Cheap Thrills BOTTOM LINE: The Tucson Institute plumbs the depths of good and evil with a forum tility.

Join the discussion, and help tackle the notion that "from Plato to the present, men could not trust their five senses because there are some realities that can only be comprehended by application of reason."

The free forum runs from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, January 2, in the Tucson/Pima Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave. Call 791-4395 for details.

THE SLAUGHTER HOUSE: The exquisite silence of southeastern Arizona's Slaughter Ranch belies the ornery, often belligerent and much celebrated life of its namesake, Texas John Slaughter.

Long before Slaughter's arrival, the remarkably fertile oasis in the San Bernardino Valley (on what's now the U.S./Mexico border) had already hosted a steady stream of explorers, brigands and outlaws. For centuries, it served as a major corridor for migrating Indians, and was reportedly visited by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, including Captain Juan Bautista de Anza and Father Eusebio Kino.

It was home to a Spanish garrison until 1780, and in 1846 the Mormon Battalion camped among surrounding hills. Three years later, San Bernardino would serve as a resting spot for thousands of fortune seekers en route to California's gold fields.

Finally, in 1884 the verdant, artesian spring-fed valley drew Slaughter, the hard-as-nails former Confederate soldier and Texas ranger. He was only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, and plagued by a stutter. But whatever Slaughter lacked in physical stature was quickly dispensed with a double-barreled shotgun, a six-shooter, and a steely, black-eyed gaze. A contemporary of Pancho Villa and Geronimo, he was a tough man living in tough times who made a name for himself as sheriff of Cochise County--including notorious Tombstone--where he often played judge, jury and executioner.

At the same time, Slaughter was a family man whose offspring grew up on his beloved San Bernardino ranch, once spanning more than 100,000 acres in the U.S. and Mexico. In 1982, the Johnson Historical Museum of the Southwest, created by Old West devotee Floyd Johnson, purchased the ranch's buildings and pond. The foundation eventually spent $500,000 restoring the house in painstaking detail, including its white picket fence and encircling adobe and rock buildings. Each of the structures is now filled with vintage trappings of pioneer life.

Registered as a National Historic Landmark, it's laced by lush lawns and a large pond fed by underground springs, and flanked by a rock dam. Surrounded by picnic spots, the pond now brims with leopard frogs, the endangered Yaqui chub and the Yaqui topminnow. Nearby, a winding stone staircase leads to the crumbled rock ruins of a U.S. Army garrison, operated as a bulwark against unrest in Mexico until 1923.

The Slaughter House Ranch Museum is located 16 miles east of Douglas, Arizona, accessible by a well-maintained gravel road. It stands adjacent to the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the Nature Conservancy. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $3, free for children under age 14. For directions and other information, call (520) 558-2474. TW

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