Did You Know: Pleasant Valley War Was Actually A Family Feud

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 1:15pm
Updated: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 2:53pm
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
The outside wall of the Tewksbury cabin still has the bullet holes from the Pleasant Valley War. It can be seen at the Pioneer Living History Museum in north Phoenix

Most people have heard of the Hatfields and McCoys. Arizona has its own version of a violent family feud that lasted nearly a decade.

The Pleasant Valley War has several other titles including the Arizona Sheep War. There have been discussions about how it started, but it is often believed it was over sheep herding. Did You Know…the war was really a feud between two families and had little to do with sheep?

“It was just a series of guys murdering each other is all,” said Mick Woodcock, chief curator at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott. “It just seems to me that there’s a number of different things involved and lot of it is just personalities and prejudices.”

Woodcock said the conflict started in the early 1880s. The Tewksburys were cattle ranchers in Pleasant Valley near the Mogollon Rim. The Graham brothers worked for them.

Around 1884 two ranch hands from the nearby Stenson ranch entered the Tewksbury property looking for "lost" cattle and a gun battle ensued. Woodcock said the case ended up in county court 200 miles away in Prescott.

"The Tewksburys think that a lot of folks didn’t like them because they had Native American blood. Then there’s cattle rustling, and horse stealing, and brand altering,” Woodcock said.

The Grahams decided to work for Stenson with the condition the brothers would accuse the Tewksburys of stealing cattle. And they did. The Tewksbury family was indicted and found not guilty. 

“They have the trial, the Tewksburys and their associates are found not guilty, but the judge indicts the Graham brothers for, for perjury. So, in the next three years eight more men are killed on both sides,” Woodcock said.

A short time later a Tewksbury and another man were ambushed and killed. In 1887 the ‘war’ reached a boiling point when a Graham was killed. Then they retaliated, killing several men at the Tewksbury ranch followed by another shootout at the family’s cabin.

The Pleasant Valley War ended around 1892 when a Tewksbury killed the last Graham in Tempe. He was tried and acquitted.     

“No one in this whole episode is ever found guilty of anything. Never serves any time,” Woodcock said.

Woodcock said it has been difficult to determine exactly how many people died during the Pleasant Valley War. Some estimate there were up to 35 killings. He said area ranchers and residents in and around Pleasant Valley were drawn into the family feud taking sides.

That Tewksbury cabin that was shot up by the Grahams sits at the Pioneer Living History Museum in north Phoenix.  

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