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C. C. Slaughter
Rancher, Banker, Baptist
By David J. Murrah
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 1981 University of Texas Press
All rights reserved.
As word of the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 spread throughout the South, thousands of young men rallied to defend their native states. Even on the western frontier of Texas, far removed from cotton fields and slaves, war fever ran high. There young Christopher Columbus Slaughter enthusiastically joined his friends and neighbors in forming a local militia company being organized for North Texas frontier defense. The impending conflict provided an opportunity for adventure, glory, and perpetuation of a long family tradition of militia service. Slaughter remembered the stories his father had told of serving under Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution in 1836; he recalled his grandfather's accounts of being with Andrew Jackson at the battle of New Orleans in 1815; he knew of his great-grandfather's service in a North Carolina militia unit during the American Revolution. Since his ancestors had already served as frontier militiamen in three American wars, young Slaughter proudly responded to the call for volunteers.
Three preceding generations of Slaughters had experienced a century of American frontier life. The family line can be traced to the eighteenth-century Virginia frontier, but documenting its origin in America appears to be impossible. The Slaughters of Texas may have originated in America with a Richard Slaughter who settled in Nansemond County, Virginia, in the early seventeenth century. According to a family genealogist, Elmer Cunningham Slaughter, within a century Richard Slaughter's descendants apparently had migrated through Bertie County into Lunenburg County, Virginia. Walter Slaughter, C. C. Slaughter's great-grandfather, was born about 1750, possibly in Lunenburg County. A planter, Walter settled in Anson County in southwestern North Carolina during the late 1700s. At the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, Walter enlisted in Captain Thomas Wade's light horse cavalry, a minuteman battalion, and served until he was captured by the British. After his release, about 1780, he left military service and returned home to marry Margaret Webb. Walter and Margaret had six children, including two adventurous sons, John and William.
As cotton planters, Walter and his sons participated in the rush for new and fertile lands in the South. In the 1780s the Slaughters moved to Washington County, Georgia. After William married Nancy Moore in Amite County, Mississippi, the entire family moved in 1810 to Lawrence County, Mississippi, west of the Pearl River and north of the American-Spanish border. There Walter and his sons engaged in both farming and stock raising. William and his brother John supported their neighbor frontiersmen in the eviction of the Spaniards from Baton Rouge and participated in Andrew Jackson's defense of New Orleans against the British in 1815.
William then followed his younger brother Robert to Hinds County, Mississippi, near present-day Jackson, and in 1821 to Copiah County. By 1825 William and Nancy had several children, including three sons, George Webb, born in 1811, Samuel Moore, in 1818, and William Ransom, in 1825. Soon after the birth of the latter, William, having heard the numerous stories of abundant and unbelievably cheap virgin land in Texas, with Nancy and the children set out by wagon for the land of greater opportunity. For some reason, however, he settled in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, a few miles east of the Texas border. Perhaps, since he was a strong Protestant, he had developed some reservations about having to become a Catholic in a Mexican state, or perhaps he preferred the protection that nearby Fort Jessup afforded.
Young George Slaughter, however, could not resist the bustling activity beyond the Sabine and at eighteen began freighting goods across the river to San Augustine and Nacogdoches. George's stories about Texas influenced his father to move across the river in 1830, probably before the passage of the Law of April 6, 1830, which forbade the further immigration of Americans into Texas. Settling on one square league (4,428 acres) in Sabine County (to which he received title on August 16, 1835), William not only continued to grow cotton but also found the gentle hills of East Texas well suited for stock raising.
Political trouble soon disturbed the peaceful life in Texas. When Mexican Colonel José de las Piedras intimidated Texas colonists by threatening to ally his garrison at Nacogdoches with nearby Cherokee Indians, the settlers, including young George Slaughter, took up arms to drive the Mexican soldiers from East Texas. On July 31, 1832, fighting erupted in the narrow streets of Nacogdoches, and after two days of skirmishing, the Texans forced the Mexican troops to surrender.
For George Slaughter, the battle served as an initiation into frontier violence and probably prompted him to quit the drudgery of cotton fields for a more exciting career. As new settlers poured into eastern Texas following the cessation of the 1832 hostilities, he freighted their goods between Louisiana and Nacogdoches, and by the fall of 1833, his business was sufficiently reputable that newcomer Sam Houston hired him to transport his personal legal library from Louisiana to Nacogdoches.
After initial shots of the Texas Revolution were fired at Gonzales on October 2, 1835, George joined Stephen F. Austin's volunteer army assembling in the San Antonio vicinity. On November 26 he participated in the so-called Grass Fight, an engagement in which the Texans captured a Mexican pack train loaded with hay. He became a courier for Sam Houston in January 1836 and presumably delivered a message to William B. Travis at the Alamo. During the six-week period following its fall, Slaughter reportedly served as a procurer for Houston's army.
After Houston's victory at San Jacinto on April 21, Slaughter returned home to see about his family. Soon after his arrival, he became engaged to eighteen-year-old Sarah Mason; the couple delayed their wedding, apparently because of the absence of any civil law. Within a short time, Slaughter was again serving as a procurer for the growing army of Texas. He continued in this service until October. By that time Texas had adopted a constitution, elected a president, and established some semblance of law. As soon as his service with the army ended, Slaughter hastened home and on October 12, 1836, married Sarah Mason, who was five months pregnant. When the child was born the following February 11, the young parents named him Christopher Columbus, apparently in commemoration of their wedding date.
After his marriage Slaughter resumed his freighting business for settlers and the new government. The influx of immigrants, however, led to conflict with the Cherokees that eventually erupted into war. For Slaughter the conflict marked his third call to military action in seven years. In July 1839 he joined with other volunteers under the command of Thomas Rusk to invade Indian lands in present-day Cherokee County.
After the Cherokee War, George Slaughter returned to Sabine County to pursue farming interests jointly with his father. While there he and Sarah had four additional children. In 1844 he entered the Baptist ministry, a career that would make him famous on the Texas frontier.
But it was cattle rather than converts that perpetuated the Slaughter name in Texas. By the 1840s a growing Texas population and a fairly close New Orleans provided a new market for cattle. George Slaughter, quickly seeing an economic opportunity, began to use part of his land for stock raising. He later acquired three thousand acres, much of which he dedicated to that purpose. His herd grew slowly; by 1850 it probably numbered less than a hundred head.
Although Slaughter's cattle at first provided the family with only a secondary income, the small herd grazing the hills of Sabine County seemed of immense importance to young Christopher Columbus. While learning to castrate and brand cattle, he also learned to appreciate life on the open range.
In 1849 George, his brother William, and twelve-year-old C. C. (then known as "Lum" to family and friends) drove ninety-two head of cattle to a new ranch located along the banks of the Trinity River in Freestone County, 175 miles west of the Sabine settlements. The drive provided the Slaughters with valuable experience. Although trailing was nothing new, most herds were moved from farm to market along north-south river routes. The Slaughters, on the other hand, drove their cattle across the Angelina, Neches, and Trinity rivers, thereby providing opportunity for C. C. to begin developing an expertise in trail driving that eventually became a basic tool in the creation of a family fortune.
Leaving William with the cattle, George and C. C. returned to their farming interests. However, the death of George's father in April 1850 helped sever the family's tie to Sabine County. Furthermore, by 1852 raising cattle appeared more financially attractive than growing cotton on the worn-out soils of East Texas. At least, it was worth a try. Therefore, George Webb Slaughter, who by then had four sons, C. C., George, Peter, and John, headed west in 1852 with his family and possessions to the valley of the Trinity in southern Freestone County.
The Trinity River valley provided ample grass for Slaughter cattle. Each year the family drove small herds to Shreveport for shipment to New Orleans. Because their ranch was near the fork of the Trinity on the Shreveport Trail, young C. C. was often employed by drovers from the west to help them get their herds across the frequently high river.
Freestone County offered other opportunities for C. C. In 1854, after finishing his education at Larissa College, a Presbyterian boarding school in Cherokee County, he set out on a three-month trading venture. Borrowing his father's wagon, he drove east to the pine forests near Palestine, purchased a load of lumber, hauled it to sparsely settled Dallas County, and sold it to incoming settlers for a profit. Slaughter then drove north to Collin County near McKinney and bought a load of wheat. By using his own team at a gristmill, he ground the wheat into flour, bagged and loaded it, and pointed his team southward. After pausing briefly at home, young Slaughter drove south another hundred miles to Magnolia, where he sold his last bag of flour. During a three-month period, he had traveled by wagon four hundred miles and netted a handsome $520 profit. With the money, he purchased his uncle's interest in his father's herd. Thus began a partnership that continued for more than twenty years.
Meanwhile, Freestone County had filled rapidly with settlers, who by 1855 had converted over 250,000 acres to cotton production. Grass had become scarce. Furthermore, for several years the Slaughters had noticed that cattle from the Brazos River valley were fleshier and larger than their own and had heard that farther west ample grass and water were available. The potential lured young Slaughter westward as it had his father more than twenty-five years before. By the spring of 1855, C. C. had convinced his father that they should explore the Brazos and other westward streams for a new ranch.
For two months during the summer of 1855, the Slaughters roamed over hundreds of miles of West Texas grasslands, even penetrating the hunting grounds of Comanche and Kiowa Indians. Because of the newly established line of frontier defense posts, the Plains Indians were relatively peaceful that summer.
The Slaughters went west to the Brazos, possibly striking it near Fort Graham in Hill County, ten miles west of present-day Hillsboro. There they turned northwestward along its banks as far as Fort Belknap. Then, probably along the established military roads, they moved west to the Colorado River valley and explored where no cattlemen had been.
The Slaughters' choice of a new range was not difficult. Although the virgin Colorado valley appeared to be a cattlemen's haven, it was also the home of both buffalo and Indians. The upper Brazos country in Palo Pinto and Young counties, however, offered both lush grass and military protection. Lying in the western Cross Timbers, the Brazos valley provided a broken, well-watered terrain; tough mountain cedar, Spanish oak, cottonwood, ash, and pecan trees offered ample material for housing and fencing; nearby Fort Belknap promised military security. In addition, two nearby Indian reservations, the Brazos Reservation for the Wichita and other East Texas sedentary tribes and the Comanche Reservation on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, offered a ready market for cattle. Also, other settlers along the Brazos—the Cowdens, Daltons, Goodnights, and Lovings—shared the Slaughters' enthusiasm for cattle raising.
George Webb Slaughter bought, for what became his final home, 2,900 acres along a sharp bend in the Brazos, four miles north of the tiny settlement of Golconda (now Palo Pinto) in Palo Pinto County. In 1856 C. C. drove the Slaughter cattle north to the new ranch and supervised the building of a new home. The next year the entire family, which by this time included seven children, completed the move from Freestone County and settled in the new log cabin.
The Slaughters' new home lay in the heart of the North Texas frontier. Although a county government had been created in 1854, three years before the arrival of the Slaughter family, the region was still thinly populated. Fort Belknap was thirty miles west of the Slaughter home, and according to Charles Goodnight, "nothing [lay] west from there to the Rocky Mountains."
Because of the isolation, the Slaughters and other frontier cattlemen were able to take advantage of the market for beef created by the nearby fort and Indian reserves. Fort Belknap, on the busy Butterfield Overland Mail Route, was occupied by one to four companies of soldiers, all of whom savored the taste of fresh beef. The Brazos and Clear Fork reservations, which had approximately fourteen hundred Indians, also required a good beef supply. Through contractors, in 1857 the federal government purchased about thirty-four head weekly at a cost of $3.98 per hundred pounds. The sales added more than $25,000 annually to the frontier cattlemen's economy.
In spite of their importance to cattlemen, the reservations soon became the focal point for alarm. In 1857 the United States Second Cavalry withdrew to Utah. Almost immediately Nokoni Comanches began raiding frontier settlements from Palo Pinto southward. Reprisal raids by federal and state troops into the heart of the Indian country along the Canadian River near the Texas-Oklahoma line incited additional Comanche forays. As a result many settlers either blamed reservation Indians for the attacks or accused them of sheltering raiding parties. By the end of 1858, the frontier was poised for full-scale war.
The Slaughters and other Palo Pinto cattlemen defended their friendly Indian neighbors on the Brazos Reservation and resisted any attempts to punish them. In December 1858, however, a party of about twenty frontiersmen from counties south of Palo Pinto determined to settle the problem. The mob, led by Peter Garland of Erath County, vowed to kill all Indians found off the reserve.
Meanwhile, a band of twenty-seven Caddo and other reservation Indians, under the leadership of Choctaw Tom, an old and peaceful chief, had left the Brazos Reservation to hunt game along the river. Encouraged by friendly Palo Pinto residents to stay in the area to hunt bear, the Indians camped on December 27 only one mile from the Slaughter Ranch. There the party of Erath County settlers surprised and killed seven of the sleeping Indians, including Choctaw Tom's wife and daughter.
Awakened by gunfire, C. C. Slaughter hurried to the scene. When he determined what had happened, he rushed home, saddled a horse, and headed for the reservation. He always remembered the incident.
I knew instinctively that what few Indians had escaped would immediately return to the agency ... and [then] return before daylight to bury their dead and afterwards wreak a most horrible revenge on the innocent people of that settlement for an act committed by a lot of hotheaded thoughtless men from an entirely different section of the country. I determined to prevent this second outrage if possible.
Young Slaughter was in the most dangerous situation he had ever faced. After riding two-thirds of the way, he encountered a large band of hostile Indians. "They were covered with war paint and in the ugliest frame of mind," Slaughter remembered. Personally acquainted with a number of the leaders, he explained the situation and tried to assure the Indians that the residents of Palo Pinto were innocent. "By constantly talking in this vein and assisting them in the burial of their dead, I eventually succeeded in quieting them for the time being," he said. "I shall always firmly believe, however, that had I not interceded on this occasion there would have been one of the most horrible massacres ever perpetrated by savage vengeance." Slaughter's midnight intervention was not in vain. Within two days Palo Pinto settlers had formed a defense, but no attack ever came. Unfortunately, the murderers went unpunished.
Excerpted from C. C. Slaughter by David J. Murrah. Copyright © 1981 University of Texas Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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