Pleasant Valley War

Pleasant Valley War

The Pleasant Valley War (also sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud or Tonto Basin War) was an Arizona range war between two feuding families, the cattle-herding Grahams and the sheep-herding Tewksburys. Many of the events in the feud took place in Apache County, Arizona, and in Navajo County, Arizona. The feud itself lasted for almost a decade, with its most heated clashes between 1886 and 1887, with the last known killing occurring in 1892.cite web |url= |title=Pleasant Valley History |accessdate=2007-07-07 |format=html |work=Pleasant Valley Community Council] At one stage, outsider and known assassin Tom Horn was known to have taken part as a killer for hire, but it is unknown as to which side employed him, and both sides suffered several murders to which no suspect was ever identified. Of all the feuds that have taken place throughout American history, the Pleasant Valley War was the most costly, resulting in an almost complete annihilation of the two families involved.


During the late 1880s a number of range wars—informal undeclared violent conflicts—erupted between cattlemen and sheepmen over water rights, grazing rights, or property/border disagreements. In this case, there had been quarrels between the workhands of both factions as far back as 1882. The clashes stemmed partly from personal dislike, partly from disputed property boundaries, and partly over the Grahams' contention that the Tewksbury sheep grazed the land clean and left little grass for cattle. In fact both families were originally cattlemen; the sheep which precipitated the escalation of hostilities may have belonged to the Daggs brothers and not to the Tewksburys at all. Regardless of the legalities, however, the Tewksburys were involved in protecting the sheep and thus in any "trouble" which might arise. Overall, perhaps 20 deaths resulted directly from the feud.

Once partisan feelings became tense and hostilities began, Frederick Russell Burnham was drawn into the conflict. He had nothing to do with the conflict, but he was dragged into it and was marked for death. Burnham hid for many days before he could escape from the valley. With the help of friends, he managed to get out of the feud district after several months during which he had a number of narrow escapes, accounts he recalls in his memoirs, "Scouting on Two Continents."cite book | last =Forrest| first =Earle R. | coauthors = | title =Arizona's Dark and Bloody Ground; an authentic account of the sanguinary Pleasant Valley vendetta that swept through Arizona's cattleland in the latter eighteen eighties--the Graham-Tewksbury feud | publisher =Caxton Printers, Ltd | date =1936 | location =Caldwell, Idaho | pages = p.15, 292 | id = OCLC|1825248 ] cite book | last =Burnham | first =Frederick Russell | coauthors = | title =Scouting on Two Continents | publisher =Doubleday, Page & company | date =1926 | location = | pages = p.2; Chapters 3 & 4 | id = OCLC|407686 ]

Deadliest month

In February, 1887 a Navajo employee of the Tewksburys was herding sheep in an area called the Mogollon Rim, which until that point had been tacitly accepted as the line across which sheep were not permitted. He was ambushed, shot and killed by Tom Graham, who buried him where he fell.

In September, 1887, a grisly incident occurred which has been the basis of many stories about the feud and which sparked a deadly chain of events. The Graham faction surrounded a Tewksbury cabin in the early morning hours and coolly shot down John Tewksbury and William Jacobs as they started out for horses.

The Grahams continued firing at the cabin for hours, with fire returned from within. As the battle continued, a drove of hogs began devouring the bodies of Tewksbury and Jacobs. Although the Grahams did not offer a truce, John Tewksbury's wife came out of the cabin with a shovel. The firing stopped while she scooped out shallow graves for her husband and his companion. Firing on both sides resumed once she was back inside, but no further deaths occurred that day, and after a few hours the Grahams rode away.

Owens-Blevins shootout

A few days later, Andy Cooper (also known as Andy Blevins), one of the leaders of the Graham faction, was overheard in a store in Holbrook, Arizona bragging that he had shot and killed both John Tewksbury and William Jacobs. The sheriff for Apache County, Commodore Perry Owens, was a noted gunman, and had a warrant for Blevins' arrest on an unrelated charge. Owens rode alone out to the Blevins house near Holbrook to serve the warrant.

Twelve members of the Blevins family were present at the house that day. Owens stated that he had an outstanding warrant for Andy Blevins and asked him to come out of the house. Blevins refused. His half-brother, John Blevins, then came out the front door and fired a shot at Owens with a rifle. Owens returned fire, wounding John and killing Andy. A friend of the family named Mose Roberts who was in a back room, jumped up and through a window at the side of the house. Owens hearing the noise ran to the side of the house and fired on the man, killing him. It is disputed as to whether Roberts was armed or not. Some reports indicate he was armed with a rifle, others alleged that he was unarmed. It has also been alleged that he only leaped through the window to avoid bullets that passed into his room. At that moment, fifteen year old Sam Houston Blevins then ran outside, armed with a pistol he had picked up off the floor next to the body of his brother Andy. With his mothers arms around him trying to hold him back, Owens shot and killed him, as the boy fired on Owens. The whole incident took less than one minute but resulted in three dead and one wounded. Despite the shots fired at him, Owens was not injured. The afternoon made Owens a legend, but only added fuel to the fire of the feud. Owens was not indicted, and the shooting was ruled self defense without any trial. He was fired by the County Commission over the incident, mostly due to the boy being killed, regardless of the fact that the boy himself was armed.


In September 1887, Sheriff Mulvernon of Prescott, Arizona led a posse that pursued and killed John Graham and Charles Blevins during a shootout at Perkins Store in Young, Arizona. Over the next few years, several lynchings and unsolved murders of members of both factions took place, often committed by masked men. Both the Tewksburys and the Grahams whittled away at one another, until there were only two left.

In 1892, Tom Graham, the last of the Graham faction involved in the feud, was murdered in Tempe, Arizona. Edwin Tewksbury, the last of that faction involved in the feud, was accused of the murder but after several unsuccessful trials he was released. He died in Globe, Arizona in April, 1904. By the time of his release, none of the Grahams remained to retaliate against him, nor was there anyone on the Tewksbury side to have avenged his death had anyone killed him.

Cultural references

* Well-known Westerns author Zane Grey wrote a book entitled "To The Last Man: A Story of the Pleasant Valley War".
* The 1992 television movie, "Gunsmoke: To the Last Man" involves Matt Dillon, hero of the television series "Gunsmoke", in the Pleasant Valley War.
* Each year on the third weekend in July, Pleasant Valley, Arizona (since renamed Young) celebrates Pleasant Valley Days with a parade and tours of the cabins and battle sites of the Pleasant Valley War. The graves of many of the men killed during the feud can be seen today in the local cemetery.

ee also

*Range wars
*Taylor Grazing Act
* Frederick Russell Burnham participated on the losing side in the real-life Tonto Basin Feud and narrowly escaped with his life. After the feud, he went home to California and left for Africa only a few years later.cite book | last =Burnham | first =Frederick Russell | authorlink =Frederick Russell Burnham | coauthors = | title =Scouting on Two Continents | publisher =Doubleday, Page and Co | date =1926 | location = New York | pages = Chapters 3 & 4| url = | doi = | id = ASIN B000F1UKOA ] cite journal| author =R. R. Money| date=April 1962| year=1962| month=April | title=Tonto Basin Feud | journal=Blackwood's Magazine| volume=291| issue=| issn=0006-436X ]


* [ Smith, Mark. "The Pleasant Valley War."]
* [ Young, AZ: Pleasant Valley History]
* [ Young~Pleasant Valley, Arizona Vital Statistics]
* [ Grey, Zane. "To the Last Man". Forge Books:2000]
* [ Don Dedera, "A Little War Of Our Own, The Pleaseant Valley Feud Revisted"]
* |authorlink=Earle R. Forest |year= 1936 | title= Arizona's Dark and Bloody Ground| location=Caldwell Idaho | publisher=The Caxton Printers
* |authorlink=Lelend J. Hanchett, Jr. |year= 1994| title=Arizona's Graham-Tewksbury Feud| location=Phoenix, Arizona | publisher=Pine Rim Publishing |id=ISBN 0-9637785-3-6
* |authorlink=Lelend J. Hanchett, Jr. |year= 2006| title=They Shot Billy Today - The Families of Arizona's Pleasant ValleyWar| location = Phoenix, Arizona | publisher=Pine Rim Publishing |id=ISBN 0-9637785-8-7

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