March 5, 2012
One of the toughest men the West ever saw was John Slaughter, a diminutive man who learned young that life was full of cheats, murderers and danger. A Civil War veteran, trail driver, cattle baron, legislator, lawman and gunslinger, Slaughter was soft-spoken, with hard penetrating eyes and no desire to pick a fight. He simply wanted to raise his cattle and his family.
The Slaughter Ranch is now a museum and sits on the Mexican border. It feels as though you are walking through history to visit this remote site where Geronimo surrendered the last time in Skeleton Canyon about 10 miles distance, where the Mormon Trail and Butterfield stages passed by, and where John Slaughter met Pancho Villa, if met is the proper word. Villa came to his remote ranch with his men. While Slaughter was sitting on his porch watching him, he began to harvest his crops and slaughter some of his cattle. He watched the melee for a day and then mounted his horse to go talk to the bandit. He asked him for payment. Villa gave him a bag of gold coins.
Wild West Magazine, the December 1993 issue did an excellent article on Slaughter which is posted in the ranch house where they lived. His father was a Texas Ranger and cattleman. John followed in his footsteps. In Texas, he married and had two children by his first wife who once held off a band of attacking Comanches with a servant and two shotguns. She died shortly after they arrived in Arizona. He married a sixteen year old girl by the name of Viola, and together they built the ranch and lived the wonderful life of cattle barons in the wilds of Arizona territory.
And some handsome long horns, well fed, in an enclosed pasture. John Slaughter was one of the first Texans to introduce short horns with long-horned cattle.
I enjoyed the ranch, and the kind of life that was lived here. It was well worth the 16 mile dusty, gravel road to see it, but my mind kept drifting back to John Slaughter and what it took to make Western Arizona a safe and civilized place to live.
To that end, Slaughter became Sheriff of Cochise County and it is said he did more to clean up Arizona than any other man. His method was polite. He would first warn a man to leave town and never come back. Those that didn’t ended up dead in the dust. It is said he killed a lot of men and he did. But, as they say, they needed killin’. That was the way of the West.
He really wanted to live in peace, but he always carried a shotgun and revolvers to do so. He was a wary man, always watched his back. He loved his family and he and Viola adopted an Apache daughter they named Mae. She died young. He and Viola took in many young people, helped them out, gave guidance and support to friends and neighbors.
The ranch is composed of several buildings, all thick adobe that fended off those hot summers. They employed 150 people on the ranch and kept a commissary for the families and neighbors to buy needed goods without having to trail all the way into town. They carried flour, sugar, tobacco, tack, chaps, etc., an all around assortment of goods
An artesian well still feeds this small lake beside the ranch house. When John Slaughter bought the 65,000 acres that made up his ranch, the grass was stirrup high. Many springs, and a creek served the ranch until a terrible earthquake in Mexico shifted the plates in 1937 and the springs and the creek dried up.
We enjoyed photographing this place. It is now a preserve and a bird haven. The rare blue mockingbird was spotted on the ranch and drew 30,000 people to see it.
The Slaughter Ranch was partly in Mexico because nobody really knew where the border was located. It is now very obvious and Jim and I hiked to see the type of fence they use in the wild areas like this that still allow wolves, cougars, leopards, deer, etc. to wander back and forth in their own natural way.
On the 16 mile journey back to the town of Douglas, we met a Border Patrol car every mile, just as we had on the way in. Some have trailers with ATV’s on the back to get out into the desert like a four wheel drive.
This agent is dragging tires to erase any footprints. That way, they can see where any new illegals are trying to cross. John Slaughter also founded the town of Douglas. There is still a bit of wild in the West.
A good website about John Slaughter can be found at this link: