Texas John Slaughter - Taming Arizona
"Texas John” Slaughter
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"Unlike squalid old badge wearers
such as John Selman and Wild Bill Hickok, John Slaughter was basically a
very reserved sort of man. Nobody who wished to keep on calling terms with
him overstepped that boundary."
-- Judge Clayton Baird, who rode
Slaughter was a
veteran, trail-driver, cattleman,
famed Cochise, Arizona County Sheriff, professional gambler, and an
Representative during his lifetime. Before he died at the age of 80,
he was a symbol of the
West and much celebrated hero.
John was born in
Sabine Parish, Louisiana on October 2, 1841 to Benjamin and Minerva
Mabry Slaughter. However, when he was just three months old, his
family moved to a land grant near Lockhart,
began raising cattle.
Though schooled in
Sabine and Caldwell counties, Slaughter’s formal education was brief.
But the boy was a quick learner and found other opportunities to
increase his knowledge such as learning how to speak Spanish and
skills from Mexican vaqueros. As a young man, he ranched with his
father and brothers and just before the Civil War
began, he enlisted as a Texas Ranger
with Captain John Files Tom's company to fight the
The diminutive, 5
foot 6 inch man, with penetrating black eyes and a sometimes
stuttering voice, was evidently determined to make his mark upon the
On March 9, 1862, he
joined the Confederate Army, but by 1864 he was sent home because of
an illness. However; after he recovered, he returned to service with
the Third Frontier Division, Texas State
Troops, in Burnet County, where he earned a reputation of a fearless
fighter skilled with firearms.
When the war was over, he and his brothers
Ranch Company in Atascosa County, Texas, where
they not only raised their own cattle but also transported herds to
They were some of the first to ever drive cattle up the
Chisholm Trail. While he was in
a cattle drive he became an avid
poker player, a
compulsion that would follow him throughout his life.
On August 4, 1871, he married Eliza
Adeline Harris and the two would eventually have four children, though
only two would survive to adulthood.
1876, Slaughter was playing poker in a
he caught another player named Barney Gallagher cheating. When Gallagher
won the hand, Slaughter challenged him with a gun and took back his
losses. Later, the cheating man was so enraged that he followed Slaughter
to his ranch where he told the foreman to call him out, intending on
killing him. As soon as John came in sight, Gallagher took a shot at him
but missed. Slaughter returned fire and Gallagher
fell dead on the ground with a bullet in his heart.
the late 1870s, Slaughter felt that Texas had
become too crowded and left his wife and children in Texas while
he went to look for a new place to settle in New Mexico.
He bought cattle but didn’t purchase any land in
Leaving his cattle there, he then began to look for land in southern
was evidently taking him some time and he soon sent for his wife and
children who joined him in Tucson. However, his wife died shortly
afterwards of smallpox in 1877.
Returning to New Mexico to
get his cattle, Slaughter left his children in Arizona and
traveled eastward. While camping on the banks of the Pecos River, he met a
family named Howell, who had a 16 year-old daughter named Viola. John
married the girl on April 16, 1878 and convinced the entire family to move
with him to Arizona.
first settled south of
before Slaughter bought the 65,000 acre San Bernardino Ranch near Douglas
in 1884. Extending from Arizona down
into Mexico, Slaughter built a large and sophisticated operation that
employed some 20
and 30 families who worked the farmlands. John and Viola did not have any
children of their own, but adopted several children.
poker during the
days of the
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elected Cochise County Sheriff, tasked with ridding Tombstone
and Galeyville of the lawlessness. Working closely with Wells
Fargo Express Agent and former
U.S. Deputy Marshal,
Milton, the two were deadly in tracking and capturing fugitives.
During this time, Slaughter was known to have worn a pearl-handled .44 and
carried a 10-gauge, double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun, which he called an
Slaughter also made the
"mistake” of hiring
as a Deputy Sheriff. Though, Alvord
quickly earned a reputation as an excellent tracker, bringing in a number
of cattle rustlers and other wanted fugitives, he also was a heavy drinker
and would, within a few years, turn "outlaw.”
tasks was to bring in the Jack Taylor Gang, who had robbed a train near
Nogales and shot at the train crew. He and his men heard the gang was
hiding out at the home of Flora Cardenas. However, by the time they
arrived the bandits had fled. They then traveled to Willcox, then
Contention, where they found gang members, Manuel Robles and Nieves Deron
sleeping at the camp of Manuel’s brother, Guadalupe Robels.
shouted for the two men to get up, a gunfight ensued, in which Guadalupe
Robles, who had otherwise been an upstanding citizen, joined in. He was
immediately shot and killed.
Manuel Robels and Deron
tried to run away while still blasting their six-guns. One bullet caught
Slaughter's ear, who returned the fire, killing Nieves Deron. Manuel
Robels; though seriously wounded by a shot from Burton Alvord,
was able to escape. Soon, the leader of the gang, Jack Taylor was arrested
in Sonora, and Manuel Robles, along with Geronimo Miranda, were killed by
the Mexican police in the Sierra Madre mountains.
During his first term, Slaughter also assisted the United States
successful was Slaughter in his role of sheriff, he was reelected in 1888.
In the meantime,
Slaughter's deputy Burton Alvord's
efficiency as a
lawman began to slip by 1889 as his drinking had increased.
Frequenting the many
saloons of Tombstone, Alvord
started to socialize with some of the criminal elements and was known to
get into frequent scuffles. As Slaughter began to chastise his actions,
soured on both the sheriff and the law. Alvord
soon moved on, but Slaughter would receive criticism for ever having hired
the man, especially when he turned full-blown outlaw at
the end of the century.
By 1890, the lawless
Cochise County had been mostly tamed and Slaughter retired from law
enforcement to tend to his ranch.
In 1906, Slaughter served
briefly in the territorial assembly, but concentrated primarily on his
business investments and his ranch. Eventually he bought a meat market in
Charleston and two butcher shops in Bisbee. So wise were his investments
throughout the years that he also began to act as a "banker” for his
neighbors, loaning money for mortgages when needed.
In his later years, his
health began to deteriorate as he suffered from eczema on his hands and
feet and high blood pressure. He died in his sleep at Douglas, Arizona, on
February 16, 1922, after complaining of a headache the previous evening.
He was buried at the Cavalry Cemetery in Douglas, Arizona.
Imposing the law with his
six-shooter and sawed off shotgun, Slaughter cleaned up Arizona
Territory more than any other single individual. Along the way, he met and
was much respected by other more famous
characters such as
Wild Bill Hickok,
Big Foot Wallace,
Billy the Kid,
who rode with Slaughter said of him, "He was like a spider spinning its
web for the unwary fly."
Today, the Slaughter
Ranch has been fully restored and serves as museum.
of America, updated April, 2017.
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