Slaughter, William Baxter (1852–1929)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: March 5, 2019

William Baxter (Bill) Slaughter, pioneer rancher, the fifth son of Sarah (Mason) and George Webb Slaughter, was born near the town of Butler, in Freestone County, in 1852. After moving with his family to Palo Pinto County in 1857, Bill grew up with his brothers in the saddle and during the Civil War helped his family furnish beef to the Tonkawa Indians under a contract with the Confederate government. He made his first trail drive with his older brother, C. C. Slaughter, in the fall of 1867, when Col. T. H. Johnson bought the Slaughter cattle to fulfill a contract with a packing plant near Jefferson. In 1869 he accompanied his brother Peter on what was his first trip north over the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas. The following year Bill was placed in charge of a herd of 1,800 head under contract to a buyer in Kansas City. The drive went along without incident until the Slaughter men neared the Red Fork of the Arkansas River in the Indian Territory. There two cowboys from the W. B. Grimes outfit warned Slaughter that a band of Osage Indians had stampeded the Grimes herd and would likely do the same to Slaughter's. Undaunted, Bill secured a red silk Mexican serape, two brightly-colored bandannas and extra food from the chuck wagon to use as gifts. With these, plus three steers which the Indians demanded, friendly relations were quickly established. After the herd was safely across the river, Slaughter and two cowboys treated the Osages to horse races for several hours before moving on, reaching Abilene in time to make good on the contract.

Over the next two decades Bill Slaughter made cattle drives almost annually. In 1877 he formed a partnership with his older brother, John B. Slaughter, and with their combined capital of $6,000 bought steers and drove them north to the Kansas markets. About that time he married Anna McAdams from Palo Pinto County. Their son and only child, Coney, was born in 1878. In 1879 the Slaughter brothers moved their cattle to Scallowag (Home) Creek in Crosby County. There they constructed a ranch homestead to which Bill brought his wife and son. After the Espuela Land and Cattle Company obtained title to that property in 1883, the Slaughters moved their herds west to New Mexico. Bill set up his own ranch in the American Valley, in Sierra County, but continued the partnership with his brother until 1886. In May 1887 he was shot and wounded by two rustlers he had earlier indicted as a grand juror, but soon recovered. Slaughter remained in New Mexico until about 1894, making yearly drives to Nebraska and Wyoming. As early as 1889 Slaughter had begun leasing and buying up tracts of land along Coldwater Creek, in Sherman County. By 1895 he had purchased an interest in the Snyder brothers' Coldwater Cattle Company and built a spacious ranch house near the community of Coldwater, the county's first seat. Many of these purchases were paid off by means of a $30,000 loan he obtained from his brother C. C. in Dallas in 1898. Prior to 1896 he was running 10,000 cattle on 150,000 fenced acres. As more settlers came into the area, however, Slaughter reduced his holdings and began cultivating wheat and other cereal grains on 350 acres. A staunch Baptist, he often sponsored tent revivals at his ranch during the summers, with such prominent guest preachers as George W. Truett and James B. Gambrell. In 1901 he conducted his last cattle drive, in the company of his wife, when he trailed a herd from Clifton, Arizona, to Liberal, Kansas, then the southwestern terminus of the Rock Island Railroad. Later that year he drove a herd of domesticated buffalo from Dalhart, in Dallam County, to Fort Garland, Colorado.

In 1900 Slaughter ran for Sherman County judge but lost by four votes to Dudley H. Snyder. However, when Snyder resigned in November 1901, Slaughter was appointed by the commissioners' court to complete the term. Although he did not run in the next election, he was ever after known locally as Judge Slaughter. Slaughter and his son initially opposed moving the county seat to Stratford but afterward organized the town's first bank and operated a dry goods store. Unable to repay $25,000 of his 1898 loan in seven years, Slaughter tried without success to get his brother C. C. to accept a $15,000 payoff. He remained in Sherman County until 1905, when he moved to Dalhart to open a new bank there. His son Coney, by then a likeable young man-about-town, won the envy of his neighbors by becoming the first in Dallam County to own a car, and he owned several at one time or another. After living briefly at Texline, where they established another bank, for a few years, the Slaughters made an auspicious move to Pueblo, Colorado, where Bill was installed as president of its Mercantile National Bank and Coney as cashier. In June 1914 he announced the formation of the Bankers' Trust Company, with a capital stock of $5 million. Set up in association with C. C. Slaughter, it was meant to deal in all aspects of the family's financial empire other than commercial banking. Then in March 1915 the bank in Pueblo folded under a cloud of embezzlement charges. Coney suddenly resigned his position on March 14 and fled to Chicago. Bill Slaughter subsequently was tried in both state and federal courts for his alleged role in the bank's fatal losses but was acquitted. During these proceedings it was determined by a Dallas attorney that he owned only two herds of heavily mortgaged cattle. Compelled to borrow heavily from his brother to cover his son's losses, he ultimately forfeited all his holdings, including his bank at Texline and 6,000 acres of land in Dallam and Hartley counties, to C. C. He also surrendered his interest in the Bankers' Trust Company, which was liquidated soon afterward. Eventually, directors paid back most of the Pueblo bank debts.

After the trials, Bill and his wife resided in Dallas, from which he managed his brother's Long S Ranch. However, the strained financial relationship with his brother's family burst less than a week after C. C.'s death on January 25, 1919, when Bill attempted to sell his nephew Robert Lee (Bob) Slaughter's new Western S Ranch on the Rio Grande in Hudspeth County to an "unknown company" from Mexico. Learning of the fraudulent negotiations Bob, backed by his brothers, confronted and fired him on February 8. Although he later filed a $3 million slander suit against his nephews, Slaughter apparently never collected anything from it. Shortly thereafter, Slaughter and his wife moved to San Antonio, where he found some comfort as a member of the Trail Drivers' Association. Broken in spirit and grieving for his wayward son, Bill Slaughter died on March 28, 1929, and was buried, at his own request, in the old family cemetery at Palo Pinto.

Following his flight to Chicago, Coney Slaughter disappeared and evaded the law for eight years before finally being discovered in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where he was working at a sanitarium, in April 1923. He was arrested, tried, found guilty of two charges of embezzlement totalling $112,987, and sentenced to six years in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. Coney served two years before escaping from prison. He was on the loose again for some time before he was again arrested at Englewood, Colorado, for a minor traffic code violation and sent back to Leavenworth to complete his term. During his initial period as a fugitive he was married and had a daughter. After a divorce Coney met and married Enola Landrey in New Orleans; three daughters were born to them. Apparently he either did not attend his father's funeral, or came in disguise, as federal agents failed to spot him. After finishing his jail sentence, Coney lived for a time in Dallas before moving to San Antonio in 1931 to be near his widowed mother. Worried by financial reverses as a result of the Great Depression, Coney Slaughter, on March 18, 1932, bade farewell to his oldest daughter, who with her husband, Percy Carter, and their children was preparing to return to their home in Austin after a three-week visit, went into his apartment kitchen, and shot himself in the head. With his son's suicide, the legacy of William B. Slaughter thus reached a tragic climax.

Mary Whatley Clarke, The Slaughter Ranches and Their Makers (Austin: Jenkins, 1979). J. Marvin Hunter, Trail Drivers of Texas (2 vols., San Antonio: Jackson Printing, 1920, 1923; 4th ed., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985). Lillie Mae Hunter, The Book of Years: A History of Dallam and Hartley Counties (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1969). David J. Murrah, C. C. Slaughter: Rancher, Banker, Baptist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981). Sherman County Historical Survey Committee, God, Grass, and Grit (2 vols., Seagraves, Texas: Pioneer, 1971, 1975).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Slaughter, William Baxter,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
March 5, 2019