The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge is in the bottom of a wide valley, just 16 miles east of Douglas. The wildlife refuge sits at an elevation between 3,720 and 3,920 feet and includes 140 acres. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains the refuge. The refuge includes a portion of the headwaters of the Yaqui River. This river flows through the Chihuahua and eastern Sonora, Mexico.
The establishment of the refuge was in part to protect the endangered and threatened native fish of the Yaqui River. Black Draw flows through the refuge. This river has a riparian forest of Fremont cottonwood and black willow. The biggest portion of the refuge consists of desert scrub and mesquite bosque.
The water in the area caused a unique history to form. This history began back in the 1700’s, with the Jesuit priests. The priests came to the area for missionary purposes. Then in 1822, the San Bernardino Land Grant was established to encourage more settlers. Unfortunately, Apache Indian attacks forced the grant to be abandoned. Later on, in the mid-1800’s the area became a stopover for prisoners.
Then in 1887 John Slaughter bought the land grant. John Slaughter was a former Texas Ranger. Slaughter brought in a huge herd of Texas longhorns to start his ranch. He eventually built his ranch on the land. John Slaughter and his second wife branded their cattle with a Z. This brand was one of the first brands registered in Cochise County. The Slaughters believed in using a gun and a rope when working with a herd. As time passed, word got out that no one should mess with his herds of cattle. In 1886, he ran for sheriff and won. He enforced the law in the county with a firm hand. In 1892, he retired from office and was an honorary deputy sheriff until he died in 1922. He was one of Arizona’s cattle kings. Today you can visit the John Slaughter Ranch, which lies within the refuge. This ranch is now a National Historic Landmark. The main house has been restored. Visitors will see family photos and furnishings. The ranch also has several outbuildings to see like a barn, icehouse, granary, commissary, car shed and washhouse.
You might also see an early 1900’s military outpost near the ranch. The outpost was once occupied during Mexican and Native Indian raids.
The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge offers a picnic area. The Slaughter Ranch Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 3:00 pm. The admission cost is $3.00 and children under 12 are free. For more information on the museum, call 520-558-2474.
If you would like more information on this trip into the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, you may call 520-364-2104.
You can get the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge from Douglas by taking 15th Street east out of town. The street later becomes Geronimo Trail. You will follow this road out to a gate with a “Z” on the front of it. The “Z” is the brand symbol for the Slaughter Ranch. Please do not attempt the drive under wet conditions.