The Pleasant Valley War

In 1881, the citizens of Arizona formed a third county from Maricopa and Pinal counties and named it Gila County.  Gila comes from a Spanish contraction of the Yuma Indian word Hah-quah-sa-eel   which means “salty running water.”  It is a large county that includes portions of two Indian reservations: Fort Apache and San Carlos.  The county seat is in Globe, Arizona (previously, Globe City).  The county’s irregular shape consists of around 4,800 square miles with a present-day population of just over 54,000 people.

Pleasant Valley AZ 001

Map Legend, Pleasant Valley War

About the only exciting event that ever occurred in Gila County was the Pleasant Valley War, which lasted from around 1880 to 1892.  It is one of the longest feuds in US history and the largest number of casualties.  The principal actors in this war were the Tewkesbury family and the Graham family.

Edwin (Ed) Tewkesbury (born in 1858) originated from San Francisco, California, the second son of a miner named James Tewkesbury.  Ed relocated to Arizona and with his Indian wife, sired four sons and a daughter.  He established a ranch  in present-day Gila County, over time acquiring a large herd of horses and cattle.

Samuel Graham immigrated from Northern Ireland to Ohio around 1851.  He and his wife Jane had five children whom they named Allen, Margaret, Mary, John, and Thomas.  Jane passed away in 1861 and Sam remarried a woman named Mary Goetzman, with whom he sired seven additional children.  Accepting Ed Tewkesbury’s invitation to settle in Arizona, John and Thomas Graham staked a claim in Gila County around 1881.  Initially, Tom Graham and John Tewkesbury formed a warm friendship and engaged in cooperative business interests, profiting both families.

Now enters James Andrew Stinson, a late comer to Gila County, who brought with him a lot of cash and a large herd of cattle.  Stinson’s stock began grazing throughout the valley on the open lands.  Eventually the Stinson Ranch dominated the Tewkesbury and Graham ranches.  Stinson accused both families of rustling his cattle and in time, warrants were issued.

Tewkesbury Edwin 001

Edwin Tewkesbury

To serve the warrants, Stinson sent his stock boss, a man named John Gilliland, to serve arrest warrants against the Tewkesbury’s.  As it happened, members of both Tewkesbury and Graham families were present at the Tewkesbury ranch house when Gilliland appeared with his brother and a few ranch hands to arrest Ed.  Of course, these were the day before metrosexuals so Ed Tewkesbury faced Gilliland and informed him that he would not submit to arrest that day, or for that matter, any day, by anyone.  John Gilliland drew his pistol, Ed Tewkesbury drew his, and both fired their weapons.  John and Elisha Gilliland both received wounds.

At this point in time, there were two matters before the court: the shooting at the Tewkesbury Ranch and allegations that Ed Tewkesbury rustled cattle belonging to Jim Stinson.  At the courthouse, John Graham testified that Gilliland went for his gun first and that Elisha was simply an innocent bystander, whom the Tewkesbury’s and Graham’s tried to save after the gun play.  Apparently, the court absolved Ed Tewkesbury of any criminal activity in the shooting, but the event kindled discord among the ranchers in Pleasant Valley and the matter of cattle rustling remained unresolved.

In 1884, Jim Stinson made an offer to the Grahams they couldn’t refuse.  First, Stinson offered to pay the Graham’s $50.00 a head for cattle.  Second, he offered a “stay of jail card.”  Of course, the offer depended on whether the Graham’s agreed to turn state’s evidence against Ed Tewkesbury in the matter of cattle rustling.  The Graham family accepted the offer.  To cement the deal, Graham filed a complaint with County District Attorney Charles B. Rush accusing Tewkesbury or rebranding over sixty of Stinson’s cattle.

Ultimately a request for change in venue landed the matter in a Prescott, Arizona court[1].  When the presiding judge learned of the deal between Stinson and Graham, he promptly dismissed the complaint citing a lack of credible evidence.  As the Tewkesbury’s returned home, Frank Tewkesbury contracted pneumonia and died.  For whatever reasons, the Tewkesbury’s blamed Jim Stinson for Frank’s death.

On 23 July 1884, John Tewkesbury, William Richards, George Blaine, and Ed Rose visited the Stinson ranch house to help plan an upcoming rodeo event.  Met at the gate by Stinson foreman Marion McCann and five ranch hands.  McCann asked everyone to leave the Stinson property, except for Ed Rose … who had no dog in the fight between the Stinson’s and Tewkesbury’s.  Unhappy with the situation, the Tewkesbury’s became argumentative and the two groups began hurling insults at each other.  George Blaine called for McCann to “come out” and face him.  McCann demurred, so Blaine pulled his revolver and shot at him.  The shot went high.  McCann responded by drawing his pistol and shooting Blaine in the throat.  John Tewkesbury also shot at McCann, missed, and was himself wounded.  John departed with the others of his group.  Blaine survived his wound and both groups settled the matter in court.

Toward the end of 1884, Stinson sold off his herd and left Arizona.  This left the Graham’s in a tight spot with the Tewkesbury’s and their friends, particularly after local cowmen discovered that the Graham’s were driving cattle that did not belong to them.

Tewkesbury Ranch House 001

Tewkesbury Ranch House

Up until 1885, Ed Tewkesbury was a popular cattleman in Gila County, which waned somewhat after Tewkesbury decided to import sheep leased from the Daggs brothers in northern Arizona.  This decision, which found its way into the local newspaper, the Arizona Silver Belt led cattlemen to criticize Ed Tewkesbury because grazing, sheep crop the grassland much closer to the topsoil than do cattle.  The effect of this is that it takes pastureland grazed by sheep longer to recover, and much longer in places lacking adequate water.  Tewkesbury’s widely publicized decision not only exacerbated his already existing problem with the Grahams, it also created dissention among cattlemen throughout Gila County.

Ed Tewkesbury hired a Basque sheep herder to transport Daggs’ animals to Pleasant Valley.  A member of the Graham faction by the name of Andy Cooper (also known as Andy Blevins) accosted the herder en route to Pleasant Valley and murdered him.  The extent to which anyone in Gila Country recognized the murder as an escalation of the Tewkesbury-Graham conflict is unknown to us today.

The Hash Knife Outfit

One of the primary factions of the Pleasant Valley War was the Aztec Land and Cattle Company of Texas, with interests in Arizona and Colorado.  Aztec bought out the Hash Knife Outfit in Arizona, which included some 33,000 head of cattle, and 2,000 horses.  Many of the cowhands employed by Hash Knife continued working under Hash Knife management within the Aztec Land and Cattle Company organization.  These cowboys were notoriously rowdy and belligerent but since the residents of Holbrook benefitted financially from the efforts of these cowmen, their unseemly behaviors largely ignored —for a time.  It soon registered to these townspeople, however, that they were living amid thieves, thugs, and gunslingers.  Soon, gunfights in the streets of Holbrook were common occurrences.  Hash Knife cowboys fought and died protecting the company’s cattle, but they also targeted and harassed local ranchers and farmers who competed with Hash Knife.  They sided with cattlemen against the sheepherders, often targeting the sheepherders for serious injury or death and destroying sheep by the thousands.  In 1886, there were twenty-six shooting deaths in Holbrook alone, of a town population of no more than 250.

The Daggs Brothers

Five brothers of the Daggs family became prominent businessmen in Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Tempe, Arizona.  The Daggs were originally from Missouri.  Their names were Peru Paxton (called P.P.) William (called W.A.), John (called J.F.), Robert (or R.E.) and Jackson (A.J.).  They first arrived in Arizona around 1875, bringing with them 1,500 sheep from California.  Within a few years, the Daggs Brothers became the largest sheep ranching company in northern Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.  At one time, they had 50,000 sheep grazing in northern Arizona.  Additionally, both individually and as partners, they had business interests in ranching, real estate, land development, mining, meat processing, ice plants, railroads, and banking.  J. F. Daggs owned the Flagstaff Brewery.  R. E. and A. J. Daggs were attorneys.  They used their political influence and connections with lawmen, other attorneys, and judges in Yavapai and Apache counties to render assistance to their employees whenever arrested during the Pleasant Valley War.

The Fred Wells Outfit

Fred Wells was a local cattleman who borrowed large sums of money to build up his cattle ranch and hire the cowboys necessary to run a large operation.  The Wells family had no stake in the Pleasant Valley War, but Fred’s creditors did.  They instructed Wells to either join the fight against the Tewkesbury’s or forfeit ownership of his ranch and stock.  Fred called his family together, along with a young ranch hand by the name of Frederick Russel Burnham[2].  Burnham was drawn into the Pleasant Valley War only because of his relationship with Fred Wells.

Fred Wells trained Burnham in shooting skills and considered him part of his extended family.  Wells began driving his cattle into the mountains.  On his heels were deputies aligned with the Grahams and other powerful interests.  The deputies had no problem overtaking the Wells clan and forced Fred Wells’ wife and daughters to halt.  The loud command set off the dogs to barking.  Burnham and John Wells, Fred’s son, rushed back and just as they arrived, one of Wells’ dogs bit a deputy, who then shot the dog.  Burnham and John Wells and two of the sisters drew their weapons.  Before anyone could fire, the deputy fell dead at their feet—shot from long distance by Fred Wells.  The remaining deputy surrendered.

The Wells family continued into the mountains with a deputy as their prisoner.  They released the deputy after securing their herd of cattle, but not before convincing him that no one knew who fired the shot that killed his fellow lawman.  Moreover, Wells permitted the deputy to take with him some of his cattle, assuring him that the Wells’ family would support the cattlemen when called upon.  The deputy returned to Globe City and reported the incident.

As partisan hostilities began, Burnham became involved while defending Fred and John Wells; his loyalty to the Wells clan targeted him for assassination by the Tewkesbury men, who referred to Burnham as “an unknown gunman.”  With Wells’ urging, Burnham went into hiding for many days until he could make good his escape from Pleasant Valley.  Partisans raised their own posse’s (gangs of killers) for raiding the opposition.  Killings and retribution killings became a weekly event.  The Wells clan viewed the feud as a waste of human life.

Frederick Burnham knew that he was standing on dangerous ground.  At the age of 19 years, he faced a grim future as a gunman whose only crime was standing in defense of his friends, the Wells’ family.  Burnham decided to travel to Globe City and confer with an older friend and mentor, Judge Aaron H. Hackney, who was also editor of the Arizona Silver Belt.  On his way to Globe City, a bounty hunter named George Dixon accosted him.  Unknown to either Burnham or Dixon, a White Mountain Apache by the name of Coyotero had tracked Dixon to the cave where Burnham was hiding.  When Dixon emerged from the cave with his captive, Coyotero killed him.

Once in Globe City, Burnham went into hiding until he could safely leave Gila County.  He eventually made his way to Tombstone.

The Blevins Clan

Andy Blevins (also known as Andy Cooper) was already known as a desperado in Texas; rumor had it that he moved to Arizona to avoid having to do business with the Texas Ranger.  Cooper was quick to recognize the lucrative nature of stealing cattle in Arizona and encouraged his father, Mart Blevins, to bring the family to Pleasant Valley.

Mart (Old Man) Blevins arrived with his family in 1886.  “Old Man” Blevins was only 47-years of age.  Through Andy Cooper-Blevins, Mart and his sons John, Charlie, Hamp, and Sam soon affiliated with the Graham faction and a few of the Hash Knife boys who introduced them to the ease of stealing cattle from the Aztec Land and Cattle Company.

Not long after their arrival, the Blevins clan forced a Mormon family off their land and set up ranching operations near Canyon Creek.  Mart Blevins was fond of collecting quality horseflesh without having to pay for it.  Within a short period of time, the Blevins’ were driving stolen horses from Utah and Colorado to their newly acquired ranch, 75 miles south of Holbrook.  Yet, despite all the perks of outlaw living, it turned out to be a very bad decision by the Blevins clan.

In February 1887, a Navajo herder in Tewkesbury’s employ was tending sheep along the Mogollon Rim … an area previously accepted by everyone as the line across which sheep must never go.  Tom Graham ambushed this Indian, murdered him, decapitated him, buried him, and then set about destroying the sheep.

In early August 1887, Mart Blevins went in search of missing horses that he’d stolen from someone else, suspecting the Tewkesbury’s had taken them.  He never returned to his ranch.  A search party recovered Mart’s horse and rifle not far from the Tewkesbury ranch.  While searching for Mart, his son Hamp and three Hash Knife cowboys (John Paine, Tom Tucker, Bob Carrington, and Bob Glaspie) met up with Will Barnes at Dry Lake, 30 miles south of Holbrook.  Hamp mentioned that he and his friends were on the way to Pleasant Valley to start a war.

On 9 August, Hamp and his boys arrived at the Newton (old Middleton) Ranch located on Wilson Creek at the eastern end of Pleasant Valley.  Middleton Ranch had been the scene of a battle with hostile Apaches a few years early.  After the fight, the Middleton’s abandoned the ranch and Arizona altogether.  George Wilson owned it in 1887.  Inside, Jim Roberts, Joe Boyer, Jim and Ed Tewkesbury were just sitting down to supper when Hamp Blevins approached the ranch house.  As the spokesmen, Hamp asked to join them for a meal.  Jim Tewkesbury answered, “We’re not running a boarding house.”

Now, John Paine was known as a bad ass who loved to fight and shoot.  Paine was a strong-arm boy, hired to beat up on small ranchers and from every indication, he was a man who enjoyed his work.  Tom Tucker was simply looking for adventure.  Glaspie was operating on one cylinder, and not much is known or remembered about Bob Carrington.  Hamp drew his pistol and started shooting, drawing a fusillade of fire from inside the ranch house.  Jim Roberts dropped Paine with a head shot.  Another shot tore off the top of Hamp Blevins’ head.  Tucker went down with a bullet in his chest.  Glaspie took a hit in the leg, and Carrington managed to escape unscathed.  No harm came to any of the Tewkesbury’s.

Tom Tucker may have been the luckiest desperado in the history of Arizona.  Although badly wounded, he managed to escape the shooting scene.  Weak from loss of blood, he fell from his saddle near a mother bear and her two cubs.  The mother bear attacked Tom and he was further injured.  The lucky part was that by the time Tucker arrived at a ranch, maggots covered his wounds.  These filthy creatures saved Tucker’s life; they only eat dead flesh and prevented him from developing gangrene.

Hamp Blevins intended to start a war and he got one.  When members of the Graham faction returned to Wilson Creek to bury their dead, the also burned down George Wilson’s cabin.

On 17 August, someone shot William Graham in the gut while he was rounding up horses.  By the time William returned to the ranch, his intestines were hanging out of his stomach.  Before collapsing, he identified Ed Tewkesbury as his killer.  “No so!” claimed Apache County Deputy Sheriff James D. Houck.  Houck was an ally of the Tewkesbury’s and claimed that he’d shot Graham by accident, mistaking him for John Graham.  People supporting Tewkesbury may have believed the story, but almost no one on the Graham side did.  In any case, Ed Tewkesbury didn’t wait around for an arrest warrant.  By the time law officers showed up to serve a warrant, Ed was long-gone.

In early September 1887, the Graham faction rode to the Tewkesbury ranch house and in the early morning hours hid themselves in the foliage.  When John Tewkesbury, Jr., and William Jacobs walked into the ambush, the Grahams killed both men.  The Graham faction then turned their attention to the ranch house.  They fired into the cabin for hours, with an equal number of shots returned.  As the fight raged, hogs began devouring the bodies of John Jr., and Bill Jacobs.  Outraged, Eva Tewkesbury, John’s wife, came out of the cabin with a shovel and began to dig graves for her husband and Jacobs.  Firing stopped until she buried the men and returned to the cabin.  When the door closed, firing recommenced.  No one else died that day.  The shooting stopped when law officers approached the Tewkesbury ranch and the Graham faction rode off.

Commodore P. Owens 001

Sheriff C. P. Owens

A few days afterwards, Andy Cooper (Blevins) was in the general store in Holbrook bragging about how he had shot and killed John Tewkesbury and William Jacobs.  Commodore P. Owens[3] was the newly elected sheriff of Apache County, a former cowboy with known skills as a shootist, accurate and deadly as a two-gun shooter.  The Blevins, on the other hand, were known as back-shooters.  As soon as Owens learned of Andy Cooper’s whereabouts, he rode alone to the Blevins house in Holbrook to serve a warrant.  He took with him a Winchester rifle.

When Owens arrived at the Blevins house, twelve members of the family were present.  Owens stated that he had an outstanding warrant for Andy Blevins and asked him to come out of the house.  Blevins refused.  John came out of the house through the front door and fired a shot at Owens, who promptly returned fire, wounding John and killing Andy.  A friend of the family named Mose Roberts, at the time inside the house in a back room, jumped through a window to escape.  Owens, hearing the noise, ran to the side of the house and killed Roberts.  There is some question whether Roberts was armed but there is no question that he was soon dead.  At that moment, 15-year old Sam Houston Blevins ran outside armed with a pistol and fired on Owens.  Owens shot Sam, who soon died in his mother’s arms.  In less than a full minute, three men died and one man was seriously wounded.  Owens went unscathed.  An inquest ruled Owens fired in self-defense, but he ultimately lost his job as county sheriff.

After the murder of Henry Middleton, a member of the Graham faction, Sheriff Billy Mulvernon received instructions from Arizona governor Conrad Zulick to form a posse and put an end to the violence in Pleasant Valley.  On 10 September 1887, Mulvernon led his posse from Prescott stopping at the Haigler Ranch on the northern side of the valley a few days later.  There, six additional men reinforced Mulvernon, including J. D. Houck.  Mulvernon finally located a Graham faction, consisting of John Graham and Charles Blevins, at Perkins’ Store in Young, Arizona.  The posse went into an ambush behind a wall and waited.  When Graham and Blevins appeared, the posse ordered them to raise their hands.

According to grand jury testimony, rather than raising their hands Graham and Blevins went for their guns and there was no choice for the lawmen other than shooting them.  Blevins died quickly; Houck ran up to the mortally wounded Graham and shot him dead.  Not everyone in the posse agreed with Mulvernon’s testimony, however.  Conflicting evidence indicated that Mulvernon fired on Graham and Blevins before they could surrender.  A grand jury indicted Mulvernon for murder, but at a trial, a jury found him not guilty.

Six weeks later, eight unidentified gunmen wearing long coats and masked murdered another member of the Graham faction named Al Rose.  It was during this period that both sides began to rely on outside assassins to aid them.  One of these was a hired killed named Tom Horn[4].  According to Horn’s own autobiography, he became a “mediator” in the conflict, even serving as a deputy under three Arizona sheriffs: William (Buckey) O’Neill[5], Commodore Owens, and Glenn Reynolds.  This may be entirely correct, but history also tells us that he worked for Robert Bowen and was one of the primary suspects in the disappearance of Mart Blevins.  Moreover, Horn participated in the lynching of three suspected rustlers of the Graham faction in 1888.

Between 1888-1892, Pleasant Valley experienced lynching’s, disappearances, and unsolved murders.  While the elder John Tewkesbury died from natural causes, other Tewkesbury associates died violent deaths.  George Newton, a Tewkesbury ally, mysteriously drowned—but historians do not know this for a fact because no one ever found his remains.

With nearly all his clan and allies lost, Tom Graham finally gave up the fight and relocated to the Salt River Valley.  In time, he married Annie Melton, a minister’s daughter.  Their plan was to sell his stock and re-start his business outside of Tempe.  On 2 August 1892, Tom Graham was driving a wagon loan of wheat when someone shouted out his name.  As he looked over his shoulder to see who called, two bullets struck him in the back.  Before he died, he named Ed Tewkesbury and John Rhodes as his killers.

Deathbed testimony carries significant weight in US courts.  Based on Tom Graham’s accusations, lawmen arrested Ed Tewkesbury and stood trial.  The first trial ended in a mistrial due to a legal technicality.  During the second trial, Tom Graham’s wife Annie tried to murder Ed Tewkesbury inside the courtroom.  The jury of the second trial dead-locked seven to five for acquittal.  The jury concluded that Ed Tewkesbury was not present at the time and place of the murder.

Ed died from natural causes in Globe, Arizona in 1904, the last survivor among those involved in the Pleasant Valley War.  Historians estimate that as many as fifty men died in the Pleasant Valley feud: local ranchers and vigilantes, cowboys, and lawmen all participated in some fashion or another.  The Pleasant Valley War, the earlier Tombstone dustup, range wars, and Apache Wars all contrived to delay Arizona statehood because in the view of Congress, it was an uncivilized territory unfit for statehood.

Sources:

  1. Burnham, F. R.  Scouting on Two Continents.  New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1926.
  2. Forrest, E. R.  Arizona’s Dark and Bloody Ground: An Authentic Account of the Pleasant Valley Vendetta.  Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers Ltd., 1936.
  3. Hanchett, L. J. Jr.  Arizona’s Graham-Tewkesbury Feud.  Phoenix, Arizona: Pine Rim Press, 1994.
  4. Lowe, S.  Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Arizona History.  Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 2012.

Endnotes:

[1] Prescott is the seat of adjacent Yavapai County, Arizona.

[2] Frederick R. Burnham, DSO (1861-1947) was an American army scout, and adventurist, and founder of the Boy Scout movement.  He received his British award in recognition of his service to British South Africa.

[3] His father was Oliver H. Perry Owens, named after the hero of the War of 1812.  His mother named him Commodore.  As a youth, Commodore ran a gang of rustlers and whiskey runners within the Indian Territory.

[4] One of the hired killers was Tom Horn, although no one is quite sure which side he worked for.  Horn was an army scout, cowhand, range detective, and Pinkerton agent before working as a hired killer.  Born in Missouri in 1860 the fifth of twelve children, Horn ran away from home when he was only fourteen years of age.  After scouting for the army during the Geronimo campaign, Horn remained in Arizona as a miner and it was that when he became a shooter in the Pleasant Valley War.

[5] O’Neill was a sheriff, newspaper editor, miner, politician, gambler, and lawyer.  His nickname evolved from his tendency to buck the odds in gambling.  O’Neill later served as a captain in the U. S. Volunteer Army with service under Theodore Roosevelt.  He died in the Spanish American War.

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Pleasant Valley War

  1. “interesting” times.

    Like

    • Mustang says:

      When you stop and think about it, although years passed and technology changed, the people are remarkably consistent. Pleasant Valley was filled with horrible people back then. Now think Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, NYC, Washington DC, Richmond, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland …. horrible places, filled with the same kinds of horrible people as existed 140 years ago. Apparently we learn nothing from history. “interesting” indeed. Thanks for coming by, Ed …

      Like

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