Visit the ranch of Texas John Slaughter

Texas John Slaughter made ‘em do what they oughta

by Denis Begin

In the early days of television, the Wonderful World of Disney produced a popular western series from 1958 to 1961 starring Tom Tryon called Texas John Slaughter. Slaughter was a Texas Ranger and with his pearl-handled six-shooters he brought law and order to the Wild West. The theme song of the show went: “Texas John Slaughter made ‘em do what they oughta; And if they didn’t, they died.”

Texas John Slaughter was not a character in Western pulp fiction, but John Slaughter from Douglas, Arizona. He was a former Confederate soldier, army scout, gunfighter, Texas Ranger, rancher, businessmen, co-founder of Douglas and state politician. While he was the sheriff of Cochise County from 1886 to 1896, his reputation was that he made himself judge, jury and executioner. He also had a nasty habit of playing poker, much to the disapproval of his wife.

When Sheriff Slaughter retired from the law, he built a 100,000-acre cattle ranch called San Bernardino, which is a National Historical Landmark. Close to the ranch are the remains of a U.S. military post called the Slaughter Outpost as well as the Geronimo Trail and the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge. This is a good place to find the heart of this historic community.

The 14-mile gravel road to the ranch, called Geronimo Trail, is at some points just 600 feet from Mexico and the U.S. Border Patrol is very visible. When I spoke with one of the officers, he described the area as “very active” and said “do not stop.”

The City of Douglas is located in the far southeast corner of the state of Arizona on the U.S.-Mexico border, adjacent to Aqua Prieta, Mexico. It seems that at one time or another many significant people other than Slaughter have passed through this small city or within a 50-mile radius. These famous visitors included Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540, as commemorated at the Coronado National Memorial; Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1694, evidenced by the Mission of San Xavier del Bac; Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, founder of the city of San Francisco, in 1773; Apache warrior Geronimo in 1886; infamous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1916 and first world war general John Joseph Pershing, who failed to catch Pancho Villa. The people of Douglas seem to relish the fact that Villa threatened to attack Douglas during the Mexican Revolution. On March 9, 1916, Villa did attack Columbus, New Mexico, but was forced to retreat.

Another famous individual from Douglas is songwriter and actor Stan Jones. Growing up in Douglas, he learned of a folk tale about a cowboy who had a vision of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, being chased by the spirits of bad cowboys. This song become a classic: Ghost Riders in the Sky.

It was the Spanish who initially settled Douglas, building a fortress called Presidio de San Bernardino in 1776. When the Spanish left four years later, the Americans purchased southern Arizona and New Mexico from Mexico with the Gadsden Purchase of 1854.

James Douglas (not the father of British Columbia) gave Douglas its start when he constructed a smelter to treat the copper mined from nearby Bisbee. The Phelps-Dodge Corporation operated the smelter until 1987 and along with the El Pasco and Southwest Railroad turned Douglas into a bustling town.

When the copper smelter closed in 1987, Douglas was forced to reinvent itself and diversify its economy and chose to concentrate on Internet technology companies and tourism.

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