Tuesday, March 6, 2018


No, this is not a story about a man and his musical instrument. It is a love story of two amazing people who created a life together with John’s two children and multiple foster and adopted children of every conceivable background.  It is a story of romantic, familial and communal love.

          John Horton Slaughter was born to Benjamin and Minerva Mabry Slaughter on a southern plantation in western Louisiana on October 2, 1841. The family, including brother Bill, soon moved to East Texas where John was schooled. Southern traditions ran strong in the family including slavery; John served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  He was also a Texas Ranger until establishing a cattle drive enterprise near San Antonio, with Bill and some cousins, in 1874.
John married Eliza Adeline Harris in 1871 and soon had four children with her. Moving into New Mexico/-Arizona Territory found the family settling along the north-flowing San Pedro River on their cattle ranch. By 1878, the two youngest children, a boy and a girl, and Adeline died. Small pox claimed Adeline and perhaps the children also. John took his surviving children to East Texas to be cared for by his brother and wife or to Tucson to stay with friends; the stories and details vary.
In Texas, John paired with one “Cap” Amazon Howell to trail Texas Longhorns back to the Territory. Cap and his wife MaryAnn had a young daughter, Cora Viola, who was 18 years John’s junior. It made no difference to Vi (John’s name for her) but a lot for her Mother, When the couple wanted to marry, Mother threw the proverbial hissy-fit, alarmed that the poker playing, gambling, gunfighter and cattle driver would ruin her daughter’s life. The wedding took place in 1879 and lasted until John’s death on February16, 1922.

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At Vi’s request, John’s 6 year old daughter Adele (Adeline?) and 19 month old Willie (William?) were reunited with their father and new step-mother. Vi thrilled at her new role as wife and mother, especially when it became apparent that she would never birth a child of her own.

 By 1886, the San Pedro Riverranch prospered and John was active in politics as well. He ran for Cochise County Sheriff and served two terms from 1886 to 1890. The family moved to Tombstone for the duration, giving the children and Vi’s young brother who had joined the family the opportunity to attend school.
Texas John earned the reputation of being hard on criminals, especially cattle rustlers like the Clantons. He put out a warning often to “leave the county or else!” He was not inclined to bring rustlers or murderers back to the then county seat of Tombstone for trial and hanging at the community’s expense.

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At 5’6”, slim and trim, John Slaughter carried a mantle of authority and no-nonsense. He used a pearl handled pistol for much of his life. When a beloved friend who’d come to his San Bernardino Ranch to help and was murdered, by one of the adoptees, John set the pistol aside for good.

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Image result for john slaughter ranchJohn and Vi bought the 65,000 acre San Bernardino Ranch (an old Spanish land grant) that straddled the Mexican Border in 1884 for $1.25 an acre. One-third of the ranch was in the US and two-thirds were in Mexico. Vi ‘s parents, Cap and Mary Ann Howell, lived on the huge property with Cap managing it while the Slaughters lived in Tombstone. When the 1887 earthquake hit in mid-afternoon, rumbling north out of Mexico, the Howell adobe house collapsed as did other similar structures.
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On finally leaving town for the ranch in 1890, Vi and John developed their roles with dedication and commitment. Her duties were to run the large and enlarging household and day-to-day management of their needs. She undoubtedly oversaw the running of the kitchen, the commissary, laundry and other domestic operations. John’s responsibility as always was to attend to ranch management whether developing ponds for pleasure and irrigation, constructing and overseeing the repair of fence-lines, building the many necessary structures running the cattle and developing business interests off and on the property. They shared the care of the children they took in and watched out for their many employees and their families.

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Known as Auntie Slaughter, Vi appears to have been a vivacious, outgoing, and resourceful woman. She is described by Betty Barr in her book, A JOHN SLAUGHTER KID, in several vignettes as adventurous almost to a fault, racing horses or motorcycles, open-hearted and generous, highly organized. She had some rules and standards all were expected to respect. While Vi may have had 25 to 40 people at her dinner table, they were not to wear spurs, the exception being John, had to be on time or find their own meal in the gallery, with good conversation prevailing. Music, dancing, singing, games, hunts and swimming were favorite and it seemed Vi may well have been at the center of many of those activities. One story has it that she learned to play John’s favorite game of poker, skillfully sliding cards up her sleeve! Photos show her with a huge, joyful smile while John appears nearly dour, especially in informal shots.

          Readers please look for Part 2 of John and Viola's story on April 6, 2018

                        Photos: Slaughter Ranch website and Google Images

Arletta Dawdy lives in Northern California but travels extensively in Cochise County and other regions of the Southwest. She draws her stories from the wealth of materials that cross her path, especially those of strong women of the 19th Century, both real and imagined. Her books include:  Huachuca Woman, By Grace and Rose of Sharon. You can find her on Amazon, Facebook, and her website:  www.Arletta Dawdy.com


  1. Arletta, I really enjoyed your post about John and Viola. I'd heard of him, of course, but wasn't familiar with the details of his life. Vi sounds like a strong, determined woman. Thanks for sharing their story.

  2. Lyn, I'm glad you enjoyed John and Vi's story so far. They had such a strong relationship and such productive lives, especially in helping others.I visited the ranch several years ago but it just never fit into my work so this was a great way to share their story. Also, read the first two of William and JA Joh=stone's books about them over the weekend.... not quite how I see them but very interesting.

  3. Well, another family name appears on this blog. Actually we know very little about the Slaughter's other than it was an established name. So I'm finding this very interesting and wondering if this is some old relative of sorts.

    I love how the age difference never stopped them. So often today that age difference raises eyebrows. But back then it really didn't. I like how she seemed to fall in love with him and that love continued. It's really a romantic story.

    :-) Thanks, Arletta.

    1. Dear E, How exciting that you may be related! John's family started out in western LA so I wonder if yours did also? I think the Howells were from East Texas in Viola's case but may have actually come from further east. I hope you find some links to this intriguing couple! Thanks for following them...and me! Arletta

  4. What an interesting post, Arletta. I wonder if John Slaughter is related to Charles Slaughter, another Texas rancher. Vi looks so happy in the photo above and he doesn't look so dour. He has his arm around her. My father was 23 years older than my mom. I look forward to part two of this story.

    1. Hi Caroline, John had another brother than Bill but I don't know his name. There are references to cousins, too. They seem to have rooted around east Texas for a while, driving cattle. Your parents' story sounds remarkable...romantic and worth the telling! I love that photo of the couple as it reflects what I learned about them! Thanks for your comments! Arletta

  5. Wonderful article about a man and woman I know nothing about. I definitely want to get your book.

  6. Hi Anne, So nice to see you here! I visited the Ranch a few years ago and enjoyed it a lot with my friend Shirley who returned in the last two weeks! Forty years of social work made me appreciate the Slaughters fostering and adopting!. I'll contact you by email about a copy of ROSE OF SHARON. Thanks for visiting our site!

  7. Thanks for another installment of your historical recreation of folks lives...

  8. Thank you for commenting and following our Sweethearts blog!

  9. What a splendid couple. Vi looks so happy in that picture with John. I love that they took in all those children. This was such an uplifting post, Arletta.


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