It’s been said 54 people disappeared and 28 were known killed in the Pleasant Valley War. The vigilance committee, calling itself the “Committee of Fifty” actually numbered far fewer. Silas Young and Colonel Jesse Ellison were the leaders of this phantom group. They spoke of restoring order but there’s hard evidence the self-righteous pair saw an opportunity for a land grab. Young and Ellison each wanted it all but eventually agreed to a split. Silas Young took over the Graham ranch and Ellison claimed the Tewksbury ranchlands on the east side of the creek.
In the aftermath, Tom Graham got married and settled down in Tempe. But feuds and bad blood don’t die easy. On Tuesday morning, August 2nd, 1892, he was driving a wagonload of grain on Double Buttes Road leading into town. Beside the road, Ed Tewksbury and his brother-in-law John Rhodes sat waiting in ambush. As the wagon passed, Tewksbury raised his weapon, a .45-90 Winchester rifle, and shot Graham in the back. He slumped back on the sacks of grain mortally wounded. He lived long enough to name his assassins. Tewksbury made a hasty escape by picketing a relay of fast, durable horses from Tempe to the Tonto Basin. To establish his alibi, Ed Tewksbury had to ride 170 miles in less than a day.
Ed Tewksbury, proclaiming his innocence, surrendered. Fearing a lynching, Sheriff Henry Garfias, met Ed at the Kyrene railroad station and they rode quietly into Phoenix where he was booked in the county jail.
Ed Tewksbury continued to deny any involvement claiming he was in the Tonto Basin at the time. Actually, he’d picketed some fine horses along the way and made a record-setting endurance ride to establish his alibi.
John Rhodes was tried first and his trial turned out to be quite a sensation. Anne Melton Graham, Tom’s widow, slipped a pistol into the courtroom in her purse and attempted to shoot Rhodes but the weapon failed to fire.
Rhodes had an alibi; he claimed to be somewhere else and the court believed him. He later became an Arizona Ranger.
Ed Tewksbury’s lawyers used delaying tactics to postpone his trial for some sixteen months after the murder of Tom Graham. His alibi of being in the Tonto Basin the day of the shooting was doused when a witness testified to seeing Ed drinking in a Tempe saloon on the day of the shooting.
Then his lawyers got a change of venue and moved the trial to Tucson. The argument came down to whether or not Tewksbury could have ridden from Pleasant Valley to Tempe and back in a day.
The jury returned a guilty verdict but Ed’s lawyers went on the offense arguing, on legal technicalities, Ed hadn’t appeared in person for his plea of abatement and he was given a new trial.
Richard E. Sloan, future Territorial Governor of Arizona, was the judge at the new trial. This time Ed’s lawyers planted a seed of doubt in the eyes of the jury and the result was a hung jury. After two and a half years behind bars, Ed was free on bond. By now too much time had passed and the prosecution, believing it could not get a conviction, dismissed all charges. Ed Tewksbury was a free man. He sold his holdings in Pleasant Valley and moved to Globe where he became well-respected deputy sheriff. He died in 1904, of consumption. Ed Tewksbury would be the inspiration for Zane Grey’s classic novel of the feud, To The Last Man.
In feuds there are no winners, only mourners and survivors. Mary Blevins silently walking the streets of Holbrook for 15 years. Annie Graham sat in her room for 25 years with the curtains drawn. She died in an institution. Elizabeth Koehn was a spirited, beautiful young woman. She was the stepdaughter of Sam Gibson who peddled water in the area. She met Al Rose, an older man and Civil War veteran. She immediately had two sons and lived in a cabin on Cherry Creek in Pleasant Valley near the Graham headquarters. She acted as a nurse and mid-wife and was very well liked and respected. Rose was executed by the Committee of Fifty, November 1st in 1887. Lizzie eventually went to California and in remorse, hanged herself.
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 email@example.com.