Rim Country's Famous Feuds



I was talking with someone the other day about the Star Valley-Payson water issue and they were asking me about other water stories in Rim Country's history. I think there had to have been some, I know of one where I live, but when I think of Rim Country feuds, past water issues are not what come to mind.

However, Rim Country has had some fierce battles. This week we'll look at two of them, starting with the fiercest of them all, the Pleasant Valley War.


The distance for drivers today between Payson and Young may make the small community far removed from this part of the world. But as the crow flies, the battleground of one of the last range wars in Arizona is only 24 miles away and so, by distance and family relations, is a close neighbor to Payson and the Rim Country.

This is the Granddaddy of all Rim Country feuds. If you think that this Star Valley-Payson thing is the worst this area's seen, then you are mistaken. The Pleasant Valley War centered around two families, the Tewksburys and the Grahams. Depending on who you believe, this was either a battle between honest men and rustlers or between sheepmen and cattlemen. This feud took place in the 1880s in Pleasant Valley, centered around Young. It's important to remember that while Young is 54 miles away from Payson by today's roads, it's just 24 miles away as the crow flies. Therefore, it's easy to see why Payson got caught up in such a feud.

Much like World War II, this was a war in which true neutrality was nearly impossible to obtain. Further complicating matters was the presence of a vigilante committee. This vigilante committee decided to take the law into their own hands, further complicating the already messy situation. At least 10 people died in the midst of the battle and things in the feud came to a head in early September of 1887. Here's what the Hoof and Horn newspaper ran on Sept. 9, 1887 about the feud.

TONTO BASIN -- A Closing Chapter in the History of the Feuds of the Valley

Deputy Sheriff, John Francis, E.F. Odell, two of the Jacobs boys and several others composing the posse that went from Flagstaff to join Sheriff Mulvenon in his last attempt to restore laws and order to Tonto Basin, returned on Thursday afternoon, after having been in the saddle 20 days.

It seems probable that this last effort to make a peace-abiding place of Pleasant Valley will be successful. All of the Tewksburys who have not been killed in the warfare are now under arrest, and only one of the opposite faction, Tom Graham, is at liberty. There are, of course, some hangers-on, on both sides, that have not been captured, but they will cause but little trouble now that their leaders are dead, or in the clutches of the law.

The Sheriff's party, when they had joined forces at Payson, numbered nearly 20, still much caution was required in their operations.

An attempt to lead the Graham party into a trap for their capture, was successful in bringing John Graham and C. Blevins within range, when Sheriff Mulvenon stepped out and ordered them to hold up their hands, instead of doing so, they went for their guns and the next minute there were two dead men on the ground.

The Tewksburys surrendered peaceably when the officers approached them and Ed and Jim Tewksbury, Jo. Bowyer and a man named Roberts were placed under arrest and with Al Rose and McGill, of the Graham party, were taken to the Prescott jail.

The officers of the law are to be congratulated upon having apparently put an end to a bloody and disgraceful feud in which 11 men have been killed during the last two months and as many seriously wounded. Of the Blevins family, numbering six, who took sides with the Grahams, only one remains alive, John, and he is in jail at St. Johns, having been wounded while resisting arrest by Sheriff Owens, at Holbrook.

Years after the feud had supposedly ended, tensions still ran high in the area, so much so that a newspaper article appeared in the March 15, 1900 Arizona Silver Belt newspaper with the headline "Report of War Between Stockmen a Fake."

Zane Grey

Ironically, Rim Country's next big feud involved someone who came to Rim Country to learn about the Pleasant Valley War, writer Zane Grey. He wrote the book "To the Last Man" loosely about the feud, and spent much time in the area trying to learn what had happened. Yet by the end of the 1920s, Grey became involved in a spat. Many in the state became upset with Grey and his hunting parties. They believed that his parties took more than their fair share of game. Might it have been just a case of jealousy? Quite possibly. But by 1929 Grey had tired of coming to Rim Country and by the time he had left that year, for good, might I add, he was pretty upset. He made this clear in an Oct. 14, 1929 letter home.

"Ed Haught came back from Phoenix yesterday with bad news. There is a concerted deal on to run me out of this country. Next year they will make a game refuge under the Rim, taking in both my properties. It looks like petty politics and personal jealousy. I was refused a special permit and insulted publicly by the state Game Warden.

"The Game Commissioner of Flagstaff, a two-faced ____ who pretended to be friendly to me over there, got up in the meeting on Oct. 5 at Phoenix and roasted me vilely. There is a bunch of ( ) Hunters who have killed loads of game, breaking every law, and they have laid this on the Z.G. outfit.

"There are other details of this mess, but I'll tell you upon my return. I ought to break camp at once. I ought to have more sense than to stay here any longer. But I'd disappoint everybody. However I don't think I'll hunt myself. I'm sorry that I must report utter failure, so far, of this part of the trip. I wish -- oh, I wish I were home."

Many people believe that this is the reason why Grey left Arizona once and for all. However, I disagree. Grey was an intrepid traveler, spending half the year or more hunting in places like Arizona and fishing the South Seas.

He was 57 in 1929 and some of his other letters clearly indicate that he was tiring of the travel. Granted, he did not care for what was happening in Arizona at the time. The biggest thing was that hunting rules were changing. Up until that time, hunters had been able to hunt whatever game they wanted at whatever time. They were going to a seasons format and this certainly influenced Grey. But the remote Arizona that he so loved was changing.

Grey did not care for automobiles and in one of his October 1929 letters home he states, "I'm leery about hunting here. There's a new road, and the woods will be full of these ____! Tin-can, auto hunters with shot guns. I'll try to have everybody wear red hats and coats, and be careful. But I don't like the chance. And I'll never come back here again."

Nevertheless, numerous historians have come to paint the end of Grey's time as being a feud of sorts and even to this day, there is some disagreement within the local heritage community over how much emphasis should be placed on Grey.


Many books exist about the Pleasant Valley War. A couple of the better ones in my opinion are "A Little War of Our Own" by Don Dedera and "They Shot Billy Today" by Leland Hanchett.

Dedera writes things from more of a Tewksbury side viewpoint, as do many of the books about the feud. On the other hand, Leland Hanchett, writes a little bit more from the Graham side, a very interesting look at the feud. Hanchett will be one of the storytellers at the Payson 125th Celebration on Oct. 6. So if you catch him down along Main Street, make sure you ask him about the Pleasant Valley War. "They Shot Billy Today" is just one of many books that he's written about it.

With regards to Grey, the quotes I had in the article are from a collection of Zane Grey letters in the G.M. Farley Collection at the Cline Library at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Both of these topics are also covered in a little bit more depth in my upcoming book, "Zane Grey's Forgotten Ranch: Tales from the Boles Homestead."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.