John Horton Slaughter, nicknamed “Texas John” Slaughter was born October 2, 1841 in what is now known as Sabine Parish, Louisiana. His parents, Benjamin and Minerva Mabry Slaughter were living on a plantation there, before relocating to Texas. He was raised in Texas and grew up working on a ranch with his father and brothers. He joined the Texas Rangers shortly before the outset of the Civil War. He then enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862 and served until 1864 when he was sent home due to an unspecified illness. Once he was able, he returned to serve in the Third Frontier Division of the Texas State Troops in Burnet County until the end of the war.
Following the war, he set up a cattle ranch in Atascosa County with his brothers participated in one of the first cattle drives on the old Chisholm Trail. His brothers and Slaughter had formed the San Antonio Ranch Company and their business was to organize trail drives of Texas beef to markets in Kansas. He married Eliza Adeline Harris in 1871 and started raising a family. Together they had four children, two of whom lived to adulthood.
The story is told of his encounter with a tough hombre named Barney Gallagher with whom he’d had a confrontation during a poker game in San Antonio. Slaughter had angered Gallagher by accusing him of playing with a marked deck. In 1876, Gallagher sought out Slaughter by following him and his herd to near Fort Stockton, Texas. Gallagher wore a big sombrero that he had taken from a Mexican cattle rustler and his gang joked about who would take it, if anything ever happened to Gallagher. When Gallagher found the Slaughter herd, he reportedly told one of Slaughter’s cowboys “Go tell that rat-headed boss of yours I’m here to kill him.” and the cowboy obliged. Gallagher carried a sawed off shotgun and believed he would have the upper hand in any shootout. When Slaughter arrived, John rode straight at Gallagher, who missed his first shot. Slaughter appeared to have both hands on the reins of his horse, but after Gallagher shot, Slaughter pulled a revolver from a holster built into his saddle, took aim and mortally wounded Gallagher. The sombrero fell off when Gallagher tumbled from his horse, but none of his gang, watching from a nearby rise, dared to come and retrieve it.
Near the end of the 1870s, John decided to relocate further west and settled near Tucson after a brief time in New Mexico where he had temporarily set up residence near Roswell on the Pecos River. While living near Roswell, he met up with some other travelers who had given him the idea of establishing his ranch in Arizona instead of New Mexico. Shortly after his wife and children arrived in Arizona to join him, Eliza contracted smallpox and died. After a time, at the age of 37 he married 16 year old Viola Howell of Tularosa, New Mexico, reportedly a great granddaughter of Daniel Boone. The couple and their family relocated to the Tombstone area and bought a spread known as the San Bernardino Ranch. He and Viola had no children of their own, but they adopted several, including an orphaned Apache girl known as Apache May.
Slaughter is known as one of the pioneer ranchers of Arizona and started his herd with hardy Texas Longhorn cattle that he had driven there from his ranch in Texas. He personally ran his ranch until well into his senior years. The ranching operation was successful and his San Bernardino Ranch is now one of the National Historic Landmarks.
He served in the 1880s as sheriff of Cochise County. When he began, the area was troubled by the presence of outlaws and attacks from the Apache tribes. For a time he assisted the U. S. Cavalry led by General Miles as they fought Apaches led by the warrior Geronimo, who was actually apprehended on the ranch. Tombstone had the reputation as a lawless area and had experienced a transition once the once profitable silver mining industry began to fade. It was said of Slaughter that he “cleaned up the mess that Wyatt Earp and his brothers had left in Tombstone. Slaughter was brave, honest and straight-forward.” He also served one term in the Arizona legislature.
After retiring from public life, he continued to work the ranch and lived there for many years. He eventually became ill and he and Viola moved to an apartment in Douglas where Slaughter died on February 15, 1922 at about age 81. He is interred in Calvary Cemetery, Cochise County, Arizona.
In the 1950s, the Walt Disney organization created the concept for a television show to be based on the life of “Texas John.” 17 episodes of Texas John Slaughter were produced and the show aired on a rotating basis with other productions in Disney’s Wonderful World of Disney. Slaughter’s character was played by the popular actor Tom Tryon. Set in the Tucson area, the show aired from 1958 to 1961 on a first run basis and later was brought back in Disney’s syndicated Disney Drive-In block.
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