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Pleasant Valley: A historic and legal perspective

The Pleasant Valley, situated in the Tonto Basin in an area surrounding present-day Young, Ariz., was in the 1880s a bucolic land consisting of plentiful grass, clear mountain streams and sunny days. It was perfect for raising cattle, as well as the nemesis of the cattleman - sheep. It was also the site of one of the most infamous events of Arizona history - the Pleasant Valley War, or as it is often known, the Graham-Tewksbury Feud.The feudAt the center of Arizona's Pleasant Valley War was a classic 19th century feud between two families who simply didn't like each other very much - the Grahams and the Tewksburys. While historians differ on the causes of the conflict that evolved between these two families and which ultimately led to the death of 30 or more of the warring participants, it is abundantly clear that the resulting bloodshed was the product of mixed motives engendered by hatred, retaliation, self-preservation and perhaps even greed.The war started innocently enough - cattle rustling charges, a spontaneous gunfight and the murder of a sheepherder. But with each such event, and ultimately each death of a participant, the feud escalated and became a war that would not end until only one man remained standing.Bloody 1887The war peaked in 1887 when in a period of several months 13 persons were killed in a series of gunfights, ambushes and actions by law enforcementofficials of Yavapai and Apache counties. It started when Mart Blevins, the father of several brothers who had allied themselves with the Grahams, disappeared under suspicious circumstances. The ensuing search for the elder Blevins led to a gunfight with the Tewksburys and resulted in the deaths of one of Blevins' sons (Hamp) and a cohort named John Payne. Soon thereafter, the youngest of the Graham brothers, Billy, was ambushed and killed on his way home from a dance in Payson. Within weeks, John Tewksbury and an ally, William Jacobs, were ambushed and killed near the Tewksbury ranch. A few days later, Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens of Apache County, attempted to serve a cattle-rusting warrant on Andy Blevins in Holbrook. Blevins, who reportedly had taken credit for the killing of John Tewksbury and Payne, apparently resisted arrest and was gunned down by Owens, who in a period of less than a minute also shot and killed Blevins' kid brother Sam and another ally named Mote Roberts. Andy's brother John was also wounded in the fracas. Sheriff Owens was unharmed.Shortly after the ambush killing of another Graham sympathizer, Henry Middleton, Yavapai County Sheriff Bill Mulvenon descended on the Pleasant Valley with a posse and warrants for the arrest of John and Tom Graham and others in connection with the deaths of John Tewksbury and Jacobs. The posse encountered John Graham and yet another of the Blevins brothers, Charlie, at the Perkins Store in present-day Young. A gunfight broke out and Graham and Blevins were killed. Tom Graham, who was not present when the gunfight occurred, fled to Tempe where he remained until he peacefully surrendered to Sheriff Mulvenon. He was subsequently released when the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.Less than six weeks later, Al Rose, a Graham alley, was ambushed and killed. Thus, in a period of four months 13 men died in the Pleasant Valley, including four of the Blevins family, a Tewksbury and two of the Grahams. By 1888, as relative peace settled in the valley, the only male combatants remaining of the feuding families were Tom Graham and Ed Tewksbury.Tom Graham ambushedOn Aug. 3, 1892, more than four years after the Pleasant Valley hostilities had apparently ended, Tom Graham was ambushed near his home in Tempe and died of his wounds several days later. Ed Tewksbury was indicted, tried and convicted for the murder. However, the conviction was set aside due to a legal technicality. Tewksbury's second trial resulted in a hung jury and the district attorney elected not to retry him the third time. Ed Tewksbury, the "last man standing" at the conclusion of this sordid chapter in Arizona history, died of natural causes on April 4, 1904. A legal perspectiveHistorians who have researched and written on the subject of the Pleasant Valley War have universally condemned the law enforcement and judicial system of 19th-century Arizona Territory, accepting without thorough analysis the notion that the legal system was not up to the task of dealing with the rampart lawlessness that existed in the Pleasant Valley of the 1880s. In support of this proposition, historians rely mainly on one indisputable fact: Despite the multiple killings and other felonies which arose out of, or were related to, the Graham - Tewksbury Feud, not a single person was ever convicted for such crimes in a court of law of the Arizona Territory. While this is indeed strong evidence in support of the proposition, it is not conclusive. Citizen participation in the criminal systemThe cornerstone of American jurisprudence is citizen participation. In 19th-century Arizona, citizen participation was fundamental to the law enforcement and criminal justice system of the territory which, after all, had been patterned after that which existed in the other states and territories of the United States. Such participation is manifested not only in the jury system which applies to our criminal courts, but also by virtue of the fact that citizens elect many of the law enforcement and judicial officials who are responsible for carrying our the will of the people as it relates to our justice system. In the Arizona Territory of the 19th century citizen participation in the law enforcement and judicial process was substantial. Citizens served as jurors at inquest hearings convened by elected coroners to determine the cause or causes of a suspicious death and, where possible, the person or persons they believed to be responsible. Citizens served on grand juries and decided whether there was probable cause for the indictment of an accused. Petite jurors in criminal trials were ordinary citizens charged with the responsibility of determining the guilt or innocence of an accused peer. Further, citizens entitled to vote pursuant to the laws of the territory elected the primary law enforcement official of the territory - the county sheriffs, as well as the coroners, the justices of the peace, who were responsible for making the initial determination as to whether an accused person would be bound over for grand jury action, and the district attorneys, who prosecuted criminal cases on behalf of the territory. While the people did not elect the territorial justices who presided over criminal trials during this period of Arizona's history, the available evidence suggests that by and large they served competently and effectively, dispensing justice fairly and honestly in accordance with the laws of the territory. Thus, the territorial citizenry heavily influenced the functioning and application of the judicial system that existed in 19th century Arizona Territory. This system of citizen participation not only served to protect the rights of the accused, but also insured that decisions in criminal cases represented the rights, interests and mores of the contemporary 19th century public.Criticism of 19th century justice is "unjust"Those who criticize the law enforcement and criminal justice system as applied to the events of the Pleasant Valley War do an injustice to the 19th century citizenry who were responsible for making the system work. While, as noted above, these historians are quick to point out the importance of the fact that no Graham-Tewksbury Feud participant was ever convicted of a crime, these same historians are apparently unwilling to acknowledge an equally compelling counter-point; that is, the myriad of events that comprised the feud resulted in almost every instance criminal charges which were subjected to contemporary review by (1) citizens sitting in judgment of their peers and (2) popularly-elected public officials who were responsible for carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the territorial judiciary. When viewed in this light, a compelling case can be made that the judicial system functioned as it was intended and that justice, as conceived and understood in 19th century Arizona Territory, was done with respect to the crimes arising out of the feud. An analysis of the criminal complaints and charges made as a result of the killings and other unlawful acts emanating from the feud demonstrate, in the judgment of this writer, that the legal system was alive and well in terms of its application to those events. Law enforcement officials and the judiciary did their jobs in making accused persons account to the judicial system for their alleged actions. The fact that no person was actually convicted is immaterial. Justice was done when either the judiciary at any level, or citizen jurors, functioning as they are obligated to under the law, made decisions that there was insufficient evidence to either prosecute or convict for the crimes of which the alleged perpetrators were accused.Clearly, the insufficiency of credible, probative evidence was the primary reason that alleged perpetrators of these crimes were not indicted, or if indicted, convicted. In the 19th century, the only reliable source of such evidence, especially in a homicide case, was eyewitness testimony by persons who had first-hand knowledge of the events in question. More often than not, such testimony was not readily available as witnesses for the prosecution were non-existent, unreliable or unavailable at the various steps of the process where their testimony was required. Further, many of the witnesses who did appear to give testimony on behalf of either the territory or the accused were influenced by elements of fear, family relationships, loyalty and perhaps even financial inducements. In this respect it was not uncommon for alibi witnesses to appear at all levels of judicial review to give testimony that the accused was at another place at the time the crime was committed. Thus, obtaining a conviction in a case arising out of the Pleasant Valley War was not an easy task for a prosecuting attorney. ConclusionArizona's Pleasant Valley War effectively wiped out two families of Arizona pioneers, as well as many of their friends and allies and others who inhabited the area and simply had the bad luck to get caught up in the feud. It caused the Arizona Territory to obtain national notoriety, which undoubtedly was a major reason that statehood was not granted to the territory until well after the turn of the century. The notion, however, that the law enforcement and judicial system was ineffective in dealing with the crimes committed during the war is an unfair indictment of the law enforcement and judicial officials of the Graham-Tewksbury era and, by implication, the citizens who played such an important role in the process. Fred Veil, a semi-retired lawyer, is a member of the Prescott Corral of the Westerners and served as that organization's sheriff in 2004. This article is a summary of a presentation he and author Lee Hanchett made at the Fourth Annual Western History Symposium that took place at Sharlot Hall Museum on Oct. 13. The symposium is an annual event that is co-sponsored by the Prescott Corral and Sharlot Hall Museum.Like Days Past? Check out the complete archive of articles at! We need your stories and experiences! The public is welcome to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Contact Ryan Flahive at Sharlot Hall Museum at 445-3122 for more information.

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