Days Past: Women of the Pleasant Valley War

Annie Melton Graham, widow of Tom Graham. When he was assassinated by Ed Tewksbury and John Rhodes, Annie sought revenge by attempting to shoot Rhodes during his trial with her husband’s pistol. The attempt failed when the gun misfired.

Annie Melton Graham, widow of Tom Graham. When he was assassinated by Ed Tewksbury and John Rhodes, Annie sought revenge by attempting to shoot Rhodes during his trial with her husband’s pistol. The attempt failed when the gun misfired.

The long and bloody Pleasant Valley War, also known as the Graham-Tewksbury feud, was one of the most gruesome local conflicts ever. The death toll far eclipsed the contemporaneous Hatfield-McCoy dispute. The truth behind the events — and even some of the events themselves — are still debated, but in general the war involved sheep versus cattle, horse rustling, cattle rustling and empire building.

photo

Public domain

Ed Tewksbury in the 1890s, the last surviving Tewksbury to be involved in the feud.

The Pleasant Valley War was centered in the Tonto Basin of Arizona or in what is now known as Northern Gila County, Arizona. This was in Yavapai County during the 1880s, but the war was hardly confined to that area. In the 1880s the entire north-central Arizona Territory was under a lead and smoke confrontation between the Hashknife Outfit and the homesteaders, the horse thieves and the Mormons, the cinch-ring artists and the ranchers, and toward the end, cowmen and sheep raisers. At the hub of all this was a blood feud between the Tewksbury and Graham brothers. Men rode with their rifles in hand, and in town the tie-down loops were clear of the tops of their six-gun hammers to allow easy access to their firearms. To add a little fuel to the fire, a few bronco Apaches could be counted on to keep everyone on their toes. The law was little more than a minor faction in a civic train wreck.

This was beautiful, prime stock-raising country, but it became a violent place, as related by several authors, including Jinx Pyle, who tells the true story of what happened in this secret-shrouded war.

The feud peaked in 1887 when, in a period of several months, over 15 of the main feudists were killed in a series of gunfights, ambushes, and hangings, as well as actions by Yavapai and Apache County law enforcement officials and a vigilante committee.

A number well in excess of forty men were killed during the war. However, the real victims were the women who were uprooted and lived mostly in fear and solitude. They bore their babies alone, often became the caretakers of the family, fought off Apaches and others who wanted to harm them . . . and were left as widows to raise their children in a wild country. No one can fully understand exactly what the women endured, but oral histories of descendants have helped to uncover their stories.

These are women like Mary Ann Tewksbury, wife of John Tewksbury, who was shot and left for the hogs to eat; Mary Blevins, mother of the Blevins brothers, including Andy Blevins Cooper, who was killed by Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens; Annie Graham, wife of Tom Graham, who was shot in the back in Tempe; and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Rose, wife of Al Rose, who was shot and hanged for meddling on both sides of the fence.

Much of the history written about the Pleasant Valley War focused on the men who fought it. The women who were connected to these men led very difficult lives. Hardships were many. Friends were few. The fear and isolation were devastating. The overall effect of the war took a heavy toll of these women. After the violence, some endured mental illness. For example, Lizzie Rose was a spirited young woman when she married Al Rose. She was a well-respected nurse and midwife in her community prior to the war. After her husband was killed, she went to California and later committed suicide.

Mary Blevins suffered the loss of not only her husband, but also four sons. Another son was seriously wounded. As a widow, she continued to live, but was never “quite right” after her losses.

The women left scant writings to tell their story, but this history has been reconstructed using legal records, family histories and the war itself.

Author and historian Jayne Peace Pyle will discuss this history and her book, Women of the Pleasant Valley War on November 19 at 2 p.m. at the Sharlot Hall Museum, 415 W. Gurley Street. The book will be available for purchase and signature.

Jayne received the 2012 Sharlot Hall Award and the 2005 Arizona CultureKeeper Award, has served on the Arizona CultureKeepers State Committee, and is also an Official Town of Payson Historian, along with her husband, Jinx Pyle.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.