There are always new and off-the-beaten-track places to explore in Cochise County and we recently took a day to visit one that’s a national landmark, the Slaughter Ranch.
John Slaughter (1841-1922) remains one of Cochise County’s most famous sheriffs and in general a colorful western character. Someone you'd enjoy getting to know. He was tough, honest, and well liked. Not an easy combination to find in the Wild West of the 1880s. He was born on October 2, 1841 in Louisiana, but grew up in Texas which is where he received the nickname “Texas John.” The family business was cattle and John grew up learning the ways of cattle ranching, Indian lore, marksmanship, and tracking. He was a confederate soldier and Texas ranger before relocating to Arizona.
He became a widower after his first wife, Adeline (marriage 1871-1877) succumbed to small pox, leaving him as a single parent of two children. He remarried in 1878, bringing his new wife, eighteen-year-old Viola Howell, children, and family members, along with herds of cattle to the southeast corner of Cochise County. He purchased a massive tract of land—65,000 acres, the majority of it located over the border into Mexico. Eventually, he would own and lease 100,000 acres.
It was a hard life on the ranch, but John and Viola had a vision to make their dreams of a prosperous life possible in the treacherous times of Apache renegades and dangerous border incidents. Constant cattle rustling and outlaw violence kept everyone on the ranch vigilant. The U.S. Army even kept a regular presence at the ranch.
In 1886, five years after Tombstone’s famous shootout at the OK Corral, John was elected sheriff of the county and served two terms. He was determined to clean up the crime which plagued the area with the likes of the Clantons, Earps, the Jack Taylor Gang, and Johnny Ringo. He was also acquainted with the notorious Pancho Villa and helped track Geronimo who was caught on his San Bernardino Ranch. It was common for lawmen to straddle the thin blue line of law and order, but Texas John made no compromises. He hunted down outlaws with a vengeance and made himself judge, jury, and executioner at times. Plenty of tales about Slaughter’s exploits, including poker games with John Chisum are available in book form and a few vintage TV shows.
Now, for the ranch. It’s in the middle of nowhere, where it’s still open range and about fifteen miles from the border city of Douglas. It’s located just off Geronimo Trail which becomes a dirt road and one you don’t want to travel during monsoon season. The international border is visible and is marked by a fence running parallel with a busy Sonoran highway. A beautiful pond is the centerpiece of the ranch grounds which was built by John. The land has an abundance of springs and he capitalized on that with the construction of the pond and a dam. It’s stocked with native endangered fish such as Yacqui chub and Yacqui catfish by the nearby San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge which borders the ranchlands. The Slaughter’s home is spacious and has several outbuildings including the cook’s residence (a bedroom and they had a Chinese cook) with the commissary (for their neighbors and employees since they were far from town) adjoining it, an ice house, wash house, small garage which houses a Model T, and barns. Horses, a donkey, goats, and longhorn cattle are in the pastures. You’ll find an abundance of birdlife around the pond. We spotted a vermilion flycatcher, Say’s Phoebes, various ducks, a snowy egret, broad-bill hummingbirds, and a few others. One of the park staff also made us aware there was an active mountain lion in the area, but we didn’t encounter any signs of the big cat--a good thing I believe.
The Border Patrol from the Douglas station keeps a presence there with some equipment on site, but mostly they’re on horseback patrol in this remote area. We enjoyed talking with the agents who were resting their horses in the shade of the cottonwoods. It was a relaxing, beautiful, and informative day. If you enjoy Western history and a peek into the past, a visit before or after the monsoon season is well worth the effort. Bring a picnic lunch and you can enjoy the peaceful pond surroundings at a table on the wonderful grass lawn or you can do as we did and get a delicious Mexican lunch at La Fiesta in Douglas on the way back.
Admission to the ranch is $5.00 per person and it’s open Wednesday through Sunday. It receives no federal funds. No pets are allowed. You’ll find it a friendly and peaceful place, where you can step back into time for a bit, and let your imagination roam.
For more information on the Slaughters and the ranch, here are a couple of websites. Check out the slideshow below for photos of the ranch and the neighborhood.