Caprock Chronicles: The Slaughter Towns of West Texas

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Editor's Note: Caprock Chronicles is edited by Jack Becker, Librarian Emeritus of Texas Tech University librarian. He can be reached at jack.becker@ttu.edu. Today’s article about the Slaughter family of West Texas is by contributor David Murrah, a historian of West Texas and native of Gruver.

Two generations of the family of famed Texas cattle rancher C.C. Slaughter made a lasting impression on West Texas and the Llano Estacado. Several communities trace their founding to the Slaughter family’s efforts to colonize the region.

This rare c. 1873 photo of George Webb Slaughter (seated right) and his five sons was taken in Kansas City. Three of the five sons became major Texas cattle ranchers; C.C. (seated center) William B. (standing left) and John B. (standing center) would by the early 1900s control nearly a million acres of West Texas land. The other sons are Mason (seated left) and Peter (standing right).
This rare c. 1873 photo of George Webb Slaughter (seated right) and his five sons was taken in Kansas City. Three of the five sons became major Texas cattle ranchers; C.C. (seated center) William B. (standing left) and John B. (standing center) would by the early 1900s control nearly a million acres of West Texas land. The other sons are Mason (seated left) and Peter (standing right).

Christopher Columbus Slaughter was the oldest son of pioneer Texas cattleman and Baptist preacher George Webb Slaughter and his wife Sarah. Born on Columbus Day, October 12, 1836, in Sabine County near the Louisiana border. In 1857, C.C. moved with his family to a bend on the Brazos River north of present-day Palo Pinto where he and his younger brothers, including John B. Slaughter, began supplying cattle to the nearby Brazos Indian Reservation located at present-day Graham.

After the Civil War, the Slaughters became very successful in driving cattle to distant markets, first to Jefferson in 1867 and then up the Chisholm Trail well into the 1870s.

After the defeat of the Comanches and Kiowas who had controlled the Llano Estacado until 1874, the Slaughter brothers joined many others in establishing open range ranches in West Texas. In 1876, C.C., in partnership with other cattlemen, placed cattle near present-day Colorado City, and John and Bill Slaughter ranged their herd in 1876 to the mouth of Bull Creek east of present-day Gail.  The following year, they returned with more cattle, only to find their claim jumped by their older brother C.C!  The younger brothers then moved their cattle north to Crosby County, and C.C. used the Bull Creek site to establish his vast Long S Ranch.

C.C. Slaughter's five sons, pictured here in1911, all were active in ranching and land development on the South Plains. Dick Slaughter (seated left) played a role in the founding of Lehman and Bledsoe, and Bob (seated right) was the founder of Sundown. George M. Slaughter (seated center) was manager of the Lazy S Ranch in Cochran and Hockley counties and a banker in Roswell, New Mexico. C.C.'s two youngest sons,  Alex and CC (standing L to R) did not sell the land they inherited.
C.C. Slaughter's five sons, pictured here in1911, all were active in ranching and land development on the South Plains. Dick Slaughter (seated left) played a role in the founding of Lehman and Bledsoe, and Bob (seated right) was the founder of Sundown. George M. Slaughter (seated center) was manager of the Lazy S Ranch in Cochran and Hockley counties and a banker in Roswell, New Mexico. C.C.'s two youngest sons, Alex and CC (standing L to R) did not sell the land they inherited.

In 1901, C.C. helped his younger brother John acquire his own ranch, the Square and Compass, a 90,000-acre spread, which lay in southwestern Garza and eastern Lynn counties, which John renamed as the U Lazy S. He also financed his younger brother Bill’s Coldwater Ranch in the upper Panhandle in Sherman County.

Also by 1901, C.C. had created his 250,000-acre Lazy S Ranch in Cochran and Hockley counties, which he deeded to his wife and nine children to be a “living insurance policy”.  As a result, the Slaughters, including C.C. and his children, as well as C.C.’s brothers John and Bill, owned nearly a million acres of West Texas from the Colorado City area to the south to modern Stratford in the upper Panhandle.

As railroad construction began to penetrate the Llano Estacado in the early 1900s, land values began to rise and the farmers’ frontier pushed onto the plains. John Slaughter was among the first to relinquish his land when he sold nearly half of his U Lazy S Ranch to cereal manufacturer C. W. Post who developed the town of Post in Garza County.

In 1908, C.C. Slaughter allowed Iowa land promoter W.P. Soash to begin selling his Running Water Ranch in Castro, Lamb and Hale counties. Then, in 1909, he contracted with Soash to sell the Long S Ranch in Howard, Martin, Dawson, and Borden counties.  However, the severe drought of 1910-12 halted land sales and forced Soash into bankruptcy; Slaughter got most of the ranch back.

Land promoter W. P. Soash developed this brochure about 1910 to promote his town of Soash, which was located about 25 miles southeast of Lamesa. The severe three-year drought which began that year ruined his development.
Land promoter W. P. Soash developed this brochure about 1910 to promote his town of Soash, which was located about 25 miles southeast of Lamesa. The severe three-year drought which began that year ruined his development.

After C.C. Slaughter’s death in 1919, his vast estate was divided ten ways among his wife and nine children, and two years later, his heirs divided their Lazy S Ranch in Cochran and Hockley counties. Although some of the family chose to continue ranching operations, others began farming and still others decided to sell as land values once again had begun to rise in the 1920s.  C.C. Slaughter’s oldest daughter, Minnie Slaughter Veal, sold her 20,000-acre ranch in Cochran County in 1921 to promoter Morton J. Smith who in turn developed the townsite of Morton.  Her brother Dick Slaughter turned control of his land to Lubbock attorney C.A. Pierce, who, along with another brother Bob Slaughter, created the town of Ligon south of present-day Morton in an effort to secure the county seat. Although the effort failed, they did succeed in helping to get the Santa Fe to build a line across Slaughter land which in turn led to the creation of the towns of Levelland, Whiteface, Lehman, and Bledsoe.

Bob Slaughter also sold much of his land to prospective farmers beginning in 1926 and established the town of Sundown in Hockley County.  However, the discovery of oil on his land in 1937 led to the end of land sales by the family heirs as the Slaughter Oil Field soon became one of the major producers in Texas.

Although some of the Slaughter-influenced towns, such as Coldwater (Sherman County), Soash and Vealmoor (Howard County), and Lehman (Cochran County) are virtually ghost towns today, others like Post, Levelland, Morton, Whiteface, Sundown and Olton remain as important communities in West Texas.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Caprock Chronicles: The Slaughter Towns of West Texas