Causes of the Pleasant Valley War

The Pleasant Valley War is often referred to as the Graham-Tewksbury Feud, but this is misleading, as many others participated. It didn’t even start between the Grahams and the Tewksburys. The first conflict was between James Stinson and the Grahams-Tewksburys. A year later, the Graham-Tewksbury Feud started, which was one part of the war, but there were other components.


Greed – Greed, the inherited imperfection of all mankind, was the root cause of the Pleasant Valley War. This unscrupulous desire for land, which could lead to wealth and power, destroyed people. It cost as many as fifty lives and held up Arizona’s quest for statehood for twenty years. If Arizona Territory couldn’t contain a blood feud in its heartland, why should it be admitted to the great union?


Politics – Politics were a bit rocky in Arizona. Arizona Territorial Governor Conrad Meyer Zulick served from 1885 to 1889 – the worst years of the war. He was an attorney and was in jail in Mexico at the time of his appointment. He was rescued and brought back into Arizona before he was “officially” appointed governor by President Grover Cleveland.

Gila County was created in 1881, from portions of Maricopa and Pinal Counties. But, what is today Northern Gila County, then belonged to Yavapai County, with the county seat at Prescott. After the worst year of the war (1887), Prescott had no desire to keep sending its sheriff and posses one hundred miles to Pleasant Valley to hold inquests and take prisoners to jail, just to see them turned loose because no one would testify against them. In 1889, what is now Northern Gila County was detached from Yavapai County and became part of the newly created Gila County. The thinking was, “Let the people who are fighting this war pay the costs.”


Texans such as J.W. Ellison and Samuel A. Haught and others were bringing large herds of cattle into Yavapai (later Gila) County. In several cases, two or more ranchers were using the same brands. This added to the confusion of cattle ownership. The 14th Arizona Territorial Legislature granted Governor Zulick’s request and passed a “Stock and Sanitary Law” requiring the registration of cattle brands and the quarantine of livestock imported into the territory to check for infectious disease. Ellison’s cattle were quarantined in Bowie when they were taken off the train.


It is unknown exactly what role Zulick played on the periphery of the Pleasant Valley War, but Samuel A. “Papa Sam” Haught wrote, “The Grahams were doomed from the start. The Governor of the Territory [Zulick] said kill them and no one should be hurt.” MaybeZulick had this point of view because public opinion was with the Tewksburys.


Location - The Tonto Basin was the last stronghold for the Apaches in the United States, so it goes to reason that during the 1880s, it was a natural home for outlaws and others who wanted to live in solitude. Bounded on the north by the Mogollon Rim, on the south by the Salt River, on the east by Canyon Creek and its drainage, and on the west by the Mazatzal Mountain Range, the Tonto Basin was a remote, isolated area. There was an Army-built wagon road from Fort McDowell into the Basin and on to Payson. But Pleasant Valley, nestled in the northeast corner of the Tonto Basin, was connected to the outside world only by trails. The law was one hundred miles away. With such remoteness, it drew the outlaw faction and became a clearing house for stolen cattle and horses. A lot of good people, who never participated in the war, also lived in the Tonto Basin at this time.


Money – Monied people took great interest in the war. They wanted the land. Big cattle rancher James Stinson moved a large herd of cattle into Pleasant valley in 1882. This was the beginning of the trouble. The Tewksbury, Rose, Church, and other families were already there, but because Stinson had the most cattle, he tried to take what land he wanted. The Daggs Brothers had thousands of sheep that needed the grass of Pleasant Valley. Both Stinson and Daggs used the “little rancher” to get their livestock into the valley. Was their greed caused by a need to survive or a need to be superior? If they had moved their livestock ten miles from Pleasant Valley, the problem may never have occurred.


Race – Race was a factor. The Tewksburys were half Hupa Indian from the Eel River Valley of northern California. Their skin was a shade darker, especially Ed Tewksbury’s. It has been written that he was much darker than the others and that he possibly was only a half-brother. No. He was just darker. Siblings often have different skin tones. Stinson chose to partner with the Grahams. By 1886, anyone entering the valley was told he had to join forces with the Grahams against the damn blacks, or injuns (the Graham-Hashknife faction name for the Tewksburys) or leave the country. This was what put John Rhodes solidly on the side of the Tewksburys.


Betrayal – Both the Tewksburys and the Grahams were cattlemen and both were stealing cattle from James Stinson when something went wrong. The Grahams double-crossed the Tewksburys, made a silent pact with Stinson, and registered the TE connected brand used to identify the stolen cattle in their name only! This cut the Tewksburys out! The Tewksburys felt betrayed. Intense feelings of anger and resentment triggered a payback, which caused the Grahams to feel equally vengeful. The feud was fueled by a long-running cycle of retaliatory violence and many lives were lost –maybe as many as fifty. Tempers ran high, patience wore thin, trust between neighbors diminished, and reason fell by the way side. This was a blood feud.


Fear - Why would the Grahams become involved with the horse-stealing Blevins family and the thieving element of the Hashknife cowboys? Fear they would lose all they had. They needed protection and they needed friends who would fight with them. Andy Blevins Cooper was eager to oblige. He was always looking for a fight.


Bad judgment - The Tewksburys were fighting men of the highest caliber. They were the first settlers in Pleasant Valley in 1877. They intended to make permanent homes. They weren’t going to be pushed out easy. James Stinson and the Grahams badly misjudged them. They figured light-skinned men could whip out darker-skinned men. The Apaches had lost. The Tewksburys would, too. The Grahams were wrong. Dead wrong. The Tewksburys stood their ground and fought like the warriors they were. Also, the Grahams figured when they signed the contract with Stinson in 1883, the Tewksburys would go to jail for cattle theft. When the Tewksburys men were not around to defend their homes, the Grahams would take over. That didn’t happen.


Sheep – The Pleasant Valley War is commonly thought to be a range war between the cattle-herding Grahams and the sheep-herding Tewksburys. Not true. Both were cattlemen, although John Tewksbury accepted Daggs’ sheep, on shares, to repay a debt. It is also known that sheep ruin the range for cattle because they crop the grass to short. But, sheep did not enter Pleasant Valley until three years after the war started and were only in the Valley for four months. Removing them didn’t stop the war. The sheep intensified things for men who were looking for an excuse to fight.


Most of the hostilities ended in 1892, roughly 10 years after its beginning, with the most deadly incidents occurring in 1887-88. More lives were lost in the Pleasant Valley War than in any other blood feud in American history. It makes the Hatfield and McCoy altercation look like a back-yard dispute.


*story written and told by Jayne Pyle


For more history visit www.discovergilacounty.com/history or follow us on social media @discovergilacounty


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