Slaughter Ranch has a rich and varied history, and plays a key role in the story of Southeastern Arizona.
Father Eusebio Kino
Father Eusebio Kino is believed to have reached the valley in 1694. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza arrived in 1773. And the San Bernardino garrison was established in 1775.
90 pesos is all it cost Ignacio Perez to buy 73,240 acres through an original Mexican land grant in 1822. But he couldn’t hold it long. Within 8 years, Apaches had run him off the land. But change affected them too. The Mormon Batallion rolled through in 1846. And the Gold Rush of 1849 turned Southeastern Arizona into a major thoroughfare for prospectors on their way to California.
It was 35 years later that Texas John Slaughter bought 65,000 acres of the original Perez grant. The Gadsen Purchase had re-drawn the lines. Two-thirds of the property was then in Mexico. Slaughter bought and leased more land on this side of the border and reached 100,000 acres of ranch land, which his in-laws lived on and managed while Slaughter served as sheriff. The 1887 earthquake destroyed the original buildings. Slaughter re-built in 1893 and lived on Slaughter Ranch after his retirement.
Slaughter’s young wife, Viola, remembered the first time she laid eyes on the ranch: “I shall never forget the thrill of knowing that it was all ours. Our future lay within it and it was beautiful.”
Beauty didn’t come without struggle…a mixture of joy and pain. Strangers stopped by as they passed through and were always made to feel welcome. The army was a regular presence, often camping nearby. And then there were the children. Two from John Slaughter’s first marriage (his wife Adeline died of smallpox in 1877), and a number of foster children. Some stayed days, some stayed years, but they loved John Slaughter and the tough sheriff had a soft heart for them.
Apache May Slaughter
Her life with Slaughter began as a part of Arizona history. It was the last known killing of a white man by Indians in Arizona. Slaughter was part of a posse helping track the renegade Apaches who committed the crime. The plan was to attack the Indian camp at dawn.
But the Apaches abandoned camp early. When Slaughter looked around the still warm campfire he saw a small bundle. Inside was a baby girl, 18 months old. She was brought to the Slaughter Ranch grounds to be raised as a “John Slaughter Kid”. But less than five years later, at the age of six, Apache May died of burns suffered while playing with fire. Slaughter was devastated.
When you follow Geronimo Trail to the Slaughter museum, don’t be surprised if you think you can hear the sounds and see the sights Slaughter saw more than a hundred years ago.
Geronimo Trail has that effect. In the 1940s,the song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was inspired by time spent in the area. “Ghost Riders” songwriter Stan Jones later wrote the theme song for Walt Disney’s “Texas John Slaughter”.
An excellent article about Slaughter Ranch Museum, its history and its extensive restoration in the mid-80s is available in the October, 1986 issue of Arizona Highways magazine. Click here to purchase used copies from Amazon.com.