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Legendary Lawman John Slaughter

Updated on September 12, 2015

"Texas John” Horton Slaughter became a true icon of Old West Americana.He was once called "the meanest good guy who ever lived." He stood only 5’ 6” and had a tendency to stutter. But, the pearl handled .44 and 10 gauge double barreled, sawed off shotgun he carried more than made up for that.

Slaughter, born in October of 1841 in Louisiana, served in the Confederate army during the Civil War and later as a Texas Ranger. He married Eliza Adeline Harris August 4, 1871. The couple had four children of which only two survived, a son and daughter. Eliza died of smallpox in 1877.

By 1874 he had branched out into transporting cattle with his brother setting up the San Antonio Ranch Company in Atascosa County, Texas. However, he developed one serious fault…he was a compulsive poker gambler. Although his gambling was a bad habit and sometimes cost him a small fortune, it also helped to firmly establish his reputation as a deadly gunfighter.

It was in 1876 while playing poker with a man named Barney Gallagher in San Antonio, Texas, people realized just how deadly. Slaughter caught Gallagher cheating with a marked deck. As the card slick collected his winnings, Slaughter pulled his .44 and held the cheat at bay while he took the pot and left for home. The act angered Gallagher who later followed him intending to kill him.

When he came across one of Slaughter’s herds He told the foreman "You tell that midget son of a bitch I'm here to kill him!" Chuckling to himself, the foreman rode off to deliver the message. As soon as he appeared, Gallagher fired a shotgun blast at him but missed. Slaughter instantly drew in self defense and dropped Gallagher with a shot to the heart.

Another account tells of a man named George Spindles, who was well known as a luckless poker player. One day, a couple of strangers coaxed Spindles into luring Slaughter into a fixed game where they would subsequently win all of his money. The game began with Slaughter winning easily enough, but eventually Spindles and the other players started getting an inordinate amount of winning hands. Slaughter knew Spindles was a bad poker player and deduced the game was crooked when he noticed Spindle’s hands shaking.

Slaughter and Wife Viola

When a gust of wind came through an open window several of the bills on the table fluttered around the room. Slaughter pulled his pistol and used it as a paperweight. The sight of the gun and Slaughter’s piercing glare frightened Spindles who immediately withdrew from the game. Slaughter won a fortune in the game with only two deuces. Spindles was later met in the bar by the card sharps and asked him why he threw the game. He replied "I like to live."

For some reason, other gamblers always saw Slaughter as someone they could swindle. For example, Slaughter once played poker for three straight days at Jim Graham's saloon with several card cheats. A pretty woman bartender kept delivering fresh decks of marked cards as well as fresh drinks. She had also been coerced into spiking Slaughter’s drinks. Slaughter lost a small fortune. It was because of events like this that Slaughter’s second wife, Cora Viola Howell, threatened to leave her husband.

Despite his penchant for gambling, Slaughter was elected sheriff of Cochise County in November, 1886. During this time the area was a haven for cattle rustlers, highwaymen and outlaws of every brand. One of his more famous achievements was putting a stop to the notorious Jack Taylor Gang and their border smuggling. Four members of the Taylor gang were still running amuck following a train robbery in Mexico. They were wanted by both Mexican and Arizona authorities.

Apparently, they weren’t the brightest members of the gang as they holed up in Tombstone where they had relatives and Slaughter was the law. But, someone tipped the bandits off and they fled town before they could be arrested.

Slaughter and a posse doggedly tracked the outlaws to a town called Contention where they were hiding out at the home of one of the gang member’s brother. Slaughter and his men barged into the home and found two of the outlaws and the home’s owner asleep.

The three were rudely rousted and they came up shooting. Slaughter shot the home owner, who up to that point had only been guilty of harboring known outlaws. The other two quickly made tracks to some nearby rocks where they took cover and began shooting. One shot neatly took the right lobe off of Slaughter’s ear. Slaughter returned fire severely wounding one fugitive. The other managed to escape with his life. The Jack Taylor gang was no more after Mexican authorities had captured and sentenced Jack Taylor to life imprisonment.

Some say Slaughter's biggest mistake during his career as a peace officer was hiring a man as chief deputy who used to work on his ranch. His name was Burt Alvord. Alvord had been known to work both sides of the law. He became a heavy drinker and eventually took off his badge to become a full blown outlaw as a train and bank robber. Alvord later left for the West Indies and disappeared from history.

By 1890, Cochise County had gotten rid of a sizable portion of the lawless element and Slaughter retired to work his ranch. In 1906, he served a short term as a State Representative and later bought a meat market in Charleston and two butcher shops in Bisbee.

In later years, Slaughter’s feet became swollen and often had to use crutches. He also suffered from eczema on his hands and feet, often having to bandage them.

On February 15, 1922, he visited his San Bernardino Ranch but was complaining of a bad headache. He died in his sleep the next morning at the age of 81. He was buried at the Cavalry Cemetery in Douglas, Arizona. His beloved wife died at the age of 80 on April 1, 1941, also in Douglas.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      femmeflashpoint, Well, I got out just before the other prisoners were gonna string me up for being a smart ass.

      wingedcentaur, Thanks for the kudos. However, I have heard the OWS protesters haven't been all that peaceful.

    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      I love these true-story old west tales! You compare men like John Slaughter and Dan Tucker to today's 'peace officers,' pepper-spraying and baton-whipping peaceful protesters of the 'Occupy' movement and one thinks to himself: 'They don't make lawmen like they used to!'

      Great job. Another outstanding hub.

    • profile image

      femmeflashpoint 6 years ago

      Ok - if one doesn't manage to escape, how about then?

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I don't know Femme...I escaped two days after they threw me in.

    • profile image

      femmeflashpoint 6 years ago

      Enjoyed the read Marine.

      This guy got around! I believe Jack Taylor would have been much better off just getting shot and killed by Slaughter. Life expectancy in a Mexican prison might amount to what ... a couple of weeks?


    • GClark profile image

      GClark 6 years ago from United States

      Enjoyed it; it appeals to my love of history and especially the old west. There were certainly some very colorful characters during those years and they needed to be tough and resourceful just to survive. Thanks for sharing.

    • USHISTORY4YOU profile image

      Anthony Carrell 6 years ago from Lemoore California


    • USHISTORY4YOU profile image

      Anthony Carrell 6 years ago from Lemoore California

      Very interesting.Voted Up,as alaways

    • charfaris profile image

      charfaris 6 years ago

      Nice story. I enjoy history and I appreciate your posts. Thank you for sharing