If you’re old enough to remember television from the 1950s, you may have seen the Disney version of “Texas John” Slaughter, and perhaps you thought he was a fictitious character made up in Hollywood.
He wasn’t. If fact, he was a man of the West that no novelist could create: He wouldn’t be believed. John Slaughter immigrated from Texas to Arizona. He ran into trouble in New Mexico along the way, but rather than just accept the problem, he went straight to the governor, at the time Lew “Ben Hur” Wallace, and got it resolved.
In Arizona, he took up ranching, but spent a term as the Sheriff of Cochise County in its wildest days. Crime took a vacation during his tenure. He was a short man, but could – and did – handle any law enforcement problem. When he brought back a stolen horse, no one even bothered to ask what happened to the horse thief who took it.
Soon Slaughter went back to ranching, however, and settled on a piece of the old San Bernardino Land Grant, which straddled the Arizona/Mexico border in southeastern Cochise County, east of present-day Douglas, but well before the city was founded. The San Bernardino was idyllic, because it was home to a number of year-round springs which provided water to cattle, wildlife and people.
Slaughter built a huge earthen dam, which exists to this day, creating a true oasis in the Arizona desert right next to his home. In those days, ranches had to be self-sufficient when they were so remote, so they were more than just a house. They provided not just housing and sustenance for the rancher and his family, but for a host of other workers and cowboys as well.
Slaughter settled right in the midst of Apache country at a time when most folks were trying to get out of it. He was able to make his own peace with Geronimo, however, and that particular band never bothered him. In fact, Geronimo referred to John Slaughter as “that mean little gringo.”
Fortunately for us, the Slaughter Ranch has been preserved much as it was when it was a working cattle ranch in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because the trip to the ranch is quite far from Bisbee (it’s a bit of a drive even from Douglas over corduroy roads), and because it is the perfect setting for a picnic, this tour includes a picnic lunch. It’s also taken in one of our closed Jeeps, since the road is a bit dusty much of the year.
The historic ranch occupies only a part of the original ranch. Part of the old ranch is in Mexico today and is used for ranching there. And much of it, with several of the springs, today constitutes a National Wildlife Refuge.
The tour also stops in Douglas at the Gadsden Hotel, which has Tiffany’s only stained-glass desert scene and a gold-decorated lobby that uses some 100 ounces of the precious material in its columns and ceiling. It also has a broad staircase made from marble quarried in the Chiricahua Mountains. Local lore says the chip in the marble came when Pancho Villa rode his horse into the hotel and up the stairs.
The return to Bisbee detours down a broad gravel road that parallels the Mexican border past the Crook railroad tunnel, closely guarded by American troops during the Mexican Revolution; past the monument to the Mormon Battalion, which came through the area in 1846, before it was part of the United States; past an international gas pipeline, which trade natural gas to Mexico for gas that comes into the U.S. in eastern Texas; and along the controversial border fence.