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Texas John Slaughter - Taming Arizona

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"Texas John" Slaughter

"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 with Slaughter




"Texas John” Slaughter was a Civil War veteran, trail-driver, cattleman, Texas Ranger, famed Cochise County Sheriff, professional gambler, and an Arizona State Representative during his lifetime. Before he died at the age of 80, he was a symbol of the American 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, Texas and 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 mastering cowboy 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 Comanches.

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 world.

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 established the San Antonio Ranch Company in Atascosa County, Texas, where they not only raised their own cattle but also transported herds to Mexico, California, Kansas and New Mexico. They were some of the first to ever drive cattle up the Chisholm Trail. While he was in California on 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.


In 1876, Slaughter was playing poker in a saloon in San Antonio, Texas, when 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.


By 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 New Mexico. Leaving his cattle there, he then began to look for land in southern Arizona. This 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.


Playing Faro in the days of the Old West

Playing poker during the days of the Old West. This image available for photographic prints

 and downloads HERE!


They first settled south of Tombstone 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 cowboys and 30 families who worked the farmlands. John and Viola did not have any children of their own, but adopted several children.


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