Wanting a taste of the Old West, we headed for the Slaughter Ranch and its restored 1880’s home in the far southeast corner of Cochise County on the Mexican border. The ranch is named for the “legendary” Texas John Slaughter, a lawman with a violent name who kept the peace in the old-fashioned way with pistols and rifles. I’d never heard of him, but it turned out he was a famous character with quite a history: Confederate War veteran, long-horn cattle driver on the famous Chisholm Trail, and then owner of the enormous cattle ranch in the then Arizona Territory.
In 1886, five years after the storied gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, he was elected sheriff of Cochise County. He was an Indian fighter and brought various desperadoes and cattle thieves to justice all the while playing poker and running his ranch. Obviously, times were different then.
Of course, he has his own Wikipedia page, and his exploits warranted a 1958 Disney series as well as a book series, the jacket blurb on one calling him “the toughest lawman west of the Rio Grande.”
The drive to and from the dusty border town of Douglas was 18 miles of rough dirt road bordered by the famous or infamous depending on your view of the matter: The Wall. Mile after mile of posts snaking over barren ridges and washes and across flats in a dark line.
Two lonely purple port-a-potties rested on a trailer on a wide-spot in the road. Border Patrol pickups hauling horse trailers, and vans passed by leaving us in the dust. Our driver said he wouldn’t stop for anyone on the road, and if threatened he’d use his Lugar! I don’t know what he was expecting but the next thing I knew a guy in a pickup stopped in front of us. We drew up beside him. I sunk down in my seat. He rolled his window down to ask if this was the way to the ranch and said he was a distant relative from Texas. No Wild West shootout after all. The last we saw of him was at the ranch gate looking at the large sign that said NO DOGS ALLOWED while his dog sniffed around the cattle guard.
The ranch house and outbuildings were not lavish in any way but furnished in the style of the era and location with the laundry and cookhouse in separate buildings.
The main house with its parlor and furnished bedrooms lacked indoor plumbing and one look at the coffin-like bathtub made me shiver at the thought of a winter bath.
The last room on the tour, obviously furnished as part of the house’s designation as one of the National Register of Historic Homes, was filled with newspaper and magazine articles, movie posters, and other publicity about the good sheriff.
Among the posters I spotted a recruiting bill from Pancho Villa encouraging gringos to join his ragtag band to fight in the 1913-14 Mexican Revolution for gold and glory. Both hero and criminal he is most famous in the U.S. for raiding a small border town, Columbus, New Mexico, killing some 18 people in an effort to get military supplies. This resulted in the US unsuccessfully pursuing him into Mexico for several years.
Borderlands are often in dispute and this area is no different from many others. But the days of bow-tied sheriffs holding cigars and rifles seem far away from today’s deadly terrors.
All photos copyright Judith Works