northern Colorado at an elevation of over 7,000 feet. Standing at this spot, one gets a feeling that Jenny McNabb’s wagon, pulled by its team of oxen, might lumber along at any moment.