The Pleasant Valley War
The Pleasant Valley War

Arizona, The Youngest State

McClintock, 1913, page 484


One of the bloodiest features of Arizona's history was the 

Pleasant Valley War or Tonto Basin War.  It began with the 

driving southward from near Flagstaff of several bands of 

sheep, reputed to have been the property of the Daggs brothers.  

Theretofore, the Rim of the Mogollons had been considered the 

"dead line" south of which no sheep might come.  There were 

allegations at the time that the Tewksbury brothers had been 

employed to take care of any trouble that might materialize 

over the running of sheep out of bounds.  At first there 

seemed to be little active opposition, but early in 1885 a 

Mexican sheepherder was killed.  The opposition centered 

around the Graham family to which gathered a considerable 

number of cowboys and cattlemen.


Tom Graham later told how at first he tried to use a form of 

moral persuasion.  Not wishing to kill anyone ,there would be 

a wait till the sheepherder began the preparation of his 

evening meal and then, from the darkness Graham would drop a 

bullet through the frying pan or coffee pot.  This intimation 

out of the night usually was effective in inducing the herder 

to forget his hunger and to move his band very early the next 



Several old residents of the Tonto Basin section decided that 

twenty-nine men had been killed in the war and that twenty two 

graves of men of the graham faction could be found in the 

vicinity of the old Stinson ranch.  Only four of the Tewksburys 

died, but the most awful feature of all was the manner of the 

death of two of them.  John Tewksbury and one Jacobs had brought 

in bands of sheep "on shares."  Both were ambushed near the 

former's home and killed.  Their bodies, in sight of the house 

were left to be devoured by hogs, while members of the Tewksbury 

family were kept away by a shower of bullets from a hillside 

on which the Grahams watched.  Finally Deputy Sheriff John 

Meadows entered the valley, to bury what was left, defiant of 

the wrath of the Grahams.  The Tewksburys were half bloods, 

their mother a California Indian and it is probably their 

actions thereafter were based upon the Indian code of revenge.  

Few were left of the Blevins family of the Graham faction.  

The men shot at Holbrook by Sheriff Owens were active 

Grahamites.  The elder Blevins was killed in the hills 

near the Houdon ranch and a skeleton found in after years 

is assumed to have been his.  Al Rose was killed at the 

Houdon ranch by a party of a dozen Tewksburys as he was 

leaving the house in the early morning.  The favorite 

mode of assassination was from ambush on the side of a 

trail.  One of the last episodes was the hanging of 

three of the Graham faction, Scott, Stott and Wilson, 

on the Rim of the Mogollons by a large party of Tewksburys.  

The three had been charged, possibly correctly, with 

wounding a Tewksbury partisan named Laufer and summary 

retribution was administered by hanging them on pine 

trees, hauled up by hand, with ropes brought for the 

purpose.  John Graham and Charles Blevins were shot 

from their horses in the fall of 1886 by a posse from 

Prescott, headed by Sheriff William Mulvenon, as the 

riders were approaching under the impression that the 

officers had departed from a mountain store in which 

the visitors still were in hiding.  Both were mortally 

wounded.  Mulvenon made several trips into the Basin.  

There was a bloody battle at the Newton ranch, which had 

been burned and abandoned.  Two cowboys, John Paine and 

Hamilton Blevins, had been killed at the Newton ranch, 

while William Graham had been ambushed and killed on the 

Payson Trail.  George Newton, formerly a Globe jeweler, 

was drowned in Salt River, while on his way to his ranch 

and it was thought at the time he had been shot from his 

horse, though this is not now believed.  His body never 

was found, though his widow offered a reward of $10,000 

for its recovery.  Sheriff O'Neill of Yavapai County led 

a posse into the valley but most of the damage had then 

been done.


Resident in the vicinity was J.W. Ellison, one of the 

leading citizens of the basin.  He states that at first 

the Grahams had the sympathy of the settlers, all of whom 

owned cattle and appreciated the danger to their range from 

the incursion of locust-like wandering sheep bands.  But the 

fighting soon became too warm for any save those immediately 

interested, for the factions hunted each other as wild beasts 

might have been hunted.  Mr. Ellison frankly states that he 

saw as little of the trouble as he could and is pleased that 

he managed to avoid being drawn into the controversy.


In the end the Tewksburys were victorious, with a death list 

of only four.  One of the fleeing grahams was Charlie Duchet, 

a fighter from the plains.  He had celebrity from an affray in 

which he and an enemy were provided with Bowie knives and were 

locked together in a dark room.  It was Duchet who emerged but 

permanently crippled by awful slashes on his hands and arms.


The end of the war was the killing of Tom Graham.  His clan 

about all gone, in 1892 he had fled from Tonto Basin and had 

established himself and his young wife on a farm southwest of 

Tempe.  He had harvested his first crop of grain and was 

hauling a load of barley to town.  When about opposite the 

Double Butte school house he was shot from ambush and his 

body fell backward upon the grain.  The deep was witnessed 

by two young women, named Gregg and Cummings, who positively 

identified Ed Tewksbury as one of the murderers.  A.J. 

Steneel, a Winslow cowboy, later declared that he had met 

Tewksbury, riding hard on the Reno Road on his way back to 

Pleasant Valley, 120 miles, whence a strong alibi later was 

produced.  Tewksbury and one of his henchmen, John Rhodes, 

were arrested and charged with the crime.  Rhodes was 

discharged at a preliminary hearing before a Phoenix 

Justice of the Peace, after a dramatic attempt on his 

life by Graham's widow.  She tried to draw from her 

reticule her husband's heavy revolver, but the hammer 

of the weapon caught, giving time for her disarmament.  

Tewksbury was found guilty of murder in the first degree, 

although well defended. His attorneys, however, found 

that his plea of "not guilty" had not been entered on 

the record of the District Court and so the verdict was 

set aside.  There was a second trial, at Tucson, on 

change of venue at an expense probably of $20,000 to 

Maricopa County, resulting in a hung jury.  Over 100 

witnesses had been called.  Then the case was dismissed.  

Tewksbury died in Globe in 1904 where for a while, he had 

served as a peace officer.


Soon after the Graham murder, a lad named Yost was 

assassinated while traveling through Reno Pass, on the 

Tonto Basin road.  There was general belief at the time 

that the murder had been committed by the Apache Kid, 

but it was considered significant that Yost had been 

connected with the Graham faction.




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