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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Midnight Ride of
Bob Slaughter


by Clay Coppedge

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1861 poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" describes how Revere rode hell-bent through the New England countryside on a mission to warn American colonists of an impending British attack, shouting "The British are coming! The British are coming!

In Texas a century later, the midnight ride of Bob Slaughter, ten-year old son of pioneer rancher C.C. "Lum" Slaughter, extended well beyond the witching hour. The spunky youngster (full name Robert Lee Slaughter) rode from Dallas to German Springs, just north of Big Spring, to warn the manager of the Slaughters' Long S Ranch that the British were coming and they were up to no good. The trip covered more than 300 miles and took 41 hours to complete. Paul Revere's legendary ride, as embellished by Longfellow, was a spin around the block by comparison.

While Revere was driven by an intense desire to save the American Revolution, Slaughter was on a mission to save the family's ranch. The Slaughter family lived in Dallas but Lum's Long S ranch stretched from Plainview to Big Spring in West Texas.

In 1881, Lum agreed to sell the Long S to an English lord and his accomplices for $500,000, or about $12 million of today's dollars. Not until he had prepared the transfer and a letter of introduction and dispatched them in a special stagecoach to the ranch did the elder Slaughter suffer a bout of seller's remorse. He cabled London to verify the alleged lord's identity and three days later learned that the British lord and his cronies were nothing but a royal pain; their credit and references were bogus.

That's when the elder Slaughter called on 10-year old Bob to mount a lightweight racing saddle and ride as fast as he could over more than 300 miles of unmarked prairie to warn the Long S about the British swindlers heading their way. He carried with him a letter of explanation and enough money to buy replacement horses along the route. He exchanged horses in Weatherford and continued on past the Palo Pinto Mountains and Fort Phantom Hill and farther still, to the Sam Barnes ranch near Abilene where he again swapped horses and kept on riding.

At dawn the next day Slaughter spied the English party camped near the Colorado River in Borden County. He gave them a wide berth and continued to Long S headquarters, exhausted, and delivered the note explaining what kind of game was afoot. The would-be swindlers were lucky; no one shot them when they arrived at the Long S the next day. They got out of Texas while the getting was good.

That's the story that's been passed down through the generations, and it's a good 'un, but spoil sport historians, lacking any preserved documents from those early days of the Slaughter empire, suspect that Bob may have fabricated the story himself as late as the 1930s.

We do know that Bob Slaughter went on to become manager of the Long S at the still-tender age of 18 and ushered the Slaughter empire into the 20th century. Whether he made that ride or not we may never know for certain, but we do know that he never lost his need for speed.

When automobiles came to West Texas, Slaughter bought a Pierce Arrow convertible and drove relentlessly over ranch properties at what can only be described as breakneck speeds. Roads were nice, but not required. He would chase a coyote across the prairie and through mesquite thickets, goosing the accelerator a little to "jump" the gullies. If his cook went AWOL he'd hop in his airplane and fly from ranch headquarters to Lubbock for breakfast.

A friend of his noted one day that Slaughter was riding his open convertible into the teeth of a fierce blue norther. "Won't you freeze to death that way?" he asked.

Slaughter replied, "Hell, I don't have time" and sped away, as if the British were coming and they were up to no good.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" February 22, 21 column



Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • The Many Lives of Ray Bourbon 1-18-21
  • The "Peculiar Emblem" of Texas 12-28-20
  • Oilfield Voodoo 11-16-20
  • Apocalypse on the San Saba 10-16-20
  • The Real Texas Jack 9-16-20

    See more »



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