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Hell on the Range

Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West

Daniel Justin Herman
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Hell on the Range
    Book Description:

    In this lively account of Arizona's Rim Country War of the 1880s-what others have called "The Pleasant Valley War"-historian Daniel Justin Herman explores a web of conflict involving Mormons, Texas cowboys, New Mexican sheepherders, Jewish merchants, and mixed-blood ranchers. Their story, contends Herman, offers a fresh perspective on Western violence, Western identity, and American cultural history.

    At the heart of Arizona's range war, argues Herman, was a conflict between cowboys' code of honor and Mormons' code of conscience. He investigates the sources of these attitudes, tracks them into the early twentieth century, and offers rich insights into the roots of American violence and peace.

    Published in Cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16854-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. Map of Arizona’s Rim Country and Surrounding Geography, 1887
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    Just after seven in the morning on August 2, 1892, two horsemen rode through the streets of Tempe, Arizona, bearing down on a man driving a wagon loaded with barley. As they closed in, each drew a rifle. Glancing back in time to see them aim, the man in the wagon instantly dove forward, dodging one of the bullets. A second bullet drove into the base of his neck, knocking him unconscious and leaving him paralyzed, his feet dangling over the side of his buckboard.¹

    As they rode away, the assassins made half-hearted attempts to escape detection. A teenaged girl...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  6. Part 1 BEGINNINGS

    • 1 Home on the Range
      (pp. 3-21)

      With the discovery of placer gold in the Bradshaw Mountains of central Arizona in the 1860s came hardened men who panned and sluiced and split rock. They came with pickaxes in one hand and rifles in the other and almost immediately became embroiled in wars of extermination against the Yavapai and the Dilzhe’e (or “Tonto Apache”). Pushed from their hunting and gathering lands, the Indians had little choice but to work for the newcomers or to attack. They did both.

      In a climate of fear, even Indians who preferred working to fighting became targets. Atrocity by one side met with...

    • 2 The Saints March In
      (pp. 22-49)

      Fifteen-year-old Lucy White struggled to contain her excitement. Day after day, her family had sat down to meals of “mush and milk,” or, as her father called it, “lumpy dick.”¹ Today, however, a young man, a stranger, would be coming to Lucy’s Utah home, and the White women busily prepared a meal in his honor. Mashed potatoes, chicken and noodles, pickled beets, and custard pie would grace the table, dishes Lucy seldom tasted.

      The stranger whom Lucy would soon meet—William Jordan Flake—was a tall eighteen-year-old with blue-gray eyes, reddish hair, and the patina of manners and chivalry. Her...

    • 3 The Honor of Ruin
      (pp. 50-66)

      In the ArizonaSilver Beltof October 9, 1886, there appeared a “communication” from someone—presumably a man—identified only as “C.” His letter concerned the death of John Monk, a gentile rancher who had settled in the Mazatzal range at the southwestern edge of Tonto Basin. While digging a well with the help of one other man, the earth around Monk came crashing down. Only his head remained unburied, allowing him to suck in just enough air to stay alive—temporarily. His hired man immediately ran to the ranch of a neighbor, A. A. Ward, where he recruited four...

  7. Part 2 WAR

    • 4 The Trials of the Saints
      (pp. 69-88)

      Amid the teeming social and spiritual life of Arizona’s Mormon frontier lurked demons. The trouble began in the hamlet of St. Johns at the far eastern edge of the Mormon frontier, near the New Mexico line. To accommodate newcomers from Utah, the church instructed Nathan Tenney to purchase more land on the Little Colorado River. Tenney carried out his instructions, buying the area in and around the hamlet of San Juan, or St. Johns (probably named for the popular Mexican fiesta day), from a Jewish trader named Solomon Barth in 1879. In the deal, Tenney was to pay Barth 770...

    • 5 Cowboys and Criminals
      (pp. 89-120)

      Joseph Fish, manager of the Woodruff ACMI—the Mormon cooperative store—was posting accounts on May 29, 1884, when two masked men holding cocked pistols burst through the door. While one robber held a gun on Fish, the other retrieved the clerk, James Clark Owens, Jr., from the back room. The robbers demanded the contents of the safe. Remaining at a distance from the gunmen, Fish opened the safe and tossed them the money. The robbers took five hundred dollars in cash, then commandeered a pistol, a supply of ammunition, a pair of field glasses, a few cans of peaches,...

    • 6 Hell on the Range
      (pp. 121-137)

      Sometime around August 3, 1887, Hamp Blevins rode into a Hashknife camp at Big Dry Lake, just above the Rim and not far from his family’s ranch. He came with several cowboys whom he had run into earlier that day, including John Payne, Tom Tucker, Bob Gillespie, and Robert Carrington. All four either worked for the Aztec or had done so until recently.

      At Big Dry Lake, Hamp explained his mission. He was looking for his father, Mart, who had disappeared a few days earlier after going out to find lost—or stolen—horses. The horses had turned up missing...

    • 7 The Honor of Vengeance
      (pp. 138-166)

      On the morning of September 4, 1887, Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens rode into Holbrook, where he met briefly with his deputy, Frank Wattron, at Wattron’s drugstore. Wattron told him that Andy Cooper was in town. The entire Blevins family, in fact, was there, except for Delila, who was in Texas, and Charlie, who may have been at the Graham ranch. After Mart had gone missing and Hamp had fallen in Pleasant Valley, the family had moved to Holbrook for safety.¹

      Wattron knew that a warrant existed for the arrest of Cooper for the theft of Navajo horses, but he had...

    • 8 Killing Conscience
      (pp. 167-196)

      In late 1885 a young cowboy rode into Apache County, perhaps seeking work from the Aztec. He looked the part. In a photo that he sent his sister, he appeared with a gun on his hip and a sombrero on his head. He had a striking, clean-cut appearance, with a strong chin and nose and an aura of confidence. Will Barnes would later describe him as “a tall, handsome, red-headed lad, and a general favorite.” Though he found no job with the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, he did locate a 160-acre claim at Aztec Springs (named for the ancient...

    • 9 Understanding
      (pp. 197-214)

      If it was not merely a tale of good men defeating bad ones, what was the Rim Country War? How do we define it? What does it teach us? Perhaps the most thoughtful of those who have written about the conflict is Don Dedera, who—informed by his experiences as a reporter in Vietnam—saw in it the “universal human condition of mixed loyalties and misguided impulses.” The Pleasant Valley fight boiled up from the “limited volition and infinite disinformation” of participants. “War,” he concluded, “is not intellectual design. It is subjective muddle.”¹

      Despite missing the occasional detail, Dedera’sA...

  8. Part 3 LEGACY

    • 10 Water on the Fires
      (pp. 217-228)

      To tell the story of a war but not its aftermath—as historians are apt to do—is to tell half a story. Tensions between sheepherders and cattlemen; between big operators and small operators; between Mormons and cowboys; between Mormons and New Mexicans; and between mixed-blood men and whites did not disappear after the war. But they softened. New men arrived. New institutions emerged. Progressive reform came to Arizona in the form of the U.S. Forest Service. The national quest to rationalize and conserve natural resources led to new regulations on the ground. Those regulations made the Rim Country a...

    • 11 Courting Conscience
      (pp. 229-254)

      In 1885, a twenty-five-year-old George W. P. Hunt, future governor of Arizona, was waiting tables in Globe, the de facto capital of the southern part of the Rim Country. Seeing no clear future in business, mining, or politics, Hunt soon embarked on a ranching venture. With a partner named Walter Fisher he bought land near the hamlet of Wild Rye, a place that theSilver Beltcalled “one of the best ranges in the whole Tonto country.” Hunt’s role was to work in Globe in order to pay property taxes. Fisher was to run the cattle. When the mines closed...

    • 12 Honor Anew
      (pp. 255-281)

      In 1911, Theodore Roosevelt—out of office for two years and beginning to consider another run for the presidency—ventured to Arizona in order to commemorate the new dam on the Salt River that bore his name. At the time, it was the biggest dam in the world. The waters that it held back filled much of Tonto Basin, extending northwest along the channel of Tonto Creek toward the Sierra Ancha and northeast along the old course of the Salt. The lake that it backed up—Roosevelt Lake—promised to make the Salt River Valley into an agricultural paradise. Not...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 282-292)

    The last man left standing in the Pleasant Valley conflict, according to legend, was Ed Tewksbury. Reality, however, was less tidy. Many men survived the Pleasant Valley conflict. Many more survived the larger conflict—the Rim Country War—of which the Pleasant Valley War was only a part. The real last man left standing, then, was neither Ed Tewksbury nor any other combatant. The real last man was Zane Grey. Though he did not defeat the Grahams or the Mormons or the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, Grey helped create a new equilibrium between honor and conscience, an equilibrium that...

  10. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 293-294)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 295-342)
  12. Index
    (pp. 343-365)