Seventy three years ago (1932) on a Sunday afternoon, a blue darter hawk flew over the house and lit in a tall tree at the Will Peace place in Pleasant Valley. There he perched, casting a yearning eye toward the chicken coop. Two men sat on the front porch resting after their Sunday chicken dinner. Will Peace rose from his chair, stepped into the house and returned with a 30-30 in the bend of his elbow.
Al Griffin gauged the distance to the hawk – a full 200 yards. “Be a sport, Will, shoot him in the head,” Al said to his son-in-law. Without making an oral reply, Will stepped to the edge of the porch, raised the rifle to his shoulder and sent a lead missile burning the air toward the hawk which dropped from the tree.
Eight-year-old Ezra Peace, son of Will, and grandson of Al Griffin, left the porch at a trot to retrieve the hawk. He returned to drop the bird at the feet of his grandfather. Its head was gone.
This story has been handed down through the Peace family and is recalled by Ezra. He also recalls three instances when Will Peace shot hawks on the wing with that same 30-30.
This is as it should be, because it is inconceivable that a daughter of Al Griffin (Myrtle) would marry a man who couldn’t shoot. Al Griffin was one of the best shots, quite possibly the best shot in Pleasant Valley, after what is now known as the Pleasant Valley War. I know that this is some pretty high sounding talk, but consider this story from Raymond Cline of Star Valley. Raymond was raised in Pleasant Valley (Young) and knew the Peace and Griffin families well. I will relate, it word for word just as he told it to me.
“Calvin (son of Will Peace, grandson of Al Griffin) and I come up on the porch at the Peace Place and Mr. Griffin was there cleanin’ his gun. We just sat down and talked to him for a little while and watched him clean that gun. Then, he looked at Calvin and asked, ‘Do you reckon I can still shoot this thing?’
Calvin said, ‘I expect so.’ Right there by the porch up against the house was a big sycamore tree, and there was a sap sucker (woodpecker) goin’ up that tree. Old-man Griffin pulled that six-shooter and that sap sucker just disappeared! I mean, he just blew it all to hell. It was a forty-five. We didn’t see him pull the gun – didn’t see nothin’ – just all of a sudden the bird was gone and he put his gun back in the holster.”
“He could use that gun?” I questioned Raymond.
“Oh, hell! Best I ever saw in my life!” Raymond retorted. Raymond has seen a few old-timers shoot, too! Raymond also added, “Al Griffin was, at the same time, the toughest and most gentle man that I ever knew.
William Albert “Al” Griffin, was a rancher and a Texas Ranger. He was born June 7, 1866 in Devine Medina County, Texas to Hezekiah Griffin and Mary Jane Stevens.
Al Griffin came to Globe from Texas in 1919. He bought a ranch on the Salt River, near Gleason Flats. “There was no road to the ranch,” said Elizabeth Griffin Cline, of Globe, 92-year-old daughter of Al Griffin. “You had to ride in and out horseback and everything had to be packed in and out on burros. When my dad decided to take a wood cook stove to the ranch, he took it completely apart, packed it on burros, then put it back together when he got it to the ranch house.”
Al’s closest neighbors were Albert Sanders, who had lived 15 miles from him in New Mexico, and John and Mollie Griffin. “John Griffin was no close relation to Al Griffin, as far as we known, but they came from the same part of Texas,” said Elizabeth.
When it was learned that Al Griffin had been a Texas Ranger, he was hired by the Livestock Board and Gila County officials to go into Pleasant Valley and break up the cattle thieving that was still going on there as an aftermath of the Pleasant Valley War. Thieving had become so brazen that one rancher, who we will call “Bill”, told a story about his having stolen several head of yearlings which he was holding in his home corral. He went out to look for more and when he returned, someone had stolen his already-stolen yearlings. Another man, who we will call “Jim”, bought a 1925 Model T Sedan and boasted that he would pay for it with cattle and not a one would be his own. In actual fact, it could be argued that the Pleasant Valley War had not yet ended. Just the killing part was over. The stealing of livestock which started the war was as rampant as ever.
Al Griffin was offered the combined jobs of deputy sheriff, constable, and livestock inspector, none of which paid a great deal, but the three jobs combined furnished a livable wage.
Arrangements were made for Al to stay at the OW Ranch because the only trail out of Pleasant Valley toward Holbrook or Winslow went up Canyon Creek and passed by the OWs. This was the only reasonable pass out on top of the Mogollon Rim.
Regardless of his amazing ability with a gun, Al Griffin was a different kind of lawman. His method of operation was to warn, rather than to arrest, and even in this, his methods were unconventional.
Al took to the hills with a horse and a powerful set of binoculars. In one instance, a man butchered someone’s beef. Then he cut the branded hide into small pieces, got on his horse and rode for several miles scattering the hide over thousands of acres. Al Griffin had been high-pointing and observed this questionable activity. He rode to a nearby ranch, borrowed a gunny-sack and followed the trail of the hide cutter.
The next morning the hide cutter found his previous day’s work undone – the pieces of hide that he had scattered across the country sat in a gunny sack on his porch.
In a similar related episode, a man rode away from his ranch and dumped a fresh hide over a bluff. The following morning, he found the same hide hanging on his corral fence.
Then, over on Crouch Mesa, some riders gathered a little bunch of cattle and drove them to a big tree where they held them. One of the riders pulled a rifle from his saddle boot and killed a big steer. The men pulled the steer up into the tree where they gutted and skinned it. Leaving the beef to cool in the soon-to-come night air, they planned to come back with a pack horse to take the meat to the ranch the following morning.
Al Griffin had been high-pointing again and rode down to check out the hide. The hide bore the T Bar 2 brand, the brand of one of the riders who had killed the beef. Al tagged the hide and stamped the beef. Nothing illegal had taken place here, but it served notice once more that virtually nothing escaped the watchful eye of Al Griffin.
Al intended these incidents to serve as warnings and they did. Cattle stealing incidents began to decline, particularly among ranchers who were just thieving to keep up with their neighbors, and were really more content taking care of their own cattle.
Still, there was an outlaw faction in Pleasant Valley that refused to quit. They wouldn’t meet Al Griffin face-to-face, as they were cowards. So they contacted a freighter, who had a reputation as a hired killer, and a deal struck. The freighter would kill Al Griffin.
Al rode into Young and the hired killer hid under a concrete culvert where Mexican Wash crossed the rode into Young. Al had come into town this way and it was logical to suppose he would take that rout out of town when he finished his business there. The freighter intended to let Al ride across the culvert, then shoot him in the back taking no chances.
Here the story varies depending on the source. One says that the freighter simply got cold feet. He knew that he would only get one shot at Al Griffin and if he missed, he would be a dead man.
The other is that Al suspected something was wrong, or perhaps he saw the freighter’s tracks where he had quit the road and gone under the culvert. For whatever reason, Al circled back into Mexican Wash and rode up to where his would-be ambusher was waiting. He confronted the man who admitted his intent. The two men later became good friends.
Two of the worst cattle thieves left Pleasant Valley. One later told Calvin Peace, “I left because your granddad scared the hell out of me!”
Al Griffin died September 26, 1933 in Globe, Arizona at age 67. He is buried in the Globe Cemetery next to his wife, Ida Boulden Griffin. Today, his youngest daughter, Elizabeth Cline, lives in Globe, and three of his grandsons, Calvin, Ezra, and Edwin Peace, live in Payson.
Yes, I know the names of all the parties involved in these cattle thieving incidents, but even in this year of 2005 there are living descendants of these families and to name names might start the Pleasant Valley War all over again.
This article was written and told by Payson historian Jynx Pyle.
For more Gila County history visit www.discovergilacounty.com/history