John Horton Slaughter established a reputation as a man who was "good with a gun" during the years he served as a Texas Ranger. Forty years old when he arrived in Arizona Territory, the dimunitive (5' 6" tall) Slaughter chose the southeast corner of AT to be his new home. He purchased most of an old land grant comprising the San Bernardino Ranch in 1884 then subsequently bought (or homesteaded) additional acreage to establish a hundred thousand acre cattle empire that sprawled across Southeast Arizona Territory and south into Mexico.
Slaughter's San Bernardino Ranch is now divided between Nature Conservancy holdings (the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge) and a museum owned by the Floyd Johnson Foundation. The museum encompasses several original ranch buildings, ponds and ruins of an army camp built just east of the ranch structures in 1911.
Located 15 miles east of Douglas (Click map to your left for a printable enlargement), you're less than an hour from Bisbee when you park beside the Slaughter Ranch corral. The last 14 miles from Douglas to the ranch is on a well-maintained dirt road (Geronimo Trail) but be aware that rainy weather can create some slippery conditions. Slaughter's San Bernardino Ranch is a Registered National Historic Landmark. It's maintained entirely with private funds, no public money is involved. Entry fee is $8 per person (under 14 years old free), the ranch is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 AM until 3 PM.
Our map is courtesy of Cochise County Tourism Council, full version is linked under the maps list at your upper right.
Let's learn about John Slaughter and his beautiful ranch:
Ignacio Perez purchased the original grant for the San Bernardino Ranch in 1822. Perez's stay on the land lasted about ten years before Apaches forced him to flee to safer environs. Much of the Perez grant became US land following the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 but another three decades would pass before frequent depredations by marauding Apache bands were finally quelled and the land was safe to live on for settlers. John Slaughter was in the right place at the right time. He bought 65,000 acres of the grant from the Perez estate in 1884 and immediately began consolidating his holdings with further purchases and homesteading acreage. Slaughter's cattle operation was successful from the beginning and he established himself as a power in the sparsely populated southeast corner of Arizona Territory.
Though running a ranch must have occupied a significant portion of Slaughter's time, he was energetic enough to get elected Sheriff of Cochise County in 1886, serving two terms as the chief law enforcement officer in a part of the world where the law was usually administered at the end of a gun. Tombstone was the county seat at that time, and to facilitate staying in touch with his family while he wore the tin badge (his father-in-law managed the ranch in Slaughter's absence), a telephone line was strung seventy miles from his office in Tombstone to the ranch. Surely this connection suffered many problems, particularly during wet seasons, but it was better than a two day ride to deliver messages. (Point of interest: Tombstone's first telephones and lines were installed in March, 1881. Lines connected houses and business within town but there was no wider network connectivity. Not until the turn of the century would telephone communications rival the widespread capabilities of the telegraph.)
East of the ranch house and past the pond are the remains of what is often referred to as either Camp San Bernardino Ranch or The Slaughter Ranch Outpost, a US Army facility established in 1911 in reaction to unrest along the US/Mexico border. Soldiers from the facility, many of them African-Americans assigned to the famous 9th Infantry Buffalo Soldier unit, took part in the 1916 punitive expedition into Mexico commanded by General Jack Pershing in a vain attempt to capture or kill Francisco "Pancho" Villa for attacking Columbus, New Mexico. Stories abound of John Slaughter's visits to the camp; the old man was said to truly enjoy playing cards with the soldiers and loved their company. The isolated facility was decommissioned in 1923. Only stones that lined pathways and a few foundations of some buildings still attest to the camp's existence but the site still provides a stunning view into Mexico. (Photo to left is taken from the camp's south perimeter. There's a metal fence marking the US/Mexico border visible across the lower center portion of the image.)
John Slaughter passed away in 1922; his family sold the Mexican portion of the ranch to a Mexican citizen and the part of the holdings on the US side of the border to Marion Williams, a family friend, in 1937. In 1968 Paul and Helen Ramsower purchased the property from the Williams estate and in 1978, the Nature Conservancy acquired the ranch. Later the conservancy deeded part of the acreage including ranch buildings, pond and old army ruins to the Johnson Foundation. Visitors are welcome to tour the ranch house, car shed, granary, commissary/cook's house, wash house, ice house, and the remains of the army camp.
Though John Slaughter died almost a century ago, his name has lived on in both Arizona and national history. In the 1960/61, the Disney Corporation created a television series based on Slaughter's exploits (Tom Tryon played the part of Texas John, minus Slaughter's bushy beard, of course), and a variety of articles, books and even academic publications have been based on Slaughter's life.
Photos in the right hand column (click for an enlargement) are as follows: (1) South view from ranch house (2) Turnoff from Geronimo Trail to the Slaughter Ranch--Mormon Batallion marker is on the right of the photo (3) Corral portion of ranch, still in use (4) Living room of ranch house (5) Remnants of the army camp east of the ranch (6) Texas John Slaughter television show poster (7) Pond east of ranch house
John Slaughter's San Bernardino Ranch is owned by the Floyd Johnson Foundation, which was established for the purpose of "acquiring, restoring and preserving rural ranches, stage stations and homesteads so that the youth of tomorrow may know what it was like yesterday." The ranch house and other buildings have been painstakingly restored to reflect design and construction of the original structures. Contents include Slaughter family photographs, period furniture and clothing, information on the history of John Slaughter, his family, the ranch and, of course, material concerning the early days of Arizona Territory and Cochise County.
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