Friday, April 6, 2018



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 The Slaughter family and ranch community grew over the years with more and more children and whole families joining the fold, Indians, Chinese, Mexicans and Blacks joined as well, whether adult or child. It seemed the Slaughters had very open arms. Among the more unique residents of San Bernardino were two former Slaughter slaves. “Bat” or John Baptiste Hinnault was a childhood companion who followed Slaughter driving cattle to the Territory, working as trail cook or otherwise serving ranch needs. The other was John “Sweeny” Swain who arrived in Tombstone with JHS in 1879 and worked at times on the ranches, in the mines and as a janitor at the County Courthouse.

Still another addition to the community involved a convicted polygamist Ammon Meshach Tenney; he was pardoned by President Grover Cleveland in 1886 after serving two years plus in a Michigan prison. He’d been a missionary in Arizona previously but the story of how he and his two wives and children came to San Bernadino isn’t apparent. Their house was built smack on the border with one wife and children living on the US side and the second on the Mexican side!

Of the nine or more children the Slaughters raised none was closer to John’s heart than Apache May or, as John called her, Patchy. Author Barr gives great details about the child and her bond with JHS. In the winter of 1895 and spring of 1896, two families were decimated by renegade Apaches, the last such raids in Arizona history. In one instance, a young girl’s dress was ripped from her. In another, an old GOP campaign flag was torn from the modest cabin of a young goat herder.
The renegades were hiding on the ranch when a military patrol came in search. John and his team knew all the watering holes and hiding spots where the renegades might be found and led the way. The adults fled, leaving children behind, including a little girl less than two. She was asleep, wearing a dress made from remnants of the dress and political banner. She went to John, taking a place in his arms and heart.
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Apache May dressed as found
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Patchy and Vi
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Patchy with John

Given the name for her heritage and the month she was found, Patchy lived a brief life. She preferred to remain outdoors, clamoring for John and was generally unruly. One sweet picture shows her strapped to Vi’s back and staring at the camera when she was still very young. 

Others show her with John or with other of the Slaughter kids. In 1900, Apache May and others were playing with fire when her dress caught and she was severely injured; she died within days, leaving a very despondent family behind. Her story became a large part of the Slaughter saga.


In 1908/1909, John served in the 24th Territorial Legislature representing Cochise County. Neither of the Slaughters liked living in Phoenix, away from the ranch. He did not serve another term, allowing them to return home. John built up several businesses in the Douglas area by investment in banks, mines real estate and butcher shops.

          By 1910, with revolution stirring in Mexico, the US military sought to establish a footing near the border aside from Camp Douglas. What began as a small patrol unit on the mesa above the pond and main house grew to a major encampment over the next six years.


John’s health was failing as he approached his eighties, limiting his activities severely. He called back hisr former ranch foreman and Vi’s cousin, Jesse Fisher, to help. Jesse’s murder by trusted hands and one of the “Slaughter Kids,” hastened his decline  and the setting aside of his pearl-handled pistol.The couple left the ranch for an apartment in Douglas. Texas John Slaughter died in his sleep on February 16, 1922, less than a year after Jesse’s death. Viola survived the love of her life by another nineteen years, passing on February 27, 1941.

          John and his Viola had a wide-ranging impact on many lives, down through the generations of stories and traditions that passed on. The children and grandchildren of their foster and adopted children as well as others  came forward to offer a home to Viola. She maintained her independence, holding court with the many who visited her.
 San Bernardino Ranch was incorporated by Viola and the name changed to the John H. Slaughter Ranch. The ranch changed hands several times until bought by the estate of Floyd Johnson in 1978. It was Johnson’s wish to restore a western ranch for the children of the future to know their heritage. The ranch is now on the list of National Historical Landmarks.
            Movies, novels journal articles, biographies and much else has been produced about John and Viola, This year’s Kindle  release of famed western novelist William W. Johnstone’s series is just the latest to appear about an amazing couple of lovers, compassionate caregivers and entrepreneurs.  

1.     Betty Barr, A JOHN SLAUGHTER KID, BrockingJ Books, Sonoita, Arizona, 2011
2.     John H. Slaughter Ranch website,
3.     https:/ /

 Photos: John Slaughter Ranch 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 pof materials that cross her path, especially those of strong 19th century women, 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.ArlettaDawdy,com.


  1. This was an interesting series of posts, Arletta. Texas has a famous rancher named C. C. Slaughter. I laughed at the Mormon House. My aunt and uncle used to live on the state line between Texas and Oklahoma. I don't remember which, but one state's schools furnished textbooks and the other didn't. Because of the house's location, my cousins had a choice and went to the school for which textbooks were provided.

  2. What a delightful tale! It always amazes me how we humans accommodate our lives to strange circumstances. Given what's going on with schools in OK and all over, I hope the textbooks have finaly appeared!

  3. You certainly wrote quite a few tidbits in this article, Arletta. My favorite piece was about the Apache May. It was certainly tragic though how things ended up for her.
    I wish you all the best...

  4. Thanks, Sarah. Patchy's story is a very special part of the Slaughter saga...touching and amazing while so sad. Thanks for your kind words.

  5. Loved these posts. Our history often seems so violent, but our history is filled with people like the Slaughters who did so much good and showed so much kindness.


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