Jules Beni, the Pony Express

­­­­­­­Jules Beni – Pony Express[1]
Angela Reiniche

Many years removed from the fur trade’s heyday, French Canadian trapper Jules Beni—known to some as “Old Jules”—sought new opportunities. In the late 1850s, he established a trading post at the Upper Crossing of the South Platte River, where roads heading to Salt Lake City and Denver diverged from one another. Before long, the humble one-story cedar log structure grew into a bona fide rendezvous point for traders, buffalo hunters, adventurers, bandits, and desperadoes “who rode into town to divide their loot and squander it riotously.”[2] By the time that Russell, Majors, and Waddell hired Jules Beni to be the stationmaster at Upper Crossing, it was already known as Julesburg—a nod to Beni’s influence. The small trading post had grown to include a stagecoach station, a stable, a store, and a blacksmith’s shop.[3] Beni quickly developed a reputation for corruption. According to some, Beni stole the company’s horses and then, after ransoming the animals, charged the loss to the company accounts and kept the cash for himself. One biographer claims that travelers complained about the exorbitant prices Beni demanded for lodging and food, the misrouting of the mail, and inconsistency of the stage schedule (due to the missing horses). When the company appointed Jack Slade as the Sweetwater Division superintendent, his first order of business was to investigate the “actions of rustlers and thieves centered in the Julesburg area.” Benjamin Ficklin, who oversaw all of the firm’s division superintendents, believed that his stationmaster at Julesburg had something to do with the problem.[4]

It is hard to know exactly what happened the day that Jack Slade arrived in Julesburg to relieve Beni of his duties. Beni fetched his six-shooter (some say it was a double-barreled shotgun) and unloaded it, at short range, into Slade’s body. Although left for dead, Slade survived Beni’s attack. Ficklin informed Beni that he should leave his namesake town and never return—unless he wanted to be hanged. According to most of the stories, Beni did leave. But not for long.[5] First and foremost a cattleman, Beni returned to Julesburg in August 1861, driving stock out of Denver. Slade ambushed Beni and shot him. That is the simple story; however, there are many other versions. One story tells that Beni rode into town boasting that he was not afraid of anyone from the mail company and that Slade had sent a party to capture him (and earn a $500 reward from Slade in the process). Two of Slade’s men wounded Beni in the ensuing gunfight, strapped his nearly lifeless body to a pack horse, and headed toward Cold Spring Station in present-day Wyoming. Beni died before they reached the station and—knowing that Slade wanted to exact revenge himself—Slade’s men tied Beni’s body to a post so that he appeared to be wounded rather than dead. Apparently, Slade suspected that Beni had already died, but he sliced “Old Jules’” ear off just to make sure; some legends say that he carried Beni’s ear with him as a souvenir.[6] Whatever happened, the events that led to Beni’s death in August 1861 became such a popular part of Pony Express lore that Charles M. Russell depicted it in a 1922 ink and graphite illustration titled “Killing of Jules Reni [sic] by Slade.”[7]

It is unknown where Beni’s body rests. No extant evidence suggests that he ever married or had any children. Beni’s legacy will be forever tied to Jack Slade; in fact, many accounts of Slade’s life emphasize the gruesomeness of Beni’s death to bolster the former’s legendary status among historians and Pony Express enthusiasts. Despite Beni’s relatively few appearances in the historical record, his namesake town remains an important living link to the early days of the United States mail.[8]

[1] Part of a 2016–2018 collaborative project of the National Trails – National Park service and the University of New Mexico’s Department of History, “Student Experience in National Trails Historic Research: Vignettes Project” [Colorado Plateau Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CPCESU), Task Agreement P16AC00957]. This project was formulated to provide trail partners and the general public with useful biographies of less-studied trail figures—particularly African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, women, and children.

[2] Hal Schindler, “Here Lies Joseph Slade: S.L. Became Resting Place after Stage Boss Missed His Connection,” Salt Lake Tribune, 19 June 1994, reprint accessed 22 August 2017 at Utah History To Go,

[3] William E. Hill, The Pony Express Trail: Yesterday and Today (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press, 2010), 123.

[4] Schindler, “Here Lies Joseph Slade”; Dan Rottenberg, "Jack Slade: Western Jekyll and Hyde," Wild West 22, no. 6 (2010), 53–54; Bob Boze Bell, “A Dangerous and Bloody Citizen: Jack Slade vs the Bottle,” True West, 9 September 2014,; Frank A. Root and William Elsey Connelley, The Overland Stage to California: Personal Reminiscences and Authentic History of the Great Overland Stage Line and Pony Express from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean (Topeka, Kan.: Published by the authors, 1901), 212–18; and Hill, The Pony Express Trail, 124.

[5] Schindler, “Here Lies Joseph Slade”; Bell, “A Dangerous and Bloody Citizen”; Root et al., The Overland Stage, 216–17.

[6] Rottenburg, 54. Rottenburg has published extensively about the legend of Jack Slade and claims that his telling of the Slade-Beni affair is an attempt to demythologize the events and that his account is drawn from “the most reliable sources.” For a similar account, see Ansel Watrous, History of Larimer County, Colorado: Collated and Compiled from Historical Authorities, Public Reports, Official Records and Other Reliable Sources – Stories of Indian Troubles and of the Pioneer Days (Fort Collins, CO.: The Courier Printing & Publishing Company, 1911), 72-76; and Henry T. Davis, Solitary Places Made Glad: Being Observations and Experiences for Thirty-two Years in Nebraska; With Sketches and Incidents Touching the Discovery, Early Settlement, and Development of the State (Cincinnati, OH.: Cranston & Stowe, 1890), 65.

[7] Charles M. Russell, “Killing of Jules Reni by Slade,” ca. 1922, ink and graphite on paper, Amon G. Carter Collection, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

[8] The Old Julesburg that Beni founded came under attack on 7 January 1865 when more than one thousand Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota descended upon the town in retaliation after the massacre at Sand Creek. Nearly a month after the first attack, the Cheyenne returned to Julesburg and burned down all of the buildings but without attacking the soldiers and civilians that remained. George Bird Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyenne (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915) 181–95; John Frank Dawson, Place Names in Colorado: Why 700 Communities Were So Named. 150 of Spanish or Indian Origin (Denver, Colo.: J. Frank Dawson Publishing, 1954), 28; and Hill, The Pony Express, 125.

Part of a series of articles titled People of the Pony Express.

Pony Express National Historic Trail

Last updated: February 14, 2023