Sheriff Slaughter and the Winchester 1887 – Tales of the Old West

John Slaughter, a man of formidable stature despite his modest height of five foot, six inches, was a living legend. Born in Louisiana in 1841, his true legacy was forged in the Wild West. Slaughter’s life was a tapestry of diverse roles: soldier, a lawman, a cattle baron, a renowned gambler, and a man who wielded the iconic Winchester 1887 shotgun, a weapon that became synonymous with his name. 

The Early Life of John Slaughter 

Slaughter was a man of action. Even from his early days, he was driven by the desire to make his mark and seek adventure. He enlisted in the Confederacy during the Civil War and served as a soldier. However, with the War’s end and the Confederacy’s fall, he chose to stay in Texas and work as a lawman. It was in Texas that his reputation as a formidable fighter began to take shape. As a Ranger, he confronted the diverse tribes vying for control of the land. He engaged in extensive battles with the Comanche and worked tirelessly to safeguard settlers in the untamed parts of Texas. 

Here, he became known as a fearsome gunman. His skill with a rifle and revolver mixed with a cool head under fire earned him a reputation. That reputation, combined with his dark eyes and calm nature, made him a man that wasn’t often trifled with. He also wasn’t a dumb man. In his early life, he learned to speak Spanish, a skill that would serve him well for the rest of his life. 

After almost a decade as a Ranger, Mr. Slaughter made his move to cattleman in 1874. He and his brother struck out as cattle drivers. While that doesn’t seem exciting, it involved him transporting cattle through dangerous areas, places rife with bandits, Comanche, and the varied dangers of the western United States. By the late 1870s, he had decided to start a ranch in New Mexico. 

Into New Mexico 

Since his reputation came from Texas, he became known as Texas John Slaughter, although he was not taken by being called Tex. It was in New Mexico he became quite famous for a violent altercation with a cattle rustler named Barney Gallagher. Gallagher was cheating at poker and Slaughter didn’t take kind to it. He put a .45 in his face, took the pot and left for home. 

He got a movie back in the day

Gallagher followed shortly after. At Slaughter’s ranch, he told the foreman that he was there to kill John. The foreman relayed the message. Slaughter rode out to meet the man. Gallagher attacked, shooting and charging from his horse. Slaughter fired one shot, killing the man’s horse. When Gallagher climbed to his feet, he continued to attack, and Slaughter fired a second round, killing the man. 

After this, Slaughter became a wanted man. He was arrested but freed due to a lack of evidence. After being freed, he went to Arizona, seeking a new start away from New Mexico. 

A Lawman Once More 

John Slaughter settled in Arizona and was elected sheriff of Cochise County in 1886. The county was most famous for the Shootout of the O.K. Corral, and while Slaughter took no sides in 1881, he did once warn Ike Clanton off his land, or he’d kill him, and Ike never returned. 

As sheriff, the man’s penchant for the Winchester 1887 grew. It was a high-tech weapon for the time. Most shotguns were nothing more than double barrels. The Winchester 1887 offered lawmen a true repeating shotgun. It held five rounds in the tubular magazine and worked much like their rifles. It was a 12-gauge design, and the lever action design made it fairly easy to shoot. 

When facing men on horses and moving targets, the scattergun was an excellent choice. A scattergun that fired up to six times before it needed to be reloaded was a devastating weapon and force multiplier. It’s easy to see why Slaughter would carry the weapon and why he was fond of it. 

John Slaughter worked to clean the streets of Cochise County with his six-gun and shotgun. He chased the Apache Chief Geronimo. He arrested or killed large portions of the Jack Taylor gang. In a firefight with the gang, a round skimmed his right ear lobe. While he was small in stature, his cool-headed nature and skill with a weapon made him a formidable force. The land of Cochise County fell to domestication under the eyes of John Slaughter and the bead of his Winchester 1887. 

The Life and Times of John Slaughter 

Sheriff Slaughter passed away in February 1922. He lived a long and exciting life—a hard life, for certain. He had lost a wife and numerous children. Most have never heard of him, and it’s likely it’s because he was not the type to self-aggrandize. He was a quiet but stern man. Likewise, he didn’t seek the glory of men like Earp and Wild Bill. He and his shotgun tamed a violent corner of the West, and for that, he deserves to be remembered. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.