Pleasant Valley War

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Pleasant Valley War
Edwin Tewksbury in the 1890s, the last surviving Tewksbury to be involved in the feud.
Commodore Perry Owens, as Sheriff of Apache County, Arizona, 1886-1888.
A rare image of Tom Horn examining a lasso.
Frederick Russell Burnham in Arizona Territory during 1881.
John Fletcher Fairchild, member of sheriff Mulvenon's posse and later sheriff of Coconino County
An unidentified member of Sheriff Munvenon's posse[1]
Date 1882 - 1892
Location Tonto Basin, Arizona Territory
Result Indecisive. Annihilation of the Graham faction.
United States Graham Family
United States Blevins Family
United States Cattlemen associations
United States Tewksbury Family
United States Arizona lawmen
Commanders and leaders
Tom Graham 
Andy Blevins 
John D. Tewksbury 
Edwin Tewksbury
Casualties and losses
35-50 killed

The Pleasant Valley War, sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud, or Tonto Basin War, was a range war fought in Pleasant Valley, Arizona in the years 1882-1892. The war was fought between two feuding families, the ranchers Grahams and Tewksburys. The former, who were part Indian, started their operations as cattle ranchers before branching out to sheep, and racial slurs were bandied about from the early years of conflict.[2]

Pleasant Valley is physically located in Gila County, Arizona, but many of the events related to this feud took place in neighboring Apache and Navajo counties. Other neighborhood Arizona parts, such as Holbrook and Globe, were the setting of its bloodiest battles. The feud was originally fought between the Tewksburys and the Grahams against the well-established cattleman James Stinson, it soon involved other cattlemen associations, sheepmen, hired guns, cowboys and Arizona lawmen. The feud lasted for about a decade, with its most deadly incidents between 1886 and 1887; the last-known killing took place in 1892.[3]

The Pleasant Valley War had the highest number of fatalities of such civilian conflicts in United States history, with an estimated total of 35 to 50 deaths, and the near annihilation of the males of the two feuding families. The Pleasant Valley War was one of the deadliest and well-known range wars. It was also a reason why Arizona's statehood was postponed for another decade. Years after its end, many books and articles were written about the feud, and a number of gunmen made a name of themselves for their participation.[citation needed]

1882 - 1885[edit]


Edwin "Ed" Tewksbury was born in 1858 in San Francisco, California, and was the second son of former miner James D. Tewksbury and his Indian wife. The family was composed of four sons and one daughter and owned a great number of horses and cattle as they started out their ranching business.[4] The Grahams were originally from Northern Ireland in 1851 before migrating to Ohio, and were composed of Samuel Graham as the head, his wife Jane, and their five children Allen, Margaret, Mary, John and Thomas. Jane died in 1861, and Sam married Mary E. Goetzman, who had seven children. In 1881, John and Thomas staked claims in Arizona.[5]

The Tewksbury were new ranchers who came to the lush ranges of Arizona after being invited by Tom Graham. Tom Graham and John D. Tewksbury started as friends but, over the years, their business competition grew more fierce. Accusations of cattle and horse rustling were traded between both groups. In addition, a big name rancher named James Stinson, accused members of both families of rustling cattle from his ranch. Accusations soon turned into warrants, and while both families were present in the Tewksbury's house, cowboys from Stinson's outfit, led by John Gilliland, came up to arrest the Tewksburys. Tempers flared, and the Tewksburys refused to be arrested. Both John Gilliland and Ed Tewksbury drew their guns and fired at each other, which resulted in the wounding of John and Elisha Gilliland. In the courthouse, John Graham testified that Gilliland drew first and that Elisha was just an innocent bystander whom he and the Tewksburys tried to save afterwards.[6]

Animosity between the two families started in 1884, when Stinson made a deal with the Grahams to pay them each 50 head of cattle, and see that they never served jail time if they would turn state's evidence against the Tewksbury brothers. The Grahams took the deal and started working for Stinson, betraying the Tewksburys by siding with their accusers.[7] John Graham immediately filed a complaint with District Attorney Charles B. Rush, accusing the Tewksbury family of rebranding over sixty of Stinson's cattle.[8] The case against the Tewksburys however, was thrown out of court for lack of evidence.

In July 23, 1884, the Tewksbury faction, consisting of John Tewksbury, William Richards, George Blaine and Ed Rose, visited the ranch house of James Stinson in a supposed planning of the upcoming rodeo.[9] They were met by the ranch foremen, Marion McCann and five other cowhands, and the former asked the Tewksburys to leave except for Ed Rose, whom they knew was neutral in the conflict. The Tewksburys tried to reason with him, which ended in the two groups hurling insults at one another. Things heated up when Blaine called for McCann to come out and face him, before firing a shot at the foreman. The shot went high, and McCann retaliated by drawing his pistol and shooting Blaine in the throat. John Tewksbury also fired at McCann, before getting himself wounded and riding off with the others. Blaine survived his wound, and both group settled the fighting at court.

Afterwards, Stinson left Arizona and dissolved his herd.[10] The Grahams found themselves in a tight spot in 1885, after significantly losing a great number of their herd and subsequently being caught driving cattle that were not theirs.[11] The feud only got worse when the Tewksburys started bringing in herds of sheep in 1885.[12] The Tewksbury brothers leased some sheep from brothers named Daggs in Northern Arizona. Local newspapers such as the Arizona Silver Belt, reported that the feud was caused primarily by the Tewksbury's other occupation as sheepmen, which many cattlemen such as Stinson disliked due to their destructive eating habits in the open ranges. Historian Tim Ehrhardt suggested that this was not the case, and that the feud was primarily caused by the enmity of both families with each other.[13][14] Sheep were not yet brought in the valley until 1885, two years after the feuding between the Tewksbury and Graham factions began. The Tewksbury hired a Basque sheep herder to take the sheep to Pleasant Valley. While working, he was murdered and robbed by Andy Cooper (aka Andy Blevins), a member of the Graham faction. At that time, other cattlemen and sheepmen joined in the conflict, either willingly or not.

Wells outfit[edit]

Fred Wells, another local cattleman, had borrowed a lot of money in Globe, Arizona to build back his cattle herd and hire more cowboys after some reverses. According to Lott, Burnham was drawn into the conflict by his association with the Fred Wells and his family;[15] historian R. R. Money states that it was the Gordon Family.[16] In his published memoirs, Scouting on Two Continents, Burnham does not name the family and states he did not wish to mention names that might re-kindle the conflict.[17] Burnham was friends with both these families in Globe, so it could have been either, but in the undated manuscript he mentions his friendship with young Tommy Gordon and his family from Globe within the context of the feud.[18] The Wells clan had no stake in the feud, but his creditors did. Wells was told to join their cowboys in driving off the Tewksbury cattle or forfeit his own stock.[19] When Wells refused, his creditors demanded immediate payment of the loans and sent two deputies to seize his cattle. Wells gathered his clan and cattle together, joined by his young ranch hand named Frederick Russell Burnham. Wells had trained him in shooting and considered Burnham almost a part of his family. They began driving his herd into the mountains, hotly pursued by the deputies.[2]

The deputies had no trouble overtaking the Wells clan. The deputies forced the girls and the mother to halt, which set off the barking dogs. Burnham and John Wells, Burnham's close friend and the son of Fred Wells, rushed back. Just when they arrived, one of the dogs bit a deputy. The deputy shot the dog, and Burnham, John Wells, and two of the girls drew their weapons. The deputy fell dead in front of them, shot from a long distance by Fred Wells, and the other deputy raised his hands. The clan continued into the mountains with the captured deputy and released him after securing their herd. Wells, who did not want his family to be arrested as murderers, convinced the deputy to tell the authorities the nobody knew who fired the fatal shot. In exchange, the deputy could take some of Well's cattle back to Globe and the Wells would ride for the cattlemen when called upon. The deputy returned to Globe and reported the incident.[2]

Once partisan feelings became tense and hostilities began, Burnham became drawn into the conflict, defending the Wells family and particularly John and his father Fred, as well as being forced to participate in raiding parties on sheepmen.[2][15] After being drawn into it, Burnham was marked for death by the sheepmen, who described him as an “unknown gunman” with his “Remington six-shooter belt.” He hid for many days before escaping from the valley. Private posses were raised for raiding the opposition. Killings and counter-killings became a weekly occurrence. For the Wells outfit, it became a sheer waste of human life in a struggle without honor or profit in another man's feud, and seemingly without end.

Frederick Russell Burnham escapes[edit]

Frederick Burnham's sidearm, a Remington Model 1875.

Burnham realized that he was in an increasingly impossible position. His faction was losing and every man, and at nineteen years old, he faced a grim future as a gunman whose only "crime" had been to stand by his friends, the Wells. Burnham went to Globe, where he sought help from an older friend, Judge Aaron H. Hackney, the editor of the Arizona Silver Belt newspaper.[n 1] On his way to Globe he was nearly killed by George Dixon, a well-known bounty hunter who found him hiding in a cave. Holding a Colt .45 to Burnham's head, Dixon ordered him outside, but was shot and killed by a party outside the cave. Coyotero, a White Mountain Apache, had been tracking Dixon and killed the bounty hunter as he was capturing Burnham. The young scout quickly drew his Remington, moved behind a ledge, and shot Coyotero dead.[17][21]

Once in Globe, Burnham contacted Hackney and was hidden in his house. With his help, Burnham assumed several aliases and made the difficult journey out of the Basin. He eventually arrived in Tombstone, Arizona, and stayed with friends of Hackney. Once in Tombstone, he began to reflect on the feud:

"Now my mind began to clarify. I saw that my sentimental siding with the young herder's cause [Ed note: John Wells] was all wrong; that avenging only led to more vengeance and to even greater injustice than that suffered through the often unjustly administered laws of the land. I realized that I was in the wrong and had been for a long time, without knowing it. That was why I had suffered so in the Pinal Mountains.[17]

1886 - 1887[edit]

In February 1887 a Navajo worker of the Tewksburys was herding sheep in an area called the Mogollon Rim. Until that point, it had been tacitly accepted as the line across which sheep were not permitted. He was ambushed, shot and killed by Tom Graham, who beheaded the corpse and buried him where he fell.[22] In August 1887, Mart Blevins, the head of the Blevins family, went out to find some missing horses after suspecting the Tewksburys were behind the theft. He never returned, and his horse and rifle were recovered near the Tewkbury's ranch.[22][23] The Blevins boys consisting of Andy, Charlie, and one-armed Hamp, rode out in search of their father in the Tewksbury territory.[22] Hamp's journey took him to the Hashknife camp, where he was joined by cowboys John Payne, Thomas Carrington and Robert Glaspie. Along the way, a Tewksbury enemy, Tom Tucker joined Hamp in their pursuit. They tracked down the Tewksburys at a sheepherder's ranch owned by George Newton. Hamp and his gang asked Newton for some food, but they were met by John Tewksbury, who told them to go away. Things became violent when the Tewksburys drew their guns at Hamp's gang, and a shootout occurred, in which Hamp Blevins and John Payne were killed. When the Grahams came back to bury the bodies, they found the ranch burned to the ground and the Tewksburys were nowhere to be seen.

In August 17, 1887, William Graham was rounding up his family's horses when he came across Apache County Deputy Sheriff James D. Houck.[24] In his testimony, Houck said he had mistaken the young William for his brother John. Upon realizing that it was William, Houck said that he called for William's attention, which startled the young man, which led to both of them drawing their guns. Houck shot William in the gut, but the young man managed to ride away back to his home. His wound was so severe, that when he arrived, his intestines were hanging from his belly. He identified Ed Tewksbury as his murderer before he died.

Shootout at Tewksbury's Ranch[edit]

Graves of John Tewksbury and William Jacobs outside of Young, AZ

In September 1887, the Graham faction rode into the Tewksbury cabin in the early morning hours. They hid themselves in the foliage and spotted John Tewksbury Jr. and William Jacobs came by gathering their horses. They ambushed and killed both men. The Grahams then went to the cabin and continued firing at it for hours, with fire returned from within.[25] As the battle continued, hogs began devouring the bodies of Tewksbury and Jacobs. According to some accounts, although the Grahams did not offer a truce, John Tewksbury's wife, Eva, came out of the cabin with a shovel. The firing stopped while she scooped out shallow graves for her husband and his companion. Firing on both sides resumed once she was back inside, but no further deaths occurred that day. However, historian Joseph G. Rosa disputed this account, and believed that the bodies lay where they fell until morning.[26] Eva herself, at that time, was eight and a half months pregnant. When the law was approaching their positions, the Graham faction quickly rode away.[27]

Owens-Blevins Shootout[edit]

A few days later, Andy Cooper, one of the leaders of the Graham faction, was overheard in a store in Holbrook, bragging that he had shot and killed both John Tewksbury and William Jacobs. Commodore Perry Owens, newly elected Sheriff for Apache County, was a former cowboy turned lawman. At that time, he was known for his skills as a gunman, being able to accurately shoot one pistol in each hand. He made a name for himself in his skirmishes with neighboring Apaches and Navajo. In November 1886, Owens was elected sheriff of Apache County, Arizona. The Blevins, on the other hand, were already notorious for their cattle rustling activities and cold-blooded murders in and out of the territory. As soon as he heard of the Blevins' whereabouts, he rode alone to the Blevins house in Holbrook to serve the warrant, carrying a Winchester rifle.[28]

Twelve members of the Blevins family were present at the house that day. Owens stated that he had an outstanding warrant for Andy Blevins and asked him to come out of the house.[29] Blevins refused. His half-brother, John Blevins, came out the front door and fired a shot at Owens with a rifle. Owens returned fire, wounding John and killing Andy. A friend of the family named Mose Roberts, who was in a back room, jumped through a window at the side of the house.

Owens, hearing the noise, ran to the side of the house and fired on Roberts, killing him. It is disputed as to whether Roberts was armed or not. Some reports indicate he was armed with a rifle, others alleged that he was unarmed. It has also been said that he went out the window only to avoid bullets that passed into his room. At that moment, 15-year-old Sam Houston Blevins ran outside, armed with a pistol picked up next to the body of his brother Andy. Owens shot and killed him, as the boy fired on Owens; Sam died in his mother's arms.

Witnesses said the gunfight took less than a minute; it resulted in three dead and one wounded. Despite being fired at, Owens was not injured. The afternoon made Owens a legend, but only added fuel to the fire of the feud. Owens was not indicted, and his shootings were ruled as self defense by the three coroner's juries called to review each death. The cases were never prosecuted and Owens lost his position as sheriff.[30]

Shootout at Perkins Store[edit]

After the murder of a Graham sympathizer named Henry Middleton, Sheriff William Mulvenon of Prescott, Arizona led a posse in an attempt to finally quell the war. His instructions came directly from Governor Zulick, and he left Prescott in September 10, 1887. His posse made a stop at Haigler ranch in the northern side of the valley, and six others such as Tewksbury ally J.D. Houck, reinforced his pack.[31] His posse finally found the Graham faction at the Perkins Store in Young, Arizona, consisting of John Graham and Charles Blevins. The posse hid themselves behind a stone wall and waited, before surprising John and Charles and ordering them to put up their hands.

During the grand jury hearing concerning the events at the Perkins Store, Mulvenon said that John Graham and Charles Blevins tried to reach for their guns, forcing him and his posse to shoot them. Charles died quickly, and Houck ran up to the mortally wounded Graham and shot him so as to finish him off.[32] However posse members testified that Mulvenon opened fire before a demand was made for them to surrender and that at least some of the posse members had an understanding with Mulvenon that no Grahams were to be taken alive. At least some of the posse members were unaware of this and didn't fire. McKinney intervened to stop Houck and Mulvenon from shooting the dying Blevins again. A grand jury indicted Mulvenon for the murders but he was found not guilty in spite of convincing testimony from posse members Fairchild, McKinney and Weatherford.[33]

Six weeks later, Al Rose, participant in the Graham faction, was killed by eight unknown men wearing long coats and masks, near the Houldon ranch belonging to the Grahams.

Involvement of Tom Horn[edit]

It was most likely during this stage that outsider and known assassin Tom Horn participated, possibly as a killer for hire, but it is unknown which side employed him, and both sides suffered several murders to which no suspect was ever identified. In his autobiography, however, Horn writes: "Early in April of 1887, some of the boys came down from the Pleasant Valley, where there was a big rustler war going on and the rustlers were getting the best of the game." Horn says he was tired of working his mining claim and therefore was "willing to go, and so away we went." He then claims that he "became the mediator" of the conflict, serving as a deputy sheriff under three famous Arizona lawmen of the time: William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill, Commodore Perry Owens, and Glenn Reynolds.[34] Horn worked on a ranch owned by Robert Bowen, where he became one of the prime suspects in the disappearance of Mart Blevins in 1887.[23] Horn also participated with Glenn Reynolds in the lynching of three suspected rustlers and participants of the feud in August 1888.

1888 - 1892[edit]

Over the next few years after 1887, several lynchings and unsolved murders of members of both factions took place, often committed by masked men. The elder John Tewksbury, died of natural causes. One of the Tewksbury's allies, George Newton, drowned in Salt River on his way either to his ranch or a meeting with Ed Tewksbury, and many, including his family, thought that the Grahams were responsible. His widow offered a reward of $10,000 to whoever recovers Newton's body, but he was never found.[35] Both the Tewksburys and the Grahams continued fighting, until there were only two left.

With almost all of his clan and allies lost, Tom Graham gave up his residence in Prescott and fled the valley. He soon settled in Tempe, and married a minster's daughter named Annie Melton. He planned to sell his stock and restart his business in his new found home. While delivering a load of wheat from a store in August 2, 1892, Tom Graham, the last of the Graham faction involved in the feud, was fatally shot in the back by two assassins. The assassins called Tom, and as the man looked over his shoulder, a rifle bullet penetrated his back. Before his death, Tom named Ed Tewksbury and John Rhodes as his killers.[36]

Ed Tewksbury was accused of the murder. Defended by well-known Arizona attorney Thomas Fitch, the first trial ended in a mistrial due to a legal technicality. During the trial, Tom's widow, Annie, attempted to assassinate Ed with a pistol, but it got caught in her dress, and she was promptly removed from the court. The jury in the second trial dead-locked seven to five for acquittal.[37] Over 100 witnesses had been called, and many such as two young women, named Gregg and Cummings and a Winslow cowboy, A.J. Steneel, confirmed Ed as one of the murderers. However, the jury finally closed the case, as they deemed that Ed was not present in the place of the murder. Edwin Tewksbury died in Globe, Arizona in April, 1904. By the time of his release, none of the Grahams remained to retaliate against him, nor was there anyone on the Tewksbury side to have avenged his death had anyone killed him. Before his death, Ed confessed to his stepmother that he did killed Tom Graham, and he did this by stringing up horses along the route to Tempe.[36] Generations of the Tewksbury family believed Ed's story years after the feud ended.

Soon after Tom's murder, a young man named Yost was assassinated while traveling through Reno Pass in the Tonto Basin road. The kid has been connected with the Graham faction, and reports said that he was killed by the Apache Kid.[35]


Edwin Tewksbury was the last of the men involved in the Pleasant Valley War.[38] He died in Globe, Arizona in April 1904. Today, some of the graves of many of the murdered men can still be seen in the Young, Arizona cemetery and the Perkins Store still stands as a museum.[25] In total, over 35 to 50 individuals were killed, with some participation from the local vigilantes, hired hands and cowboys from both sides, and arrests from the law were rare.[36][39][40] The news of the range war and the ongoing Apache Wars were the reasons why Arizona's statehood was postponed for another decade, because many legislators in Washington saw these as proof that the territory was not civilized enough to be part of the Union.[41]

Cultural references[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Arizona Silver Belt’s founding editor was Aaron H. Hackney[20]

Source notes

  1. ^ Posse Bushwack by Maurice Kildare, Great West Magazine, Vol 2 No. 4 July 1968 p.40. Maurice Kildare was a pseudonym for Gladwell "Toney" Richardson, who wrote many historical articles and many dime novels, many of them using various pseudonyms. Arizona Archives Online, Gladwell Richardson Collection, ca.1925-1980Tony Gladwell Richardson Collection, 1936, 1947, 1965-1966
  2. ^ a b c d e Coppock, Mike (August 12, 2014). "Scout for Two Continents: The little-known story of a Pleasant Valley War survivor whose Arizona adventures led him to Africa". True West Magazine. ISSN 0041-3615. OCLC 1585787. Retrieved August 13, 2014.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Coppock" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  3. ^ "Pleasant Valley History". Pleasant Valley Community Council. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  4. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.5
  5. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.7-8
  6. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.20
  7. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.20-22
  8. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.21
  9. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.26
  10. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.27
  11. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.28
  12. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.8
  13. ^ Tim Earhardt (2008), Zane Grey's Forgotten Ranch Tales from the Boles Homestead, Git A Rope! Publishing, Payson, Arizona, pp. 1412–1413, ISBN 978-0803294202 
  14. ^ Dan L. Thrapp (1991), Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: P-Z, University of Nebraska Press, pp. 53–54, ISBN 978-0976022671 
  15. ^ a b Lott (1981) pp.80–81
  16. ^ Money (1962) p.331–336
  17. ^ a b c Burnham (1926) Chapter III. The Tonto Basin Feud
  18. ^ Burnham, Frederick Russell. "Scouting on Two Continents (Typescript, n.d)". Frederick Russell Burnham Papers, 1864–1951 (inclusive). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University. Box 14, Folders 1–4. 
  19. ^ Lowe (2012) p.178
  20. ^ Library of Congress 2014.
  21. ^ Lott (1981) Chapter 8
  22. ^ a b c Hanchett (1994) Chapter 4: The Attack
  23. ^ a b Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, Volume 1: A-F (1991); University of Nebraska Press, pp. 127
  24. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.60
  25. ^ a b Legends of America: The Pleasant Valley War
  26. ^ Joseph G. Rosa (1995), Age of the Gunfighter: Men and Weapons on the Frontier, 1840-1900, University of Oklahoma Press, p. 87, ISBN 978-0806127613 
  27. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.74
  28. ^ Settler Historical Consciousness in the Local History Museum
  29. ^ "THE LEGENDARY SHERIFF COMMODORE PERRY OWENS". Guns of the Old West.  October 27, 2014
  30. ^ Coroner' Inquests into the Deaths of Samuel Houston Blevins, Mose Roberts, and Andrew Cooper. All documents available at the Arizona State Library and Archives in Phoenix, Arizona.
  31. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.90
  32. ^ Hanchett (1994) p.94
  33. ^ Posse Bushwack by Maurice Kildare, Great West Magazine, Vol 2 No. 4 July 1968 p.45, 57-58.
  34. ^ Tom Horn, Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter (1904); Doyce B. Nunis Jr., editor; Chicago: The Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1987, pp. 317-318
  35. ^ a b Pierce, Richard (2007). "John Tewksbury – William Jacobs Grave Information on Feud". Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project. Retrieved March 22, 2015. 
  36. ^ a b c Julie McDonald (1991), Saints & Scoundrels: Colorful Characters of the American West, Amazon Digital Services, Inc.  Ed Tewksbury and the Pleasant Valley War
  37. ^ "To the Last Man: Murder in Tempe". 
  38. ^ C. L. Sonnichsen (1987), Tucson: The Life and Times of an American City, University of Oklahoma Press, p. 125, ISBN 978-0806120423 
  39. ^ Rodriguez, Nadine Arroyo (December 12, 2014). "Did You Know: Pleasant Valley War Was Actually A Family Feud". KJZZ News. Retrieved March 5, 2015. 
  40. ^ Lammle, Rob (August 5, 2011). "4 Bloody Family Feuds in American History". Mental Floss. Retrieved March 5, 2015. 
  41. ^ Ward, Terry Arroyo (February 14, 2012). "One hundred years ago, Arizona statehood wasn't a pressing issue to D.C.". KJZZ News. Retrieved March 5, 2015. 


Further reading[edit]

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