To the Last Man: A Story of the Pleasant Valley War (unabridged: Tonto Basin) (1921)

16 Jun
Pleasant valley war

Sheep slaughter during the Pleasant Valley Range War, Arizona, 1880s (print), American School, (19th century) / Private Collection / Peter Newark

The Country Gentleman May 28 – September 10 1921: To the Last Man
Harper & Brothers, New York 1922: To the Last Man (abridged)
Thrilling Ranch Stories, November 1933: To the Last Man
Five Star First Edition Westerns: Tonto Basin 2004 (unabridged)

The Pleasant Valley War (1887) really did happen and was a family feud that got out of hand. Family feuds are frightening things. Time only seems to increase the hatred between the families. Each death and violent action brings families in feud further and further from any kind of solution. In fact, the Pleasant Valley War got so out of hand that it lasted ten years and only one person survived the battles.

The Pleasant Valley War

The Pleasant Valley War

Mr. Grey describes how he went about discovering what he could about the war that happened in the valley at Tonto Basin.

Some years ago Mr. Harry Adams, a cattleman of Vermajo Park, New Mexico, told me he had been in the Tonto Basin of Arizona and thought I might find interesting material there concerning this Pleasant Valley War. His version of the war between cattlemen and sheepmen certainly determined me to look over the ground. My old guide, Al Doyle of Flagstaff, had led me over half of Arizona, but never down into that wonderful wild and rugged basin between the Mogollon Mesa and the Mazatzal Mountains. Doyle had long lived on the frontier and his version of the Pleasant Valley War differed markedly from that of Mr. Adams. I asked other old timers about it, and their remarks further excited my curiosity.

In 1920 I went back with a still larger outfit, equipped to stay as long as I liked. And this time, without my asking it, different natives of the Tonto came to tell me about the Pleasant Valley War. No two of them agreed on anything concerning it, except that only one of the active participants survived the fighting. Whence comes my title, TO THE LAST MAN. Thus I was swamped in a mass of material out of which I could only flounder to my own conclusion. Some of the stories told me are singularly tempting to a novelist. But, though I believe them myself, I cannot risk their improbability to those who have no idea of the wildness of wild men at a wild time. There really was a terrible and bloody feud, perhaps the most deadly and least known in all the annals of the West. I saw the ground, the cabins, the graves, all so darkly suggestive of what must have happened. (Foreword to To the Last Man)

The Pleasant Valley War 2So the story became the story of the two families the Isbels (ranchers) and the Jorths (sheepherders) and the hopeless romance between two of their children. Romance writer is what Grey considered himself. All he did was place the romance in a context he was familiar with. So it was with the story of Ellen Jorth and Jean Isbel. Jean rides into Tonto Basin at the call of his father and discovers that his father is embroiled in a battle with the Jorths. On his way to his father’s cattle ranch, Jean meets up with Ellen. They kiss but Ellen regrets the kiss once she learns where Jean is going.

One of the many questions raised by Tonto Basin and To the Last Man is whether two young people who fall for each other yet belong to feuding families ever have hope of something coming of their feelings. How much does family influence our ability to love the unexpected?

Once you get into the story, it is easy to see that it is not really about whether cattle and sheep go together but more about wanting more than you have. Cattle and sheep can graze the same lands (Targeted Multi-Species Grazing), but when both parties want more land and neither party wants to give an inch, then you have a problem.

Commodore Perry Owens;

Commodore Perry Owens;

The two families shoot at each other, kill each others’ stock and fall for rustlers blaming the other party. Women and children and outsiders suffer the effects of the feud and the only real hope for the future lies with the two who seem attracted to each others. Now the question is whether the fate of the families will be as in the real story of the Pleasant Valley War or if there is a future to be lived.


To The Last Man on Gutenberg

Tonto Basin on Kindle










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Posted by on 2014-06-16 in Books


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