— THE MEANEST GOOD GUY —
John Horton Slaughter sat at a poker table on Commerce Street in San Antonio, Texas, in 1876, and watched the dealer distribute the last hand. Something about the cards troubled him, but he kept playing.
A short time later, Barney Gallagher slammed his hole-card down and claimed victory.
When he leaned over the table to gather in his winnings, Gallagher found himself staring into the barrel of Slaughter’s a six-shooter.
“Those cards have been marked,” Slaughter said, glaring at Gallagher through hard black eyes. “The money stays here.”
Gallagher, a reputed cattle rustler, denied the accusation, hurled a few loud threats, and stalked out.
The threat of a showdown hung in the air.
Slaughter, born in Louisiana on Oct. 2, 1841, established an enviable resume of accomplishment over his lifetime.
He stood only five-feet-six, but his single-mindedness and skill with guns made him a lot taller in the eyes of his enemies.
Slaughter’s colorful career spanned one of the toughest eras in the history of the American frontier.
He worked as a Texas Ranger after the Civil War, built a reputation as a prominent cattle rancher, and also spent time as a professional gambler.
Known as Texas John Slaughter, he served as sheriff of Arizona’s outlaw-ridden Cochise County in 1886.
Slaughter won admiration as the last courageous lawmen in Arizona history, earning praise from Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Sam Bass, Pat Garrett, and Billy the Kid.
Historians credit Slaughter, more than anyone else, with cleaning up the Arizona Territory.
Slaughter assumed responsibility for bringing the lawlessness in the Tombstone area under control.
The six thousand square miles of Cochise County consisted mostly of desert terrain, but Slaughter’s tracking skills ranked second to none.
He never hesitated to pursue lawbreakers and wouldn’t return from the hunt until he captured them. Sometimes, he found the need to resolve the situation with his gun.
The rancher logged a lot of hours playing cards. In fact, he found gambling more exciting and profitable than working his ranch, or chasing outlaws.
His wife, Cora Viola Slaughter, threatened several times to leave him because of his addiction to gambling.
Slaughter and his one-time gambling adversary Barney Gallagher again came face-to-face—this time to settle that dispute over the card game they once played in San Antonio.
Historians say Gallagher tracked his poker-playing rival all the way to New Mexico and caught up to Slaughter during a cattle drive.
With a sawed-off shotgun cocked and ready, Gallagher leveled it at Slaughter who was riding toward him.
According to one account, Slaughter pulled his pistol and fired, striking Gallagher in the chest or the thigh, fell from his horse and bled to death.
Slaughter proved a formidable businessman and formed several cattle partnerships with his brothers, driving livestock throughout the West and Southwest.
In 1892 and 1893, a major drought triggered a collapse of the cattle market, striking a financial blow to cattle ranchers.
The episode forced Slaughter to mortgage his property.
He retired to his San Bernardino ranch near Douglas, Arizona, and died in his sleep, Feb. 15, 1922.
One writer described Slaughter as “the meanest good guy who ever lived.”