One of our Risk Blossoming core values is based on the magic of travel. Travel enables us to explore, discover and continue to grow. The new year gifted us with a beautiful reminder that you don’t have to travel far to have a risk blossoming adventure. Sometimes, adventure is waiting in your own backyard. We’re excited for you to join us as we recount a magical New Years shared with great friends in Pleasant Valley, right in the middle of our home state, Arizona.
We left Phoenix on December 30 headed for Cherry Creek Lodge, located in the heart of Pleasant Valley near Young, AZ. This is a very rural area and is one on the most remote ranching basins in the state. It is also the site of the historic Pleasant Valley War, a family feud between the Tewksburys and the Grahams. This feud was the catalyst for the largest slaughter of humans in the history of western range wars. The result was the near annihilation of all males of both families along with over 40 others who took sides. In the end, just one man was left standing.
A Very Special Invitation
Michael and Sharon Lechter invited us to join them at Cherry Creek Lodge to celebrate New Year’s 2019. We were now caravanning up Arizona’s Beeline Highway. Together, we stopped just past Payson for a late breakfast at the Highway 260 Cafe. Michael is a wonderful storyteller and historian. While eating, he introduced us to the story of the Tewksbury-Graham feud. Lechter’s ranch, The Tilting H, was in fact, the Tewksbury’s Ranch during the ten-year murderfest between 1882 and 1892.
The Young Highway
We have driven Highway 260 between Payson and Heber hundreds of times. Never have we turned down the Desert to Tall Pines Scenic Road (Young Highway). This time, with excitement, we turned and headed toward Young. The road quickly turned to gravel and was icy in spots. Too icy for two other trucks on the road to avoid a slow speed head-on collision at a particular steep and icy turn. All were OK and the tow truck was there so we proceeded — albeit at a slower pace.
Tilting H Ranch
Sharon let us know ahead of time that the turn-off for their ranch was at the “L” curve just before Young — population listed as 666. I recognized the large curve and spotted the sign for the Tilting H. Then I saw the ranch brand for the first time. It is a large pair of capital H’s, each angling outward. I thought it was perfect. After a 3-hour drive, it looked like it stood for Happy Hour to me!
The final 6-mile stretch into the ranch is a lightly maintained, single lane road. It meanders along and through Cherry Creek several times. The Lechters told us the ranch is off the grid and it is. There are no power lines strung along this road.
Off the Grid
For a place that is off the grid, the lodge is a beautiful home away from home. With solar power and satellite internet and TV you wouldn’t guess the closest power lines are 6-miles away. Their well water tests better than spring and purified water sold in grocery stores.
The main lodge building sits halfway up a rounded hill. It has a wonderful view of the working ranch buildings, corrals, Cherry Creek and Lake Sharon. From the top of the hill, you get the view the Graham gang had in September of 1887 when they took position there and ambushed John Tewksbury and William Jacobs after they exited the ranch cabin at the bottom of the hill.
I am recalling this, without notes, from an intriguing, long historical story Michael told after breakfast on New Year’s Eve morning. A wonderful storyteller, Michael was very detailed and accurate. My mind remembers it more as the tale I am presenting.
The Tewksburys and The Grahams
The story actual started with the Tewksburys and the Grahams as friends. Ed Tewksbury and his three brothers, all from their Dad’s Native American wife, came from San Francisco. John and Thomas Graham were sons of Irish immigrants. The Grahams were actually invited to move to Pleasant Valley by Ed Tewksbury.
It was not until James Stenson, a big-time cattleman moved large herds into the area that tensions arose. Stenson accused both families of rustling before making a deal with the Grahams to testify against the Tewksburys. The case was thrown out of court when the judge learned of the collusion. On the way home from the trial in Prescott, Frank Tewksbury contracted pneumonia. He died shortly thereafter and the Tewksburys blamed Stetson and the Grahams. The feud was on.
The Pleasant Valley War
As I recall Michael’s story, the shooting at the ranch went on for days. The remaining Tewksburys were pinned inside their cabin. The two dead bodies were laying in front of the cabin and the ranch’s hogs started to eat them. John’s wife then bravely came out of the cabin, holding up a shovel. The shooting stopped long enough for her to shoo away the hogs, dig a shallow grave and bury the two bodies. When she stepped back inside, the firing started again.
A few days later in Holbrook, AZ, one of the Blevins gang, allies of the Grahams, was overheard at a store, bragging about killing Tewksbury and Jacobs. Newly elected Sheriff, Commodore Perry Owens (you can’t make this stuff up), a cowboy turned lawman, rode singularly out to the Blevins hangout. In less than a minute, he shot three of the twelve people there before riding off without being hit himself. This period spawned the reputation that Arizona was not yet ready for Statehood.
Territorial Governor C. Meyer Zulick wanted the violence to stop. He sent Prescott Sheriff William Mulvenon to Pleasant Valley to quell the war. Mulvenon, a Tewksbury sympathizer, went right after the Graham faction. His posse found them at Perkins General Store in Young. They waited outside and ambushed John Graham and Charles Blevens when they exited. Mulvenon was later charged with murder, but the jury found him not guilty.
Was Justice Served?
After ten years, and like a Hollywood movie, Ed Tewksbury and Tom Graham were now the sole surviving family members. Graham gave up and moved to Tempe. There he married the daughter of a preacher. Still, he was hunted down and shot by two men. Before his death he named Ed Tewksbury and John Rhodes as the gunmen. Ed was tried twice for the murder. During the first of the two trials, Grahams wife Annie smuggled a gun, hidden in her dress, into the courtroom and tried to assassinate Ed. As fate would have it, the gun’s hammer got caught in her shawl, as she held it to Tewksbury’s head. She was promptly removed from the court.
Ultimately, despite nearly 100 witnesses testifying, including eye witnesses, both juries acquitted Tewksbury. Upon his release, there were no Grahams left to retaliate nor would there have been any Tewksburys left to counter retaliate. Ed was the last man standing. He died in 1904 in Globe. On his death bed, he confessed to killing Tom Graham.
An Amazing Part of Arizona History
There are several good historical recounts of the Pleasant Valley War. Books include ‘A Little War Of Our Own’ by Don Dedera and fictional account by Zane Grey entitled ‘To The Last Man, A Story Of The Pleasant Valley War’. Grey changed the names but the story generally follows the actual events.
A Working 40,000 Acre Ranch
The Tilting H is a working, 40,000 acre ranch. There are ranch houses for the foreman and his family and for the cowboys. If you want to be a dude, you can ride with them to check, herd or round-up cattle. This place is ‘City Slicker’ with the internet and three meals a day. Guests at the ranch can enjoy boating, fishing, hunting, shooting, ATV exploring, or just relaxing. If you are a historian, you can hunt shell casings from the 1887 shootout on the top of the hill. The Lechters have ones they have found on display.
Exploring the Ranch
Snow was predicted New Year’s Eve afternoon. Rather than ride horses, most of us opted to tour with Sharon at the wheel of the ranch Polaris. The lone exception, choosing to ride instead, was Xenia, a 19-year old German electrical engineering/IT student from Stuttgart. She is studying abroad this year and somehow found Cherry Creek Lodge in remote Arizona from her Connecticut residence. She had such a great time, she is returning for 10 more days this spring.
Our Polaris ride was exploratory, crossing Cherry Creek at depths that required raising your feet to avoid the water that flooded the floorboards. Eventually, ranch dogs Bodie and Bear opted for the back of the Polaris as the river was partially ice and the snow had just started falling.
New Year’s 2019
Returning to the lodge about 3PM, it was now definitely Happy Hour. We stripped off layers of clothes and settled into puzzles and card games or simply relaxed near the fireplace. It was snowing heavily.
The plan was to celebrate New Year’s East coast time. That came and went without us noticing. Finally we opened champagne and celebrated somewhere between 10PM and the actual new year!
Enjoying time with our dear friend’s Michael and Sharon Lechter at their incredible working ranch, Cherry Creek Ranch in Young, Arizona. #riskblossoming #livethelifeyoudesire #ExploreDiscoverGrow
Dawn’s light came New Year’s morning and presented a majestic picture with 10 new inches of snow covering everything. There was hardly a cloud in the deep blue morning sky. It was simply a glorious way to look at the first day of a new year.
Shortly after lunch on New Year’s Day, we said our good-byes as Deborah and I started our return to Phoenix. We opted to make this trip a complete circle by returning via the southern route. We drove south toward Globe. The southern part of the Desert to Tall Pines Scenic Highway proved to be just that. It was one majestic vista after another, all with a fresh covering of beautiful white snow.
Near the town of Roosevelt we opted to take the old Apache Trail route back into Phoenix. It lead us past Roosevelt and Apache Lakes, through Fish Creek Canyon and finally up Fish Creek Hill. From there we passed Canyon Lake before viewing sunset at the face of the Superstition Mountains.
Fish Creek Canyon
The Fish Creek Canyon portion of the Trail has soaring cliffs and is one of the most beautiful places in Arizona. Fish Creek Hill stops most people from seeing the Canyon. The road is gravel, with rock abutments that had been loosely stacked in the 1930’s. The hill is three miles of continuous 6-8% grade that is mostly a single lane.
Two cars cannot pass without one finding a wide enough place to park while the other inches by. There are nearly vertical, 1,000 foot drops on one side with rock overhangs on the other. What guard rails there are don’t look capable of containing much.
An Abundant Opportunity named Arizona
Our reward at the end of this drive was a wonderful view of setting sun projecting on the west face of the Superstition Mountains. One can never pass this view without the wonderment of the sheer rock walls and the dream of finding the gold, supposedly stashed somewhere in this rugged wilderness, by the Lost Dutchman. Arizona history certainly includes a strange cast of characters.
I choose to describe our visit to Michael and Sharon Lechter’s Ranch as “Magical and Renewing.” And, for me, it made for a perfect New Years.
The drive up was beautiful and surprised, both Tim and me, as we viewed, with fresh eyes, the absolute grandeur of the desert and the Saguaros. As we arrived at the “Tilting H” Ranch – it felt like an adventure was about to happen! I truly felt that I had arrived at an authentic American Cowboy Ranch, but yet, I was surrounded with the modern comforts.
On New Year’s Eve’s day, the first decision I was asked to make, was whether I wanted to take a ride on horseback or in an all-terrain vehicle to see more of the 40,000 acre ranch. I chose the all-terrain vehicle. My decision was based on the weather report of snowfall that afternoon.
Let me share with you that Sharon Lechter, Best Selling Author, International Motivational Speaker, and Financial Literacy Advocate, is also one bad-ass ATV driver. My beautiful friend knows no fear. She knew and used the capabilities of her local knowledge, driving skills and her vehicle’s power.
With commands of “hang-on” and “feet up” (when we crossed and broke through the partially frozen Cherry Creek), we got a informative, historical, and owner’s tour of the Tilting H Ranch. As the snow began to accumulate, we headed back to the lodge where we were greeted by nice warm fires, as we shed our multiple layers of clothes.
On our first afternoon, we also took a trip into Young, AZ to visit the Bruzzi Winery for a wine tasting. I have visited both Arizona’s Verde Valley and Southern Arizona Wineries. But, please allow me to share my pleasure and enthusiasm with both the hospitality (provided by owner, James Bruzzi) and the wine quality at Young’s Bruzzi Winery. Salute!
Comfort and Cowboy Food
Have I mentioned the food at Cherry Creek Lodge? It was incredible. Cherry Creek Lodge Hostess and cook, for the weekend, was the outgoing and gregarious Holly. You can trust me that she made full use of the Lodge’s country kitchen, and made all the preparations look so easy. So easy, that she actually joined our card games while cooking dinner.
Happy New Year
Our weekend was full of adventure, exploration, gorgeous scenery, fabulous food, competitive card games, and great friends!!
On New Year’s Morning, we were met with a fresh blanket of snow and the clear and sparkling blue sky bidding us a fresh, unblemished day. For me, it was a validation of the opportunity that was ahead and to continue to live the life that I have envisioned. Happy New Year. #RiskBlossoming
Wishing you a year, and lifetime, of the life you have envisioned.
EXPLORE. DISCOVER. GROW.