Pleasant Valley War

pleasant-valley-lead
Left: Tom Graham, right: Ed Tewksbury of the Pleasant Valley War

Feuds usually occurred in remote places and fighting flared when the law was unavailable, unable or unwilling to intervene. Conflicts usually involved two families and the factions that gathered around them. Bushwhacking was tolerated and even encouraged as each side believed it wouldn’t be over until the last man on the other side was killed. The aggrieved felt they had to fight fire with fire as feudists subscribed to the Biblical, “an eye for an eye.”

One of the Old West’s most notorious feuds occurred in a remote area in Arizona called Pleasant Valley. Roots of the feud began in 1879, when a widower named James Dunning Tewksbury and his sons Ed, Frank, Jim, and John arrived from California and settled in the beautiful valley.

A year later rancher Jim Stinson moved his cattle into Pleasant Valley with plans to become a cattle baron. He’d sold his land at Silver Creek to Mormon settlers who would establish the town of Snowflake and they were paying him in cattle. Before long Stinson had a sizable herd, branded them with a simple “T” and headed for Pleasant Valley to set up his empire. Now, there are at least a dozen different ways to alter the brand and that’s what happened.

In 1882, Tom, John, and Billy Graham arrived in Arizona from Ohio looking for a location to start a ranch. Ed Tewksbury invited to come over to Pleasant Valley and for a time the Graham’s and Tewksbury’s were friends

Soon, Stinson began complaining that his cattle were being rustled. In January, 1883 John Gilliland, foreman for the Stinson outfit, who also didn’t like the Tewksbury’s, rode to their ranch with two others and accused them of stealing cattle.  Tom and John Graham were at the Tewksbury ranch that day also.

Without warning Gilliland jerked his gun and fired at Ed Tewksbury but missed. Tewksbury grabbed a rifle and fired back inflicting minor wounds on Gilliland’s two friends.  Gilliland, the man who started the fight, then filed murder charges against the Tewksbury’s.  Since there was no murder the charges were dismissed as frivolous but the Tewksbury brothers had to ride all the way to the county seat at Prescott to answer the charges. On the chilly three-day ride home, Frank Tewksbury contracted pneumonia and died soon after. The Tewksbury’s blamed their brother’s death on Stinson and Gilliland.

A few years ago, writer Don Dedera discovered a paper that had been misfiled revealing that Stinson had schemed to create a “divide and conquer” ploy to pit the Tewksbury’s and Graham’s against each other. He made a deal with the Grahams to be his range detectives and gather evidence to help him prosecute the Tewksbury’s for cattle rustling. The Tewksbury’s, viewed this as a classic double-cross by their friends.

A few months after the trouble began, Mart “Old Man” Blevins and his family, including his sons, Andy, John, Charlie, Hamp, and Sam arrived to the Pleasant Valley area from Texas and become friends with the Grahams. Andy was wanted in Texas and used the alias, Andy Cooper.  Anticipating action, other cowboys spoiling for a fight head for Pleasant Valley.

Actually there was a third faction, rustlers not necessarily partisans in feud, stirring up trouble in Pleasant Valley. The remote area was an ideal place to hide and re-brand stolen livestock.

Over the next few years it’s estimated that between twenty and fifty men died with their boots on. Of the fighting members of the Grahams and Tewksbury’s by 1892 there was only one left standing on each side, Tom Graham and Ed Tewksbury.

Tom Graham left Pleasant Valley and moved to Tempe where settled down and married a local girl, Annie Melton. It looked the feud was over.

Then, on a road just outside of Tempe on August 2nd, 1892, Ed Tewksbury and John Rhodes ambushed and gunned down Tom Graham. It was truly a fight, “to the last man.”

In feuds there are no winners, only mourners and survivors. Mary Blevins, who lost a husband, three sons and had another seriously wounded silently spent the next fifteen years walking the streets of Holbrook. Annie Melton Graham, Tom’s widow, sat in her room for 25 years with the curtains drawn. She died in an institution.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” 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 and George Tewksbury
Marshall Trimble and George Tewksbury, grandson of Ed Tewksbury at the First Families of Arizona event, February 2017.

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.