HISTORY OF THE PLEASANT VALLEY WAR IN GILA COUNTY
The Pleasant Valley War, sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud, or Tonto Basin War, or Tewksbury-Graham Feud, was a range war fought in Pleasant Valley, Arizona in the years 1882-1892. The conflict involved two feuding families, the ranchers Grahams and Tewksburys. The Tewksburys, who were part Indian, started their operations as cattle ranchers before branching out to sheep.
Pleasant Valley is located in Gila County, Arizona, Other neighborhood Arizona parts, such as Holbrook and Globe, were the setting of the bloodiest battles. Although the feud was originally fought between the Tewksburys and the Grahams against the well-established cattleman James Stinson, it soon involved other cattlemen associations, sheepmen, hired guns, cowboys and Arizona lawmen. The feud lasted for about a decade, with its most deadly incidents between 1886 and 1887; the last-known killing took place in 1892.
The Pleasant Valley War had the highest number of fatalities of such range conflicts in United States history, with an estimated total of 35 to 50 deaths, and the near annihilation of the males of the two feuding families.
Ironically, the bloodiest of America’s blood feuds
was fought in some of the most beautiful country God
ever created. Pleasant Valley, located in Northern
Gila County, in the heart of Arizona, was once a haven
for outlaws and a hellhole for honest settlers. From
1882 to 1887, and even beyond, Pleasant Valley
was a battleground for two feuding families and at
least two organized outlaw rings.
Overshadowing this battleground stood the
majestic Mogollon Rim, beginning in north central
Arizona and running for 200 miles before merging
into the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona. Atop
the Mogollon, which rises to nearly 8,000 feet at
Baker’s Butte and Promontory Peak, was a land of
pine bunch grass and buffalo clover interspersed with
white and Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, and live and
white oak. In the level glades were alpine lakes. The
Mogollon was also a land of ridges, canyons, and
wide draws, often fringed with aspen. Rushing water
that made its way northward in canyon bottoms lined
with willows was slowed by intermittent beaver dams
holding pools of native trout. This alpine-like country
ran northward to the Grand Canyon, but gave way
to high desert in the northeastern part of the Arizona
Throughout the 1890s, turkey, deer, and bear –
black, brown, and silvertip – roamed the mountains,
as did the mountain lion. Shining brown trout graced
the rushing creeks from the Mogollon south through
Pleasant Valley and the Sierra Anchas.
In Hart Canyon, not far from present-day
Woods Canyon Lake and Al Fulton Point, a fallen
pine rests in a grove of aspen. Near the pine is a
rock marker with the name W. Ellexson, July 10,
1885. Ellexson’s killer remains unknown. The
reason for his death remains unknown. Was he a
sheepherder who moved his animals too close to
the edge of the Mogollon Rim, the “deadline”
between sheep and cattle country? Maybe. Hart,
for whom the canyon is named, was a sheepman
out of Flagstaff. Another possibility is that an outlaw
took Ellexson for a lawman and shot him. During
the years of the Pleasant Valley War, outlaws and
fighting factions didn’t need much reason to kill a
man. Any stranger might be an enemy. Any
newcomer might be a hired gun for another faction.
Most of those who survived the war shot first and
asked questions later.
Not far south of the Ellexson grave was the
Old Verde Road, sometimes known as the Rim
Road or General Crook Trail. Along this road just
a few miles from Ellexon’s grave is Al Fulton Point
on the Rim of the Mogollon. Fulton was also killed
during the Pleasant Valley War in 1888. Who killed
him? We don’t know. Why was he killed? We don’t
know. Possibly because he herded sheep for John
Woods, or maybe because Billy Wilson wanted
his horse. At least Fulton and Ellexson were buried
and we know their names. Others simply
disappeared and were never heard from again.
Twenty miles southwest of Al Fulton Point and
2,000 feet lower in elevation rests Pleasant Valley.
In the late 1870s when the first settlers built
their cabins, Pleasant Valley was in the extreme
eastern part of Yavapai County. The valley that had
been part of Yavapai County since 1864, was not
inducted into Gila County until 1889. When those
early pioneers arrived, grass stood belly-deep to
a horse. Groves of blackjack oak fringed the
hillsides and dotted the draws. The valley was
blessed with black walnut trees. Cottonwood,
sycamore, wild cherry, willow, and alder grew
along the creeks. Alligator juniper, pinion and cedar
dotted the lower hills, but gave way to stately
ponderosa pines in the surrounding mountains.
Conditions on the south sides of the hills were ideal for cliff rose, oak and mahogany browse and the sotol plant. The browse provided strong winter feed for cattle and game animals when snow covered the grass. Sotol, a saw-grass plant related to the mescal, could be lit with a match and would burn like coal oil even during times of deep snow. Many a cowboy held his cold hands and feet to the flames of a sotol fire.
The summers were hot, but during July and August clouds often banked against the Mogollon Rim to provide hard, drenching summer rains that revitalized the grass, livened the streams, and freshened the country. During the spring and fall the temperature hovered from the mid-sixties to seventies, providing weather conducive to hard work and productivity.
Winter brought abundant snow, but the sun in central Arizona is strong and warm, even during winter, so the snow was melted and Cherry Creek rolled and rushed through the valley in flood stage.
Pleasant Valley had abundant rainfall. Walnut Creek, Spring Creek, Marsh Creek and the east fork of Tonto Creek (later called Haigler Creek), drained the western side of the valley. The waters of these creeks all ultimately joined Tonto Creek as it rolled on toward its junction with the Salt River.
Just a few miles west of the valley, the east fork of Tonto Creek joined the main fork of Tonto Creek at Hell’s Gate. The canyons between the forks of Tonto were deep and rugged. The ridges were high, steep and clad with pine trees. Gordon Canyon, Colcord Canyon, Bull Tank Canyon, and Christopher Creek were all wild and unclaimed before 1874, except by the Apache.
Nestled between great mountain ranges, Pleasant Valley is close to 18 miles long, running east to west. Cherry Creek and her tributaries run south through the center of the valley, which is about 12 miles wide from the Naegelin Rim on its north side to the rising Sierra Ancha Range in the south.
At the southern end of Pleasant Valley (elevation 5,000 feet) the Sierra Ancha Range builds and rises between Tonto Creek and Cherry Creek. Both creeks eventually join the Salt River at the southern end of the Sierra Anchas.
Continuing south from Pleasant Valley the elevation rises into the Sierra Anchas to 7,700 feet at Aztec Peak. The mountain range holds 25 square miles of pine and fir-clad ridges and canyons. Several of the canyons, including Turkey Creek and Bread Pan Creek, hold rushing water. On the west side of the Sierra Anchas is Tonto Creek and the Tonto Basin. The area now covered by Roosevelt Lake was once known as the Upper Salt River Valley and was also part of the Tonto Basin.
West of Tonto Creek and the Tonto Basin looms the Mazatzal Range which separates the Tonto Basin from the Verde River and the Verde Valley. During the years of the Pleasant Valley War, the Verde River was known as the Rio Verde and the East Verde River was the east fork of the Rio Verde.
Pleasant Valley’s eastern border is Canyon Creek, a deep canyon running south from its headwaters high under the Mogollon Rim. Canyon Creek, at its beginning, is only about three miles east of Cherry Creek. The two streams gradually diverge and are about nine miles apart, separated by very rough country at their junction with the Salt River. The Salt ran past the southern end of the Sierra Anchas and through the length of the Upper Salt River Valley before joining Tonto Creek and tumbling through the Salt River Canyon.
Several stories exist as to how Pleasant Valley was named, but none could be substantiated. The natural beauty of the valley is beyond question. Pleasant Valley is a suitable maiden name; however, the pride and greed of feuding families, cinch-ring artists, and outlaw bands may have forever made her a soiled dove.
There is no doubt as to how Cherry Creek was named. The trees that graced her banks provided the identity and it was along Cherry Creek, in the heart of Pleasant Valley, that most of the killing took place during the Pleasant Valley War.
The Stinson War
A few weeks after the branding at the Tewksbury corrals, John Gilliland and Stinson cowboy, Epitacio “Potash” Ruiz, found where a beef had been butchered and discovered a cow’s ear that had been tossed in the brush. The discarded ear had Stinson’s earmark. They lost the trail of the perpetrator in the vicinity of a cabin near Bottle Springs where Ed Tewksbury sometimes stayed. Only the tenderloin had been cut from the beef. This being a common Apache practice and nothing came of the incident, but it did serve to further enforce Gilliland’s suspicions that not only were the Grahams stealing cattle, but the Tewksburys might also be involved.
The Grahams had few close neighbors and that first winter of 1882 - 1883 would have been a trying time for the brothers had it not been for the hospitality of the Tewksbury family. At the John Tewksbury Ranch, John’s wife, Mary Ann, cooked the food and made good coffee, and the men had skills that made frontier living easier. Tom and John Graham became frequent visitors of the John Tewksbury home.
Stinson had become an absentee owner, having moved to the Salt River Valley. He had received the nomination to run for the legislature as a Republican in 1882. He left his cattle in the charge of his young foreman, John Gilliland. Stinson’s cattle brand was a simple T on the left hip, a mark easily incorporated into the TE Connected, a partnership brand of Ed Tewksbury and Tom Graham. The T stood for Tom and the E for Ed. The T could also easily be converted to Ed Tewksbury’s brand, the Z over T connected. At the risk of stating the obvious, a simple look at these three brands tells the story! It makes no difference if the year is 1880 or 2008. If you are a rancher and your neighbors’ brand covers yours like a wet blanket, you pull iron or pull out. Stinson knew the score and so did Gilliland.
Stinson was back in Pleasant Valley for the community roundup in November of 1882. A couple of heifer calves wearing a Tewksbury brand showed up sucking Stinson cows. Ed Tewksbury told Stinson and Gilliland it was a mistake. He explained someone had called out the wrong brand when the calves were dragged to the branding fire. Ed asked to vent (bar out) the brands. Stinson, at Gilliland’s urging, first refused, saying he intended to press charges.
The January 23, 1883, Phoenix Herald reported on the incident:
It is reported that during or before the last rodeo [roundup] of cattle in Pleasant Valley, the Tewksburys branded some cattle belonging to a Mr. Stinson, who has a ranch adjoining them. These cattle Stinson would not allow them to vent and expressed his intention of prosecuting them for theft. Stinson subsequently went to Phoenix leaving John Gilliland in charge of his ranch and stock. Some days since the latter received a letter from Stinson instructing him to tell the Tewksburys to vent the cattle and allow the matter to drop. This was John Gilliland’s errand when he, in company with his cousin and a Mexican, went to the Tewksbury Ranch on the 11th last.
Waiting until after the roundup when tempers had cooled, Ed Tewksbury circumvented the exasperated Gilliland. He wrote a letter to Stinson and apparently convinced the rancher the Tewksburys had not deliberately misbranded his calves. Stinson sent word to Gilliland to allow Tewksburys to vent the brands and to rebrand the calves.
All four Tewksbury brothers shared a single cabin nd were anxious to get a second structure built so Mary Ann, John’s wife, could enjoy a little privacy. The Tewksbury brothers came to Pleasant Valley as single men, but John had married his stepsister, Mary Ann Crigger, the daughter of his father’s new bride, Lydia, and her first husband. John and Mary Ann were married in Mesa in 1882. On January 6, 1883, John and Tom Graham were at the John Tewksbury Ranch helping with the construction of a new Tewksbury cabin.
Despite Stinson’s orders to the contrary, Gilliland decided to make an issue of the Stinson calves misbranded by the Tewksburys. John Gilliland, with his fifteen-year-old male cousin, Elisha Gilliland, and Epitacio (Potash) Ruiz, a Stinson cowboy, came uninvited to the John Tewksbury Ranch looking for stolen stock. Ed Tewksbury and John Graham were in the blacksmith shop. Tom Graham was in the new cabin building cabinets. Brothers Frank and John Tewksbury had gone for a load of rock to be used in building a fireplace.
The Gilliland party arrived and, after a verbal altercation, Ed Tewksbury shot both Gillilands. Potash spurred out of range telling later he wasn’t expecting gun trouble and the hammer loop was still on his pistol, holding it in the holster.
There are several versions of the confrontation. Both the Grahams and Tewksburys agreed that Gilliland provoked the altercation and fired the first shot which went high, just over Ed Tewksbury’s head. John Gilliland was riding a green-broke colt and the pony started to spin and buck, turning his tail to the fight with the first shot. Ed Tewksbury pulled a pistol from his hip pocket and fired simultaneously with Gilliland’s second shot which ripped through the hat of John Graham. As his horse spun around, Gilliland was leaning over and Ed’s bullet trailed up his back and lodged in his shoulder. John Gilliland was still mounted, but too occupied with his wound and unruly colt to continue the fight. He yelled at Elisha to run for it, but his young cousin elected to ear back the hammer on his rifle and was shot by Ed Tewksbury.
John Gilliland’s story, as told to Dane Coolidge, differs from that told by the Grahams and Tewksburys only in that both Gillilands claimed Ed Tewksbury fired on them first and without provocation. John Gilliland stated that as he rode up, both the Grahams and Ed Tewksbury started shooting at him. His horse was young and only half broke so, when he returned fire, the horse started to buck and whirl. He yelled at his cousin to run, then John Gilliland told:
[Elisha] Gilliland had no more than started when a bullet hit him in the back. It came out the front high up. “I’m killed!” He hollered and fell on his face. When I rode away, I looked down at him and he seemed dead . . .
Elisha was taken to the Stinson Ranch by John Graham, Al Rose, John, Jim, and Frank Tewksbury and was turned over to the care of the cowboys there. This author’s grandmother, Belle Lovelady, knew the story of the incident pretty much as Gilliland related it to Dane Coolidge, except that she always said the Gilliland party had been somewhat fortified with liquor when they rode to the Tewksbury ranch. Her recollection of Uncle John Gilliland was that he was not a drunk, but tipped the bottle on occasion.
John Gilliland left his cousin, who had been shot from the saddle, to race back to the Stinson Ranch with a bullet in his shoulder. Realizing he needed more help than was available at Stinson’s, Gilliland stayed only moments before riding for his old home, the Felton Ranch on Wild Rye where he knew he could get help from his mother, Emily, and stepfather, O.C. Felton. Believing the worst, he told that Elisha had been mortally wounded in an unprovoked attack.
Elisha Gilliland had been seriously wounded, but would recover from his wound.
J.D. Tewksbury, the father, knew there would be consequences, so he did not sit idly by waiting for the law to come to Pleasant Valley. He soon had a letter in the Arizona Gazette throwing the blame for the incident on John Gilliland whom the Tewksburys and Grahams claimed fired the first shot. The Tewksburys also let it be known, via the same publication, that they intended to handle their own affairs, wanted no interference from the law and would not submit to arrest.
William McDonald and William Burch of Green Valley (Payson) were not impressed. McDonald immediately filed charges, with Judge Isaac Lowthian in Strawberry Valley, against the Tewksburys and others for murder.
Territory of Arizona vs Tewks Bury + Tewks Bury/Warrant Strawberry Valley Yavapai Co Arizona Territory
Jan 14 1883 to Wm Burch Special Constable greeting Whers Complaint has been made in this office by Wm McDonald against John and Ed Tewks Berry and others charging them with Murder as hee Verily believes you are hereby commanded to Arrest them and bring them before me at my office in Strawberry Valley Yavapai Co A T in this the said Tewks Bury and others are here by commanded not to Resist under the Penalty of law.
Witness my hand and seal done at my office this 14 day of January 1883.
Pinecreek Precinct, Yavapai Co.
Isac Lowthian JP,A T
Having a Warrant of Arrest for Tewksburys and others on a charge of Murder, acting as special constable, I started with a force of nine Men to make the arrest of the above mentioned persons having proceeded as far as within one mile of Hudon [Houdon] Ranch and a distance of nine miles from Felton’s Ranch [Felton’s Ranch was the home of Elisha Gilliland]. We met Felton, Broidy [Francis Marian Brady] and others with their Wounded young Man that was suposed to have bin killed in the Shooting affair at Tewksburys Ranch. Mr Felton and Broidy told to me that there was a force of armed men from 14 to 20 and was in a Strong Position of defence at Tewksburys. Not having sufficient Men to cope With the number reported there it was thought best to increase the Number of Our Men Strong Enough to make the arrest in a few days after I returned with a force of 18 Men found Tewksberys and others willing to submit to the law.”
F. M. Brady was married to John Gilliland’s sister, Sarah. As stated in Burch’s report, John, Jim, and Frank Tewksbury, along with John Graham, surrendered to the Burch Posse. Burch was told by his prisoners that Ed Tewksbury and Tom Graham had saddled up and headed for Prescott for the express purpose of filing complaints against the Gilliland cousins and Potash Ruiz for “Assault with intent to kill.”
Isaac Lowthian, the Strawberry Justice of the Peace, rode from his home to the Felton Ranch at Wild Rye to take testimony from the wounded Elisha Gilliland. The young man told that Ed Tewksbury had provoked the altercation and had been the first to reach for a gun. He went on to say that John Gilliland had been the first to get his gun out, but that his horse had acted up and his shot had missed Ed Tewksbury while Ed’s shot had hit John Gilliland. Elisha had turned his horse and was leaving the altercation at a run when he was shot from the saddle. He didn’t know who had shot him.
A hearing was held in Strawberry Valley at the home of Justice of the Peace, Isaac Lowthian, on January 31, 1883. The charges were thrown out, first, because no one was there to testify against the Tewksburys, and second, because the charge specified murder and the victim, Elisha Gilliland, was in pretty good shape for a dead man.
All was not over, however, concerning the Gilliland-Tewksbury shootout. The parties were summoned from Strawberry to Prescott in the dead of winter where a grand jury held John Gilliland and Potash Ruiz over for trial. Among those receiving subpoenas to testify were Joseph Gibson, Andrew Pyeatt, A.B. Peach, and William Houston, all Green Valley (Payson) area ranchers.
Ed Tewksbury told the jury he anticipated trouble from Gilliland. He had learned in Globe from Robert Schell (of Greenback) that Gilliland and Stinson were trying to raise a mob to run his family out of Pleasant Valley or bury them. Yet, the jury found both Gilliland and Ruiz not guilty in the spring of that same year.
Frank Tewksbury was a frail 22-year-old. He had never enjoyed the best of health and was beset with lung problems. Frank had been summoned from Strawberry to go on to Prescott to testify at the Gilliland trial. He contracted measles during the bitter cold February return trip to Pleasant Valley. He had to sleep out on the ground and pneumonia set in. Frank died in Pleasant Valley as a result of the illness compounded by exposure to damp, frozen ground and cold winds.
The Tewksburys blamed the Stinson-Gilliland crew for Frank’s death. Frank knew only what he had been told about the gun battle between Ed Tewksbury and John Gilliland. He had not witnessed the shooting. He and John Tewksbury had driven a wagon to an Indian ruin to pick up rocks to build a fireplace, but still he had been called to go to Strawberry Valley to testify.
From the February 20, Phoenix Herald:
Frank Tewksbury died last week in Pleasant Valley while en route home from Prescott where he had been to attend the trial of Gilliland et al.
The Gilliland-Tewksbury shootout helped galvanize the friendship between the Tewksbury family and the Graham brothers. It must have occurred to the Grahams that if Ed Tewksbury’s first shot had not nailed Gilliland, Gilliland’s second shot might have ruined more than John Graham’s hat. The families were solid allies, aligned against Stinson and his riders during and for some time after the hearings and trials in early 1883. Also in 1883, the Frank Tewksbury place, soon to become the Flying V headquarters, appeared on the assessor’s rolls as the “James Tewksbury Ranch.”
According to Floyd Pyle, who got his information from Harvey Colcord, the Graham and Tewksbury men had an oral agreement to work together and brand mavericks into a joint ownership brand.
Stinson had the only big cow herd in the valley, so he would likely supply most of the mavericks. This did not bother the Tewksbury brothers because they resented Stinson’s “high-handed” ways. They regarded him as an intruder in the valley. Stinson had made an effort to buy out the earlier settlers in order to control the rights to all the Pleasant Valley grazing, and in so doing, had incurred the displeasure of the Tewksburys. They had come first and they would stay.
Ed Tewksbury is quoted by Bob Voris on page 43 of his unpublished manuscript titled The Pleasant Valley War. The Tewksburys “tried to get along with Stinson when he first came, but it was impossible, so we stole a few head of his cattle just to torment the old man.”
Drusilla Hazelton agrees with Voris. In her unpublished manuscript titled, The Tonto Basin’s Early Settlers, she states on page nine: “The Grahams and Tewksburys immediately became good friends and through devious means and questionable tactics a sizeable herd of cattle was acquired in partnership, all branded TE connected.”
A paragraph in Earle Forrest’s book, Arizona’s Dark and Bloody Ground also lends credence to the point. Forrest said:
The real cause of the war is generally believed to have been a band of sheep driven over the rim of the Mogollons by Daggs Brothers of Flagstaff, and guarded by the Tewksburys. Even though many of those drawn into the conflict later did not know the real motive back of all the bitterness which seems to have had its origin several years before. One old resident of the valley once told me that the feud started in a dispute over the division of stolen cattle. It is a well known fact that in the early days of Pleasant Valley the Graham and Tewksbury boys were close friends, and, according to this man’s story, they were engaged in cattle rustling together; but a quarrel over the division of the spoils brought about bitter feelings which grew from year to year. I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but the story is still told in Arizona.
As the table was being set for the feud in Pleasant Valley, a flamboyant dandy arrived in the northern part of the territory. Commodore Perry Owens, wearing his pistol cross-draw fashion and sporting an abundance of long, blond hair, would become a major force in the war.
The first we hear of Owens, in the Arizona Territory, is found in an 1883 letter from Indian Agent D.M. Riordan to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs regarding the killing of a Navajo boy at Navajo Springs.
Ft. Defiance, Ariz Sept 21, 1883
of Indian Affairs
Referring to my letter dated Sept 17th of A.M. I have the honor to report that I reached Ft. Wingate N.M. at sunset on the day named with the Indian prisoner, and turned him over to the military authorities for safe-keeping.
On the following day a party of Navajos came in and reported the killing of a Navajo at Navajo Springs on the 15th inst. They had come up to the agency and not finding me had followed me to Wingate. On hearing their story I told them to return to their houses and remain quiet; that I would be at Navajo Springs on the following day.
Leaving the Indian murderer from the San Juan safely in custody, I arose at three o’clock on the following morning and started for Navajo Springs. On my arrival there, I began an examination during which the following facts were developed. On Saturday, early in the morning, a Navajo boy, the son of a chief called Din-ah-jin-ne-be-gay, was shot twice by an American. The boy lingered until that night when he died. When he reached help, which he managed to do, he told his story which was that a man named C.P. Owens had shot him, that he was unarmed and died not knowing the reason for his being shot.
Two other Navajos who had started out with the one who was killed to herd up their horses; and who were a mile or so from him at the time of the shooting, immediately got on the trail of the murderer and followed him to his house, or rather the house of J.D. Houck where he lived. I went over the ground with Lieut. Lockett of the 4th Cavalry and trailed the tracks right from the place where the Indian fell from his horse when he was shot to the door of Houck’s house. I arrested Owens charged with the killing of the Indian boy. He is now in keeping of the military authorities at Ft Wingate.
These men Owens and Houck are men dangerous to the peace and good order of this region. I saw over twenty-five Indians who have been shot at by them during the past year or two; including an Indian woman. I despair of securing a conviction of either of them; and realize that I am liable to be assassinated by them for having undertaken to punish them for their crimes. I am here alone without any means of protection or of enforcing authority, unless I send forty-six miles for it after an emergency arises.
I respectfully urge that if the Department will not furnish a force of scouts some arrangements be made by which a platoon of cavalry be permanently stationed here. I propose to maintain good order and protect life and property in the country inhabited by the Navajo Indians if I get the means to do it with.
Very Respectfully Yours D.M. Riordan
U.S. Indian Agent
In a September 27, 1883, follow-up letter Riordan writes:
I have just returned from Albuquerque N.M. whither I went for the purpose of attending the examination of C.P. Owens charged with killing an Indian near Navajo Springs Arizona. Owens was first taken before Commissioner Woodside at Ft Wingate and thence before Judge Bell at Albuquerque. The latter decided that as the crime was committed off the reservation the case was one for the territorial laws and not for the U.S. Under this view the prisoner was turned over to the authorities of Apache County Arizona. He went west this morning.
My opinion is that no conviction will follow. In fact I do not believe the man will ever be tried.
Riordan was right. There was no conviction or trial. Although there was a hearing on the matter, Owens was released and no further action was taken. Fate would soon lay far greater notoriety at the door of Commodore Perry Owens.
The stage was now set for what many historians agrees is the bloodiest family feud to ever happen on American soil. For a complete account of the "Pleasant Valley War" by Author Jix Pyle - Click Here.