The Wild West In The Rim Country

Chapter 9: Murder near Woods Canyon - the Al Fulton Story

Advertisement

It happened during the second year of what many call The Pleasant Valley War. A young sheepherder in his early twenties, named Al Fulton, was murdered near the place now called Al Fulton Point. It was September 1888. About 10 years earlier Al’s older brother Harry Fulton had come to Arizona to pursue the sheep business, and he ran sheep near the San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff. In 1886 he helped to found the Arizona Wool Growers Association and was elected its first president.

Harry’s brother Al obtained work for a rancher named Woods. This is the gentleman for whom Woods Canyon and Woods Canyon Lake are named.  While driving a flock of sheep from Holbrook toward the Rim to take them over and down to winter pastures Al Fulton was murdered. The why and how of his demise is captured in several variant traditions. Even his grave carries a mystery.

It is important to know that during the period from 1880 to 1890 Arizona was open range country. A wealth of apparently inexhaustible plants and grasses covered the mountains and valleys, uplands and mesas, and it was free to all cattlemen and sheepmen who wanted to use the range. When the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad reached Flagstaff it produced a huge influx of cattle ranchers and the sheep ranchers soon felt themselves being edged out of grasslands.

The railroad sold large tracts of land in Yavapai and Apache counties and wealthy groups snapped them up. Among the cattle giants was the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, which purchased 500,000 acres. It brought with it a rough and tumble group of cowboys, who were soon dubbed The Hashknife Outfit. Not only did they herd the cattle, but they made sure any sheep that encroached on grazing land they wanted were violently driven off.

photo

Stan Brown photo

The possible grave of Rim sheepherder Al Fulton.

Meanwhile, a feud was brewing in Pleasant Valley between the Graham family and the Tewksbury family, with their respective allies. The long-smoldering battle erupted with full force after a Ute Indian, hired by the Daggs Brothers Company to herd sheep, was murdered in 1886, just two miles north of the Graham ranch. Daggs had sided with the Tewksburys, who majored in sheep though by this time were moving over to hogs.

The Hashknife cowboys, on the other hand, found themselves more allied with the cattle ranching Grahams. The “war” between the two factions continued for more than a decade, amid accusations of horse stealing and cattle rustling by the two sides against each other.

On that autumn day in 1888, as Al Fulton drove his flock of sheep toward the Mogollon Rim, he crossed the cattle range that rancher Wilford Scarlet claimed as his own. Scarlet’s cowboys chased Fulton and the sheep, catching up and stampeding them near the present day junction of Woods Canyon Road (Forest Road 300) and State Highway 260.  There is a large sinkhole there, and when Fulton tried to head off the sheep from entering the sinkhole he was knocked off his horse and killed under the stampeding herd.

Another version of Al’s death, and perhaps the more authentic, appeared in the Flagstaff newspaper The Champion on Aug. 10, 1889 (page 3, column 3).

“FOUND DEAD.  F. B. Parker, who recently arrived in town, gives us the following information. The body of Al Fulton, who was in the employ of engineer J. X. Woods as a sheepherder, was found by himself and Juan Padia recently on the head of Shoveling (he means Chevelon) Creek in Apache County.  He also states that a wound in the back of the head indicated he had been violently dealt with. Mr. Parker says it is his opinion that Babe Shaw was the man who done the deed, as previous to that he threatened the life and used abusive language toward the deceased.  They found considerable money on his body in small silver coins. The murdered man, it is said, has relatives in the Black Hills, Wyoming Territory.”

The great escarpment of the Mogollon Rim was only several hundred feet away from where Parker and Padia found the body.  Presumably it was they who buried Al Fulton near the Rim, where the sweeping view has always been awe-inspiring. After that the area was known in local lore as Fulton’s Point, and in modern times the Forest Service made the place-name official.  

Over the years the gravesite near the edge of the Rim was desecrated, and the Forest Service decided to move the remains. They established a more protected grave along the trail that leads east of the visitor center. There, beside Lake One, on the historic Crook Trail, Al Fulton was buried and a concrete slab was poured on the ground.  More dirt was then piled on top of the concrete, and stones mounded over the grave.  

Today visitors observe a 70-pound red sandstone grave marker at the head of the grave, leaning against a gnarled oak tree. It reads, “Al Fulton Shot 1901.”

This was quite different than the original grave markings at that location. In 1992 grave robbers attempted to dig up Al Fulton’s remains, but gave up when they came to the concrete slab. Forest rangers had volunteers and history buffs rebuild the grave and prepare a new headstone. Its new appearance surprised local historian Hal Gaustad and his friend Armin Kanzler when they visited the restored grave. Kanzler said, “We always made this place our campsite on trips to the Sigler Brothers ranch with a string of horses.” He had a photograph he took of the grave in 1945 and it showed a white stone placed upright at the foot of the grave, which read, “Al Fulton Murdered 1888.” 

The two men speculated about why the grave marker was changed and wondered if it would somehow relate to the lynching of Stott, Scott and Wilson the previous year. Their graves are several miles to the east along this same trail in the sheltered glade of Black Canyon. Perhaps, said the two men, someone changed the date on the new stone and added the word “Shot” to conceal the possibility that Fulton was hung like the others the year before.

Gaustad added his speculation, “Or might Al Fulton have been another innocent who got in the way when the cattle breeders and the sheepmen had their bloody war?”

Sources:

Oral histories taken by Stan Brown with Forest Ranger Breezen Jerome, and Forest Ranger Tim Greer of Christopher Creek.

Articles by Hal Gaustad in the Payson Roundup and 1980 Summer Guide.

Don Dedera’s “A Little War Of Our Own” page 35

“Arizona’s Mogollon Rim” Arizona Highways book, 1992, page 45.

The Arizona Historical Review, July 1936, “The History of Sheep Industry in Arizona” by Bert Haskett.

Coconino National Forest archeology files at Flagstaff

Next: The Lynching of Stott, Scott and Wilson

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.