Arizona's Pleasant Valley Feud
Pleasant Valley was home to the west's most deadly range feud. Known as the Pleasant Valley War, it lasted over fifteen years. It was a time when the west was untamed. Strangers entering Pleasant Valley disappeared completely. Horse thieves infested the area. Cattlemen or farmers never knew if they would ever find their horses again when they turned them out on the range.
One of the West's longest and bloodiest feuds took place in Arizona's Tonto Basin, or Pleasant Valley, where cattle ranges were protected on the north by the towering Mogollons. This was the vendetta between the Graham and Tewksbury families and their partisans.
Though the feud would last for almost a decade, it was most heated between 1886 and 1887. The conflict between the two factions began over property lines and water and grazing rights. Adding fuel to the fire was the long-standing cowboy disdain for sheep-herders. Even without legitimate conflicts, there would, no doubt, have been a personal dislike of the Tewksburys on the part of the Grahams. The Grahams also contended that the sheep grazed the open range clean, leaving nothing left for the cattle.
Both families had reached Arizona by way of California. John D. Tewksbury, from Boston, had joined the gold rush and married an Indian woman in California. He had three sons born there - Edwin, John and James. After his wife died, he went to Arizona, married a woman of English birth and, about 1880, built a cabin on Cherry Creek.
The Graham brothers, Tom and John, had grown up on an Iowa farm and migrated to California. Late in 1882 they settled in Pleasant Valley, Arizona, and built a cabin about ten miles northwest of John Tewksbury's. Later their younger half-brother, William, came to live with them. Sometimes the Tewksbury sons and the Graham brothers worked for neighboring ranchmen, including James Stinson.
Both families had good reputations at first. But, in the fall of 1884, while the younger Tewksburys and the Grahams were working on the Stinson ranch, men of each family were accused of combining to steal Stinson cattle and quarreling over their loot. Although court charges against them were dismissed, the stealing seemed to continue, as did the quarreling between the two suspected families. In 1886, a Stinson foreman accused Ed Tewksbury of stealing horses. Ed shot and wounded him.
In the fall of that year, the Daggs brothers, sheepmen to the north of Pleasant Valley, lacked feed to winter their flocks. The cattlemen in the valley wanted no sheep overstocking their range. Although it was public domain they combined, pronounced the valley "cow country" and warned sheepmen to stay away. The Daggs brothers decided to defy the cattlemen and winter there. To protect their flocks against possible trouble they engaged the Tewksburys and entered the forbidden territory.
This action enraged the Grahams and other cowmen, even though the sheep were grazing on public land. Tom Graham held back the cattle raisers from immediately slaughtering the flocks and herders, but when bullets fired close to the sheepmen at their campfires failed to scare them away, the Grahams began killing the sheep at night. They shot some and drove others into creeks or over bluffs. Early in 1887, a Navajo herder was killed and beheaded.
That spring the Daggs brothers lost so many sheep that they withdrew their herds from the valley, but the feud between the two factions continued. In July the father of the Blevans brothers, who were on the Graham side, disappeared. On August 10, one of the sons, Hampton, rode out with seven friends looking for the missing man. When they stopped in front of a cabin on the Middleton ranch, then occupied by the Tewksbury brothers, a gun battle broke out. As Jim Tewksbury's Winchester blazed from the doorway, Blevans and one of his friends fell dead and several others in the party were wounded.
After the fight the Tewksbury brothers fled to a fortified house in the mountains, but the Grahams followed and besieged them. Jim Tewksbury killed one of the attacking cow hands; and soon afterward Billy Graham, twenty-two, while riding on a lonely trail, was ambushed and killed by a sheepman.
On September 2, after the Tewksburys had reoccupied their cabin, the surviving Grahams and their partisans surrounded the place. They found John Tewksbury and Will Jacobs outside, looking for horses. Andy Blevans shot them both and left their bodies on the ground in front of the house while those inside held off the invaders.
The battle lasted for hours, with many bullets shot ineffectively from each side. Finally after hogs came up to the two bodies and began rooting at them, the cabin door opened. The besiegers heard a woman scream: "I can't stand it! I must bury them. They'll have to kill me to stop me."
It was Mrs. John Tewksbury, with a shovel in her hand. White-faced but defiant, she risked sudden death and walked straight to the bodies, drove off the hogs, dug shallow graves and buried her husband and his friend. As she worked, the guns were silent. The only sound was the wailing of her baby in the cabin. As soon as Mrs. Tewksbury returned to the cabin, the shooting started again, but without much effect. Late in the afternoon a posse appeared and the besiegers fled.
Two days later, Andy Blevans was in Holbrook, boasting in a saloon that he had killed Tewksbury and Jacobs. That afternoon the new sheriff of Apache County, Commodore Perry Owens, rode into town on other business. He learned that Blevans was in the home of his stepmother, with three other armed men.
Showing courage far beyond that of many more publicized frontier officers, Owens. carrying a Winchester, went into the house and ordered Blevans to surrender. When the killer refused and began shooting, Owens coolly put his rifle into action. A minute later, Andy and two of the other outlaws lay dying, and the fourth was wounded. The sheriff, without a scratch, was lauded by the coroner's jury and local citizens.
Later that month, Harry Middleton of the Graham faction was killed, and a posse took the lives of John Graham and Charles Blevans. Tom was the only one left of the three Graham brothers. Of the six Blevans men, five were dead and one was in jail. Yet the feud went on. Al Rose, a friend of Graham's, was shot from ambush. In 1888 three men not even engaged in the vendetta were hanged by Tewksbury partisans.
Jim Tewksbury, the deadliest gunman of his family, died of tuberculosis late that year. George Newton, a friend of the Tewksburys, disappeared in 1891. In 1892, Tom Graham was killed by two horsemen while driving along a road with a load of grain. The two were arrested, but one of them, John Rhodes was freed. The other, Ed Tewksbury, was tried. Found guilty in his first trial, Tewksbury obtained a second, in which the jury disagreed. He died in 1904 of tuberculosis. One more killing, that of a cow hand in Reno Pass, ended the feud which had taken more than a score of lives and terrorized for years many families in Pleasant Valley.
Following the Apache wars, Tom Horn had worked in the area of Pleasant Valley, Ariz. (Now known as "Young."), to the northwest of the San Carlos Reservation. It is commonly believed that Horn involved himself in the Graham-Tewksbury feud and that Horn, himself, may have been a precipitating cause with the killing of Mart Blevins in 1887. Some of the Blevins children had been suspected of rustling. Adding fuel to the fire was the introduction of sheep into the area.
Whether Horn, in fact, caused the war remains a matter of speculation. Zane Grey spent three years investigating the cause of feud. In his forward, Grey wrote: I never learned the truth of the cause of the Pleasant Valley War, or if I did hear it I had no means of recognizing it. All the given causes were plausible and convincing. Strange to state, there is still secrecy and reticence all over the Tonto Basin as to the facts of this feud. Many descendents of those killed are living there now. But no one likes to talk about it. Assuredly many of the incidents told me really occurred, as, for example, the terrible one of the two women, in the face of relentless enemies, saving the bodies of their dead husbands from being devoured by wild hogs.
Arizona's Pleasant Valley War effectively wiped out two families of Arizona pioneers, as well as many of their friends and allies and others who inhabited the area and simply had the bad luck to get caught up in the feud. It caused the Arizona Territory to obtain national notoriety, which undoubtedly was a major reason that statehood was not granted to the territory until well after the turn of the century. The notion, however, that the law enforcement and judicial system was ineffective in dealing with the crimes committed during the war is an unfair indictment of the law enforcement and judicial officials of the Graham-Tewksbury era and, by implication, the citizens who played such an important role in the process.
Young is one of Arizona's last cow towns. Historians still debate details of the feud. Zane Grey dramatized the events in his novel To the Last Man. Grey obtained his material during hunting trips in Pleasant Valley. Today, a very independent breed of people inhabits Young. These folks, many retired, don't like authority or development. Even the Forest Service - Young's largest employer - represents too much government for some of them.
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