Friday, September 18, 2020

The Pleasant Valley War

By Nancy J. Farrier

Pleasant Valley, Arizona
Photo by WackyBadger, Wikimedia Commons

Most people have heard of the famous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, but not as many have heard of the feud that sparked the Pleasant Valley War in Arizona. This war that cost upwards of fifty lives and almost wiped out the men of one of the families.

The Pleasant Valley War, also known as the Tonto Basin Feud, Tonto Basin War, or Tewksbury-Graham Feud, took place in Arizona from 1882 to 1892. The events are fairly convoluted and I will try to put them in order so they make sense, but the story is involved so much will be left out.

Edwin Tewksbury
Wikimedia Commons
Ed Tewksbury, owned property in the Tonto Basin of northern Arizona. The land was a lush pastureland with trees and perfect for running cattle. The Grahams also moved to the Tonto Basin and purchased land. John Tewksbury, Ed’s son, and Tom Graham became friends and wanted to build a cattle herd together. They did this by catching mavericks or unbranded calves, which they branded with their own unique brand.

Most of those calves came from the herd of James Stinson, who had a very large herd and wasn’t well liked by the others. There were flare ups when Stinson accused Graham and Tewksbury of stealing his calves. Shots were exchanged and one man was injured. Stinson tried to say Ed Tewksbury was at fault since his shot wounded the man, but John Graham testified that Stinson’s men started the altercation and the charges were dropped.

 In 1884, the war escalated when Stinson offered each of the Grahams fifty head of cattle, and to drop all charges brought against them, if they would give state’s evidence against the Tewksburys. The Grahams took the deal and charges were brought against the Tewksburys. The case was thrown out of court due to lack of evidence, but the trip to the court caused the family great hardship when Frank Tewksbury contracted pneumonia on the trip home and died.

Another increase in the war happened when the Tewksburys leased some sheep and brought them on the range. Cattle owners disliked sheep, saying they cropped the grass too short and left nothing for the cattle to eat. The sheep herder the Tewksburys hired was killed and at one point many of the sheep were destroyed.

The conflict escalated as other factions entered the fray, including the infamous Hash Knife Outfit. The Hash Knife Outfit cowboys were known for their hatred of sheep and sheepherding. They would run herds of sheep into water to drown them. Or gallop among the sheep, scattering the animals and killing many of them.

Tewksbury Cabin
Photo by Marine 69-71 Wikimedia Commons
A sad turn of events happened in September 1887. Some of the Grahams approached John Tewksbury’s cabin. They caught John and another man outside and killed both of them. They continued firing at the cabin for hours. The battle continued until Eva, John’s wife, who was also eight and a half months pregnant, came out of the cabin with a shovel and dug graves for her husband and the other man. The Grahams rode away.

The shootouts, lynchings, and murders continued over the next few years. The Grahams and Tewksburys continued the feud until only two of them were left. Tom Graham fled the area and ended up settling in Tempe, Arizona. He was later shot in the back by assassins. On his deathbed, he named Ed Tewksbury as one of his attackers.

Ed Tewksbury and John Rhodes went on trial for murder in Tempe. The first trial
Gun Port, Tewksbury Cabin
Photo by Marine 69-71 Wikimedia Commons
was thrown out on a legal technicality. During the trial, Tom Graham’s widow, Annie, tried to murder Rhodes. When she pulled her pistol from her bag, some of the fibers of the bag caught in the firing mechanism and prevented the gun from firing.

It took seven men to pry the gun from Annie’s hands as she screamed for them to let her kill the men who killed her husband. She was taken back to her hotel room and I found no evidence that she was charged with anything.

The second trial for Tewksbury and Rhodes ended in a hung jury. They were later released and the charges dropped. In an interesting twist Ed Tewksbury went on to become a lawman in Globe, Arizona, and John Rhodes became an Arizona Ranger. One account said that back then being good with a gun held a lot of sway for you to be in law enforcement.

John Tewksbury Grave
Photo by Thecraziness Wikimedia Commons
Western author, Zane Grey, wrote a book, To the Last Man: A Story of the Pleasant Valley War. The 1992 movie, Gunsmoke: To the Last Man, featuring Matt Dillon, was based on the Pleasant Valley war and Grey’s book. 

Have you ever heard of the Pleasant Valley War or the Tewksbury-Graham-Stinson Feud? Have you read Zane Grey’s book or seen that Gunsmoke movie? If you ever visit northern Arizona, look for the Tonto Basin and think about what would cause people to be so angry they would wipe out most of the opposing family.

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Very interesting. I had no idea there had been a feud in Arizona. So sad. Hatred, revenge and greed are awful bed-fellows. Thanks for the post.

  2. I had never heard of this. It's hard to think about a feud engendering such strong feelings that you want another person dead, but I suppose land and the control of it is a big issue. I hope that in most cases we have become more civilized than this but it's taken lots of bloodshed to get even where we are right now. And with more work to be done to always do better. Thanks for posting.

  3. I've never heard of this, Nancy. Very interesting and tragic. So many lives lost. Thanks for posting.