History's place

Courier/Jo. L. Keener 

Don Dedera with the Arizona Historical Society presents the historical portion of the Pleasant Valley War of 1886-¹92 between a cattle rancher and sheep rancher. The event focuses on Edwin Tewksbury¹s two trials for the murder of Tom Graham as presented by the Arizona Historical Society. The justice forums occur annually in an original courthouse around the state.

Courier/Jo. L. Keener Don Dedera with the Arizona Historical Society presents the historical portion of the Pleasant Valley War of 1886-¹92 between a cattle rancher and sheep rancher. The event focuses on Edwin Tewksbury¹s two trials for the murder of Tom Graham as presented by the Arizona Historical Society. The justice forums occur annually in an original courthouse around the state.

PRESCOTT ‹ While not relegated to a tattered half-page synopsis buried deep inside an aging, yellowed Arizona history textbook, it's still a safe bet that not many Arizonans ‹ native or otherwise ‹ have heard much about the Pleasant Valley War.

However, well-regarded contemporary Arizona historians, including journalist Don Dedera, maintain that the war, primarily fought between two rival ranching families during the final decades of the 1800s, served as "the bloodiest feud among settlers of the American West."

And, tragically enough, much of the infamously crude confrontations between the Tewksbury and Graham families' members occurred within Yavapai County's former territorial boundaries along the Mogollon Rim country outside Payson.

Therefore, Prescott, the county seat and old territorial capital complete with its centralized downtown courthouse, was on occasion ground zero for litigation of the feud's brutal felony cases.

With this in mind, for the first time in its current 12 year run, the annual Arizona Territorial Justice Forum happened away from its home of Tombstone on Saturday so forum participants could share a unique piece of the state's history with Prescott residents and other interested parties.

The forum, under the sponsorship of Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park and the Arizona History Convention, came to a third-floor courtroom of the Yavapai County Courthouse to provide a meaningful backdrop for the topic.

Don Taylor, the Tombstone historic park's assistant manager who helped organize the weekend event, invited Dedera and Prescott attorney Fred Veil to give separate oral presentations about the Pleasant Valley War to nine guest "jurors" and 20-plus spectators in the courtroom's gallery.

Dedera, former Arizona Republic reporter and the first editor of Arizona Highways magazine, opened the forum with an eloquent 40-minute monologue about the history of the Pleasant Valley War and the Tewksbury-Graham feud.

After a short break, Veil, a well-spoken and crafty scholar who sat next to Dedera at a wooden table all the while facing the jurors from a distance, submitted a legal presentation about the intricacies and flaws of Arizona territorial justice in the late 1800s.

Later, based on the historically known facts from the cases derived from the feud, Veil defended the actions of Ed Tewksbury ‹ who surviving members of the Graham family blamed long ago for the murders of two of its male members.

According to published accounts, the feud resulted in the deaths of 30 to 50 men, most of whom were slain from ambushes, and the wounding of dozens more.

Dedera said that every murderer on both sides escaped punishment from Arizona's Territorial courts. He added that in the so-called "feud arena" located in northcentral Arizona, numerous felonies such as arson, burglary, armed robbery, jury tampering and intimidation ruled the day.

By the summer of 1888, Dedera reports, nearly every one of the surviving residents of Pleasant Valley lived in an open-meadow commune removed from their homes under the protection of two battle-ready companies of United States Army troops.

But who initiated the families' fighting? Dedera says that by all believable accounts the Tewksburys invited the Grahams to Pleasant Valley and even helped them build shelters and establish herds there.

However, as time passed, the Grahams ‹ a cattle-ranching family ‹ brought cattle-rustling charges against their Tewksbury neighbors, who were sheepherders.

This charge kick-started a monumental feud that began in 1884 and lasted into the early 1890s with the assassination of "The Last Man" standing, Tom Graham, in Tempe on Aug. 2, 1892.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com