Deputy John Fletcher
Deputy John Fletcher
By: John C.H. Grabill
Source: John C.H. Grabill. "Deputy John Fletcher." Corbis, 1887.
About the Photographer: One of the better-known photographers of the Old West, John C.H. Grabill first set up a commercial photography studio in 1866 in Sturgis, present-day South Dakota. He moved throughout the West, chiefly photographing Indians, miners, soldiers, wagon trains, and landscapes.
In the American West, the years after the Civil War were marked by lawlessness and feuds. Settlers poured into the region too quickly for the legal system to adapt. The nearest courts and sheriffs were often two or more days away. The absence of law enforcement forced Westerners to create their own form of policing, and they chose the age-old system of an eye for an eye. Additionally, everyone had at least one gun. As a result, bloody feuds between two families or factions became common. Texas was the leading state for personal wars, with the region between San Antonio and Houston labeled the Pure Feud Belt. However, all of the Western states had episodes of violence.
The Pleasant Valley War of the Graham-Tewksbury feud broke out in Arizona. It soon became big enough and bloody enough to claim national attention. At a conservative estimate, thirty deaths were attributed to the feud with the heaviest losses occurring in 1887. Some of the men involved went mysteriously missing, never to be heard from again.
The trouble in Pleasant Valley began with a charge of cattle rustling against the Tewksbury family in 1883. The three angry men who rode up to the Tewksbury ranch to make the charge suddenly exchanged shots with the Tewksbury men. One rider died and one was badly injured. Subpoenaed to testify at the trial of John and Ed Tewksbury for murder, Frank Tewksbury could not stand the stress of days of travel. He died of tuberculosis, with his brothers blaming the Graham brothers for his death. The Grahams and their supporters then killed a Tewksbury shepherd and drove a herd of Tewksbury sheep over a cliff. John Tewksbury and a friend were then murdered. Tewksbury's pregnant widow, Mary, was prevented by John Graham from stopping wild hogs from eating her husband's remains. Tewksbury supporters then shot John Graham and some Graham supporters. More shootings and a mob lynching of three Graham men followed. The last death occurred when Ed Tewksbury shot Tom Graham in 1892 as Graham rode in his wagon. Tewksbury became the last principal combatant still standing. Never convicted of the crime, Tewksbury died of tuberculosis in 1904.
DEPUTY JOHN FLETCHER
See primary source image.
The Pleasant Valley War was not exceptional in history. Feuds happen whenever the law is absent or powerless and conditions become intolerable. In centuries past, it was considered a family obligation to avenge the killing of a relative. Anglo-Saxons could substitute money for blood (wergeld) and prevent the killing, but the English had to wait until the Middle Ages for murder to be defined as a crime against the state. Relics of these old attitudes appeared in more civilized times and places such as Arizona in the late nineteenth century.
The violence in Arizona became intolerable as more people moved into the territory. For the sake of the safety of their families and their possessions, Arizonans wanted law and order. They sought some sort of codified justice.
Additionally, by the 1880s, vigilantism brought a taint upon the community involved in the violence. It damaged the reputation of Arizona among the people in the rest of the United States by giving the impression that all Arizonans were barbarians who were too bloodthirsty to rely upon the legal system. In short, the Pleasant Valley War hurt the statehood hopes of Arizonans. For the sake of the future, Arizonans increasingly wanted peace at any price.
No major feud occurred in the Arizona Territory after the end of the Graham-Tewksbury war. While the conflict was glamorized in Zane Grey's 1922 novel, To The Last Man, it was a nightmare both for the families involved and the Pleasant Valley community. No one wanted a similar resurgence of violence.
Dedera, Don. A Little War of Our Own: The Pleasant Valley Feud Revisited. Flagstaff, Ariz.: Northland Press, 1988.
Hanchett, Leland J., Jr. Arizona's Graham-Tewksbury Feud. Cave Creek, Ariz.: Pine Rim Publishing, 1994.
Smith, Mark. Americanwest.com. "The Pleasant Valley War." 〈http://www.americanwest.com/vispages/msmith1.htm〉 (accessed February 17, 2006).