The Pleasant Valley War And The Summer Of 1887


This coming weekend is Pleasant Valley Days in Young, Ariz. It’s a great opportunity to learn about and experience the history of this nearby area.

When people think of Young, Ariz., their first thought is not of its beautiful ranges, but of a range war that engulfed the entire region. Here’s a look at the Pleasant Valley War and the summer of 1887.

While Young is 52 miles from Payson via today’s roads, it’s just 26 miles as the crow flies. Gisela, south of Payson, is even closer. This is why the Payson area was impacted by the Pleasant Valley War in a time when horseback was the standard mode of travel.

The Pleasant Valley War was a blood feud between the Graham and Tewksbury families. Many people involved, including an area vigilante committee. Different causes have been argued through the years. Some believe it was a sheepmen-cattlemen war and others a case of honest men versus rustlers. Certain things are clear though: one, there was a whole lot of cattle and horse stealing going on, and two, the war was very bloody. Here’s a sampling of newspaper clippings from 1887 as the war heated up.

“Two men went over into the Navajo country and stole 103 head of horses, belonging mainly to Indians. Some of them were the property of ex-sheriff Hubbell. They made no attempt at concealment, but drove them in broad day across the country and up in the Mogollon mountains. The Indians followed in a day or two, accompanied by Mr. Hubbell and a constable. The trail led to Canon creek, just over the rim of the Tonto Basin…” - St. John’s Herald, April 7, 1887

“We do not doubt but they have confederates in this county. From all we can learn there is a chain of them and they pass horses both ways. We suspect if they were followed up closely from Tonto Basin, it would be found they were driven to New Mexico by the way of Canyon Creek, and if the trails of those stolen from the western portion of this county were followed, it would be found they were driven south by way of Tonto Basin. When will the people have energy, vim and determination sufficient to break up this gang? The existence of such a gang for such a length of time, when their rendezvous is so well known, is a burning shame and disgrace to our people.” - St. John’s Herald, May 26, 1887

By the time June arrived in 1887, horse and cattle thievery was happening so much that it was creating a stir throughout a number of counties. The pot was coming to a boil and it was just a matter of time before a full out war commenced. Sure enough, in August that’s exactly what occurred, as these headlines and clips show.

“Three Men and Three Horses Shot Down In a Fight at Tonto Basin.” Arizona Champion, August 13, 1887

More Killing in Tonto Basin Apache Critic, August 20, 1887.

Reports of killings still continue to pour in from the Tonto Basin country. It is said that the arms and ammunition to carry on the war are being furnished by some interested parties living at Flagstaff. - Apache Critic, August 27, 1887

More Killing in Tonto Basin

John Graham Shot Down. Ed Tewksbury Killed by Sheriff Mulvenon while resisting arrest - Apache Critic, August 27, 1887

Sheriff Owens Kills Andy Cooper and his Brother, and Wounds Two Other Men - Apache Critic, September 10, 1887

Return of the Deputy Sheriffs. – The Stories Concerning the Killing of Mulvenon False. – A Bloodless and Futile Pursuit of the Rustlers. - Arizona Champion, September 13, 1887

The remains of old man Blevins have been found in the brush at Pleasant Valley. - Arizona Champion, September 24, 1887

Lastly, there is the climactic battle of 1887. The exact details of which have been debated since.

Reports from Pleasant Valley, the first of the week, state that a fight occurred on the 18th last between the Tewksbury and Graham factions in which Joseph Killingswood and a man named Middleton were killed and Thomas Graham wounded, all said to be members of the Graham party.

A report of another killing, in which the officers of the law took part, was received here Monday, which in substance is about as follows: On Thursday last at Perkins store, Pleasant Valley, Sheriff Mulvenon and posse of fourteen men in attempting to arrest John Graham and Charles Blevins were met with resistance by the outlaws, who attempted to make a running fight, but before they could discharge their weapons were shot down by the sheriff and his posse. Blevins was killed instantly and Graham lived but two hours - Apache Critic, October 1, 1887

After that, things calmed down somewhat. There was still some killing going on but it was done more quietly and was not on the scale of that summer of 1887. Many people were arrested and trials occurred. However, that was not the end of the blood feud. In 1892 Tom Graham was gunned down in Tempe, allegedly by Ed Tewksbury, who was tried twice but never convicted.

The war became the stuff of legend. Zane Grey wrote a fictional account, To the Last Man, during the 1920s. Many other books have been written about the war with “facts” still being debated to this day.


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