Cora Viola Slaughter (Howell)
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About Viola Slaughter
Cora Viola Howell (September 18, 1860-March, 1941), later to become Viola Slaughter, was a famous Arizona rancher and the wife of sheriff John Slaughter.
Viola Slaughter was born in Missouri to Amazon and Mary Ann Howell. She was the great great granddaughter of Daniel Boone.
By the time Viola was eighteen, the Howell family had moved to a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. It was while living there that Viola met John, and they quickly fell in love. Viola would confess herself that "it was love at first sight" to a writer. John was thirty seven and Viola only eighteen when they met. John had two small children, which were with him since his first wife died in 1877.
Viola's mother opposed to the relationship vehemently. Her father, however, thought more positively about the relationship. By April 1879, Viola told her mother that she was getting married to John in about two weeks. Her mother screamed at her. With her father's blessing, the couple parted the next morning to Tularosa and, on April 16, they got married...
Viola Slaughter wanted to be a mother all of her life; because of this, she admittedly took a motherly love towards John's two children. Slaughter would never become a natural mother, but she and John adopted several children, among them, an Apache baby girl found by John in Mexico. Apache May had been abandoned there.
From Arizona and Back
Soon after marrying, the Slaughters arrived at Sulphur Springs, Arizona, where they lived in a two room house. This would mark the beginning of the relationship between her and John's two children, Addie and Willie. John told her that he would send them to Texas to live with his brother, Viola convinced him not to do so, because she was already feeling love for the children.
The Slaughters opened a supermarket near Tombstone in 1880. In order to get supplies, such as meat, the Slaughters had to travel through Apache territory, and Viola was scared of the Apaches. In 1881, the Slaughters returned to New Mexico, by train. John needed more cattle for his ranch. During the return trip, the Slaughters faced a blizzard, and 16 of the seventeen travellers in the Slaughter group suffered from parts of their bodies becoming frozen. Only Addie Slaughter was able to escape unharmed. She was attached to a buffalo robe and this protected her from being harmed.
Starting in the spring of 1883, John took his family on a trip that he thought would land him in Oregon, where he dreamed of having a ranch by Snake river. His plans were ruined, however, when he began hemorrhaging from an old condition of tuberculosis in Idaho, and the Slaughters had to return immediately to Arizona. Soon, they purchased the San Bernardino Mexican land grant. Their new home was large enough to be located in two countries: half of the ranch was in the United States, the other half in Mexico. The San Bernardino Ranch had 65,000 acres (260 km²), which John had bought for one dollar and twenty five cents each.
Wife of the Sheriff
Although the house had been abandoned, and deteriorating, for fifty years, Viola Slaughter was very happy with her new house. She marveled at the views nearby and the fact that, just by walking from one side of the house to the other, she would be crossing countries every time. From 1886 to 1890, John worked as sheriff in Tombstone, so the Slaughters made Tombstone their new hometown. They decided, however, to keep the ranch after John was elected.
In 1887, one of the few earthquakes in the history of Arizona hit their ranch, destroying a large part of it. John felt quite disappointed about his life as a rancher and he had decided to retire from being a working rancher once his days as sheriff were over. Viola, however, convinced him otherwise. She offered to help him with his ranching, going as far as saying "just give me a plain house with wide board floors, muslin ceilings and board finish around the adobes. That's all I want".
In 1892, the Slaughters, having remodeled their ranch, moved there permanently. Viola Slaughter also became famous across the west for her curing abilities, and cowboys would come from as far as New Mexico to get treatment from her. She would also join John on his frequent trips to Mexico; they helped catch a killer there, and usually brought cattle from as far as Hermosillo. Viola Slaughter would later tell the famed writer Charles Morgan Wood that she heard one time that John had been killed in Mexico by Apaches, and she got on a wagon and headed towards the frontier. Three days later, she saw her husband from afar. Viola was so happy that she felt ill, but she faked her weak feeling when her husband got to her, and he did not notice that she was not feeling good.
In 1896, John went on the attack, following Apaches to Mexico. Instead, he found the abandoned baby, Apache May.
The Slaughters became very rich as time went by, and Viola became known for enjoying things that women at that time were not used to, such as using expensive dresses for dinner. The family dinners were equally known in Arizona society circles, as these usually included fresh vegetables, jam, cream and other exquisite ingredients of the era.
The Slaughters were known for being an affable family, and the San Bernandino ranch later became a hang-out place for rich, poor, neighbors passersby, friends and anyone who happened to cross in front of it and felt like talking to someone. One frequent visitor was Billy the Kid, who became friends with the Slaughters.
On May 4 of 1921, a foreman, Jesse Fisher, was murdered in the ranch by robbers. John supposedly felt the danger near him, so he decided to ask Fisher to check on John's horses, and then, John moved into a bedroom without windows. Seconds later, Fisher was murdered.
One of the killers turned out to be one of the Slaughters' adopted children, a fact which left John and Viola distraught. Convinced that they needed to get away as quick as possible, the Slaughters moved to Douglas, where John died in 1922.
Viola remained active, although she stayed in Douglas for the remainder of her life. She would travel to do interviews, and she became grand marshal of Douglas' town rodeo parade in 1939, riding a horse through the streets of the border city.
In 1941, Addie Slaughter suffered a fatal heart attack on February 27, while visiting her surrogate mother Viola. Viola became depressed after Addie's death, and she was not able to cope with it, dying herself one month later, towards the end of March of that year.