August 17, 1887, the same day the Graham partisans attempted unsuccessfully to waylay the Tewksbury partisans at the Cherry Creek ranch, eighteen-year-old Billy Graham was allegedly shot by Tewksbury partisan, Jim Houck, who was also an Apache County deputy for Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens. According to Houck the two met on the Payson Trail and Billy went for his gun and Houck had to shoot him. Graham rode back to ranch, arriving with his intestines hanging out and died in excruciating pain a few hours later.
Since Houck was a deputy and could not get in trouble for shooting Billy, he confessed to the shooting, but its likely Ed Tewksbury shot Billy and Houck’s confession was to save Tewksbury from a murder charge. On his death bed Billy identified Tewksbury as the man who shot him. Two men who testified at the inquest swore that Tewksbury was the shooter.
The coroner’s inquest ruled Billy died at the hands of Ed Tewksbury but nothing came of it after Houck claimed he killed Billy.
Thirsting for revenge, over the killing of Billy Graham, Andy Cooper Blevins, his brothers John and Charlie, Tom and John Graham, Mote Roberts and about a dozen others including some Hashknife cowboys decided to even things up with a sneak attack on the J.D. Tewksbury ranch on Cherry Creek. On the morning of September 2nd, 1887, they concealed their horses and quietly surrounded the ranch house.
Following the shooting of Billy Graham the Tewksbury’s were expecting trouble and most of them were holed up in their mountain camp. The previous evening Ed and John Tewksbury, John Rhodes and Bill Jacobs had ridden down to check on the women and children.
Inside the cabin were Lydia Tewksbury, Ed Tewksbury, John Rhodes, and Lydia’s daughter Mary Ann Tewksbury who was eight months pregnant. Also present was John and Mary Ann’s 3-year-old daughter Bertha, J.D. and Lydia’s sons Walter and Parker Tewksbury ages three and six. Tom Schutes Lydia’s 12-year-old son from a previous marriage was at the corral. J.D. Tewksbury and Lydia’s other son, Gus were in Prescott at the time.
Bill Jacobs and John Tewksbury had gone outside the cabin to gather the horses, and were unaware that several Winchesters were trained on them. The two men were walking back towards the cabin and passed a large boulder when rifle shots smashed the stillness of the September morning. Jacobs took three bullets in the back. He staggered forward a few feet then fell to the ground face down.
Tewksbury took a bullet in the neck and went down writhing in pain. One of the assassins, quite possibly Cooper, walked up and pumped three more slugs into him, then picked up a large boulder and crushed his skull.
The ambushers then turned their attention to the ranch house, peppering the building with gunfire. Inside, the Tewksbury’s and fought a desperate battle against the larger force outside. Then, to the horror of those inside the cabin, a drove of range hogs began to devour the bodies of Tewksbury and Jacobs. Calls for a truce to remove the bodies were refused by Tom Graham replied, “No, the hogs have to eat them.”
Andy Cooper wanted to scalp John Tewksbury but Graham forbade it. It’s worth noting that a few months earlier Cooper had circulated a contract to ranchers that he accept $50 from them for every Tewksbury scalp he brought in. Cooper also wanted to set fire to the cabin and burn the Tewksbury’s out but because of the women and children inside, Graham also vetoed that plan. He was well-aware of the Biblical “An eye for an eye.”
The Grahams planted snipers outside the cabin and for the next three days fired on anyone who dared set foot outside. John Rhodes managed to slip off and rode to the mountain camp and got Jim Roberts to ride to Payson for help where local lawman, John Meadows raised a posse.
The posse arrived at the cabin eleven days after the shooting. By this time the Graham partisans had left.
Meadows appointed a coroner’s jury and held an inquest. The only witnesses were Lydia and her son Tom. The Tewksbury men all had warrants out for their arrest and headed for greener pastures taking Mary Ann and her daughter along with them.
Meadows probably wouldn’t have arrested them anyway as they were friends. It’s more likely they didn’t want to put him in an awkward position.
The oft-told story about wild hogs eating the bodies of John Tewksbury and Bill Jacobs does have credence. Those feral hogs were described as “big as bears and mean as a cornered badger.”
Sam Haught wrote in his notes that the Tewksbury’s took Mart Blevins to the northwest corner of the Flying V horse pasture, killed him and the let the hogs eat the body. Joe T. McKinney, a constable at Globe, wrote that Tom Graham told Mary Ann that morning she couldn’t bury her husband and Bill Jacobs because, “the hogs have to eat them.”
Rim Country historian, the late Jinx Pyle says, “I see a pattern. The hogs ate a Graham partisan (Old Man Blevins), so payback would be that the hogs would have to eat a Tewksbury.”
It was the Biblical, “an eye for an eye,” again.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.