- Contrary to popular Western mythology, Wyatt Earp did
not clean up Tombstone Territory. The controversial Mr. Earp, in spite
of his secure position in the legends of the West as a gallant lawman,
was a gambler, a racketeer, and a part-time road agent who made a profit
by dealing on both sides of the law. The fiction of Earp as the virtuous
defender of law and order was largely the creation of Ned Buntline, a prolific
- When Wyatt, his brothers, Morgan and Virgil, and his
pal, Doc Holliday, left Tombstone after the famous gunfight at the OK Corral,
the Arizona community was far from "clean." If anything, crime
was more rampant than before the Earp regime. The saga of Wyatt Earp epitomizes
the essence of the marvelous quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When
legend conflicts with reality, print the legend.
- The man who pinned on a tin star and really mopped up
the territory was "Texas" John Slaughter. Slaughter was quick
with his wits, fast on the draw with his pearl-handled revolver and repeating
shotgun, and doggedly determined to make Tombstone a decent city. Texas
John had one very important advantage over all the previous lawmen who
had tackled Tombstone and failed--he was absolutely fearless because he
had a very active guardian angel and the promise that he could not be killed
by an outlaw's bullet.
- "I've got a guardian angel who protects me,"
he would assure well-meaning friends when they sought to caution him about
his reckless and daring life-style. "My angel keeps these owl hoots
and gunslicks from even denting me. He has told me that I'll die in bed
when I'm good and ready, and not by the hand of some no good outlaw."
- Slaughter was born in Louisiana in 1841. He served as
a Confederate solider, then, after the war, he went to Texas, joined the
Rangers and tracked down cattle rustlers and horse thieves. In the early
1870s, he acquired his own spread in the Pecos country. Slaughter served
as his own trail boss driving his herds across western Texas and eastern
New Mexico, driving off any rustler foolish enough to tangle with him.
- Slaughter was a slight man, standing five-foot-six, but
all who came up against him were frozen by what they described as his cold,
mesmerizing eyes. His only companion or "sidekick" in frontier
parlance, was Jim, described in the old records only as a "giant Negro."
- Sometime during his stay in Texas, Slaughter married,
but his first wife's name and her fate is lost to history. Some say that
she was captured by Comanches and was killed before John could rescue her.
- In 1877, after the big silver strike at Tombstone, Slaughter
decided to move his herd to the southeastern corner of Arizona. As he and
Jim passed through Tularosa, New Mexico, Slaughter sighted Viola Howell,
a local woman known for her beauty. According to those who witnessed the
courtship, the confident Slaughter spoke only one word to Viola: "Come."
- As Texas John, his new bride, Jim, and the Slaughter
cowhands continued on their way to Arizona, they found that they had run
afoul of the infamous outlaw Bad Man Gallagher from Bitter Creek, a gunslinger
with thirteen notches on his gunstock and absolutely no regard for the
value of human life. Gallagher confronted the Slaughter bunch and demanded
one hundred steers to be allowed to pass.
- Texas John only laughed and said, "Not on your life,
Aloysius. Be on your way!"
- Slaughter had known Gallagher in the old days when he
was a Texas Ranger and was aware of the first name that "Bad Man"
kept secret even from members of his gang. Gallagher hated the name and
rode off roaring damnation on all of Slaughter's cowboys, Jim, the beautiful
Viola, and, of course, Texas John himself.
- According to the legend of Texas John, the only time
his guardian angel ever appeared in human form occurred a few days later
when a horseman appeared literally out of nowhere and rode up to camp to
warn Slaughter that Bad Man Gallagher was waiting in ambush. Since the
stranger said that Bad Man was alone without his gang, Texas John set out
by himself and eliminated the menace that lay in wait for him.
- In 1879, the Slaughters established their new ranch on
the San Pedro River. Later, they moved to San Bernardino in the extreme
southeastern corner of what would become Cochise County.
- Once, when Texas John was riding his famous gray horse
on his way to buy some cattle, he received a warning "buzz" from
his guardian angel, which told him that he was approaching danger. Whenever
he got the signal from his invisible guide, he never argued.
- He sat atop his horse for a time, assessing the message
he had received. Danger lay ahead, the communication assured him, so he
decided to ride into the town of Tubac. Here he visited with a storekeeper
until his angel sent him the "all-clear" signal.
- Later that day, three gunslingers who worked for Curly
Bill Brocius, who had become Texas John's archenemy, rode into Tubac. Over
beers in the saloon, they were overheard to be cursing their bad luck.
It seemed that Curly Bill had learned of Slaughter's cattle-buying trip
and had sent the three of them to lie in ambush for him.
- "We squatted out there in that boiling sun until
we felt like dried-out venison," one of them growled to a local tough.
"Curly Bill is going to be mad, but we ain't no Apaches. We couldn't
lay there in that sun waiting for Texas John until Christmas!"
- One night Slaughter and Viola had attended a social function
at a neighbor's and were driving home after dark in their buckboard. Viola
saw her husband cock his head in the bright moonlight.
- "What do you hear, John?" she asked.
- Slaughter handed her the reins. "My angel just sent
me the buzz," he told her. "We are going to be a whole lot safer
if you drive and I have my gun in my hand."
- Viola Slaughter had barely finished speaking when a horseman
emerged from the shadows, and the angry features of rustler Ike Clanton
were distinguishable in the moonlight. The tough old patriarch of the outlaw
clan had sworn to kill the troublesome rancher, and he rode out in front
of the buckboard with his revolver already drawn.
- But when Ike saw the moonlight glinting off the shotgun
in the fast-shooting Slaughter's hand, he turned his horse and rode on
without speaking a word or firing a shot. Ike would live to participate
in the controversial gunfight at the OK Corral with the Earps and Holiday.
The tough old rustler would survive that shootout, but his brother Billy
and two other members of his outlaw gang would not.
- In 1888, with a steady flow of gunfighters and outlaws
arriving in Tombstone and the surrounding region, the people of Cochise
County at last persuaded the successful rancher and fearless gunfighter
Texas John Slaughter to become their sheriff.
- As far as is recorded, Sheriff Slaughter never led a
posse in pursuit of an outlaw or a rustler. It is definitely recorded that
he did not trust juries to be fair and just. He knew that the members of
any jury would be intimidated by the gangs of the accused.
- Slaughter set out after thieves and rustlers with only
his angel and Jim as his companions. He would return some days later with
the stolen goods, horses, or cattle. He never spoke of the desperados from
which he had retrieved the stolen booty. He never admitted killing any
of them, but word did circulate that he did put a revolver to their heads
and advise them never to return to Cochise County.
- In 1897, after his retirement, the fifty-six-year-old
ex-sheriff was asked to hunt down a werewolf. The Apache Kid, who had killed
at least ten men and kidnapped and raped many women, was said to have acquired
the power to shape shift into a wolf through the magic properties of his
victims' blood. Although an army of lawmen had tried to track down the
murderer and rapist, his ability to escape every trap and ambush set for
him had only added to the belief that he was truly a werewolf.
- A elderly retired army officer (sometimes identified
as Captain Benton) approached Slaughter and begged for his assistance in
tracking down and killing the Apache Kid. A woman, who had been horribly
abused and tortured, had managed to escape from the Apache Kid. The monster
had eluded Benton for years, and now this woman had brought word where
the werewolf was hiding in the Pilares de Torres Mountains of Mexico. If
Slaughter, who was known to be an excellent tracker and who was widely
known to have supernatural protection, were to accompany him, the Apache
Kid could at last be stopped from his horrid crimes.
- And so, three old men--Captain Benton, Jim, and Texas
John--set out for the Pilares to hunt a vicious werewolf. Three old men
and an angel.
- Upon his return, Texas John remained true to his code
and would not say whether or not the Apache Kid had been removed as a source
of murder and terror in the territory. Many years later, however, after
he had decided "it would do no harm," Slaughter admitted that
the Apache Kid had been killed after a fierce gun fight.
- The lawman did not lose his angelic connection with age.
On the evening of May 4, 1921, when Tombstone, the Clantons, the Apache
Kid, and Curly Bill had become the stuff of memories, the 80-year-old frontier
sheriff received his angel's danger signal while sitting in his dining
room reading the evening paper.
- "It was as if I heard my faithful guardian angel
screaming right in my ear, " Slaughter said later. "There was
just a bit of the old buzz, then I heard his voice shout at me: 'Get away
from that open window and get your gun!' "
- Puzzled, but ever heedful of the angelic adviser who
had consistently gotten him out of tough scrapes, Slaughter set down his
newspaper and literally sprang to his feet.
- He was in the bedroom buckling on his gun belt. when
two shots rang out and killed his foreman, Jes Fisher.
- Later, when the four ranch hands involved in the plot
were arrested, they confessed that Slaughter was also to have been killed.
- One of the conspirators had been drawing a bead on Texas
John, who sat reading in front of a window, when Slaughter suddenly jumped
to his feet and moved quickly out of sight. Another instant over the newspaper
and the old lawman, an easy target in the light from the reading lamp,
would have been dead.
- "It's like I've always told you," Slaughter
said to his friends. "My guardian angel told me years ago that I would
die in bed. Once again he sent the warning in time so that that bushwhacker's
bullet never found me. He isn't going to let anything happen to me until
it is my time to go. "
- The time finally came for John Horton Slaughter in 1922,
when he passed away-the victim of a stroke, not a gunman's bullet.