Legendary Lawman John Slaughter

"Texas John Slaughter" was one heck of a moniker to like up to for a five foot six inch tall lawman.


While not nearly as famous as many of his contemporaries, John Horton Slaughter (aka Texas John Slaughter) was perhaps the most important (and effective) lawman in the effort to clean up the Arizona Territory. Besides that, Texas John Slaughter was one hell of a moniker to like up to for a five foot six inch tall lawman. In fact he served Arizona with a swagger and integrity not found in many of the lawmen of the time.

John Slaughter was born in what would become Sabine Parish, Louisiana, on October 2, 1841. The son of Benjamin and Minerva (Mabry) Slaughter, he attended school in Sabine and Caldwell counties, but wasn't much on formal education. He learned his tracking and hunting skills from the Indians, and his Spanish and the cowboy trade from Mexican vaqueros. Prior to the Civil War he joined the Texas Rangers to fight Comanches but on March 9, 1862 would resign to join the Confederate Army. In the Third Frontier Division, Texas State Troops in Burnet County, John would earn his reputation as a fearless fighter and a man skilled with firearms.

He married his first wife Eliza Adeline Harris on August 4, 1871. They had four children, but only two survived to adulthood. By the late 1870s, Texas' population was booming so he set out in search for a suitable plot of land in New Mexico, eventually settling in Tucson, Arizona. Shortly thereafter his wife would succumb to smallpox. While driving his heard along the Pecos River, Slaughter happened upon the Howell family (and their cattle). He talked them into combining the cattle and settling in Arizona with him. On April 16, 1878 John would marry sixteen-year-old Cora Viola Slaughter in Tularosa, New Mexico.

During this time Slaughter could be found in the local saloon more often than not. In fact, his skills as a shooter were probably second to that of a card player. Always a man of integrity, he didn't take to well to cheaters. If Slaughter caught anyone cheating, he might suddenly pull his pistol and relieve the entire table of its gambling stakes.

In 1876, a cattle rustler named Barney Gallagher and a few others were playing poker in a back room on Commerce Street in San Antonio, Texas. Slaughter noticed that Gallagher was playing with marked cards. When Gallagher proceeded to rake in the largest pot of the night, he found himself staring into the muzzle of Slaughter's .45 (although it may have been a .44). Slaughter collected the pot and calmly exited the room. Gallagher, clearly was not happy with the situation and tracked Slaughter to the Chisum Ranch and told the foreman (depending on your account), "You tell that midget son-of-a-bitch I'm here to kill him," OR "Tell that little rathead up front I'm here to kill him."

To that the foreman replied, "Wait here, I'll tell him what you said." Gallagher was waiting with a shotgun across his lap when Slaughter rode over the horizon. Seeing that Slaughter wasn't wearing his pistols Gallagher let him ride in close so that his shotgun would be more effective. Unbeknownst to Gallagher, John was never without his pistol and a 10-gauge double-barreled shotgun (which he referred to as an equalizer). When Gallagher rode and pointed his shotgun, Slaughter drew his pistol mounted to his saddle and dispatched Barney Gallagher with a shot or shots through the heart.

New Mexico's Governor, Lew Wallace, apparently took umbrage to the shooting (there is no account of why he did this, perhaps he was merely bored from writing Ben Hur) and took out an order for Slaughter to be arrested for murder. Apparently someone explained to the Governor that Slaughter was defending himself when Gallagher clearly came looking for trouble. In any case the charges of murder were dropped but Slaughter was arrested on the grounds that many of his cattle had brands not his own. So intense was the Governor's interest in Slaughter that he placed Texas John's name first on the New Mexico most wanted list (Billy the Kid was fourteenth).

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