Anna McAdams Slaughter learned early in life how to manage a ranch and do without the frills of a proper lady.
During the Civil War, Anna McAdams’ family moved to Palo Pinto County where she became a cow girl at an early age. She was much like her mother Ann, who did what it took to survive. Anna watched how her mother fooled Indians and outlaws by dressing as a man. Her mother kept a belted, holstered six-gun around her waist and carried a rifle holstered on the saddle of her horse.
She didn’t hesitate to pull her weapon to make sure people knew she meant business. With that kind of role model, Anna soon handled a man’s job as well as her mother did.
The McAdamses formed a close relationship with another family, the George Slaughter clan, who had moved to Palo Pinto in 1857.
The children of both families become close friends, and during the Civil War, the families joined together to withstand Comanche and Kiowa attacks.
Many ranchers decided to sell out, and the population of Palo Pinto dwindled, like those of surrounding counties. According to Sara H. Massey, author of “Texas Women on the Cattle Trails,” only one in five of the area’s prewar ranches was still occupied. The situation became worse when federal troops were withdrawn from Fort Belknap and Fort Richardson. The Indians responded by driving off thousands of horses and cattle west to trade with Comancheros in New Mexico Territory. However, the exodus of neighboring ranchers actually resulted in financial gain for the McAdams and Slaughters. Both families increased their herds by buying the cattle and horses of those that fled to safer country.
Bill Slaughter, Anna’s future husband, started making cattle drives when he was just a boy, and by the time he was a young teenager, he was a cattle drive boss. Slaughter continued his annual cattle drives to different markets and in 1877, he courted and married Anna. After her marriage, Anna accompanied her husband on cattle drives and worked side by side with the hired hands as a cook, wrangler and scout. She continued to go on cattle drives until she was nearly 50 — and did the same jobs as the cowboys. Their last cattle drive together was in 1901.
Anna was a member of two ranching families, one headed by her father, the other by her husband. She managed to be a wife and mother while helping to build a cattle empire as a rancher and trail rider.
Massey said that Texas women like Anna were the “precursors of the women’s liberation movement.”
While women’s suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony were demanding their rights, Anna and other women like her simply accepted their freedom and the dual roles and extra work it required. Her husband and cowboys always needed help, and they were grateful to accept her as equal.
Pioneer women like Anna blazed the way for the Texas ranch women and cowgirls who followed in her footsteps.